SHERIDAN ROAD CHRISTMAS SHOW TO BE A HOLIDAY FAVORITE
According to their director, Dr. Barry Epperley, members of the three-man, three-woman vocal-jazz group Sheridan Road went through “at least 100 different pieces” of Christmas music before selecting the material they wanted to perform in their Sunday Jazz Depot concert. And what they came up with, notes Epperley with a chuckle, was “some music that’s really sweet, some really hot jazz, and some that’s just completely goofy.”
It’s hard to know which of those categories applies to the group’s planned opening number. Epperley first encountered it during his days of working with the Walt Disney Company at Disneyland in the early 1970s, when he produced a musical program with the veteran actor and musical performer Elsa Lanchester.
“It’s a street cry from London; she had heard a street vendor selling lavender, and for her, it was a Christmas thing,” he recalls. “So I adapted that to the show we were doing, and she sang it, sort of. It was called `Won’t You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender.’
“I remembered it, and we found it and rewrote it for our group. So [Sheridan Road member] Steve Raiford is going to start the evening going through the audience singing `Won’t You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender.’”
And while that sounds pretty off-trail for a Christmas concert, it’s far from the only unusual song on the bill.
“We’re doing a little set of Alfred Burt carols,” he explains. “Alfred Burt’s father was a minister in the Midwest, and every year he and his church organist, Wilha Huston, would write a Christmas carol, put it on a card, and mail it to the people on their Christmas list. In 1942, Alfred started writing the words. You may not know the titles, but you’ll hear them playing when you walk through a mall: `We’ll Dress the House,’ `Caroling, Caroling,’ ‘`Some Children See Him’ – which is probably his most popular. They’re all straight-ahead and pretty sweet.
The group plans to end the first half of the show with a musical arrangement of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” originally performed by the big-band-era act Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians and arranged by Harry Simeone, who would later become famous for another Christmas evergreen, “The Little Drummer Boy.”
“When I was a little kid,” Epperley recalls, “my father was the choir director at Stillwater High School, and one of the early things I remember with him is `Twas the Night Before Christmas.’ When my family gets together for the holidays, we always sing, and we always close with that. It tells the story humorously and with a good deal of fun.”
Other unusual holiday songs that Depot patrons can expect Sunday include one from PeterSchickele, aka P. D. Q. Bach, called “Throw the Yule Long on Uncle John”; “Hard Candy Christmas,” a Dolly Parton composition from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; and the Harry Connick Jr. arrangement of “(It Must’ve Been Ol‘) Santa Claus.”
Epperley himself created a kind of “Carol of the Bells” medley for the show.
“We have the old Peter Wilhousky arrangement, which he brought over from Russia. That’s the one everybody knows,” he says. “Then I happened on to the Jay Rouse arrangement, which is real swingy and just builds toward a screaming end. I put them together, adjusted the keys, and we just elided them. It’s really, really fun to sing.”
Scheduled to join Epperley on stage for all the fun are the other members of Sheridan Road, minus one.
“Because of some previous commitments and other things in her world, Jenn Green is not going to be with us,” he says. “Brenda Bussman, whom I’ve worked with for a long time, is filling in, and she’s got a really sweet kind of midrange soprano. I did a gospel octet over at Christ United Methodist Church for probably 10 years, and she was one of my folks there, so I know her capabilities. She’s got the second soprano role, and I’ve moved Marla [Patterson] up to first.”
In addition to Patterson, Bussman, Raiford, and Epperley, the group includes Brian and Jennifer Wilson (who are not related). The band is the same trio that played with the group at its October Jazz Depot show: pianist Rob Muraoka, bassist Jim Loftin, and drummer George Toumayan.
“We all like each other,” Epperley says. “You can tell it on stage.”
“Sheridan Road is a relatively new act, and this is their first Christmas show,” says Jason McIntosh, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO. “But I expect it to be an annual concert, and to quickly become a sure tradition for many families.”
Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.JazzHallTickets.com, or by calling 918.928.JAZZ. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014-5 Winter Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.