Donald Ryan Performs at The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame Sunday November 30

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 Biographical material from various sources refers to Tulsa’s Donald Ryan as “the master of diverse styles” and “a musical kaleidoscope, sparkling at everything he plays.” Anyone who’s seen and heard a Ryan solo piano performance knows the truth in both of those statements.

Of course, someone – and there aren’t many – who can play that many different kinds of music has to know a lot of songs. And Donald Ryan does.

“I’ve been asked, `How many tunes do you know?'” he says. “And, wow, I’d have to say it’s certainly in the hundreds, maybe the thousands, because I’ve been playing piano for so long.”

In fact, Ryan’s been at it since age three, when he took up the keyboard in the twin island country of Trinidad and Tobago, where he was born. That’s also where he first heard Christmas carols, including two strongly influenced by the rhythms of his native West Indies, “Mary’s Boy Child” and “The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy.”

“I remember when I first heard them; I must’ve been in the single digits,” he notes. “I think it was back in the late ’50s, and they’ve been close to me ever since.”Donald Ryan web sm

Attendees at Sunday’s concert can expect to hear those two calypso-flavored carols, as well as a number of other holiday songs that have meant something, musically and otherwise, to Ryan over the years.

“I’ve loved Christmas music ever since I was a kid,” he notes, “and when I play it I look for things that I like, that I can express myself in. Most of it is traditional music, more religious. There’ll be some of that [in Sunday’s show]. There’ll be some music that’s just seasonal. I look for things that have an infectious melody, that have harmonic possibilities that I can massage, and some things I can add rhythm to.” He laughs. “I can add rhythm to just about anything.”

As an example of that sort of a song, he mentions a title that seems a bit unlikely: the ancient classic “Silent Night.”

“As it’s written, it’s pretty much just three chords – a one, a four, and a five,” he explains. “I work it so that we get to use every chord, all seven in the key, and then a couple that are not in the key. I do the same kind of thing with `Greensleeves’ or `What Child Is This.’

“I’ll begin with Christmas, end with Christmas, and I’ll have some Christmas in the middle,” he adds, referring to his Sunday concert. “It won’t be entirely Christmas music, but that will be at least half of it. The other things I’ll be doing to complement and contrast. I’ll probably do some ragtime, and a couple of things that are jazz-inspired – catchy, lively, but not so much swing stuff.”

One of the songs he plans to feature is “A Child Is Born,” the jazz standard written by trumpeter Thad Jones, which, he says, “is not Christmas, per se, although the title suggests it.”

Attendees should keep in mind that Ryan’s program is subject to change, which is only right when a solo performer knows, as he says, hundreds or even thousands of songs. He may even switch things up right in the middle of his concert.Ryan025

“Oh yes, I have done that,” he says with another laugh. “Of course, if I’m playing with a group, I don’t want to spring those kinds of surprises, but in my last solo concert, yes, I threw a couple of things in there, just because what I was playing reminded me of something else.

“Right now, I have a few things I want to do, and I’m toying with a bunch of [other] tunes. As I get closer to the date and look for complimentary and contrasting material, I’ll see which ones I want to play. I may not decide the program until the day before. Even the day of the show, I might throw something in there.”

Donald Ryan’s Christmas Concert is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, November 30, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s JazzDepot, 111 E. First Street.

Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from, 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.

Ryan’s show is the final entry in the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Autumn 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.

 Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame







Cynthia Simmons Performs at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame


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Vocalist Cynthia Simmons Celebrates the Season

with Jingle Bell Jazz at the Jazz Depot

As the co-producer and star, with fellow vocalist Pam Van Dyke Crosby, of last month’s Tribute to Cole Porter concert, Cynthia Simmons was looking forward to presenting a few Porter songs to the Jazz Depot crowd.

But then, things happened.

“I twisted my ankle the week before the show,” she explains, “and then theday before, when we were getting ready to rehearse, I got ill on top of that. So I had to say, `I need to stay home, Pam. I’m sorry.'”

Undoubtedly, there were several Simmons fans in the audience who were sorry, too. But if they come out to Cynthia Simmons Presents Jingle Bell Jazz Sunday, they’ll hear her do at least a couple of the tunes she had all ready for the Porter show, including “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Miss Otis Regrets.”IMGP4875

“I happen to love Christmas songs, so this show is an opportunity to do some of my favorites,” she says. “But I’ll also throw some regular jazz songs in, including some of the ones I didn’t get to do at the Cole Porter show.”

This is the fourth time in a relatively short stretch that Simmons has headlined her own Depot concert, which gives testimony to her popularity with area jazz fans. An Oklahoma City native, she moved to Tulsa a few years ago and happened to connect on Facebook with noted jazz pianist Scott McQuade, who had himself recently arrived in Tulsa from his native Canada. That led to a meeting at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, and from there to her subsequent performances on the Jazz Depot, both in ensemble casts and headlining her own shows.

For this one, she’ll be backed by two players well known to Depot audiences, bassist Nathan Eicher and drummer Wade Robertson. Her pianist for the evening, though, may not be quite as well known at this end of the Turner Turnpike as he is in his hometown.

adam ledbetter 1“He’s Adam Ledbetter, who’s from Oklahoma City,” notes Simmons. “I met him through [saxophonist] Mike Cameron when we did the Don Byas tribute at theJazz Hall last year. He’s worked with Rebecca Ungerman a little bit, and some of the other people around town. I just did a show in Oklahoma City, and he’s the person I used; he and I have just kind of connected. He’s come in and done some things at Main Street Tavern with me, too. And he’s just an excellent, excellent musician.”

In addition to the straight jazz tunes, Simmons plans to give jazzy twists to holiday classics, including the likes of “Santa Baby” and “The Christmas Song.”

“I know Mel Torme wrote `The Christmas Song,’ but whenever I think of it, I usually hear Nat King Cole,” Simmons says. “It just gives me chills to hear him singing it — and it gives me chills to sing it. It’s one of my favorite songs to sing.

“I’m also going to do `What A Wonderful World,'” she added. “I know it’s not a Christmas song, but you hear it so much at Christmas, and it’s just a great song.”

At least one number on her Sunday playlist may be a bit of a surprise, however, veering Simmons at least temporarily away from the style of music she’s known for.

“I’m probably going to do `O, Holy Night,'” reveals Simmons. “My background is not pure jazz; in my past, I used to do more gospel and classical things. I love Mahalia Jackson – who I learned recently also sang jazz at one point in her career. I just love her voice. She was my mother’s favorite gospel singer, and I grew up listening to her do `O. Holy Night’ on a Christmas album my mom had.mahalia-jackson

“It was really an album, too,” she adds with a laugh. “You know, an LP, where you have to put the needle down. And now, I’m dating myself.”

  Cynthia Simmons Presents Jingle Bell Jazz is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, December 15, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot,, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. 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 2013-14 Winter Concert Series.

The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fameis 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 preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.

jazz hall at night