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Jones, jazz orchestra find new ways to wrap annual 'gift'

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Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, 11:43 p.m.

Sean Jones and the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra keep finding new and colorful ways of wrapping their Chrstmas gifts.

But, more importantly, they also make sure the gifts under that glitter are worthwhile.

The trumpeter and band Saturday evening did their annual Christmas concert, this on for the first time at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side. Musical concerts such as performances of the “Nutcracker” ballet sometimes take on great significance as events to attend during the season, and Jones has said many times how he is trying to be that kind of show for the jazz fan.

He is succeeding. Each year's concerts have been different enough the listener is not getting the same present over and over.

Saturday's show presented musical gifts in a number of wrappings.

It offered some classic numbers such as “Dance of the Flowers” from Duke Ellington's version of the “Nutcracker,” Stan Kenton's version of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and Oliver Nelson's “Greensleeves.”

It provided the stage for great solo work, topped by Jones's own outings on “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World.” both knockout arrangements by alto saxophonist and band co-founder Mike Tomaro. On those, Jones dislayed many of the power of his play: great improrvisation skills, power and range.

The concert also was a scene for the singing of Maureen Budway, who offered “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Let It Snow” and “The Christmas Song” among others in her lovely, controllled soprano.

Through it all, the 17-piece band played with the cohesion and precision that has been always a sign of its significance. It is filled with great area players, such as bassist Paul Thompson, trombonist Jay Ashby, guitarist Marty Ashby, trumpeters Steve Hawk and James Moore and saxophonist Eric DeFade.

It generally is led on the floor by Tomaro and he skillfully guides it through arrangements that often use ensemble statements as backup to solos. This band always is a delight to watch and hear.

Besides functioning as an arranger, soloist and leader, Tomaro also offered a bit of comedy when he presented a hipster version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” in a bebop-era beret and sunglasses accompanied by Jones's muted trumpet and the rhythm section.

This concert was a great Christmas gift, indeed.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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