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Jones, Cole, jazz orchestra bring life to holiday show

Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 10:54 p.m.

When a band and a singer are able to bring freshness and creativity to even the most familiar of holiday songs, it is a treat for which it is worth braving lousy weather.

Sean Jones and the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, along with singer Freddy Cole, presented that musical gift Dec. 14 at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side. They took the edge off a trip though snow, rain and a combined mess of both.

The band ripped through songs such as a samba-flavored “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and a “Carol of the Bells” that was given a quirky rhythm.

Meanwile, Cole did a gently swinging “White Christmas” but got even hipper with “Jingles the Cat,” a cool, little tale about cat that rings the sleigh bells for Santa.

Christmas concerts, we all know, have the danger of being boring in their predictability. But this concert was the fifth time Jones and the 18-piece band were able to put together a show that avoided that curse.

Of course they do it with great arrangements from co-leader Mike Tomaro and great performances by individuals. “Rudolph,” for instance, gave Jones the first opportunity of the night to display his remarkable speed and improvisational skills.

He was followed by Curtis Johnson, who offered the same impressive abilities on alto saxophone.

The band also played a Tomaro original, “Angels Around Me,” which he said was not really a Christmas tune, but he offered it because of the presence of angels this time of year. It is a lovely piece that featured him on soprano sax.

Another standout was trombonist Jeff Bush's arrangement of “Blue Christmas,” which featured a great bass solo from Paul Thompson.

The band's version of Claude Thornhill's “Snowfall” had a little more power than that ‘30s bandleader gave it, but still had that sitting-by-the-fireside warmth.

Cole joined the band for three holiday songs, which included “A Cradle in Bethlehem.” He gave that song a jazz touch that did not rob it of its religious nature. The voice of the 82-year-old sometimes was a little raspy, but it never kept him from getting the job done.

He also sat at the piano and did “It Could Happen to You” and “Old Days, Old Times, Old Friends” with bassist Thompson and drummer Thomas Wendt. He offered the latter song as a holiday piece, he said, because these days often are built around recollections of the past.

But neither he nor the orchestra let their look at the past spoil this concert.

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

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