How does an ear-splitting, note-shredding rock guitarist who leaps off amps in concert end up releasing an album of mellow, jazz-oriented Christmas songs?
While most people would think such a scenario improbable, to say the least, David Ian views it as a natural progression in a multifaceted music career.
Born in Toronto, Canada to Armenian immigrant parents, Ian came early to music, beginning classical piano study at age five. A few years later, he experienced a moment of epiphany: “After seeing Back to the Future, I realized that playing guitar was my destiny. It really wasn’t even a choice.” Ian performed in a number of garage bands throughout junior high and high school, and after graduating from college became lead guitarist in the acclaimed band Church of Rhythm. That group eventually morphed into the even more successful rock group Superchick, which earned a Grammy nomination award in 2009 for best Rock/Rap Gospel Album.
But Ian was no one-trick pony, having begun a lifelong love affair with jazz in his early teens. He studied jazz piano with noted teacher Pat Pace, and joined with fellow students to help initiate the jazz lab curriculum at his high school in Akron, Ohio. When he conceived the idea of recording this Christmas record, he drew inspiration from two legendary jazz pianists. “I tried to capture some of the essence of the gorgeous voicing and phrasing of Bill Evans in his interpretations of ballads, as well as the festive approach of Vince Guaraldi, particularly his injection of the blues.”
While dozens of Christmas albums are released each year, the most evocative ones are often those made by jazz musicians. This should come as no surprise, since the emotional primacy in the best jazz music echoes the spirituality inherent in the best Christmas songs. Jazz and Yuletide music have a long and complementary history, from Chet Baker’s Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas to Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas to Wynton Marsalis’ Crescent City Christmas Card.
Taking proud place in this music lineage is David Ian Vintage Christmas, which breathes new life into a set of familiar Christmas classics in relaxed, swinging arrangements that capture the spirit of the season while respecting the sanctity of the material. Rather than burying the songs under a wall of sound, Ian has opted for a small jazz combo that places the accent firmly on their melodic and lyrical content. In this beguiling blend of instrumental and vocal versions, the mood is intimate, the vibe is mellow, the sound warm and inviting.
Ian selected songs that have always given him the greatest feeling of Christmas, while managing to take them in fresh directions. A prime example is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” which is typically performed in stately, hymn-like fashion. Ian, however, gives the beautiful melody an up-tempo jazz inflection. The song remains the same, but projects a whole new range of colors and shadings.
Ian was also careful to retain the songs’ emotional core. The arrangement for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” begins in a minor key that speaks to the difficult emotions many people feel during the holidays. Yet as the tune develops, he imbues it with a sense of emotional lift and spiritual resolve. For “Silent Night,” Ian evokes the poignancy of the first Christmas, painting a musical picture of the struggle of Joseph and Mary with a less literal, more implied melody.
“I believe the meaning of Christmas to be one of hope in someone greater than ourselves; in the birth of a Savior who ensures that the world need not bear its burdens alone. My objective with these arrangements is to help direct the listener to that sense of hope.”
It goes without saying that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without all of the trimmings: a fresh-cut tree draped in baubles, bangles and beads, twinkling lights adorning eaves and windows, strategically placed mistletoe, a turkey in the oven and eggnog in the fridge. But it just doesn’t feel like the holidays until you’ve got those familiar Christmas tunes spreading good cheer from your speakers. So deck the halls with boughs and holly. Roast some chestnuts by the fire. Walk in a winter wonderland. Be merry and bright. Be joyful and triumphant. And don’t forget to include David Ian Vintage Christmas in your music rotation.
You’re guaranteed to have yourself a swinging little Christmas.