Mary Ellen Desmond
, revered Philadelphia
vocalist, has brought her “Comfort and Joy” holiday benefit concert to the Church of St. Luke and the Ephiphany for several years now. This year, she has also released a newly minted CD by the same name with the same stellar backup group: Larry McKenna
, tenor saxophone; Tom Lawton
, piano; Lee Smith
, bass; and Dan Monaghan
, drums. On December 20, Desmond held a CD release party at Chris’ Jazz Cafe
, showcasing many of the tunes from the album and a few additional for good measure. The event at Chris’ brought out a goodly crowd of aficionados along with tourists looking to celebrate the holidays in a “jazzy” way. On this occasion, Kevin McConnell
substituted for Lee Smith on bass. Each of the sidemen did their own great solo choruses, with McKenna and Lawton taking center stage.
Desmond has a unique approach to holiday music. She chooses tunes, arrangements, and renditions that emphasize the season’s diverse emotions – happy, frenetic, reflective, and sadin the jazz tradition. Her approach is a welcome contrast to the usual holiday fare of Christmas carols and the dozen or so tunes that one hears ad infinitum on the radio and TV. For example, at Chris, she included a relatively underplayed Irving Berlin song, “When Winter Comes” in addition to the classic “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” She dropped in her own sophisticated lyrics to David Wheat’s upbeat “Better Than Anything.” And she included a beautiful ballad, “Love Turns Winter to Spring” by Matt Dennis. The album includes Joni Mitchell’s ballad of loss, “River” the more hopeful “You Must Believe in Spring” by Michel LeGrand, and Abbey Lincoln
’s “Throw It Away” (the sentiment is “you’ve got to give it away to keep it.” (Lincoln was a masterful song writer in addition to being an iconic vocalist.) Desmond fully acknowledges in her singing and choice of tunes the range of feelings we “really” experience during this season, which is as much about the loss of the leaves on the trees and stark wintry landscape as it is about the cheery stuff.
Desmond has a beautiful soprano voice, is classically trained, and is highly attuned to jazz inflections and nuances. The CD makes a great last minute holiday gift for the musically inclined on your list. It can be purchased as a disc or download at CD Baby
The songs on the album include: “Better Than Anything”; “Snowed in With You”; “Warm in December”; “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”; “River”; “White Christmas”; “What Are You Doing New Year's Eve”; “When Winter Comes”; “Perhaps This Wintertime”; “Winter Wonderland”; “Little Jack Frost, Get Lost”; “My Christmas Song For You”; “Throw it Away”; “I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”; “You Must Believe in Spring.”