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Duke's John Brown Jazzes Up Christmas With Durham's Nnenna Freelon

Christmas music. It's nearly inescapable at this time of year - on the radio, in shops, in cafes, everywhere. When Phoebe Judge sat down to talk about "Christmas" with jazz double bassist John Brown, the question arose: Why would musicians want to add to the large catalog of existing Christmas songs and recordings?

"It comes from a place of joy," said the double bassist. "We wanted to take this material that's tested, tried and true and say something different about it."

When you hear a song done in a different way, with a fresh take on it, it really does bring new life; it really draws you in in a way older versions don't. Breathing new life, which plays a part of that whole fun and celebration that means everything about the holidays to us. - John Brown

John Brown's the director of the jazz program at Duke University and in 2012 released a big band Christmas album with Durham's celebrated jazz singer NnennaFeelon, herself a six time Grammy nominee. The album has been re-issued for this Christmas season.

This "Christmas" kicks off with "Swingle Jingle Bells" arranged by Frank Foster, a saxophonist, flautist, arranger, and composer who worked with the Count Basie Orchestra. Over the next nine tracks the album celebrates the season with brassy arrangements and Nnenna's lush vocals. Familiar chestnuts mix with a few lesser known compositions. The songs covered range from The Vince Guaraldi/Lee Mendelson composition "Christmas Time Is Hear" (you probably know that from the Charlie Brown Christmas TV special) to "Little Drummer Boy" and "Let It Snow."

The album is fully a North Carolina production, recorded at Mitch Easter's Fidelitorium Studios in Kernersville and mixed at studios in Durham and Carrboro, NC. In addition to Nnenna and John, the album features a number of well-known Carolina artists including Beverly Botsford and Jon Metzger.

Owen Cordle writing for Raleigh's News & Observer stated "If there were a Grammy award for best Christmas album, the Nnenna Freelon-John Brown Big Band collaboration simply titled “Christmas” would surely be a top contender."

The CD and mp3 downloads of "Christmas" are available from cdbaby.

Listen to Phoebe Judge's conversation with John Brown:

Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
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