A Jazzy Christmas at B.B. King’s

The more I think about it, the more I think I should either 1. take notes of the set lists at shows, or 2. not write these things at 1-something am. But good gravy, this was one for the ages. I can’t believe I didn’t make the time to see this before, and now I have me a new Christmas tradition.

If there’s anything I love about the holiday season, it’s the fact that more often than not, this is the prime time for get-togethers. As evidenced by, well, today, and me suddenly finding myself split between going to five places at once. I did, however, have one picked to be already, and wish though I do that I could split myself into multiples and attend five shows at once – and what a feat that’d be, I tell ya! – I think I chose the right one.

Now, here’s an interesting factoid: despite my atheism, I rather like Christmas music, especially Christmas music done right. So naturally, where would I be today but with Peter White, Mindi Abair and Rick Braun for the Christmas special?

The first show, the one that I had my ticket for way in advance – since before the Big Cruise, mind! – was sold out. How I got the seat right next to the stage, I will never know, but you cannot beat that view. And what is first but Rick opening up with Little Drummer Boy? Muted trumpet, brushes on the snare – a light, simple-but-classic take on this holiday favorite. And soon enough, Peter and Mindi come on up as well and the rest of the band, standing by, joins in as well, turning an easygoing tune into something rousing.

You know, seeing that trio on stage together is something interesting, considering the stylistics. Rick Braun is almost old-school in his handling of the trumpet – and he handles it to perfection. Peter White is deceptively straightlaced, and is immensely playful when he’s on stage. Mindi – all attitude, sharp and energetic. But put them together, and the creativity on stage is infectious.

After the Christmas intro, they took turns playing their new releases. Rick went for Tijuana Dance, something that shows off his mastery at taming the tricky animal that is Latin jazz. Strong rhythm, synth accents, and a straight, almost un-embellished trumpet melody with a funk that just refuses to quit – that is something else. Peter White – what else but Bright, which was his nomination for the American Smooth Jazz Awards. And although I’ve said it before, I will say it again: something about that song is vaguely bittersweet, just enough to make me regret that I never got to meet Mr. Tisdale before his passing, and it still makes me smile with its amazing simplicity.

And then Mindi, whom I will confess to having expected to play Bloom, instead brought back some New Orleans-style old-school to BB King’s and commissioned Rick and Peter’s assistance on the vocals to play Be Beautiful. Off her new album, In Hi-Fi Stereo, and available in a free download somewhere off her site if I might add!, this is a serious taste of the old-school sax style. The pop stylings that Mindi is so well-recognized for faded off, and gave way to a Hammond B3. The alto sax takes on a little half-rasp and varies the notes almost a little more readily. And the vocals are subtle, soft, and surprisingly persuasive:

Be free,

Be strong,

Be Beautiful.

And to hear it live is something else entirely. It was as though someone blended in just a little drop of the Big Easy into BB King’s at that song; the energy was unbeatable.

And, of course, it can’t be Christmas without Christmas music, and everyone¬† showcased their favorites. Mindi played a bit from the Peanuts Christmas Special – a reminder to me that David Benoit’s Charlie Brown special is next week, really. Rick threw in Winter Wonderland, with everyone in the audience joining in. And, although he speaks through the guitar with a voice unmatched, Peter White had to sing his favorite. And he tried…but then asked for a bit of help from the band.

The lights faded, the music swelled a bit, and it only then hit me that Peter was trying to sing Elvis’s Blue Christmas. And he was doing something by the amp that I couldn’t see. But, all considered, I had a feeling.

“Waitasec,” I thought. “What is he doing? Is he doing what I think he’s doing?”

I barely finished the thought when the spotlight hit Peter White…in an Elvis wig. And glasses. Busting a move. I think the entire club audience nearly had apoplexy, myself included. And the next thing I know, Peter lights into Blue Christmas, his voice note-perfect to Elvis Presley’s range and pitch, with Rick and Mindi as his backup singers. Elvis wig or no Elvis wig, swivel-hip move or not, I’m singing along unabashedly. Not only is this one of my all-time favorite holiday songs, but what a way to have it.

And, also because this is a Peter White special, he donned the Santa hat and the shades, and Mindi assisted him in the James Bond theme, and no matter how many times I’d see Peter, this one doesn’t get old. Ever.

The wrap-up of it was an ingenious splice of Santa Claus is Coming To Town with…Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy by the Andrews Sisters. A kicky blast from the past, and a way to end the show with a bang.

So, since it is one-something o’clock right now, I will leave you with a little bit of old-school holiday cheer….okay, a little more old-school…

K.G.

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