Note: Many thanks to John Wooley for his original article on the 2014 Christmas Show, now updated for 2015. We're happy to bring it back this year!
According to their director, Dr. Barry Epperley, members of the three-man, three-woman vocal jazz group Sheridan Road went through “at least 100 different pieces” of Christmas music before selecting the material they wanted to perform in last year's 2014 Christmas Show premier. And what they came up with, notes Epperley with a chuckle, was “some music that's really sweet, some really hot jazz, and some that's just completely goofy.”
It's hard to know which of those categories applies to one number in the group's opening set. Epperley first encountered it during his days of working with the Walt Disney Company at Disneyland in the early 1970s, when he produced a musical program with the veteran actor and musical performer Elsa Lanchester.
“It's a street cry from London; she had heard a street vendor selling lavender, and for her, it was a Christmas thing,” he recalls. “So I adapted that to the show we were doing, and she sang it, sort of. It was called `Won't You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender.' “I remembered it, and we found it and rewrote it for our group."
And while that sounds pretty off-trail for a Christmas concert, it's far from the only unusual song on the bill.
“From there,” he adds, “we'll go to a very raucous and jazz-filled `Jingle Bells,' and it kind of changes everything.
For their upcoming Christmas shows on December 12 & 13 in Bartlesville and Tulsa, the ensemble will add some fun new numbers to the mix, but they still maintain a passion for the nostalgic (think Irving Berlin, Andy Williams, and Charlie Brown!).
The group ends the first half of the show with a musical arrangement of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” originally performed by the big-band-era act Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians and arranged by Harry Simeone, who would later become famous for another Christmas evergreen, “The Little Drummer Boy.”
“When I was a little kid,” Epperley recalls, “my father was the choir director at Stillwater High School, and one of the early things I remember with him is `Twas the Night Before Christmas.' When my family gets together for the holidays, we always sing, and we always close with that. It tells the story humorously and with a good deal of fun.”
Among other unusual holiday songs that patrons can expect Sunday include one from Peter Schickele, aka P. D. Q. Bach, called “Throw the Yule Log on, Uncle John”; “Hard Candy Christmas,” a Dolly Parton composition from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; "We Need a Little Christmas" with a Latin flair, and the Harry Connick Jr. Cajun-rhythm arrangement of “(It Must've Been Ol') Santa Claus.”
Epperley himself created a kind of “Carol of the Bells” medley for the show.
“We have the old Peter Wilhousky arrangement, which he brought over from Russia. That's the one everybody knows,” he says. “Then I happened on to the Jay Rouse arrangement, which is real swingy and just builds toward a screaming end. I put them together, adjusted the keys, and we just elided them. It's really, really fun to sing.”
Joining Barry Epperley onstage are Sheridan Road vocalists Jenn Epperley, Marla Patterson, Jennifer Wilson, Brian Wilson, Steve Raiford, and combo members Suzy Meredith-Orr on piano, Rod Clark on bass, and Craig Stevens on drums.
“Sheridan Road is a relatively new act,” said Jason McIntosh, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO, of the group's 2014 Christmas show. “But I expect it to be an annual concert, and to quickly become a sure tradition for many families.”