Holiday songs get a jazzy remake

Familiar Christmas songs and tunes about unrequited love were on the program in a holiday performance offered by the Glendale Renaissance Orchestra earlier this month at the Alex Theatre.

The sponsors of the concert, the New West Symphony and Glendale Arts, invited conductor and arranger Matt Catingub to lead the 33-musician orchestra, and Elliott Yamin, an "American Idol" finalist and hit songwriter-performer, to sing during the final concert of the orchestra's inaugural season in a program split between Christmas carols and Yamin's songs.

The pair teamed to offer a one-hour program of holiday carols in arrangements by Catingub and soulful songs written by Yamin, thus the program title, "A Soulful Holiday Celebration." Catingub is an arranger by craft. His take on the holiday season's tunes stems from the sounds of the easy-listening genre with a nod to big band sound. Whether it was "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Let it Snow" or a Christmas medley, each rendering was flavored with familiar orchestral techniques found in the works of Stan Kenton, Henry Mancini and Peter Nero.

In "Charlie Brown Christmas Medley/Linus", Catingub brought more a sound of Erroll Garner than Vince Guaraldi, the San Francisco jazz pianist who composed these songs, as part of the music for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" for the 1965 TV special based on the "Peanuts" comic strip. The piece showed off Catingub's keyboard ability and all his arrangements displayed a fluid jazz understanding.

Catingub conducted from the piano. In "Let it Snow," drummer Ralph Humphrey showed why he is a top-rated studio musician and Ken Wild was a standout with the upright acoustic bass in "Winter Wonderland." Some fine flute work was heard in that piece as well by Paul Fried and Carol Lockart. Trumpeter Robert O'Donnell took Catingub's contemporary arrangement of "O, Holy Night" into a jazz-hymn style.

A jaunty Yamin appeared on stage wearing an old-style English derby that did little to hide the copious curls of his dark hair. The 27-year-old used his casual on-stage style to charm the audience. Although he was lighthearted and personable in his remarks to the crowd, five of his six songs were more restrained with lyrics like "so, now I'm all alone" from "Wait for Me" his top-selling song. Yamin lightened up with "Jingle Bell Rock" and "White Christmas" and added a comic take on Santa deciding who is naughty and who's nice in his song, "Let's Be Naughty" (and save Santa the trip)" — a sort of update of Eartha Kitt's 1954 hit "Santa Baby."

Next year the orchestra will perform under a different name, Rick Lemmo, chair of the Glendale Renaissance Orchestra Advisory Committee, announced from the podium. Lemmo said the new name will be the Glendale Pops Orchestra. Glendale Arts is to assume management control of the orchestra, he said. Four concerts for the 2011 season are in the planning stage with performances to be held at Americana at Brand for summer outdoor concerts and the Alex Theatre for winter concerts. Attendance at the Holiday Concert was light.

BILL PETERS has reviewed the classical music scene in Southern California since 1998.



What: Glendale Renaissance Orchestra has a new name, The Glendale Pops

When and Where: Summer at the Americana at Brand, 889 Americana Way, Glendale; winter in the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale

Tickets: Not yet announced for next season

Contact: Glendale Arts (818) 243-2611, Ext. 14

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