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Jazz music and Christmas have a beautifully nostalgic association for many, and it’s no surprise that jazz pianist Nikki Iles’ Jazz on a Winter’s Night has been such a huge success since its 2009 publication.
Jazz on a Winter’s Night proved to be a milestone publication that spawned three outstanding sequels in Jazz in Springtime, Jazz on a Summer’s Day and Jazz in Autumn, each including a selection of seasonally themed jazz standards and originals composed by Nikki herself.
I was thrilled to recently notice that Oxford University Press have now brought out a second collection of Christmas classics arranged by Nikki in a range of jazz styles that once again pay homage to legendary jazz musicians.
In this review I will recap what makes the original book such a classic must-have for every advanced pianist before taking a closer look at its excellent new sequel…
Jazz on a Winter’s Night (2009)
Jazz on a Winter’s Night included “11 Christmas classics for jazz piano”.
Writing in her “Arranger’s note”, Nikki Iles introduced the book by saying,
“One of the most enjoyable aspects about working on this project has been seeking out tunes that lend themselves to a jazz treatment, and, to be honest, I was spoilt for choice”
Iles plumped for the following choices:
- Have yourself a merry little Christmas (arrangement inspired by Nat King Cole)
- Winter Wonderland (Take Six)
- I saw three ships (The Modern Jazz Quartet)
- In the bleak mid-winter (Bill Evans)
- Noël nouvelet (John Coltrane Quartet)
- Santa Claus is comin’ to town (Paul Bley)
- The Christmas Song “Merry Christmas to you” (Frank Sinatra)
- O little town of Bethlehem (Vince Mendoza)
- Balulalow (Norma Winstone)
- Sans Day Carol (Abdullah Ibrahim)
- Silent night (Thad Jones)
She goes on to explain:
“It was always important to me that this collection should reflect the hybrid nature of jazz and demonstrate clearly how this music is more a process than a specific style. In many ways the hallmarks of a jazz performance are never fully notatable and so I have aimed instead for a series of atmospheres that will create the sensibility of an improvisation.”
Her success in achieving this aim is borne out by the huge popularity of the publication, not simply as a book that flew off music store shelves, but as one that has inspired so many performances in subsequent years. Certainly, within my own teaching studio I can’t remember a Christmas Concert at which at least two or three of these pieces haven’t appeared, eagerly performed by advanced players of all ages.
Being published by OUP ensures that the book itself is beyond reproach, such is this publisher’s attention to detail. The notation is beautifully engraved, generously spaced, and includes carefully conceived performance directions throughout. The only criticism could be that there are no fingering suggestions.
Jazz on a Winter’s Night also includes a CD recording of Nikki Iles herself performing the pieces, and here once again the publication shines; if “Jazz is caught, not taught”, then Nikki’s playing is as infectious as it comes!!
Jazz on a Winter’s Night 2
How fabulous then to welcome Jazz on a Winter’s Night 2, which picks up where the first book left off, providing another 10 fabulous jazz realisations of festive favourites.
Here’s the eclectic list of tunes included in the second volume, with in brackets the artists who inspired Nikki’s treatments:
- Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer (arrangement inspired by Harry Connick Jr)
- We three kings of Orient are (Fred Hersch)
- Adam lay bounden (John Taylor)
- Let it Snow! (Ella Fitzgerald)
- Away in a Manger (Keith Jarrett)
- ‘Zat You, Santa Claus? (Louis Armstrong)
- See amid the winter’s snow (Bill Evans)
- Angels from the realms of glory (Sonny Rollins)
- Sussex Carol (Stan Sulzmann)
- Past three o’clock (Jim Hall)
Once again, the arrangements here are suitable for players at early advanced level – and they are every bit as fabulous as the first book, and perhaps even more delicious overall!
As one would expect in jazz, there are regular stretches of a seventh, but not much beyond that, meaning that the pieces are also suitable for those with smaller hands.
And once again, the included CD is essential listening, conveying nuances of rhythmic and tonal inflection which can’t be notated. Nikki is of course an exceptional and highly experienced professional jazz performer, and it really shows here. For a well-styled performance, the audio content offers an outstanding model which should not be ignored.
Jazz on a Winter’s Night has established itself as my all-time favourite Christmas music book, but its sequel gives it a run for its money!
Both books are now utterly essential for any pianist above intermediate level. It’s great to find that Jazz on a Winter’s Night 2 is as absolutely brilliant as its forerunner, and it really does deserve to sell a million!
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