Carol Banks Weber
This is no ordinary, flighty holiday album, but a thoughtful exploration of a Scriptural Christmas. Will Scruggs is an Atlanta-based saxophonist who turned in a reverential, two-part jazz program, as realized through the passages of the Bible’s New Testament and the heralding of the Christ child. His father is a reverend, which explains the eulogies in musical form.
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Atlanta saxophonist Will Scruggs gets a musical assist from a jazz combo and an extended horn section on his new Christmas album. He also gets a theological assist from his father, Rev. C. Perry Scruggs.
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Some of the greatest art of ages past and sometimes present has been faith based — much classical music, once nearly all painting and sculpture. That sometimes makes us uncomfortable to discuss or even mention in this secular age but it’s true enough. There have also been more than a few great jazz artists who were strong in their faith. That maybe also makes us just a little leery to say, but it’s true enough as well.
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If you’re looking for a jazz album for the Christmas season with a more spiritual orientation than Vince Guaraldi’s evergreen, A Charlie Brown Christmas, you might want to give a listen to Song of Simeon from the Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship. As Scruggs explains in the liner notes, “My vision for this recording was to create a musical journey through the deeper themes of the Christmas narrative.”
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Son of a minister, Atlanta saxophonist Will Scruggs assembled 11 canticles, hymns and traditional folk melodies to create a holiday narrative and jazz suite.
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“Let’s put Christ back in Christmas” has been a popular cry of those who think the holiday season has gone off the rails, moving from the observance of a religious holy day to “Spendapalooza”. Many of the Christmas jazz recordings we hear at Straight No Chaser tend to be of the secular variety, containing holiday spirit, but not necessarily holiday spirituality.
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Kinah Boto Ayah
For Song Of Simeon (self-released), Will Scruggs wanted to create a grand statement about the story of Jesus Christ, and knew he could only do it in the name of his Jazz Fellowship. The album tells the story with the kind of playing and arrangements that one might expect from the likes of Charles Mingus or Stan Kenton, and it makes for an incredible set of music, regardless if you are of the faith or not.
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Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey, Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship, was created by saxophonist Will Scruggs, advised by his father, Rev. Perry Scruggs, using “ancient canticles, hymns, and folk melodies” to musically illustrate the biblical story of the birth of Christ.
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The mixture of sacred music and jazz is not a new idea, but rarely has the mix worked as well as on Will Scruggs’ new Christmas suite, “Song of Simeon”. Based on a collection of contemporary and traditional carols, Scruggs offers a perfect balance between religion and improvisation, keeping the focus on the traditional Nativity story but still allowing extended solos.
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Grego Applegate Edwards
I don’t envy creative spirits who decide to do a Christmas/Holiday album. The pressure to follow the well traveled routes through the typical carols is hard to resist, but how many things can you do with “Jingle Bells”? There is probably a finite number. One of the zanier WFMU DJs a few years ago decided to play as many versions of “Jingle Bells” back-to-back as he could lay hands on. I didn’t happen to be listening at the time but I do suspect the effect would eventually be something like water boarding. “I am drowning in Holiday Cheer! No I am not!”
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