Philly Pops Jazz Orchestra Brings Holiday Swing On Stage – The Mercury
The Philly Pops Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia presents its annual holiday celebration on December 18, featuring upbeat music, but with a jazz accent.
For example, for the first half of the program, the musicians will present “Harlem Nutcracker”, by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
“It’s a classic,” said trumpeter Tony DeSantis of Drexel Hill. “I look forward to it every time.”
This is the seventh time that the orchestra has presented this piece.
“It was written to provide a jazz oriented version of ‘The Nutcracker’,” DeSantis said.
The tracks in this suite capture the mix of classic “The Nutcracker” melodies, but with a touch of jazz. For example, “Sugar Rum Cherry” is the jazz version of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”.
“The audience will recognize the melodies – but because it’s jazz, there are also improv sections,” DeSantis said. .
Like other jazz musicians, DeSantis thrives on improvisation.
“One of the reasons it’s fun being a jazz artist is the ability to improvise,” DeSantis said. “We never get tired of playing this because the improv sections change every year. So we don’t hear the same performance every year and it never goes out of style. “
This is true of his own improvisation solo in “Harlem Nutcracker”.
“I do it differently every year,” DeSantis said.
The other 17 musicians in this jazz ensemble too.
“Because we are just an 18-piece orchestra, we can all improvise.” DeSantis said. “So I take advantage of the solo improvisations of all my colleagues, who are great musicians.”
The second half of the show is a musical celebration of the 100th anniversary of jazz saxophone legend Charlie Parker. Two guest saxophonists, Charles McPherson and Jaleel Shaw, will join Jazz Orchestra saxophonist Dick Oatts to perform seven signature pieces.
“Charlie Parker was one of the best saxophonists to ever play jazz,” said DeSantis. “So performing his compositions is not just a challenge, but an incredible musical experience. “
Each of the 18 members of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia has been selected by Philly Pops artistic director for jazz, Terell Stafford. DeSantis is proud to be one of the original members invited to join this elite ensemble. He is one of the four in the trumpet section.
Director Stafford himself is a trumpeter. “He’s one of the best trumpeters I know,” said De Santis. “And that’s one of the reasons it’s an honor to play in this orchestra. Just hearing him play is wonderful – and it’s a learning experience too – because he’s so good. “
DeSantis’ experience with the trumpet began when he was six years old. His cousin, John Coda, played the trumpet in the military.
“And it started me playing the trumpet,” he said. “Then when I hit Haverford High School we had a jazz band and that’s when I learned to play with a big band.”
Since then, playing with jazz groups has been a lifelong activity. He is currently a member of Eleven Tet, led by Norman David. The eleven jazz musicians perform twice a month.
“We mainly play original arrangements,” DeSantis said. “The emphasis is on solos and improvisation, so it’s quite difficult.”
Another band he plays with is Chico’s Vibe.
“It’s one of Delco’s most popular bands,” DeSantis said. This wedding and party band performs almost every weekend. They are booked for New Years Eve at the Springfield Country Club.
The versatile Drexel Hill musician not only performs in jazz ensembles, but also teaches trumpet and improvisation at Swarthmore College and Moravian College in Bethlehem.
Whether playing in a jazz band or teaching budding jazz musicians, DeSantis enjoys immersing himself in this strictly American art form.
He is ready for this immersion during the performance this Saturday evening by the Philly Pops Jazz Orchestra. The venue will be Penn Live Arts at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut Street.
Not only will DeSantis enjoy his seventh annual performance of “Harlem Nutcracker,” but he’s also looking forward to Charlie Parker’s plays.
“These are all new arrangements,” DeSantis said. “And it’s always fun and challenging.”
It is also a highly anticipated meeting for the jazz ensemble. The 18 musicians have not performed together since a concert on July 4, 2020. There was no holiday concert in 2020 because of the Covid. The reunion will therefore be special.
“We have a great time together and we appreciate each other’s talents,” said DeSantis. “And we’re using our talents to create what we hope will be great concerts. When we all play together, our performance excels because we know we are playing with exceptional musicians. ”###
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
The Philly Pops Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia presents its annual celebration of the holidays this Saturday night at 8 p.m. at Penn Live Arts, 3680 Walnut Street. For more information and tickets visit phillypops.org.