review by Janet I. Martineau
Well here is something you don’t see often...Santa in his red suit and Lou E. Loon in his green and red suit, both wearing red yuletide hats, working the intermission crowd, at a jazz concert, in downtown Saginaw.
Cameras were flashing all around them....and the birdly mascot of the Great Lakes Loons baseball team....well he is more popular than old St. Nick. People call him by name, have conversations with him even though he remains wordless, hug him while Santa plays second fiddle.
We don’t mean to detract from the formidable talent on the Temple Theatre stage Sunday afternoon at the Michigan Jazz Trail Christmas Show, it’s just that Lou E. and Santa so embody the magical, childly spirit of the season and we were touched by it.
So now to the musicians performing, primarily Great Lakes Bay talent brought together by producer/director Molly McFadden.
Think Lawrence Welk Show with a little Ed Sullivan Show tossed in, for those of you old enough to remember.
Backed up by an impressive 18-member big band (with Manhattan School of Music and Count Basie Orchestra on their resumes), the two-hour variety show served up jazz, blues, calypso, American musical, Christmas classics, gospel and Paul Simon via that big band as well as two instrumental trios with a vocalist, the Mike Brush/Julie Mulady duo, two vocal ensembles, a trumpet duet, three solo singers who also teamed up, and a witty conductor.
Too bad the number of performers on stage nearly outnumbered those in the audience. The rest of you missed a first-ever fantastic concert that served up Christmas in a new and fun way in these parts.
Outstanding moments? So many to list.
...Meridian High School trumpet players Sam Huss and Kyle Tomsich performing “Over the Rainbow.”
... Mike Brush’s sentimental and lovely new song “Christmas Eve for Two,” with him on piano and golden-throated Mulady singing it.
... Mulady and Mary Gilbert teaming up, and harassing the devil out of conductor James Hohmeyer, on “Santa Baby.” These two women need to do a full concert together; their voices meld gorgeously.
... The nine-member Voices of Jazz, comprised of high school students from the three counties, on both “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” When they briefly went a cappella on the second number, the blended sound was magnificent.
... The seven-member, stylishly-dressed, all-female gospel group Bamecians singing “Go Tell It on the Mountaim” in two styles, both of which rocked.
... The Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band on a cooking calypso version of “Feliz Navidad” that was impossible to enable one to sit still.
... The Friends Trio (three instrumentalists and one singer so dunno why the name trio) on “Cool Yule,” a funky, fun song we’d never heard.
The stage was gorgeous -- a mile-high pile of presents on one side, a Christmas tree on the other, and a colorful and ever-changing backdrop.
At the end one and all teamed up on stage for three singalongs -- with Lou E. proving himself an enthusiastic mime.
There were, yes, a few glitches in sound, in smoothness of introductions, in staging, but they were minor distractions -- and probably unavoidable given the number of acts to coordinate and rehearse.
This was the first of three Christmas concerts this week at the Temple, all of which are showcasing what one might call local talent and all promising to be very different from one another.
We are our own best Christmas present.