- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Christmas music may be standard, but on special occasions it gets an exciting and personal spin. Two performers in town this week bring new energy and life to familiar songs such as “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The results are the beginnings of new traditions.

“We try to do our own renditions of these tunes,” says Washington vibraphonist Chuck Redd. “Not just cursory readings; we try to get into them. The four of us have played together so much that we always come up with something interesting.”

The four are Mr. Redd, brother Robert Redd on piano, Tommy Cecil on bass and Tony Martucci on drums. Tonight, they’re at Washington’s venerable jazz club Blues Alley for “A Redd Christmas.” On Christmas Day, they’ll play in the Grand Foyer at the Kennedy Center.

The brainchild of one of the managers at Blues Alley, the holiday show there is in its ninth year of jazzing up holiday favorites. About five years ago, another Blues Alley manager brought his two children, ages 8 and 9, to listen to the first set — and since then, the evening has become more than just an entertaining night that merged traditional jazz with holiday standards.

During the intermission on that night five years ago, the children came up on the bandstand and played a couple of Christmas songs. The next year, Chuck Redd’s then-10-year-old son, Charlie, who plays classical guitar, took a turn on the stage.

The tradition has taken off from there. In the past few years, the intermission has become a special set of music. Eight or nine youngsters get to play a song or two alone or in small groups.

“It’s a really nice thing,” says Mr. Redd, who has the difficult task of organizing the young performers.

“It’s the only time of the year we have really young kids playing at Blues Alley. They have the youth orchestra that plays there occasionally, but this is really little kids coming in. It’s a really family kind of holiday-party atmosphere. Usually, somebody brings cookies.”

Even the adults without children seem to enjoy the new tradition.

“They love sitting there having a beer and watching little kids come up and play,” Mr. Redd says. The adults also get to enjoy a second set at 10 p.m. This one usually swings a bit harder, and the band is often joined by other local musicians for lively jam sessions.

Mr. Redd is a Smithsonian artist in residence, playing the Jazz Cafe at the National Museum of Natural History one Friday evening a month. He has toured, performed and recorded with the likes of Mel Torme, Dizzy Gillespie, Marian McPartland, and Bucky Pizzarelli.

He and brother Robert will also be taking part in the Kennedy Center’s annual Christmas Day All-Star Jam. It’s a six-year tradition that fills the Grand Foyer on Christmas Day from 6 to 7 p.m.

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Kathy Mattea, two-time Grammy winner and Country Music Association female vocalist of the year in 1989 and 1990, brings her Christmas show, “Songs and the Season,” to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sunday.

Miss Mattea has gone through a lot of musical changes in the past 10 years.

Leaving commercial country music behind, she signed with New Age and folk label Narada in 2002 and released a beautiful and moving album, “Roses,” that can best be described as contemporary folk and Celtic.

This certainly wasn’t the first time Miss Mattea has stretched beyond the standard and traditional. In 1993, she released a Christmas album called “Good News” with no traditional Christmas songs. It won a Grammy for best country gospel album in 1993. The subsequent Christmas concert tour was a huge success.

“It just became this kind of phenomenon,” she says. “People really embraced it.”

That trend has continued. This is the 10th year of Kathy Mattea Christmas shows. “We started adding every year our own arrangements of some traditional tune,” Miss Mattea says. “And after a few years, we realized, ‘We have half another album.’ ”

Using that as a jumping-off point, Miss Mattea released a new album of Christmas songs, titled “Joy for Christmas Day,” last year. This one does have traditional Christmas songs, but the arrangements often are nontraditional.

“The cool thing to me about the angle on a Christmas album,” Miss Mattea says, “is that because the subject matter is sort of nailed down, it gives you a little more musical freedom, because the thread running through is this theme.”

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