Skip to content

Countdown: Where To Go & What To Hear In NEO, Dec. 14-21

This is the time of year when the live music scene cools a bit, but gentle readers of let’s call this, let nothing you dismay. A sleighful of holiday shows by some of Northeast Ohio brightest vocalists more than picks up the slack. Even if you feel a little Scrooge-y about seasonal favorites, our quartet of singers are here to offer you a cookie tray of holiday treats both salty and sweet. So dig in, dig?

Helen Welch

“A Little More Naughty Than Nice” with Helen Welch, Joe Leaman, Bryan Thomas and Anthony Taddeo, Thursday, Dec. 14, 7 p.m., BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Rd., Cleveland

Since so many of our holiday traditions come from the U.K., it’s only fitting to begin with Helen Welch, whose program is anything but traditional. Welch has appeared fronting small groups, big bands and really big bands, as she did with the Blossom Festival Orchestra. “Superstar. The Carpenters Reimagined” is among her most beloved ventures, but Welch longed to do a show that was less, well, polite. “One of the things that I really had to check when I moved here was the humor because you are a lot more conservative than we are in England,” Welch told me by phone. Kicking around ideas for a holiday show with her band, bassist Bryan Thomas suggested that she do one that was more naughty than nice. Bam!

So this might be the only holiday show where you’ll hear Tom Waits’ “Temptation,” the Cole Porter standard “Just One Of Those Things,” and Paul Simon’s “Fifty Way To Leave Your Lover,” because, as Welch said, “It’s Christmastime, the best time for breakups,” a fact that anyone who has been in love can affirm. “A Little More Naughty Than Nice” is the ideal show for those who prefer more spice than sugar in their eggnog. “It’s the songs that people wish they could sing at Christmas, but never would.”

Ava  Preston

“Christmas Around The World” with Ava Preston and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, Friday, Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m., Maltz Performing Arts Center, 1855 Ansel Rd., Cleveland and Sunday, Dec. 17 2:30 p.m. Lorain Palace Theater, 617 Broadway, Lorain

Stop me if you heard this one before: “Laaaast Christmas . . .”

Don’t worry. The Countdown is not about to go all George Michael on you, but there is a Hallmark movie backstory to the musical relationship between Ava Preston and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, Though Preston only graduated from high school earlier this year (and will graduate from college in 2024–another story for another day), she’s a musical veteran who has shared stages with some of the region’s most revered performers, including local legends Evelyn Wright and Vanessa Rubin for the CJO’s holiday concerts in 2021 and 2022. So when artistic director Paul Ferguson invited her to be the featured vocalist this year, Preston couldn’t say no, especially with a program of music from around the world. Though she has sung in six languages, Preston will need only two for “Christmas Around The World,” English and Ladino.

Preston is a fan of holiday music, though she concedes that her favorites are a bit unusual. She loves “Carol of the Bells” for which Ferguson has written her a gorgeous new arrangement. “It’s the most moody sounding Christmas song, It’s winter and it’s mysterious and fantastical,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s dark and foreboding but it’s also a Christmas song, so I’m like jamming to it.” Jamming is the order of the day on another unusual, but deeply swinging choice, Ellington’s “Imagine My Frustration,” which he recorded with the peerless Ella Fitzgerald. That’s fast company for sure, but Ava Preston is more than up for the challenge.

Theron Brown and Amanda Powell at BOP STOP

“Waiting On An Angel – A Holiday Concert” with Amanda Powell, Howie Smith, Theron Brown,  Ian Kinnaman and Anthony Taddeo, Friday, Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m., BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Rd., Cleveland

Several years ago when she was busy singing “Messiah” and “Celtic Christmas” programs with acclaimed Baroque chamber orchestra Apollo’s Fire, Amanda Powell was struck by this thought: “There’s a big part of my heart that’s not getting to do stuff that I love. So I just called a bunch of my friends in the jazz world and asked them if they wanted to do a holiday gig with me. They said yes and they came along, and we had such a blast,” she told me by phone from her east side home.

Powell’s holiday wish has since become a tradition of sorts, though like many such traditions, it came to an end in 2020. Or so Powell thought. “Last year I didn’t expect to do it, but then I got a call last minute from a performing arts organization at a church and we ended up doing it and had a blast.” And no wonder. Powell is a consummate musician who commands the admiration of her fellow musicians with the ease and charm with which she commands a stage. One look at the A-list band she’s bringing will tell you that the love goes both ways.

Every year Powell chooses a theme for the show. This year it’s angels. “I chose ‘Waiting on an Angel,’ which is a Ben Harper song that I’m gonna do with the guys in a jazz variation, and a big “Angels We Have Heard on High’ harmonized singalong. Basically it’s like I have a living room that fits 100 people, I’ve got the fireplace going, we’re all having a nice beverage, we sit around. It’s the time of year when I feel the need to have that community, that cozy community. That’s really why I’m doing it.”

Barbara Rosene

“Home For The Holidays” with Barbara Rosene, Rock Wehrmann, Tim Lekan and Nick Paparone wsg Tommy Lehman, Saturday, Dec. 16, 8 p.m., BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St., Akron

When Barbara Rosene chose “Home For The Holidays” as the name of her annual December show at BLU Jazz+, she was doing more than nodding to the old Perry Como hit. Though she spends much of her year in New York, performing and recording with some of the city’s finest musicians, she also has a home in Northeast Ohio. The show, she says, “is now an annual thing that I really look forward to.”

Rosene toured with the Harry James ghost band and one of her higher-profile New York gigs is with Vince Giordano’s tradition-minded Nighthawks little big band. The great songs of the past is musical territory she knows well. “I love all those songs because I think they’re nuggets that nobody’s discovered,” she said. So expect some delightful rarities on her setlist, and with a piano/guitar/bass trio lineup that pianists Oscar Peterson and Nat Cole favored, expect everything to swing.

I couldn’t live without Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events. If you haven’t visited it lately, what are you waiting for?

NOTE: This article was written by a real human being. No artificial intelligence or generative language models were used in its creation.

Red beans and ricely yours,