By Ande Jacobson
The year is rapidly racing to a close, and while Christmas is behind us, the music is still something to savor. I described, with anticipation, San Jose Saxophone Christmas (SJ SaxMas or just SaxMas for short) in a recent article intended to inspire local saxophonists to join in, and urging everyone else to come see and hear this unique event. As mentioned in the article, this has been an annual holiday tradition for over a quarter of a century down in San Jose California, always taking place on the third Saturday of December. This year that was 21 December, and while that day has come and gone, 228 saxophone players delighted their audiences as they brought their instruments together for two rousing, free concerts. In case you missed it (or if you just want to relive it a little), read on.
Kevin Stopper recorded the entire Eastridge concert, and it’s a sight and sound to behold. As has been the case for many years now, Ray Bernd (the amazing guy behind SaxMas) gave a short welcome announcement. Ray writes or collaborates on most of the arrangements the group plays, recruits volunteers, organizes the event each year, and pretty much eats, sleeps, and breathes Saxophone Christmas for most of the rest of the year. The following videos are pieces of the full concert video playlist. One can either watch them one at a time, or start the first video and just let it roll through the entire concert.
The concert began with Ray’s welcome announcement followed by the traditional concert opener, A Christmas Festival for Saxes:
Next up, after a short introductory description, was a rendition of the French carol, Bring a Torch Jeanette, Isabella:
Ray always likes to include a variety of songs in the playlist, and this next one was a lively children’s song, Nuttin for Christmas:
Next up was a song with a lively calypso beat first played at 2018’s SaxMas entitled, Mary’s Boy Child:
While Ray likes to add a new song or two every year, he didn’t actually finish one specifically for the San Jose event this time. He did; however, write a new song for the Sacramento Saxophone Christmas. The Sacramento event hasn’t been around as long as the San Jose SaxMas, but it’s been growing now for eight years. This next song was written for the Sacramento event, and while it’s not technically a Christmas song, it’s often associated with the holiday season: Troika (sans sleigh bells)
Ray pulls from many sources for his saxophone repertoire. A few years ago, Ray adapted When Christmas Comes to Town from the movie “The Polar Express” for this auspicious event:
Ray also occasionally updates songs that first appeared in much earlier SaxMasses. This next one was first played in 1999 and was revised in 2016. This traditional English carol hearkened back to the Christmas story and the ships of the desert in I Saw Three Ships A’Sailing:
Next up was one that’s often associated with Burl Ives, Holly Jolly Christmas:
Next, the group went back to an old traditional English carol, Sussex Carol:
Ray always likes to show the various saxes at the concerts, some that are rarely seen elsewhere. This next video was that sequence as the players rested their chops for a few minutes:
The next song was that lush, Mel Torme favorite, The Christmas Song:
Ray combines numerous styles in the concert, and this next one was an aptly retitled classical favorite (and my personal favorite), Dance of the Sugar Plum Saxes:
Next up was one of the many remixes of Carol of the Bells, this one made famous by the Trans Siberian Orchestra, Christmas Eve – Sarajevo 12/24:
Next up, was back to another children’s favorite (with choreography and audience participation), Chipmunk Song:
The next one has been another SaxMas staple since its inception, Jingle Bells Forever:
The next song was played through the first time, and then a portion was repeated to provide a very special entrance, Song for Santa:
And the traditional concert finale was We Wish You a Merry Christmas:
In 2020, San Jose SaxMas will take place on 19 December. As the new year approaches, plan ahead to see this unique, festive, holiday extravaganza in person. Two concerts are scheduled, one one outdoor and one indoor, so even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, there will be a 2020 SJ SaxMas to celebrate the season. Merry SaxMas and Happy New Year to one and all!