Jazz vocalist Allan Harris revisits old favorite as "Nat King Cole Christmas" opens holiday season at Schwartz Center.
Allan Harris is a talented artist in his own right who doesn’t need to imitate someone else to get noticed. With a classical pianist for a mother, opera and blues singer for an aunt and Louis Armstrong for a babysitter, Harris was destined to find a future in music. The jazz vocalist and guitarist who counts everyone from Jimmi Hendrix to Les Paul to Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan as influences is happy to tip his hat to one of the most influential via a Christmas album and performance. He will perform “Allan Harris: A Nat King Cole Christmas” at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, at the Schwartz Center for the Arts.
Harris said a kid in Brooklyn, N.Y., he could tell what the mood was around the house by what music was on. When it was Cole, everybody was happy.
“When someone put on Nat King Cole, it just settled the whole household,” he said.
He was inspired to do a holiday show featuring Cole’s Christmas favorites in years past, and this year he’s taking it on tour and released a CD titled “Dedicated to You: Allan Harris Sings a Nat King Cole Christmas.”
“Listening to his voice and how smooth it was, it put people at ease,” Harris said. “It reminds you of sitting by a cozy fire with someone that you love, and that’s how I try to sing these songs.”
Harris and his band will play some of the crooner’s hit holiday songs, such as “O Holy Night,” “The Christmas Song” and “Silent Night.”
“I put my own twist on them, so we put a little swing and a little bop on some of them,” Harris said.
He also threw in a song audiences might have forgotten about — “The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot.” It was one that Harris had forgotten, too, until his friend Arturo Gomez brought it to him. It’s since become one of Harris’s favorites.
“You’d have to be a really uptight person to not get a little emotional when you hear this song,” he said.
Harris is bringing with him drummer Jerome Jennings, keyboardist Lafayette Harris Jr., and bass player Paul Beaudry.
“These cats just bring a myriad of skill to the table. Not only do they settle into Nat King Cole, they can swing,” Harris said.
So they might break from the show to perform something off the cuff, maybe something from his pet project “Cross that River,” a musical about the black west.
The focus, though, will stay on Cole’s work, which is appreciated from Germany to Turkey.
“There’s no drama in his voice, it’s easily recognizable. The way he tells a story you really believe him, and people have fallen in love to the way he sings, and he has an appeal that breaks down color barriers and cultural barriers.”
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