top of page

In Which Ryan Plays More Holiday Music

January 2021 | 2:1


Koopa and Goomba look boldly and wistfully into the coming year.

What's Been Happening

December was actually somewhat normal in the sense that I spent it working on holiday music, albeit all virtually. While this came with the obvious drawbacks of not seeing people or making music in person it also allowed me to connect and make music with people I otherwise never get to play with, so at least selfishly I can call it a success in that regard.

The first one to come out was a version of “We Three Kings” that I did for/with the Jazz Community Big Band. The band is based in Chicago and was actually the band for my wedding, partly because I play with them regularly and knew people would like the music, and as much or more because of how much I love all the cats in the band. To that end this was a nice way to catch up and make music together by proxy, and I think it came out well (big shout out to Marianne May and Per Lynerupp for their coordination and video editing respectively).

The next videos were the result of a project that Jay Wise and I had been threatening to create for some time; the Bluecoats Alumni Jazz Ensemble.

<Editor’s Note - The original working name was the Bluecoats Alumni Big Band but I just couldn’t handle having the acronym “BABB”. Also “BAJE” is pronounced “Bah-hey”. No, I don’t know why>

Beyond being an interesting way to combine my worlds of drum corps and jazz, it was really fun to show off some of the great artists that have come through the organization and gone on to even greater things. We ended up recording versions of Jingle Bells, Auld Lang Syne, and In The Bleak Midwinter, and they turned out well enough that there’s already plans in the works for another round of charts so it was definitely a fun project all around. Big thanks to all the folks that collaborated to make it happen, but a special shout out to Jay Wise for handling the video end and for green-lighting the project in the first place.

For a last thought to ring in the new year, I’ll share why I chose “In The Bleak Midwinter” as a final chart for that project. I always thought it was a weird vibe and title for a Christmas hymn, but as I was choosing a “closer” for the project it was in the immediate aftermath of election day so the title held a certain appeal. As I dug in to the tune, what I quickly found was that in a lot of ways I finally understood the tune and in a larger way why people celebrate the winter solstice and/or Christmas when it’s cold, and dark, and it’s about to get even colder for several months. It’s not that things are about to get better, or that we’ve necessarily passed a nadir whether figuratively or literally. It’s because the nadir exists, and what that inherently means.

It’s because they will get better at some point.

May your masks smell pleasant and your packages arrive without incident,


Chart O' The Month

Go ListenTo John's Stuff
00:00 / 01:04

… is not actually a chart this month, or even mine since you just saw four of my charts up above. One of my favorite composers is John Hollenbeck, and a couple months ago he began the process of making all of his recorded music available through bandcamp with the profits going to Black Lives Matter initiatives. You can see the entire available discography at the following link:

You can stream everything before buying it, and if you need a nice accessible “point of entry” I recommend “Songs I Like A Lot”. Fair warning; his stuff is pretty out there but he’s hugely influential on me and how I hear music. As he said at the end of the first concert where I ever heard him or his writing, “I hope you like it, and if you don’t like it… I guess I hope you really don’t like it”.

Epidendrum 'Pacific Sunset' x 'Pink Rabbit'.JPG

Look, Nature!

Among the many perks of my wife working at the Chicago Botanic Garden, she works in the greenhouse so I get to see pretty tropical flowers when it is decidedly not tropical outside.

This is a "Cattleya trianae var. sangre toro" which looks a little to me like a very flamboyant elephant. In other news, if I end up back in therapy I will at least have a running set of Rorschach tests at my disposal.

Education Notes

As mentioned above, I just wrote and recorded four holiday charts and they are available on my website under the Jazz Ensemble section. As always if you can’t afford the price I’ve set, just reach out and I’m happy to be as accommodating as possible.

In much bigger news, the annual Jazz Education Network (JEN) conference is virtual this year which opens attendance to people who might otherwise not be able to afford the travel or take the time off work to attend. Beyond being an organization I believe strongly in and have an ongoing relationship with, I think they’ve done a great job creating not just a virtual version of their usual conference but bringing in elements and artists that otherwise might not be able to be involved. A single example is live streamed performances from jazz venues around the country featuring artists like Christian McBride or the current JEN President Sean Jones, and there’s countless other examples throughout the programming.

Registration for the entire event is $75 (plus a JEN membership if you are not already a member), or $25 for students (plus a free eJEN membership if you are under 18). Membership and the conference are the primary revenue for JEN that allows them to serve their mission year round, so if you’re remotely interested (pun intended) I highly encourage you to attend.

Basic information about JEN

Conference Schedule

Conference Registration

bottom of page