Aardvark celebrated 49th Annual Christmas Concert on Zoom

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, led by Mark Harvey of Arlington, presented its 49th annual Christmas concert on Zoom, including conversation with Fred Bouchard, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15.

This encore presentation of Aardvark’s 2013 performance of the Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker Suite was free.

Veteran jazz journalist Fred Bouchard interviewed Harvey.

The Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn arrangement (1960) of Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker Suite is an exuberant big band take on the perennial classic, in which the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy becomes the Sugar Rum Cherry, the Arabian Dance becomes Arabesque Cookie, and the Waltz of the Flowers becomes the Dance of the Floreadores.

In the Zoom interview, Mark shared his take on the arranging approach, orchestration and stylistic breadth of the Nutcracker Suite and its striking fit with the Aardvark aesthetic. Fred and Mark discussed the history of the Aardvark Christmas, including the very first show in 1973, the 25th anniversary with Sheila Jordan, and anecdotes across the decades. After the Nutcracker video, Mark and Fred joined the audience for live Zoom questions and conversations.

Did you know?

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra gave its inaugural concert December 23, 1973 at the Church of the Covenant in Boston as a benefit for the Chelsea Fire Fund. Every year since then, the band has held a Christmas concert to support a deserving cause. Previous beneficiaries have included Doctors Without Borders, Rosie’s Place, Pine Street Inn, and dozens more. In this year’s virtual event, audience members are asked to continue the tradition of giving with charitable donations on December 15.

Aardvark has premiered more than 175 works for jazz orchestra and has garnered critical acclaim around the globe. Of the band’s 16 CDs, 10 are on Leo Records, one of the world’s leading adventurous music labels. Aardvark guest artists have included luminaries like Sheila Jordan, Ricky Ford, Geri Allen, Jaki Byard, Jimmy Giuffre, and others.

Bouchard has written for decades about jazz and classical music, world travel, nature and natural history, wine and spirits, food and culture. His byline has appeared in Downbeat Magazine, Fodor Guides, Yankee, Boston Herald, Boston Globe, Boston Musical Intelligencer, Beverage Business. He’s been writing about jazz in Boston just a tad longer than Aardvark Jazz Orchestra has been performing. As a professor at Berklee College of Music, he designed and taught courses in music journalism and American literature.

Harvey has performed in the U.S., Mexico and Europe; has recorded with George Russell (Blue Note) and Baird Hersey (Arista/Novus) and has appeared with Gil Evans, Claudio Roditi, Howard McGhee, Sam Rivers, Kenny Dorham and others. In 2019, Jazz Boston honored Harvey with the Roy Haynes Award for “exceptional contributions to jazz and the jazz community.” In 2015, Harvey was named Boston Jazz Hero by the national Jazz Journalists Association.

Commissions have featured such notables as Joe Lovano, Steve Turre, Herb Pomeroy and Ran Blake. Dr. Harvey is a retired Methodist minister and is senior lecturer in music emeritus at MIT, where he taught jazz studies for 40 years.

Aardvark is: Arni Cheatham, Peter H. Bloom, Phil Scarff, Chris Rakowski, Dan Zupan/saxes and woodwinds; K.C. Dunbar, Jeanne Snodgrass/trumpets; Bob Pilkington, Jay Keyser/trombones; Jeff Marsanskis, Bill Lowe/bass trombones, tuba; John Funkhouser/string bass; Richard Nelson/guitar; Harry Wellott/drums; Grace Hughes, vocalist; and Harvey, arranger/music director.