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Christmas, Creole style

Thursday, Dec. 10

It’s hard to imagine the holiday season without the beloved songs and melodies that accompany it. Every year, new artists are rearranging and covering songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or “I’ll be Home for Christmas” and more. But these arrangements often feature pop singers doing duets over an up-tempo, trebleheavy version of the original. This is something that caught the attention of Etienne Charles, trumpet player and a professor in the Jazz Studies Department at MSU.

After the successful release of his 2013 album, “Creole Soul,” Charles began planning his next album. A native of Trinidad, He wanted to make a mashup of traditional Trinidadian and American Christmas songs. The result is his latest release, “Creole Christmas.”

“I knew it would take some time to put together the track listing and find the right musicians for the project,” Charles said. “It ended up taking about 27 total musicians to finish the album.”

Most of the tracks on the album are arranged in a traditional calypso style, complete with steel drums, bass, saxophones, trumpets, trombones and flutes.

“I wanted to keep the arrangements as close to traditional songs as I could,” Charles said. “Most are bouncy and have a New Orleans groove to them. Others will be more like a waltz — they will have a slower drum beat and be a little more danceable.”

One rearrangement that stands out is Charles’ version of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, ” by Tchaikovsky.

“When I first heard ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,’ I thought it was an absolutely beautiful composition,” Charles said. “But I also heard a layer underneath that I wanted to explore on my own. We ended up writing our version as more as a joropo, which is a Venezuelan party dance. It ended up having a really amazing groove to it. It is probably one of my favorite tracks on the album.”

Charles, along with his backing band, will perform the “Creole Christmas” album in its entirety Thursday at REO Town’s Robin Theatre. The album will be available for purchase at the event. (Those unable to attend the event can order the album from Charles’ website, etiennecharles.com.)

“We only performed this album two other times, once last week in New York and one the week before back in Trinidad. So really, this is the only time people may get the chance to hear these arrangements live.” Charles said, adding that he has no plans to take this holiday show on the road.

“It is something I have thought about, but obviously holiday songs are kind of time sensitive. It would not really make sense to perform Christmas songs after the holiday season, but there is always next year.”

Creole Christmas

With Etienne Charles 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10. $15/$12 adv./$10 students. The Robin Theatre, 1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing. creolechristmas.bpt.me


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