December 13, 2007
One of my favorite Christmas CDs is "Yulestride" by Butch Thompson -- holiday favorites on stride piano. (sample, 775KB).
Butch Thompson spent a long time on A Prairie Home Companion, and he is versed in that same laconic storytelling style. This is from the liner notes he provides for the CD:
In December 1954, I was the leader of a three-piece band that closed our school Christmas program with an instrumental reading of Silent Night. We had two clarinets and a cornet, and we just played the whole thing, three times through, in unison. We were in the sixth grade, and had received three months of weekly lessons on our instruments. Rehearsing at home one day, I happened to throw in a little "Good evening, friends" blues lick that I thought sounded pretty good, but my mother persuaded me that people might not want to hear that kind of thing on a favorite hymn. They might be offended, she said, or (worse, I thought), they might laugh.
So when the big might came, we played it straight. We had no conductor, so our initial attack was unpromising, as each of us waited for somebody else to do something definite. A beachhead was eventually established, a gradual crescendo ensued, and as I recall we came to a forthright conclusion. Luckily, the first few weeks of clarinet instruction are customarily confined to the low register, so we didn't have to contend with the high notes and their hazardous intonation. In fact, our little trio had a comfortable, unthreatening reedy sound, not much different from an old pedal organ. As we say in the Midwest, it could have been worse.
Well, Mr. Thompson's mother need no longer fear that people might be offended (or, worse, laugh) when those hymns get a thorough dunking in the blues. Alas, it looks like the CD is out of print. Maybe it will come back some day.