CoTW — (Let’s Just Call All of Them Number) 96

These old Christmas covers of relatively obscure but great songs are a lot of fun. Please consider downloading them for a great cause.

After 25 years as a professional musician, I never fail to be impressed by the sprit of community of musicians in general and the Boston music community in particular. A further reminder of this occurred this past weekend. Tom Polce, a music producer with whom I used to be in a band but who now lives in LA, tweeted or sent a message on Facebook last Friday that he was back in Boston to work on some music at Q Division studios in Somerville. He and I went back and forth about, “come on man, we have to get together this time,” over the various media available to us nowadays. “When are you available?” We often have these situations where he is in for a week of 12-hour days, or my band, Buffalo Tom, might be on LA for one show and we fail to hook up, or only do so for a few minutes on the way in or out of town.

But both of us intrinsically understand the one almost fail-safe way to get musician buddies together: Book a session or a gig. Build it and they will come! So, texting back and forth last Friday night, looping in the selfless Ed Valauskas — who was at that moment playing a gig in Albany with his band, Jenny Dee and the Delinquents, and who books Q Division sessions — by the end a couple of the night we had time and a plethora of musicians booked at Q Division for that Sunday, two days later. Sunday was the night of the Boston Music Awards, but the event was starting early. While I was not able to attend, most of the area musicians planned to, so a bunch of people would stumble in later in the night, carried along by the momentum of the event. We had decided to do a couple of holiday tunes and thought, if they turned out OK, maybe we could upload them to the Target Cancer Foundation web site, where musicians have contributed songs in exchange for listeners to donate to the foundation.

Listen, I know most people have had enough of Christmas songs by the week after Thanksgiving. And no one really needs any new recordings. But we felt we had dug up a couple of little-known numbers that should be classics, “Christmas Everyday,” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and “Christmas Must Be Tonight,” by The Band.

The core band of Mike Piehl on drums, bassist Joe McMahon, Phil Aiken on piano, Tom on electric, and me on acoustic guitars, set up first and ran through the Band song. We set up in a small room, live, with just a few microphones, no separation, and banged the song out old-school style, arranging it in our own version as we recorded a few takes. Done. Beautiful, if I may say so.

By the time we were ready for the Smokey tune, more musicians started filing in — singers Kristin Cifelli, Steve Scully and Dave Brophy (both drummers by trade), and my younger brother, Scott Janovitz. And then local saxophone colossus, Paul “The Ostrich” Ahlstrand snuck in and lent a baritone sound. This recording absolutely swings. (play a snippet) I love the idea of sitting in a room together, not worrying to death over separation of sound, arranging on the fly, the way musicians all used to do before the exponential expansion of multi-track recording technology. But here is the trick: you have to start with good musicians.

And not only are these people good, they are tops at what they do. They would be in-demand session players in LA or Nashville. But here in Boston, they are just folks you see around at the clubs. Go out any night in Boston or Cambridge and there is an embarrassment of riches here, mostly musicians with day jobs who can play or sing any current Top 40 artists to shame. But we also have some luminaries who are known for touring or recording with big artists. And most of them would swing on down to such a hootenanny as this on at the drop of a hat.

Because here is an ill-kept secret about musicians: they will play for free. The whole music industry rock star myth was built on this business model. Music is not what they do; it is who they are. We didn’t have to tell any of these folks that this was for charity. No one was sitting on their phone asking “how much? Am I getting scale?” They wanted to play. But once you tell them there is good cause, almost every musician I know will rally and make arrangements to show up. I know, because it is part of my role as one of the founding members of Hot Stove Cool Music, which is well known in Boston for benefit concerts for the Foundation to Be Named Later of Red Sox GM, Theo Epstein” and former Baseball Hall of Fame commentator, Peter Gammons. I call and email musicians and they line up to play these shows every January in Boston.

And all one has to is look at FB profiles of musician friends to see them rallying even faster and determinedly when one of our own is in need. I have countless local examples here in Boston, even just in the past year.

Music is about community, a room full of people sharing something otherworldly, soul satisfying. Once you have spent an evening playing music with someone you had might not even met, it is easy to feel a kinship with them, and that is hard to let go. So when my brother Tom Polce is in town, I call up my other bothers and sister literal and figurative. We play music. It was the one sure way to get everyone together for the holidays.

That session was such a blast of impromptu fun and good will, that we rushed to book another one for a few more xmas tunes a few days later. Jenny Dee came in to do a duet with me on a Big Dee & Little Eva number (a Goffin/King-penned ditty); Chris Toppin came to lend some beautiful vocals; and we had Ryan and Freddie from Eli Reed’s band; plus Matty Pynn, Steve Scully, Ed V., and more folks. We ended up with three Christmas numbers and a couple of extras that will make their way to release some day soon.

So come Tommy, and Philly, and Mikey and Eddy. Chris Toppin, Steve Scully, Kristen and Joey. Come Scotty, and Dave Brophy, Matt Pynn and Jenny, Paul Ahlstrand and Ryan, and Andrew and Freddie…..Dash away, dash away, dash away all.

There are our three numbers plus a whole slew of new and unreleased Christmas covers from other great artists here:

Right Track Christmas Series

And the regular download series here:

Right Track Tunes

3 thoughts on “CoTW — (Let’s Just Call All of Them Number) 96”

  1. A great idea for a great cause, well worth the support, which I will give this week with a few purchases.

    I have to add that when I was in Cambridge for a week recently, hanging out with Paul and other locals and seeing music every night at Toad, LL, Atwood's, etc, it became quickly evident to me what an amazing community of musicians and supporters exist in the Cambridge/Somerville clubs. I experienced first hand the "embarrassment of riches" in your town, including players like Duke Levine, Jennifer Kimball, Hugh McGowan, Wild Sea, Kristin Cifelli, White Owls, Tim Gearan, etc.

    I left feeling very envious of the music community there, of the deep connections between so many of the musicians I saw, including some you mention here. There does not seem to be a similar community in Edmonton for some reason. I don't know if it is because we are too spread out over distance, or that such a community just isn't in my radar. But maybe this is why I am so drawn to the music scene where you live.

    I know about playing for nothing. While I've always been a side player with bands and artists, and only locally, we play because we love to play.

    Well, as usual, I ramble on. Thanks, Bill. Merry Christmas!

  2. I just got around to listening to these. I can see why you were so enthused in your blog. This is some badass Christmas music. "I Wish You a Merry Christmas" – love the duet!! "Christmas Everyday" also has a great feel to it.

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