Local jazz artists team up on Christmas CD | WFAE 90.7

Christmas is always a special time to reminisce and think about family members and holiday traditions for local jazz singer and pianist Maria Howell and Noel Freidline. The two international artists have been recording and performing together for nearly 10 years, so this year they decided to release their first Christmas album together — “Merry Christmas My Dear,” on CD and vinyl. They’ve added their own flavor to the classic holiday tunes and talked about it at their launch party this month with WFAE’s “All Things Considered” host Gwendolyn Glenn.

Gwendolyn Glenn: So how did you choose what you wanted on the album?

Christmas Freidline: We tried to be strategic about what we wanted about it. We looked around and saw that what we were doing was jazz but also adult contemporary. For example, we have a gospel arrangement of “Silent Night” and a more obscure track of “Do You Hear What I Hear” in a Pat Metheny genre.

Maria Howel: I’m a big fan of public radio and I remember earlier in my career and I was listening to public radio and I was hearing Pat Methney all the time so all these artists like Spyro Gyro their music really got to me . One thing I love about this recording is that it’s a mixture of vocals and instruments and it reminds me of one of my favorite artists, Mrs. Nancy Wilson and the Cannon Ball Adderly.

Glen: One of my favorites too.

Howell: I thought it was a great concept that they shared equal value, and that’s what we accomplished on this one. I like this.

Freidline: One of the tracks we picked, and I love what Maria did with it, was Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” We took it and we threw it away and it doesn’t always work, but this song, it wrote itself. Donny wrote and the source material is so strong and you can do almost anything and it’s still strong.

Glen: It’s my favorite Christmas song.


Credit Gwendolyn Glenn/WFAE



Maria Howell performs.

Howell: So you’ll have two favorite versions, Donny Hathaway’s and ours.

Glen: This song has been done by so many people, but Donny does it in a way that you can immediately tell it’s him. Did it intimidate you when you were doing that?

Howell: I won’t say it intimidated me. I pulled this out of my brain from people’s expectations of this. I just wanted to put my heart into it. I just said, “Don’t worry about it. You love it. Keep it up.”

Glen: Your favorite on this album?

Howell: Noel took a song and restructured some of the lyrics. It’s the opening of the whole CD, which is “Merry Christmas, My Dear”, which is the title. And then of course “This Christmas”, then “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”, “My favorite things”.

Freidline: Years ago, I was tripping and having fun with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, and I felt that “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” fit very well with the climax. It has the signature “Take Five” feel. And what Maria does in “Silent Night,” she just brought to church.

Glen: What is the size of the group? Tell me about the group.

Freidline: We have a core group. We are five: piano, bass, drums, sax and vocals. We had strings, a guy from Nashville, a guitarist from Florida who did some stuff for us, and Lavelle Bradford is a jazz pianist from Charlotte – spectacular musicians came in and improved the tunes.


Credit Gwendolyn Glenn/WFAE



Jazz singer Maria Howell and pianist Noel Freidline talk about their new Christmas CD at the launch party

Glen: What do you want to tell people about this Christmas album so that it doesn’t get lost among those 50 million others?

Freidline: I would just say just listen to it once, check it out and see if you like it.

Howell: And I believe if they listen, they’ll understand that it’s like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day. People say, “It makes me feel so comfortable.” You will feel the musical connection that we have, and if you take a moment to listen and feel, you will be very happy.

Glen: Thank you for being with us, and I wish you much success on CD and vinyl.

Ada J. Kenney