New Century Saxophone Quartet

A New Century Christmas (2000)

A New Century Christmas CDMichael Stephenson, soprano saxophone
Robert Faub, alto saxophone
Stephen Pollock, tenor saxophone
Brad Hubbard, baritone saxophone

Panc Daalder, drums and percussion
Ernst Glerum, bass
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“A New Century Christmas"

1. Funkin' with the Bells  (Traditional)

 arr. Lenny Pickett

2. The First Noel  (Traditional) 

 arr. Ben Johnston

3. Little Drummer Boy (Davis Onorati/Simeone)

 arr. David Ott  

4. We Wish you a Merry Christmas  (Traditional)

arr. Benjamin Boone

5. In the Bleak Mid-Winter  (Holst) (843KB MP3)

 arr. Glenn Haynes

6. Christmas Medley

arr. Ronald Rudkin

I'll be Home for Christmas  (Kent/Gannon) (815KB MP3)  

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Blane/Martin)

White Christmas  (Berlin)  

7. Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming  (Praetorius) (783KB MP3)

 arr. Glenn Haynes

8. My Favorite Things (Rodgers/Hammerstein)

 arr. Benjamin Boone

9. O Holy Night  (Adam)

 arr. Lawrence Dillon

10. God Rest Ye Merry Gentle Mensch  (Traditional) (863KB MP3)

 arr. Lenny Pickett

11. What Child is This (Traditional) (866KB MP3)

 arr. Brad Hubbard

12. Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming  (Brahms/Praetorius)

 arr. Arthur Frackenpohl

13. Santa Claus is Coming to Town  (Gillespie/Coots)

 arr. Ken Valitsky

14.O Little Town of Bethlehem (Redner)

 arr. David Ott

15. We Four Kings  (Hopkins)   (891KB MP3)

 arr. Benjamin Boone

16. Rock Land Bell Winter Jingle Wonder  (Bernard/Beal & Booth)

 arr. Jeff Schiller

17. In Dulci Jubilo (J.S. Bach)

 arr. Arthur Frackenpohl

18.The Last Noel  (Traditional)

 arr. Lawrence Dillon

19. Silent Night  (Gruber)

 arr. Gordon Goodwin

Total time 73:09

Program Notes


When we decided to do a Christmas recording we knew we had to do something out of the ordinary. Artistically it didn't make any sense to record a bunch of carols or swing versions of everyone's favorite holiday hits. And besides, it's just not in our nature to do any project in a "standard" sort of way. So as we discussed what we did and did not want the disc to be (in an SUV somewhere between El Paso and Dallas), we arrived at what we thought was a pretty original idea. We decided to contact all of our composer-friends and offer them the following scenario: Write an arrangement of a Christmas tune in your own compositional style, using the tune as much or as little as you desire, with the final goal being a re-composition of a familiar tune with your personal stamp on it. We more or less "assigned" specific tunes to avoid duplication, and left the composers on their own. Thankfully, all of the responses to the idea were positive, so we were encouraged and figured that if the composers were enthusiastic about the project, we were off to a good start.

As our first reading session for the new music neared, we began to realize what a risk we took in commissioning an entire CD of original Christmas music. This realization was accompanied by a bit of fear as well! Those fears were quickly put to rest as we read through the compositions one-by-one, delighting by the quality of each. After one reading we knew we had achieved our goal of assembling a high-quality collection of original music that is eclectic, witty, serious, silly, and different - all adjectives that have been used to describe us as an ensemble. We believe that the quality of the music surpasses anything currently available for saxophone quartet in this genre, and perhaps any other chamber ensemble as well. It does so with endless variety: There are traditional carol-like arrangements, modern versions of old standards, jazz- and pop-influenced styles, and contemporary original music. Every piece exceeded our expectations and we couldn't be more pleased with the efforts of every composer.  The notes that follow are a collection of each composer's thoughts about his own music.

This disc represents so many different things, but most of all it is about relationships between friends. We in the quartet had a great time rehearsing and recording the music. We enjoyed the process of collaborating with all of the composers whose work is represented here. They are all good friends with whom we share personal and professional relationships extending way beyond this project. Every person involved in this recording gave their absolute best, and shared a part of their heart and soul. For that we are unendingly thankful, for that is truly what this season is about - the love we share with family and friends and the connections that are possible every day of the year. This disc is a celebration of life and love, and we invite you to join in.


New Century Saxophone Quartet would like to thank all the composers for their very creative approach to arranging the music on this recording. As always we want to thank Channel Classics and Jared Sacks for supporting and producing this project. Thanks also to our very dedicated manager Robert Besen who has always believed in us (at times, more than we did!).  Most of all we want to thank our families.  They have stood by us through thick and thin and so it is to them we dedicate this recording.  Merry Christmas - may the blessings of the season be yours throughout the year.


"We Four Kings"

I've always thought that the tune "We Three Kings of Orient Are" was too somber, stiff and serious. In my mind, the three Kings must have been pretty hip - thrill seekers even - to have undertaken such a mysterious journey. In honor of their international gusto (and to banish any sense of austerity from this melody) I put "We Three Kings" to a Latin montuno groove that master Puerto Rican bassist Jamie Rivera taught me.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

The melody of this tune is treated as a theme for variations. First, the melody is set in a rather traditional hymn-like manner, then as a popular song ballad. Finally, I added a dash of Cajun spice.

"My Favorite Things"

OK, I admit it: Julie Andrews was my first screen-love. I watched "The Sound of Music" countless times, memorized every song and spoke every part (I can sing a great "Climb Every Mountain"). As I sung along with my LP, I imagined that Julie would ask me about *MY* favorite things. We would share a chocolate sundae and then cross the Alps arm in arm.  Later, when I heard John Coltrane's rendition, I mimicked his playing with equal fervor. Now I regularly perform this song at my jazz gigs. For this arrangement, I decided to insert some more of *MY* favorite things, such as a swing feel, jazz licks, and "outside" playing.

Composer and saxophonist Benjamin Boone has written several works for saxophone, including Election Year (solo), Squeeze (concerto), Alley Dance (quartet), Vicissitudes (quartet concerto), and the Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano. He has won honors and awards for his compositions from organizations such as ASCAP, the National Association of Composers/USA, the Southeastern Composers' League, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Tennessee Arts Commission. His compositions can be heard on several CDs, including those of the New Century Saxophone Quartet (Homegrown CCS 15498), the National Flute Choir, cellist Elizabeth Morrow, the Millennium Tribute to Adolph Sax CD series, Vol. IV, and the Poetzsch-Boone Duo.  Boone currently teaches at the University of Tennessee


"Oh, Holy Night"

There is a widespread tendency among carolers to sing the chorus of "Oh, Holy Night"  (Fall on your knees!) with an unseemly sadistic glee.  This arrangement of the carol opts for a more reverential, mysterious approach, which is far less likely to result in rug burns.

"The Last Noel"

The first noel the angels did say probably would have sounded quite a bit different if those angels had been virtuoso saxophone players.  In this version of the overly familiar tune, the angels get to show off their slick technical expertise, with rapid canonic scales and grace notes.

Composer Lawrence Dillon earned his doctorate at The Juilliard School, winning several scholarships and honors, including the Berlin Prize and the Gretchaninoff Prize in composition. Upon graduation, Dillon was appointed to the Juilliard faculty.   He has received numerous awards for his music, including grants from the American Music Center, Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Jerome Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, ASCAP, and CRS. Dillon's music is recorded by Contemporary Recording Society and published by American Composers Editions and Quadrivium Press.  Dillon currently chairs the composition department at the North Carolina School of the Arts.  He is the youngest of a large family of Christmas carolers, which taught him the value of bringing a well-oiled sense of humor to any enterprise.


"In Dulci Jubilo"

Bach's chorale prelude states the maestoso theme in long notes in 3/2 meter with florid interludes featuring bravura scalewise and arpeggiated passages.  The original melody is a German folk tune from the 14th century.  The Christmas carol is known as "Good Christian Men (Friends), Rejoice," sung in a lively 6/8 meter.

"Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"

Brahms's setting is one of Eleven Organ Chorale Preludes, Op. 127.  The melody is disguised in a flowing 6/4 meter, for the most part in the upper voice.  The source is from Alte Catholische Geisteiche Kirchengesang (Cologue, 1599), arranged by Michael Praetorius in 1609.

Arthur Frackenpohl was born in 1924 in Irvington, New Jersey, and received degrees from the Eastman School of Music and McGill University.  His composition teachers were Bernard Rogers (at the Eastman School), Darius Milhaud (at Tanglewood), and Nadia Boulanger (at Fontainebleau).  He is Professor Emeritus of Music at the Crane School of Music, Potsdam College of the State University of New York, where he taught composition, theory, piano, and class piano from 1949-1985.  Honors he has received include a First Prize in Composition at Fontainebleau in 1950, a Ford Foundation Grant in 1959-60, and several fellowships from the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1982.  In addition to a keyboard harmony text, he has had published over 400 instrumental and choral compositions and arrangements.  His music has been performed throughout the United States as well as in Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan, and his arrangements have appeared on several Canadian Brass albums.


"Silent Night"

Late on Christmas Eve when the fire is about to burn itself out, it is a family tradition to pass out the songbooks and sing all of the favorite seasonal tunes.  The old German song, "Silent Night" is always saved for last.  This arrangement maintains the quiet, reverent feeling usually associated with this probably the best known of all carols.  At first the melody is somewhat abstracted but by the time the third verse begins the tune rings out clearly in the quartet.

Gordon (Dick) Goodwin holds a doctorate in composition from the University of Texas, where he taught theory and composition and ran the jazz program for nine years.  In 1973 he moved to the University of South Carolina to head the Theory/Composition/Music History area and to conduct the University Orchestra.  His works in virtually every idiom, from jingle to opera, jazz band to orchestra, have been performed across the U.S. and abroad.  He is active as a performer (fifteen foreign and numerous domestic tours with the Dick Goodwin Jazz Quintet) and as a recording studio producer.  Goodwin is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at The University of South Carolina.


"In the Bleak Mid-Winter"

This setting paints the blustery winter conditions that Rossetti prescribes in her traditional (European) description of the nativity.  Alto and tenor work hard to sustain the perpetual motion of the ostinato (representing the wind).  Dynamics changes help to make the wind dance.  Above the ostinato the soprano sings the melody while below it the baritone establishes the modality. The image I wanted to capture was that of looking up at night at the snow coming down through the light of a street light. 

"Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"

This lovely Renaissance church melody traditionally sets an Advent text from Isaiah 35 comparing Christ's coming to an unfolding flower. Here, the tune is first accompanied by parallel tones from the harmonic series, with the tenor interjecting a contrasting driving motive at cadence points. The austere opening gives way to an undulating minor-mode setting, where melody is subtly shared among the players. The tenor interrupts the last note with the driving motive, which becomes a jammin' ostinato. Over this, the alto and soprano present the second half of the melody in canon at the fifth, while the baritone suggests a fresh harmonic structure.

Both of these arrangements I dedicate to my wife Ele.

Glenn Haynes received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1979, a Master of Music degree in applied piano from Ball State University in Indiana in 1984, and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in church music and conducting from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky in 1994.  He calls himself a musical generalist, enjoying choral and instrumental conducting, composing and arranging, and planning and implementing worship.  He is a member of Choristers Guild, and life member of ACDA and Hymn Society.  Hobbies also include woodworking, horticulture and skiing.


The arrangement of "What Child Is This" is a play on rhythm. The harmony is used almost verbatim from a hymnal that I have in my collection of music. I wanted this arrangement to have an uneven feel to it, rather like a wheel that isn't round anymore. I also wanted there to be a spontaneous element to this arrangement and a sense that the listener wouldn't be sure what might happen next, and to that end I included a section in the middle of the arrangement that allows the alto to improvise.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Brad Hubbard is considered one of the preeminent baritone saxophonists of his generation. As a member of New Century Saxophone Quartet since 1988, He has appeared on all three New Century recordings and has traveled extensively with the quartet in the United States and Europe. Hubbard has also appeared as a member of various orchestras, as a soloist throughout the Southeast, and in various jazz and commercial groups. He is also a founding member of and composer for the interdisciplinary group Invention!, which is dedicated to teaching children about the arts. His music is published by ALRY Publications.


The Advent carol "The First Noel" is one of the most mysterious and evocative of all the Christmas carols. Recounting the story of the visit of the "three wise men from the East" to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus's birth, it ties the apparently rural and obscure event into a much wider cultural and religious context implying powerfully a transcendence of the ethnic and national importance of the manger scene.  It seemed to me that the folksong-like tune could evoke even more strongly these timeless symbols if given a setting in counterpoint of Renaissance-like texture. Further, with the starting and ending tones taken as modal tonics, putting the tune into the medieval Phrygian mode, the emotional effect of the carol acquires an air of hushed reverence and awe. This is heightened by holding the unfamiliar tonic note in the bass during the repetition so as to make the modal ethos even more pervasive and intense. Finally, the use of saxophones evokes the timbral sounds of middle-Eastern and south Asian music, stressing again the wider context of events in Bethlehem.

Ben Johnston is a composer working with extended just intonation.  His teachers include Harry Partch, John Cage, Darius Milhaud, Burrill Phillips, and Robert Palmer.  Most of his works are for traditional ensembles but demand the use of just-tuned microtones.  His pieces have been widely performed all over the world.  He has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, ISCM, the Illinois Arts Council, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the University of Illinois.  Probably his best-known works are his ten string quartets, the most widely heard of which is the fourth (Amazing Grace), frequently performed by the Kronos Quartet.  During his entire teaching career he was at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but after retirement in the mid-1980s he taught at Northwestern University.  He is Professor Emeritus of Music and has an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Illinois.  He now lives in Rocky Mount, North Carolina with his wife.


"Oh Little Town of Bethlehem"

The haunting beauty of this Middle Eastern village is captured in this arrangement through subdued colors and rich counterpoint.  The miraculous events unfold in variation form and are stated in hushed and sustained tones.

"Little Drummer Boy"

This presentation of the pastoral carol is set in its usual arch form.  From its stammering opening to its resolute conclusion, the carol undergoes a variety of rhythmic changes and motivic developments, but remains faithful to its simple statement of the joy of simple gifts.

David Ott is one of America's most sought-after and critically acclaimed symphonic composers.  After completing undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, he earned a Master's degree in piano performance at Indiana University and Doctorate in music theory and composition at the University of Kentucky.  A noted teacher as well as composer, Ott has served on the faculties of Houghton College (NY), Pfeiffer College (NC), and most recently DePauw University (IN).  In 1991 he was named Composer-in-Residence of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, a position he held until 1997.  His recorded works on compact disc now number a dozen.  His catalog includes four symphonies, fifteen concertos, numerous overtures, fanfares and ceremonial music, film scores, and a host of chamber pieces.  One of his many recent commissions was a saxophone quartet for the New Century Saxophone Quartet.


"God Rest Ye Merry Gentle Mensch" & "Funkin' with the Bells"

My least favorite holiday is X-mas. After that comes Thanksgiving and then Easter.  My most favorite holiday is Valentine's Day and then Halloween.  X-mas (as we now know it) came about when a 19th century professor in New York composed a poem which transformed a Dutch folkloric character from a malevolent imp who dispensed lumps of coal to delinquent brats into a jolly old elf who gave "good" children  presents.  The New York City elders liked the poem's warm and domestic images of X-mas and hoped it would encourage revelers to stay home on X-mas eve and that it would also promote commerce.  They published it en-masse and it worked!  I call X-mass the "Pagan Shopping Holiday" because of its not-so-coincidental proximity to the ancient celebration of the winter solstice and the contemporary riot of consumer panic that engulfs the latter part of every calendar year.  It's a holiday based on buying: an entrepreneur's dream.  In order to make X-mas tolerable (especially since every year I must both participate in the festivities and play the music) I have created a series of irreverent pieces based on traditional X-mas songs to replace those songs when they are requested.  So, at their request, I arranged the two songs on this CD, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentle Mensch" and "Funkin with the Bells" for the New Century Saxophone Quartet & percussion.

Lenny Pickett is a self-taught musician with diverse musical interests.  He began his career at age 14 playing the saxophone and clarinet in bars and on the streets in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He toured and recorded with the legendary Oakland-based rhythm and blues band Tower of Power from 1972 until 1981, when he moved to New York City with his family.  There he is active as a composer, arranger, and studio musician, playing with many popular artists, including David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, The Talking Heads, and many others.  He composes music for dance, theater, television, and film as well as concert music (including works performed by the Kronos Quartet, the New York City Opera, the American Composers Orchestra, the Manhattan Marimba Quartet, and the New Century Saxophone Quartet). Pickett is currently co-music director for NBC's Saturday Night Live, where he has also been the saxophone soloist and arranger since 1985.


When New Century Saxophone Quartet called and asked for arrangements of three popular Christmas songs: "I'll be home for Christmas," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and "White Christmas," I decided to combine the three tunes as a medley, adding bass and drums to the arrangement so that it would have a big band saxophone section type of sound. The first two tunes I treated as ballads, but "White Christmas" is treated as a bossa nova, which I thought would be unique and a good way to culminate the medley. I also tried to use all four instruments in melodic roles so that it wasn't always the soprano on melody and everyone else on accompaniment.

Ronald Rudkin, a clarinetist and saxophonist, has been the director of the Jazz Program and professor of music theory at the North Carolina School of the Arts since 1978.  He received a Bachelor of Music degree from East Carolina University and a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan, where he held a graduate teaching fellowship. Mr. Rudkin plays second & assistant principal clarinet with the Winston-Salem Piedmont Triad Symphony, has appeared with the North Carolina, Greensboro, Charlotte, and Western Piedmont Symphonies, and performs regularly with his own jazz groups and dance band.  He has toured and performed with legendary jazz drummer Max Roach and Thelonius (T.S.) Monk, Jr., in public schools across North Carolina as part of an educational jazz program.


In arranging "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Winter Wonderland," I always had the New Century Saxophone Quartet's admonishment (knowing my sweet tooth for corny pop arrangements) that it be, "kind of out" in the back of my mind. I also wanted to create something that would highlight the quartet's sense of humor and seamless ensemble playing.  The two tunes are stated separately and then inter-woven, gradually and subtly at first, and then by the end very obviously and rapidly, while maintaining the AABA form that they both share.  In the first "Jingle Bell Rock" section, a sense of "out-ness" is achieved by reharmonizing and deconstructing the melody. The spreading out and octave-displacement of the melody line between the four horns, in a bell tone fashion, challenges the ensemble to create one (often angular) line out of four voices - and still swing.   The mixing of the two tunes starts with the "Winter Wonderland" section, where the accompaniment figure is derived from the first four notes of "Jingle Bell Rock" in retrograde (it happened by accident, and I said, "cool..."). The rootless-ness of the harmony, and the switching between and co-existence of swing and straight eighth notes at the same time, combine to further the "out-ness," humor, and ensemble challenges.  The mixing starts in earnest in the third section, where melodic pieces of one tune are accompanied by the rhythm of the other, and swing, straight, and African rhythms are spliced together, in smaller and smaller pieces until the end.

Jeff Schiller is currently a freelance musician playing saxophones, clarinets, flutes, and other woodwinds in the New York City area.   Also known as "Houndog," Schiller's diverse styles can be heard around town in the pit of the Broadway production of "Footloose", with the jump-swing bands "Groovalaya" (he howls on the band's two CDs, and is also a contributing composer for the band), and "Come Out Swingin'," numerous jazz big bands, the Hunter Symphony, and with the jazz/funk units "The Holland Tunnel Project" and "Table For Five".   He has performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Gary "U.S." Bonds, Martha Reeves, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Gene "Duke of Earl" Chandler, Frankie "Sea Cruise" Ford, Roscoe Gordon, and Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88s.  In addition to his performance activities, Jeff is also an avid arranger, copyist, and composer. His own projects include a saxophone quartet/quintet and an organ trio.


"Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

When I first heard from the New Century Saxophone Quartet that they wanted to do a CD of Christmas tunes, I thought they had gone a little crazy.  But then they told me this was not to be your ordinary Christmas album.  They wanted new arrangements in new styles.  I thought they were on to something.  My next dilemma was which tune should I do.  I really didn't really want to arrange some pretty, syrupy carol - I wanted something that when listened to carefully could make you shake your head in disbelief.  The quartet originally wanted me to do "Jingle Bells."  That tune didn't really ring any bells for me but "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" did.  On one level, the song is about children waiting for Santa to come for Christmas.  On another level it's about a stalker, someone who knows every move you're making.  He knows when you've been sleeping or awake, when you've been bad or good.  Then we get the spine chilling "so be good for goodness sake."  Is this a Christmas or a Halloween carol?  The moral dilemma, the biting sarcasm of the text, fit my style of writing perfectly.  "But see, amid the mimic rout a crawling shape intrude!  A blood-red thing that writhes from out of the scenic solitude!"  Poe would've been proud!

Ken Valitsky composer and guitarist, was a Fulbright Scholar in Germany, where he studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Helmut Lachenmann.  He has worked with Lydia Lynch, Dora Ohrenstein, the Doug Elkins Dance Company, producer/director Mark Obenhaus, Bermuda Triangle, and the Soldier String Quartet.  His own ensemble, which in the past has included Thomas Chapin and Regina Carter, has performed throughout the United States and Europe.  The Kronos Quartet has given frequent performances of his "nada Brahma", which they commissioned.  He has received grants and commissions from a variety of organizations and performance groups, including the American Composers Forum, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, the Mary Flagler Cary Trust, and Meet the Composer.  Works in progress include an opera in collaboration with Kathy Acker commissioned by American Opera Projects in New York, and a concerto for saxophone quartet and orchestra commissioned by the New Century Saxophone Quartet.

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