One day, a little over 20 years ago, my wife and I were riding in a car with another couple, Mitch and Koekje Dutton. This was well into the Christmas season. Koekje, in her single days, was Koekje Schwekendiek, and on this particular day she had received a tape from her brother Donny Schwekendiek, who was living in San Francisco and eking out a living playing jazz piano.
The tape she had received was a recording of Donny and two other guys playing Christmas music. She asked if we'd like to hear the tape.
OK...what were we going to say? "No"? But we had that look on our face. Koekje looked at us with complete sympathy, scrunched up her face and said "Yeah, I know...I didn't know what to expect either. But it's actually really good."
20 years on, that seems like an even greater understatement now than it did at the time.
"Christmas With The Believers" turned out to be the best jazz Christmas music I had ever heard, and that's still the case today. I'll take the imaginative arrangements, chops, tight playing, and sense of swing on this recording over anything I've heard by the legends in this field.
We've had a Christmas party each year for more years than I care to admit. We always kick the party off with this recording before segueing into more traditional fare. Guests hearing it for the first time always ask two questions: 1) "Who is that?" and 2)"Where can I get a copy?"
It's that good.
But you don't have to take my word for it; there's a free download link at the bottom of this post.
Last year I tracked Donny Schwekendiek down to ask for permission to share the recording, and to get a little background on The Believers. This is what he had to say:
here're a few facts about the tape and what i'm up to these days:
the trio was rounded out with neal heidler on the bass and barry puhlovski on the drums. unfortunately, i've been out of touch with both of them for well over ten years - i'll have to get on that... i'm pretty sure we formed the group in '86 - i know the recording was in the fall of that year. at the time i thought it was a really original idea but i've since found christmas jazz coming out of the woodwork - and that's a GOOD thing. we played in the san francisco bay area with our main gigs being every fri @ Dizzy's (with all the old jazz buffs sitting around the piano - which served as their bar counter - urging us on with well-timed grunts and "yeahs" - tom, the proprietor of a used record shop, harry, who had been in NY in the fifties and seen all the jazz greats in person and john, a dj on a local jazz radio station who took a liking to us and played some of the songs on KCSM) and hosts of the after hours jam session at Pearl's every fri & sat (which afforded us the chance to sometimes play with the real greats: Jaco Pastorius, Lew Tabakin, Teddy Edwards, Ernie Andrews, John Hicks, Ray Drummond and Eddie Blackwell among others - and this gig was straight out of the tradition ... hours:1:30am - 5:30am place:basement of a chinese restaurant on a side street in china town sop:serving alcohol in paper cups after 2am and looking out for the cops). the group necessarily disbanded with my departure to japan in 3/87 and the rest is (that's right) history.
these days i live and work in nagoya, japan. i have a trio, Triangle (still no cd), playing a mixture of originals and standards. also i play in a jazz-rock quintet, drunken fish, featuring originals by myself and the guitarist, Norio Watanabe. of course i also do plenty of backing singers and the like. another big gig these days is teaching jazz piano at the nagoya univ. of the arts. as i think you know, i have a homepage (donny-jazz.com). unfortunately it's almost completely in japanese but there are plenty of photos.
well i guess that's long winded enough. again, please feel free to put some of the music on your blog.
I have transferred the original cassette (which I received from Koekje) to CD, and ripped the resulting CD to MP3 at 320Kps. Since the original is a cassette, there is some tape hiss...but not much. Enjoy! Share with friends by pointing them to this blog post or forwarding the download link. And if you like it as much as I think you will, drop a note of appreciation to Donny via his web site.
Download link: http://www.mediafire.com/?hxmmzuhz3dv