Christmas album brings together over 50 RVA musicians

Christmas has never sounded so good.

Update #1 — December 3, 2014; 9:15 AM

WCVE informed Samson Trinh that music videos, filmed during recording of the crowdfunded Christmas album (see below), will air during the holiday season on the local PBS affiliate. Specific date/time should be announced soon.

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Original — December 03, 2014

Listen to one of the album’s tracks while you read–to get you in the Christmas mood!

All I want for Christmas is You


Christmas Time is Here

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“The past few Christmas albums from modern artists have just been kind of lazy, don’t you think?” asked Samson Trinh, local musician, composer, and producer.

Take Rod Stewart’s Merry Christmas, Baby, or Michael Bublé Christmas. They each recorded songs already cemented in the public’s Christmas conscious. So what makes their renditions so different aside from their voices? Typically it’s the song’s arranger. “He would reinvent that original song and make it his own,” Trinh said.

But the songs recorded by Stewart and others just rehashed existing arrangements. “They would take the same Sinatra arrangement or the same Bing Crosby arrangement” and do those,1 Trinh said. And while those arrangements may be timeless, Trinh said that “at the same time, the originality isn’t there.”

So Trinh marshaled over 50 local musicians to record a 10-track Christmas album unlike any other. “Not really reinventing the wheel, but just have a fresher take on Christmas music, where it’s not insanely commercialized and all Pro Tools‘d up and crystal clean perfect,” he said.

It’s an album Trinh envisioned eight years ago, but which only came together in recent months. As leader of the Upper East Side Big Band–which at any given gig has between 10 and 22 members–Trinh has several years of coordinating a large band.

But he needed financial support to make his Christmas album real, money that’d pay for song rights, CD duplication, recording,2 and to compensate over 50 musicians involved. So Trinh launched a Kickstarter fund that brought in nearly $12,000, surpassing its $10,000 goal. “I was a bit overwhelmed,” he said, by how so many believed the album was a project worth backing.

He needn’t look far for musicians to bring his “modern take on Christmas music” to life, as he enlisted local musicians like lead vocalist Laura Ann Singh (Quatro na Bossa), Terri Simpson (Butterbean Jazz Quartet), Allyson Mills-Steele (Mills Family Band), and more. “The RVA community has a wealth of talent,” he said.

Trinh was inspired by the Wall of Sound formula pioneered by producer Phil Spector (and heavily used by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys) wherein musicians perform in unison inside a studio.3 “I really think it’s just using every instrument,” Trinh said.

In a time crunch to complete the album on time, Trinh sometimes had only two days to arrange songs to bring to a recording session. “[The musicians] were sight reading on the spot” while being recorded, he said. “They’re good musicians.”

Todd Raviotta of Natural Science Productions and Ashly Covington of Covington Imagery filmed the recording process, segments of which have been uploaded to YouTube. Trinh said a mini-documentary of the recording process is also planned for release.

But why do a Christmas album, especially one you’ve had in mind for eight years? “The melodies are awesome,” he said. “Christmas melodies are just solid.” They’re also perennial. “You always go back to it.”

The album is now available digitally, and will soon be available at Plan 9 and on iTunes.

The Upper East Side Big Band will perform at Friday’s sold-out Late Night with Beau Cribbs at the Coalition Theater, at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on December 11th from 5:00 – 7:00 PM, and will hold a CD release party at Ashland Coffee & Tea on December 19th.

Trinh is also persuading WCVE to broadcast an ensemble performance in time for the holidays. But even if the musicians don’t make it to TV, Trinh is still happy with the contribution he and the musicians have made to the Christmas music catalogue. “It was always a goal to make a solid Christmas album,” he said.

Purchase the Upper East Side Band Christmas album online.

  1. Trinh said that Bublé used arrangements by The Drifters and Bing Crosby, among others, on his album. 
  2. Done by No BS! Brass Band drummer Lance Koehler at his studio Minimum Wage Recording
  3. The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” is considered a quintessential Wall of Sound production. 

Photo courtesy of Ashly Covington

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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