As the co-producer and star, with fellow vocalist Pam Van Dyke Crosby, of last month’s Tribute to Cole Porter concert, Cynthia Simmons was looking forward to presenting a few Porter songs to the Jazz Depot crowd. But then, things happened.
“I twisted my ankle the week before the show,” she explains, “and then the day before, when we were getting ready to rehearse, I got ill on top of that. So I had to say, `I need to stay home, Pam. I’m sorry.'”
There were several Simmons fans in the audience who were sorry, too. But if they come out to Cynthia Simmons Presents Jingle Bell Jazz Sunday, they’ll hear her do at least a couple of the tunes she had all ready for the Porter show, including “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Miss Otis Regrets.”
“I happen to love Christmas songs, so this show is an opportunity to do some of my favorites,” she says. “But I’ll also throw some regular jazz songs in, including some of the ones I didn’t get to do at the Cole Porter show.”
This is the fourth time in a relatively short stretch that Simmons has headlined her own Depot concert, which gives testimony to her popularity with area jazz fans.
An Oklahoma City native, she moved to Tulsa a few years ago and happened to connect on Facebook with noted jazz pianist Scott McQuade, who had himself recently arrived in Tulsa from his native Canada. That led to a meeting at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, and from there to her subsequent performances on the Jazz Depot, both in ensemble casts and headlining her own shows.
For this one, she’ll be backed by two players well known to Depot audiences, bassist Jordan Hehl and drummer Wade Robertson. Her pianist for the evening, though, may not be quite as well known at this end of the Turner Turnpike as he is in his hometown.
“He’s Adam Ledbetter, who’s from Oklahoma City,” notes Simmons. “I met him through [saxophonist] Mike Cameron when we did the Don Byas tribute at the Jazz Hall last year. He’s worked with Rebecca Ungerman a little bit, and some of the other people around town. I just did a show in Oklahoma City, and he’s the person I used; he and I have just kind of connected. He’s come in and done some things at Main Street Tavern with me, too. And he’s just an excellent, excellent musician.”
In addition to the straight jazz tunes, Simmons plans to give jazzy twists to holiday classics, including the likes of “Santa Baby” and “The Christmas Song.”
“I know Mel Torme wrote `The Christmas Song,’ but whenever I think of it, I usually hear Nat King Cole,” Simmons says. “It just gives me chills to hear him singing it — and it gives me chills to sing it. It’s one of my favorite songs to sing.
“I’m also going to do `What A Wonderful World,'” she added. “I know it’s not a Christmas song, but you hear it so much at Christmas, and it’s just a great song.”
At least one number on her Sunday playlist may be a bit of a surprise, however, veering Simmons at least temporarily away from the style of music she’s known for.
“I’m probably going to do `O, Holy Night,'” reveals Simmons. “My background is not pure jazz; in my past, I used to do more gospel and classical things. I love Mahalia Jackson – who I learned recently also sang jazz at one point in her career. I just love her voice. She was my mother’s favorite gospel singer, and I grew up listening to her do `O. Holy Night’ on a Christmas album my mom had.
“It was really an album, too,” she adds with a laugh. “You know, an LP, where you have to put the needle down. And now, I’m dating myself.”
Cynthia Simmons Presents Jingle Bell Jazz is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, December 15, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street.
Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2013-14 Winter Concert Series.