Come this December, the holiday season gets swingin' with Hanukkah Swings! Kenny Ellis--a multi-faceted musical performer and cantor--makes Hanukkah hip for pop, jazz and big band lovers with his Favored Nations' Cool debut Hanukkah Swings!
A joyous labor of love reflecting Ellis' lifelong affinities for Jewish culture and swing era legends Count Basie, Les Brown and Benny Goodman, Hanukkah Swings! features Ellis on lead vocals performing lively, jazzy twists on festive classics (some done in medley form) in English and Hebrew. One song has a dash of Yiddish tossed in on the humorous parody "Twas The Night Before Hanukkah," whose lyrics are complemented by a dashing jazz/blues piano solo by co-producer Stu Goldberg. The collection, which includes two original pieces, the lush orchestral ballad "Hanukkah Candles" and the fun-filled tropical flavored "Hanu-calypso," features brilliant ensemble arrangements by Emmy Award winning composer/arranger Harvey R. Cohen, arranger and co-producer of Hanukkah Swings!
Heavily involved in Jewish Education for many years, Ellis has spent a lifetime finding new and creative ways to forge connections between young children and their heritage. "Part of my life's work has been discovering new entertaining avenues to show what Jewish life can be, and this time I happened to put it in a package that includes my deep love for the big bands my father loved and exposed me to when I was young. It's a celebration of Jewish life and music, not just for people of our culture and faith, but for everybody. It's Hanukkah for everyone, and you don't have to be Jewish to sing along!"
Every Jewish kid remembers spinning the little top and learning the quintessential (and perhaps best known) Hanukkah song, "I Have a Little Dreidel," adapted on Hanukkah Swings! as the vibrant, bold and brassy opener "Swingin' Dreidel." But how many adults have come out of the shower singing it?
Ellis explains, "I performed at a lot of cantor's concerts and asked everybody if they knew a great "big band" arranger, and before long, Harvey and I were tracking Swingin' Dreidel' and Ocho Kandelikas,' a fun, Latin salsa-inspired number whose lyrics are in Ladino, the native language of many Sephardic Jews from Spain," he adds. "It's actually a children's counting song put to a cool sound for fans of Latin music. Harvey and I shared the same love for Basie and Les Brown, and our third collaborator, Stu, is a great pianist and producer who knew how to get the best performances out of me. It all came together beautifully. The minute people heard it, they went crazy for it and wondered why it wasn't on the radio. Now that we're rolling, that's the next step."
Once the project was in full swing (pun intended), Ellis worked intricately with Cohen to give the collection variety from track to track. The result is a vibrant blend of jazz, big band and small ensemble pieces that blend tradition with wit, wisdom, and a Jewish spirit. Hanukkah Swings! features two medleys of traditional pieces: "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah/Who Can Retell"; and "Hanukkah Swingin' Holiday/Pour the Oil". In addition, "Sevivon Spin and Turn", and "Children of the Macabbees" were written with a melody from the Italian Renaissance and utilizing a seamless blend of classic Hebrew folk and finger-snapping classic jazz sounds. The album also includes the perennial and universal Hanukkah favorite, "Maoz Tzur/Rock of Ages," set here to a cool big band vibe.