Injecting a breath of fresh air into holiday music isn’t necessarily a no-brainer, suggests one of the world’s best-known singer-songwriters.
“It’s very challenging because I want people to like my music,” says Brian Wilson, in a rare interview, who is about to lead fellow members of the Beach Boys, Al Jardine and Blondie Chapman, and his own solo touring band and vocalists into Heinz Hall on Dec. 3 for an evening of classic Christmas songs, deep cuts and Beach Boys’ hits.
Giving familiar tunes new life, Jardine believes, is about “putting your imprint on it, your vocal imprint, your style.”
For the first time, Wilson and company will be performing the Beach Boys’ iconic 1964 “Christmas Album” in its entirety along with cuts from his solo 2005 Christmas album, “What I Really Want for Christmas,” named for its Bernie Taupin-penned title track. The album also contains “Christmasey,” with lyrics by his friend Jimmy Webb.
“I’ve always loved holiday music, and I get a thrill from the audience reaction,” Wilson says.
Delivering the unexpected
Jardine says it is nice to see the reaction of the audience, and, as a member of the audience, it is always nice to get something unexpected.
This show, he adds, is reminiscent of every Christmas he has ever had going back to his youth.
“It has the nice feeling of waking up on Christmas morning and having that wonderful feeling,” he says.
Wilson says the ’64 “Christmas Album” became such a classic and still resonates today “because of the harmonies and the melodies.”
“People seem to really like them,” he says. There are great arrangements on it “that were different,” Jardine says. And it also had a new hit song, he reminds, in Wilson’s “Little St. Nick.”
“That always makes it special,” Jardine says. “And I had my first lead vocal with the Beach Boys on that album.”
It’s fun, he assures.
“We do ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town,’ and ‘Frosty the Snowman’ comes off as a show tune. They are fascinating musical arrangements in a big band tradition.”
He and Wilson have a large band behind them. “It is fun to play in that situation. I just came along for the ride. These guys are just great musicians. They do all the heavy lifting so Brian and I can just sing,” Jardine says.
Loves to sing
“I hope people love the holiday concerts as much as I love singing,” says Wilson, who is a legend in his own time.
Not a shabby resume, either: co-founder of The Beach Boys, a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, a multiple-Grammy award winner and a U.K. Music Hall of Fame inductee.
As a member of The Beach Boys, Wilson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and honored with the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.
“Brian is the only one on the planet that sees the same notes in a different way,” Jardine says. “He has a window into a musical consciousness of America and the whole world. He knows a different way to get to the same place.”
An ‘elevating’ experience
It is not intimidating to be on stage with him, Jardine says. “On the contrary, it is elevating,” he says.
“We sit there and look at each other and crack jokes. It’s always different, always a unique show.”
Jardine enjoys hearing Wilson’s voice. “I’m impressed with his singing, and his approach to music is always genuine,” he explains. “He’s irreplaceable. Everyone on planet has a unique voice. Brian’s is unusually good.”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.