Keeping with the spirit of the season, Clairdee puts her own stamp on holiday music. She makes it funky, soulful and romantic - mixing jazz, rhythm and blues, pop, gospel, funk and Brazilian rhythms.
Joined by some of the Bay Area's finest musicians, Clairdee has a spirited party on This Christmas (Declare Music).
The disc opens with the carefree "Bringing in a Brand New Year," a swinging tune that creates a party atmosphere from the first note to "Somebody ate all the gumbo," uttered during the closing. There's also a brief tribute to "Auld Lang Zyne." Clairdee then puts on her samba shoes, with the South American-flavored arrangement of "Winter Wonderland."
She also offers playfulness, flirtation, sass and spiritual passion in delivering such titles as "Merry Christmas, Baby," "The Christmas Song," "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "A Child Is Born" and the title song. The album also includes two instrumentals.
Born Barbara Clairdee in Tucson, Ariz., and raised in Denver, she was saturated with R&B, blues, funk, rock and pop. She had many professional opportunities to sing all of these styles, as well as country and gospel during her formative years in the Midwest.
An Air Force child who grew up in the Western United States, Clairdee began using her last name for professional purposes after a performance-day fluke. "The person who was doing the marquis wanted to know what name to use for the band, and on the spur of the moment, I said, 'Clairdee,'" she said, acknowledging that her first name isn't likely to stick in anyone's memory.
"Nobody names their kids Barbara any more," she said, laughing. "People never remember. So I said, 'Clairdee,' and they never forgot it. Go figure."
Whether Barbara or Clairdee, she enjoys life and takes delight in making it enjoyable for others - with song and with humor. Clairdee has been singing professionally since the age of 14. "And I won't even bother to tell you when that was," she said, falling back on the old standard: "A girl has to maintain some element of mystery."
Clairdee recalled an early singing job, when she recorded a commercial for a soft drink product. "They wanted one of those 1920 sounds - like singing through the thing Rudy Valee used," she said, "and we couldn't find the right type of equipment. Then someone said, 'So, let's get her an empty toilet paper roll,' and it worked perfectly."
No toilet paper rolls are needed on This Christmas, empty or otherwise. The festive atmosphere is evidence that a good time was had by everyone involved.
"I think part of the concept of that CD is part of my personality," she said. "I love the idea of getting together with my friends and making music. Everybody on this CD is a dream to work with. They come in with smiles, ready to go."
Other performers on This Christmas are Nicolas Bearde and Brenda Boykin, vocals; Ken French and Jon Herbst, piano/keyboards; Deszon Claiborne and Jim Zimmerman, drums; Glenn Appell, flugelhorn, trumpet and harmonica; Sheldon Brown, flute, soprano and alto saxophones; Dmitri Matheny, flugelhorn; Charles McNeal, alto saxophone; Marty Wehner, trombone; and John Hoy and Brian Pardo, guitar.
Clairdee and Bearde are a match made in musical heaven on the romantic duets "Merry Christmas, Baby" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The latter is a humorous dialogue in which Clairdee explains that she needs to go home while "Nick" tries desperately to persuade her to stay with him - and out of the weather. When "it's cold outside" doesn't work, he tries flattery and, ultimately, begging.
Clairdee: You know my sister will be suspicious.
Bearde: Your lips look so delicious.
Throughout the CD, Clairdee and friends break with tradition and treat the music like a never-ending festival. This approach is most evident on the samba-flavored "Winter Wonderland." Clairdee said she chose that interpretation because some people don't necessarily like cold winter weather.
"I'm more of a tropical weather person," she said. "What better way to give people a different feel than to take this song somewhere else, where people want to be? A winter wonderland doesn't have to be snow and ice. To me, it was on the beach."
Whether on the beach or sitting before the fireplace, This Christmas is a surefire way to break winter's icy grip.