The John Milham Jazz Trio has made the Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas a yuletide tradition in the Azalea City. Drummer John Milham is joined by keyboardist Chris Spies and bassist Chris Severin for their interpretation of Vince Guaraldi’s score to the classic television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Each year, Milham also recruits other musical acts to perform at the event. This year’s performance includes Molly Thomas Milham, Andy McDonald, Ryan Balthrop and Eric Erdman. Mobile native Rebecca Roubion will also be returning to perform at Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas.
When she comes home, she will bring tracks from her new Christmas album “Christmas Lights.” Roubion took a break from her Southeastern tour in support of the new album to give Lagniappe readers some insight into how she made “Christmas Lights” shine.
SC: How have things been going for you in Nashville? You’ve been touring, haven’t you?
RR: I’ve been on the road touring in the Southeast and in Texas and Louisiana. It’s been going really well. I’ve had a strong response, and I’ve been able to really spread the Christmas record. I’m really excited.
SC: What are your favorite things about the holidays?
RR: That’s rough. I’m really fortunate to have a wonderful family. There’s nothing like spending the holidays with your family in your hometown. I’ll be able to come back for the Saenger show and be with them. I think it’s just being with family. We have some family traditions, especially now that the kids are older. My mom saved some ornaments that were our favorite growing up, and we hang them on the tree. I do love Christmas music too, and listening the Christmas radio.
SC: I would think that putting together a Christmas album may be a hard thing, in a way. What made you want to take on doing a Christmas album?
RR: Yeah, it was definitely a challenge, because you want to capture that nostalgia and get out of the way of the Christmas songs that you’ve covered and that have been covered so many times and heard so many times. You want to stay true to the beauty of the songs. The label that I’m with for TV and film rights and things (Dualtone), they actually requested some Christmas material, and we were like, ‘Hey, if we’re going to record some Christmas songs, might as well make a record.’ So, we did that back in July. We got in the studio and made a Christmas album. It was a lot of fun. It was especially cool for me, particularly, because I’ve written some Christmas songs throughout the years and never had the opportunity or reason to record them one by one. It was nice to record some Christmas songs and not throw them away.
SC: You have four originals on the album. What’s the story behind those?
RR: It’s eight songs total. Four are originals and four are covers. One song, ‘Yahweh,’ I wrote in high school or college, so I’ve been waiting to record that with a huge gospel choir behind me. Then, ‘Stay the Holiday’ was one that I co-wrote with Jake Etheridge. It wasn’t even supposed to be a Christmas song, but a friend said it reminded them of Christmas. We tweaked some words here and there and put it on the record. That was kind of a cool, happy mistake. Then, ‘Christmas Lights’ was a song that I wrote while I was rehearsing just days before I got in the studio for the album. I was doing all these Christmas songs, and that one just happened one day. The last one, ‘A Lot to Give,’ I wrote last year. They’re all kinda of unique in how they came about, and I’m really excited to share them with people.
SC: You do have some classics on there, and you add your own take. It definitely sounds like Rebecca Roubion. What was it like taking on those classic songs while keeping their pure nature while adding your own touch?
RR: It was a challenge, because I have a deep, profound respect for a lot of those old, more hymn-like Christmas songs. A lot of the covers of these songs that I hear, especially modern day covers, there is so much going on. It detracts from the beauty of the words. I wanted to make them my own and reintroduce them in a fresh way. With ‘Joy to the World,’ I changed the melody a little bit and put it down. My goal was to preserve, and I like the way you put it, the pure nature of these songs without getting in the way. I think we did a good job. My producer and I looked up who wrote these songs and when and why. We were just trying to dig into the meaning behind them all. It was really, really cool to do that.
SC: You always have this surreal vibe to your music, and it translates really well on this album. What’s it like playing these songs live?
RR: On most of the dates so far, especially the ones far away, I’ve been performing solo. It’s always interesting after you just made a record with some great session players and the magic that happens in the studio and the melodies that are formed and written to complement what I’m doing. Not having that dimension there is an exciting challenge in a way. I’m like, ‘OK, how do I fill that space that the cello is usually in? How can I add percussion elements that are found on the record?’ Playing solo, I’ve been able to slowly for them just with my piano and my vocal to fill all those spaces. It’s definitely a different experience. At the Saenger, I’ll have a jazz trio playing with me that includes John Milham and his buddies. I’m excited for them to come in and interpret the songs. It always adds a cool dynamic to have different instruments as a part of your live performance.
SC: Are you working on anything new after the Saenger show?
RR: Yeah, in the new year, we’re going to get into the studio in the spring and summer and start working on a full-length album. At least, that’s the goal, as of now. I’m not fine-tuned on what that looks like yet, but I have a whole, fresh new batch of songs that I’m excited about getting down in the studio.
Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas
Date: Saturday, Dec. 20, 7 p.m.
Venue: Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St., www.mobilesaenger.com
Tickets: $19.50-$29.50 through
Ticketmaster and the Saenger box office
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