Edna Ferber said: “Christmas isn’t a season. It is a feeling”. When I listen to Holly Jones’ brand-new album “The Christmas Piano” – which is actually her first Holiday release – Ferber’s quote seems especially true. Without unnecessary effects and grandeur, Holly’s carefully selected carols make us feel the Christmas spirit. It is an exceptionally well-made album that perhaps is even more relevant now in 2020 since the festive holiday atmosphere for many will have to wait for another year. Holly Jones has delivered a distinctive and honest album that radiates love both for the piano and Christmas itself.
“The Christmas Piano” will be released digitally tomorrow, November 27! Listen to the single “I Wonder As I Wander” below.
Born in Owensboro, Kentucky, Holly Jones began studying violin at age three, piano at eight, and creating compositions on the piano by nine. Her training includes many years of private study, as well as private piano and composition study at Indiana University. As a physical therapist, Holly has an inherent understanding of the healing power of music. Jones’s solo piano debut album, “Traveler”, was released in 2003 (remastered 2017). In 2016 she released “Storyteller” (an orchestrated version followed in 2017). In our review of “Art on the Piano” (2019), we wrote: “The magic in Holly’s music is that it makes us listen. It is a collection of 11 gentle pieces, focusing on precious moments and beautiful tableaus. It is art with a purpose.”
I Wonder As I Wander
Sometimes music is much more than music. It has the power to connect you with memories, places and events long ago. As Holly starts playing John Jacob Niles’s “I Wonder As I Wander”, you can sense how each note seems to bring back recollections, echoes of the past. Played at a midnight service, “I Wonder As I Wander” is one of the most beautiful carols of all – and it is a fabulous album opener too! I found myself wanting to block out all other noises. The sound of “The Christmas Piano” is so tender, velvety and warm. It is also the album’s first single.
“O Come All Ye Faithful”, undoubtedly one of the most loved and widely known holiday carols, sounds hopeful and refined. I love the opening and how we can hear – almost feel – how gently Holly touches the piano. This is a jubilant carol, and many pianists tend to “bang away” on the keys triumphantly – but this is not the context for such a display of musical force. As Holly puts it: “I have intentionally played this album with a sense of quietude, as if one could meditate with it without being distracted by too much contrast in volume/crescendos.” That sums up “The Christmas Piano” beautifully.
“Silent Night” is also highly meditative. Slow and calm as falling snow, the magnificent piece – perhaps the finest of all – finds its way to our hearts. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Notice the peaceful ending, which offers 20 seconds of blissful silence. Moving on, the Austrian Christmas carol “Still, still, still” fills the void after “Silent Night” splendidly. The short piece is light and uncomplicated, as it brings back childhood memories.
No Holiday album is complete without “What Child Is This (Greensleeves)”. The reflective tone is wonderful and even thought-provoking. The traditional English folk song seems modern, and the way Holly plays it refines it even more.
Jan Sandström’s “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” is as pretty as ever, even without the vocals. Nearer the end, I’m amazed by how “Away In A Manger” always seems to shine more than other carols. It could have been placed wherever on the album, and the effect would have been the same; we see the manger as “The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay / The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.” The piano sings to His glory.
Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night” concludes the album. Holly manages the impossible: to be gentle and triumphant at the same time.
In conclusion: In a “normal” year, Holly Jones’ “The Christmas Piano” would have been labeled as a contrast to the usual festive holiday music. It is that too, of course, as it offers a meditative approach to beloved carols. But Christmas 2020 is different. Covid19 has had such an impact on all levels of life. In this context, I believe many will find Holly’s latest release both healing and refreshing. It might even inspire to celebrate Christmas in a more personal and low-key way. That is a major accomplishment.
For more information and music samples, visit hollyjonespiano.com