Luckily, Pickens doesn't constrain his music with holiday treacle—he plays in his usual hard-driving, expansive style, using the tunes as loose thematic material for extended improvisation, whether he's tackling traditional hymns or popular warhorses like "The Christmas Waltz" and "Winter Wonderland." In 1998 Southport Records released A Jazz Christmas, which features the trumpeter Nicholas Payton joining the Pickens Trio on all eight tracks—it's a brisk hard-bop album that just happens to use holiday melodies as improvisational fodder, which means it's not one of those recordings you can only listen to a few weeks of the year. Pickens always gives the proceeds of the concerts to charity, and this year's beneficiary is Centers for New Horizons; tickets are available online or at the door. Below you can hear the version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" from the Southport album.
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