Imagine Nat King Cole singing We Three Kings to some improvisational back and forth by some of Canada’s finest jazz musicians, and you get a bit of the picture of the B3 Kings.
Known for their popular annual Christmas gig, with sold-out shows in Vancouver, Kamloops and other cities, The B3 Kings – actually four musicians, Cory Weeds, Denzal Sinclaire, Chris Gestrin, and Bill Coon – are making their way to Vernon to play some jazzed-up traditional and original holiday tunes Monday, Dec. 19.
“I love coming to the Okanagan when it’s all snowy and wintry,” said saxophonist Weeds. “This is our first show in Vernon, but we have done this for 12 years consecutively, but not last year, as Denzal got called to be a part of Wynton Marsalis’ Big Band Holidays.”
Known internationally for his tribute to Nat King Cole, Sinclaire is back to sing, and play drums, on a number of B3 Kings’ reworked holiday tunes.
“We actually did a gig together in September because Denzal was here (in Vancouver) to record an album, but we remain primarily as a Christmas band,” said Weeds.
No stranger to Vernon Jazz Club audiences, where he has played over the years with various bands, Weeds is also known as the founder and owner of Vancouver’s Cellar Jazz Club, which closed its doors in 2014.
“We closed by personal choice for many different reasons, but it was more about balance in my life,” said the father of two young children. “My career has also allowed me to be at home, and so I have been able to spend a lot of time with my kids (who are seven and five).”
Now booking shows for the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, Weeds also continues to keep busy playing gigs as a band leader and sideman. His recent release with The Jeff Hamilton Trio, This Happy Madness, peaked at #1 on the Jazz Week Charts for two weeks.
“I’ve always been a creator,” he said. “ I just take every opportunity to do what I want to do and when I wake up, what I think about is jazz music.”
Happy to be back touring with the B3 Kings, which he calls a collective quartet, Weeds says the band actually started as an accidental jam session at the Cellar more than 12 years ago.
“We started as a lark,” he said. “I had asked some fellow musicians to play a benefit at the club and asked Denzal if he would do it with his quintet. He had Chris on organ and (Sinclaire) said ‘I’ll play the drums.’ I was upset because I wanted his quintet. Then they asked me to sit in.”
Something clicked. So when Gestrin, known for his dexterity on the Hammond B3 organ, suggested the musicians get together for a Christmas themed show at the Cellar, they packed the house, and it became an annual gig.
They added Coon on guitar and recorded 2004’s A Cellar Live Christmas, sharing the bill with pianist Bruno Hubert and his trio. The album received rave reviews, with Jazzreview.com calling it “one of the greatest Christmas recordings ever.”
The B3 Kings followed that album with You Better Watch Out, which came out in 2008.
Their third recording, Laughing all the Way, out now, is a culmination of those favourite holiday classics, with some originals thrown in.
“We’re a serious jazz band with some instant accessibility because it’s Christmas music,” said Weeds, adding the band will also get down to some funky conversational improvising through the melodies.
The B3 Kings take the stage at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre, 2901 35th Ave., Monday, Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $34/adult and $20/youth at the Ticket Seller, www.ticketseller.ca, 250-549-7469.