Popular Canadian jazz crooner Matt Dusk felt he was at the right time in life to record his own definitive interpretations of some of the classic Christmas season songs and offer up fans of such festive music a truly upbeat, classy, swingin’ throwback.
The result is Old School Yule, which was released on vinyl, CD and various digital platforms on Nov. 3. It features an abundance of familiar tunes, highlighted by a very ‘Rat Pack-ish’ vibe and Dusk’s own powerfully emotive voice.
“When it comes to me singing the standards – the Christmas songs or the holiday tunes that are on this album – they are kind of the only standards that we have left in popular western culture. I was noticing as media has been changing, the only way that my kind of music could relate to a younger demographic was through holiday music. At the same time as I was thinking about this, my daughter was born and you start to think about life a little differently when your wife gets pregnant. And I started to think about how am I going to be as a dad and what am I going to do for my kids. So I wanted to pass along my renditions of these songs so I could relive the experience of being a kid and reliving it again through my kid at the same time,” he said.
“So it was a couple of key factors: it was the music being relevant in terms of the season and second becoming a father and wanting to relive my own childhood at the same time. I really trade in romanticism with a lot of my music and this album is no different. I see it as an idea of something bygone. And as I have been growing older I have been thinking about my own experiences of Christmas as a kid and the music we listened to. And also as I am about to hit 40, I specifically wanted to focus on music that I would use for my own entertaining and hosting and what would be fun in that setting.”
Dusk was definitely out to capture an era of music and pop culture through this album, as well as wanting to create a festive holiday album. There was a brief moment in time, in between the initial explosion of rock and roll in the mid-1950s and the advent of Beatlemania and the second and more lasting rock boom beginning in the mid to late 1960s where the swinging sounds of the swinging, club-based jazz acts dominated music, movies and television.
Spearheaded by the likes of the Rat Pack, which featured entertainment superstars Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin, as the likes of Bobby Darin and Tony Bennett, the music created in the night clubs of New York, Los Angeles and increasingly Las Vegas was the pinnacle of cool stylishness.
“The tracks on this album focus on that very specific era where Big Band had kind of worked its way into this very cool specific sound, which was blown away when the Beatles came along. I like to think of it as Big Band’s last stand and I think there was a lot of really cool stuff coming out then from the Rat Pack to Ella Fitzgerald playing with Count Basie. It was the generation that had fought in the Second World War and had fallen on really good times in the post- War boom. And people were going out and enjoying themselves, Vegas was starting to take off and it was the perpetuation and embodiment of this lifestyle. But then rock music came back with a vengeance,” Dusk explained.
“So when the Beatles exploded on the scene the media shifted their attention from playing to that older crowd to playing to the younger crowd. You have the same thing today where the Baby Boomers are no longer the biggest part of the consuming population – the millennials are and you’re seeing traditional media just falling off a cliff. Music, print, television and the film industry have all changed to meet the needs of the millennial audience. So just like that period in the late 1950s and early 1960s was the last gasp for that war generation, I think the 1980s and early 1990s were the last gasp for the Boomers.
“But for the purposes of this record, I think that style of music still appeals to a broad range of listeners, especially in the context of doing the holiday standards. Most of the songs were written in the 1960s and I really wanted to play up that vibe. The album has 16 tracks and 13 of them are up tempo because the record had to be super swinging – I just had to capture that era. Ultimately, when it came to choosing the songs and the style of recording them, I was thinking, ‘if I was hosting a party for my friends, what would I want to put on?’”
Old School Yule really is a must for any sort of holiday gathering as it feature’s Dusk’s interpretations of some of the best-loved seasonal classics of all time, including It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Baby It’s Cold Outside, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Let It Snow and Winter Wonderland. Snowed in With You is one of Dusk’s first compositions to make it onto one of his seven albums, but it won’t be the last.
“To be honest with you, writing is something I have struggled with for many years. For the kind of music I do, if you go back 50, 60 or 70 years you had Tin Pan Alley and then you had the Brill Building and you had all these songwriters that were completely prolific and they would just write and write and write and then people like Sinatra would record them. And, listen, for this record when I am singing the best songs of all time like White Christmas, it’s hard to throw in an original beside it. But the funny thing is, right now I am actually writing a whole record of originals and I think it’s all timing. I am in a position in my career where I want to stretch a little bit. It’s a different phase in life where, when you’re an artist or musician, you go through different phases and I am just going through a writing phase right now. I just hope I don’t suck at it too much,” Dusk said with a chuckle.
That’s unlikely, as his 18-year career and musical training at Toronto’s prestigious St. Michael’s Choir School and BFA from York University (where he not only participated in a master class put on by the legendary Oscar Peterson, but also upon graduation earned the Oscar Peterson Scholarship) ably testify. He released his first four albums independently before getting signed to Decca Records in 2003, releasing three albums for them before returning to the independent Royal Crown label for subsequent releases.
He has built a solid following throughout North America, and is also a bit of a phenomenon in Japan and, somewhat curiously, Poland.
“People ask me about this quite a bit and there are actually three completely different places where I seem to have had some success: Poland, Holland and Japan. First and foremost, I think jazz is one of those universal types of music that, if you strike at the right time, you can get lucky. And my wife is from Poland so I think there’s a story there. She immigrated to Canada from Poland. I met her here and I think there is that connection back to some foreigner who is apparently a star and building some roots in her home country. At least that’s my hypothesis. I’d like to think that they also like my music,” Dusk said.
“But there is a feel good story aspect to it as well, the native Polish girl goes back home and brings her Canadian singer husband and there’s already a connection there and the people just seem to have embraced that story. What I have learned over the years is that it’s never about the song, it’s about the story.”
Dusk toured extensively throughout 2016 in Canada, as well as in the U.S. and Poland. For 2017, he spent much of his time doing more private and corporate shows over in Europe, but said he is already planning another substantial cross-Canada tour for 2018.
In the interim, you can liven up any family function, work holiday party or gathering of friends with Old School Yule!
For more information, visit www.mattdusk.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at email@example.com.