There’s something about the holidays that remind us all that we’re connected to a community that extends beyond our immediate circle of family and friends. A Nancy Wilson Christmas (MCGJ-1008), released in 2001, is a fine collection of traditional holiday music from one of the great voices of jazz. But it’s also much more than that. It’s a direct reflection of Wilson’s commitment to that spirit of community.
For several years, Wilson has taken an active role in the mission of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit arts and learning center founded in 1968. The multi-discipline, minority-directed center is dedicated to fostering a sense of creative, intellectual and economic empowerment and growth among disadvantaged people in urban communities. One of MCG’s primary goals is the preservation, presentation and promotion of jazz and visual arts to simulate intercultural understanding, appreciation and enhancement of the quality of life for audiences.
In keeping with the goal of jazz promotion and preservation, the Guild has developed MCG Jazz, a specialty recording label that captures the magic of many of the jazz artists who perform at the center every year. The small label has already won a Grammy for its 1996 pressing, The Count Basie Orchestra and the New York Voices, Live at MCG. A year later, United Nations Orchestra Live at MCG, scored a Grammy nomination.
In the midst of a successful career as a jazz, R&B and pop vocalist including a discography that spans more than four decades and more than 60 albums Wilson has continually made Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild one of her higher priorities. "I’ve been involved in community programs all my life, because I’m somebody’s daughter and somebody’s mother and somebody’s wife," says Wilson. "That’s just who and what I am. An awful lot of people could be involved and could do a lot of things, but they don’t. But I’ve always tried to be there."
Through her relationship with MCG, Wilson finally fulfilled a dream that had eluded her for many years. Although she’d recorded a number of Christmas songs on Capitol in the early years of her career during the 1960s, she’d never recorded an entire Christmas album. But in the latter part of 2000, she recorded A Nancy Wilson Christmas on MCG Jazz with her own trio and a diverse cross section of jazz artists: the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Band, the New York Voices, Monty Alexander, James Moody, Herbie Mann and several others. Among the 13 tracks are stylish renditions of holiday standards like "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" "White Christmas," "Silver Bells," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "The Christmas Song."
"It was great working with some of the older guys, like the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars," says Wilson. "And the New York Voices were a joy. The diversity of the people involved with this project was great. Having 60-some albums out, you’d think that one of them would be a Christmas album. This was overdue. It was time."
"We have the best of both worlds under this arrangement," says MCG Jazz Executive Producer Marty Ashby. "The artists enjoy coming to our center to play. We are able to capture the music live in a high quality recording, and most importantly, the artists identify with and want to support the mission of MCG. This is the very reason why Nancy agreed to do this special CD. It’s a mix of quality with quality."