To Canadian jazz chanteuse Holly Cole, Christmas and holiday music should be as fun, wry, exciting and fresh as it is traditional and cozy.
It’s the time of year when reverent, comfortably touching holiday shows dominate concert halls and seasonal music takes over airwaves. For those needing an antidote, enter Holly Cole.
That’s not to say the Canadian jazz chanteuse doesn’t like the holidays – one visit to one of her majestic, holiday-themed concerts suggests exactly the opposite. It’s just that to Cole, Christmas and holiday music should be as fun, wry, exciting and fresh as it is traditional and cozy.
“It’s not wall-to-wall Christmas tunes, or we’d probably have to reach for the barf bag,” Cole said. “I think that would be a bit much. There are tunes you will recognize, but there are some new ones, too. I like to inject a bunch of stuff that’s about the holidays but that people aren’t familiar with. That’s part of the fun of doing a holiday show: I can celebrate and poke a stick at Christmas at the same time.”
Cole is in town for three holiday-themed shows this weekend: two are tonight at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, and one is on Saturday at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River. Her last holiday album, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” came out in 2001, but this is the first time Cole has brought her full holiday revue to the Boston area.
To Cole, the holiday season is images, and many of her songs – both original and interpreted – are equal parts nostalgia, commentary and excitement.
“I wrote this tune called ‘13 Days’ because when I was young, that’s how long our Christmas vacation was,” she said. “It’s kind of about remembering what it’s like to be a kid: 13 days just to sit in the snow, won’t that be great, and here’s all this stuff going on around you like aunts and uncles, wrapping presents, stuffing turkey, snowshoes, snowball fights, everything. You don’t appreciate that stuff at the time, but that’s also part of being a kid. I tend to glean a lot from my memories.”
Born in Halifax, Cole broke out internationally in the early 1990s, and has done everything from holiday songs to versions of tunes by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett, the Beach Boys, and Cole Porter. She began adding original songs to her repertoire only during the past five years or so, but holiday songs have always been a focus: her first album was the 1989 EP “Christmas Blues,” a full 12 years before “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
“Everything stops at Christmastime: you can appreciate your family and the people you love, and for some people, it’s also hugely religious. No matter what, it’s about looking at what’s important to you, and remembering the types of things you should remember to appreciate year-round,” she said. “Also, it takes quite a bit of effort to make Santa sexy. He’s not exactly the most erotic pop figure we have, yes? That’s where I come in.”
Cole, 46, tours frequently abroad – she has especially tight-knit fan bases in Canada and Japan – but says she has a special connection to Boston.
“It’s the city in which I seriously discovered jazz music,” she said. “My older brother studied piano at Berklee, and when I was 15, I hitchhiked down to see him there. My parents didn’t love that, but I snuck into the dorm and just stayed with him. I didn’t have any money, but we both had long hair so we’d take turns using his ID to get into the dorms. I stayed here for quite a while – a month maybe!”
Cole said she would sneak into jazz clubs and it was in Boston where she first heard then-up-and-comers like Branford Marsalis and Makoto Ozone.
“It’s part of the culture of Boston, and it’s so inspiring,” she said. “As a city itself – there’s still an awful lot of good jazz there – it’s pretty much filled with vim and vigor. It’s wonderful.”
HOLLY COLE At Scullers Jazz Club, Boston, tonight. Two shows, 8 and 10. Tickets $25-$63, available through www.scullersjazzclub.com. Also at the Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River, Saturday. Tickets $25-$28 through Ticketweb.
The Patriot Ledger