Hot on the heels of her breakthrough jazz EP, Smoky Nights, internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Jennifer Saran is revving up holiday spirits with a smashing new single, “(Don't Let It Be) a Sad Ol' Christmas,”on Tarpan Records.
The track is yet another winning collaboration between Saran and superstar producer Narada Michael Walden (Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey). As Saran points out, she and Walden had strikingly similar ideas concerning the title: “We had just finished Smoky Nights, which had a fair share of melancholy tunes, so when I was talking to Narada about doing a Christmas song, I said, ‘I don’t want anything sad, not this year.’
“And then Narada recalled how his grandmother, whenever something went wrong, used to say, ‘It’s going to be a sad ol’ Christmas.’ The two of us laughed and said, ‘Well, that’s it then. We’re not going to have a sad ol’ Christmas.’ We had our title.”
Musically, “(Don't Let It Be) a Sad Ol' Christmas” is a masterstroke – it’s kitschy, tongue-in-cheek jazz set in a smoke-filled nightspot, full of swanky horn pizzazz and the familiar jingle-jangle that befits any holiday standard. Walden, who recorded the track at his own Tarpan Studios, tackles the majority of the instrumentation, but he knows when to let one of his key players loose – Tammy Hall’s impeccable twinkling of the ivories is a standout moment that elicits a Saran shout-out: “On piano, Miss Tammy Hall!”
Saran’s performance is bravura stuff. Singing in a rich and radiant style that at first recalls Rosemary Clooney, she draws listeners in: “Now we all wanna celebrate/ though we can’t always get a break/ but we all have to try and make – Christmas a Thing.” At the chorus, the orchestra swells and Saran opens her voice up full-throttle with her mission statement: “No more sighin’/ no more cryin’/ get hap-py/ don’t let it be a sad ‘ol Christmas.” Backed by the ace background vocals of Cornell CC Carter, Naté Soulsanger, Katie Walden and Kristie Isaacson, Saran whips up a sassy mood throughout, peppering the final chorus with playful ad-libs like “Candy canes!” and “Presents!”
“I had a great time recording the song with Narada,” Saran enthuses. “Our method of collaboration is so effortless much of the time. He had the bones of the melody, and I went off and wrote the lyrics. When it came time to do my vocals, I just put myself in the Christmas spirit and we had fun with it. I hope that will translate to listeners.”
“(Don't Let It Be) a Sad Ol' Christmas” isn’t Saran’s first trip down holiday lane. In 2015 she turned critics’ heads with Merry Christmas, You Are Loved, also produced by Walden, and two years later she re-teamed with the veteran hitmaker for Souful Christmas, a delightful set of gems which saw her joined by the Temptations on the single, “Christmas Lover.”
“As I say in the new song, I really love making Christmas a ‘thing,’” Saran says. “I’ve always gone overboard during the holidays with my kids – there’s always lots of presents under the tree. And I get so much joy from singing Christmas songs. It’s important to do whatever you can to make people happy and bring them into the spirit of this time of year.”
The recent success of her Smoky Nights EP has Saran’s spirits on high. Rocktimes cited its “high elegance” and said that “one is enveloped by the atmosphere” while comparing Saran to the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra. “I’ve been so knocked out by the reviews I’ve been receiving,” Saran says. “I’m especially pleased at how European audiences and critics have responded. They take their jazz very seriously, and they can be kind of picky, so to see them accepting what I’m doing has been a real thrill.”
In 2020, Saran is planning to expand Smoky Nights to a full album, but before then she’ll release two new songs, “Rescue My Heart” and “Almost Five O'Clock.” “I’m having the best time, and I think my new music is the best I’ve ever done,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to a year of fun and surprises.” She laughs and adds, “But before then, let’s make Christmas a ‘thing’!”
“(Don't Let It Be) a Sad Ol' Christmas” is available on all digital platforms.