Pianist John Dapaah, left with Roxanne Goodman, Michael Curtis and John Hannah

by Olivia Barrett

Thursday 21 December 2023

Christmas at Shenkman with the John Dapaah Trio

The jazzy sounds of the John Dapaah Trio at the Christmas at Shenkman performance was the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit. The performance on December 21 serenaded the packed Richcraft studio at Shenkman Arts Centre. 

The trio, consisting of John Kofi Dapaah, Michael Curtis, John Hanna and Roxanne Goodman, performed a wide variety of Christmas classics from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to the Jackson 5’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with a jazzy or bluesy spin. The 90-minute show treated the audience to renditions of these classics by Dapaah, an Ottawa-based pianist who focuses on bringing together classical and jazz music.

Before beginning their performance of “Joy to the World”, Goodman said Dapaah’s rendition of this holiday classic was “something [she] never thought possible,” adding that it was “so beautiful.” The audience’s roaring applause after the song reinforced of Goodman’s praise of it.

This was far from rare during the performance, as the theatre erupted with applause after every song and the beautiful solos of each instrument and singer. In addition to Dapaah’s piano, the trio was accompanied by Jamie Holmes on the drums and JP Lapensee on the bass guitar.

With the audience having a range of ages, the show had something for everyone with performances of “Jingle Bells” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to “Silent Night” and “The First Noël.”

Each song had a special touch to differentiate it from the classic versions of it, such as a blues rendition of “Silent Night.” Goodman said, “I always thought ‘Silent Night’ should be sung as blues,” while joking that Mary and Joseph must have been going through it that night. She said the blues is good for representing the feelings of “going through it.” This version of the Christmas classic captivated the audience through its contrast to the original and the addition of scatting in the song.

Their rendition of “The First Noël” was noteworthy due to it starting with a Capella. As they slowly brought in the instruments, the song shifted to an instrumental version, which was welcomed by the audience. The instrumental part of the song dazzled the audience through its beautiful harmony and the incorporation of a tambourine and shaker by Goodman and Hanna.

The trio performed many songs from their “Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas” album, which transformed holiday classics like “Christmas Time is Here” through jazz and blues. Dapaah said that while the trio started playing these jazzy Christmas songs in 2017, the album was only recorded in 2019 after encouragement from a friend at one of their performances. “O Holy Night”, Dapaah’s favourite on their album, was one of the songs the trio performed. While it started off like the classic version, the jazzy spin slowly entered the song in perfect harmony with Goodman’s strong vocals as it moved to Lapensee’s solo.

As the show came to a close, the trio performed “Feliz Navidad” to give the audience a cheery send-off into the holiday season. With many audience members joining in the singing of this final song, the holiday spirit was alive and well in the theatre.