On HOLLYWOOD CHRISTMAS, Latter-day Saint composer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Williams weaves a rich tapestry of big band swing, orchestral, and rock arrangements that create a new, updated sound for a dozen Christmas classics.
Williams has found success writing music for the lucrative online gaming market. Although he has been playing and composing music for over 15 years, HOLLYWOOD CHRISTMAS is his debut album. Partly driven by his faith, Williams decided to show off his considerable arranging chops by putting his own spin on these well-known and beloved songs.
Williams was born in Utah but grew up in Salinas, CA. He started studying piano at a young age and performed with his school band since elementary school. After a while, with his mind buzzing with musical ideas, he began learning to play other instruments and eventually learned the sax, trombone, clarinet, and trumpet. He first became inspired to compose music when we saw the movie “Amadeus,” which was about Mozart and his contentious relationship with fellow composer Salieri. Williams says, “I was very young when I saw the movie, but I fell in love with composing, and I knew from then on that I wanted to write music.”
Williams returned to Utah to study at Brigham Young University and has remained in Provo ever since. He majored in film scoring and, since his mother is from Japan, he also majored in Japanese. While in school, he composed music for student films and garnered two Student Emmys (College TV Awards) for his scores for student animation films.
Although orchestral music was William’s first love, he enjoyed playing in school jazz bands and became enamored of the big band sound, especially Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. But writing for the online game market requires a composer to be able to write in different styles, and Williams soon became adept at writing and arranging in a wide variety of genres.
He was inspired to record an album after taking a master class with Chris Walden, who has written 1,500 orchestral and big band arrangements for artists like Michael Bublé, Josh Groban, and Paul McCartney, among many others. The time Williams spent in class was invaluable, and after recording one of his compositions with Walden’s band as part of the curriculum, he was energized to begin his own full-length project.
Williams is attracted to mainstream jazz and has been particularly enamored with Michael Bublé’s Christmas album and the Carpenters’ album, Christmas Portrait, for the way it encompassed pop and sacred music along with light classical and light jazz. Williams wanted the same elements on his album but with an even bigger, more lush sound, so he began his project by assembling a top-notch band of some very well-known jazz musicians.
To add to the album’s vibrant texture, William’s brought on board several of his favorite vocalists to perform as solo artists and in various combinations on each of the songs. “Every singer has their own sound and own approach,” says Williams. “I chose singers that I thought would do the best job on each of the songs, and I then arranged the songs to fit each singer’s style and vocal range.”
Williams sets the tone for the album with the opening number, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The song features the warm voice of ALEX STILES, a young vocalist whose style and vocal quality sound like the big band singers from the 40s and 50s. The arrangement combines big band swing with strings and horns creating a blend of jazz and orchestral music. Stiles is also heard on “The Christmas Song,” which opens with the sounds of a gentle wind, snow, and rustling leaves. “Happy Holiday” features a swinging, straight-ahead big band arrangement sung by Nate Bryant with backup vocals by Utah-based group, Company B, which comprises Hayley Kirland, Clara Campbell, and Kate Plewe.
Rebecca Lopez’s breathy voice is featured on “White Christmas,” while Evon Collett and Connor Ross intertwine their voice on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” features Taylor Miranda, a vocalist in Williams’ virtual cinematic pop band TREN. There are unexpected twists and turns on the “Here Comes Santa Claus/Jingle Bells/Frosty The Snowman” medley sung by Hayley Kirkland, Connor Ross, and Company B.
Williams discovered Russian vocalist Dmitry Noskov online and thought his voice was reminiscent of Sinatra, so he engaged his vocals on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” remotely from Russia. Hayley Kirkland and Company B swing like crazy on “Winter Wonderland.” New York vocalist and trumpet player Benny Benack III, backed by Company B, rips through a steaming version of “Let It Snow.”
Christmas is all about home and family, so Williams wanted to include songs about home. He chose Chelsea Brooke Olson for her sweet, breathy voice to sing “Home For The Holidays” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Williams closes the album with “Somewhere In My Memory,” a song from the movie Home Alone. This is a mostly instrumental piece with background vocals by Julie Seechuck.
Williams takes a unique approach to this album by including instrumental tracks without vocals for people who may just want to listen to the music and highlight his arrangements, which stand ably alone because of their cinematic quality.