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De Azevedo's Christmas concert inspired by childhood parties

Published: Friday, Dec. 9 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Lex de Azevedo, right, directs his Millennium Choir during a concert rehearsal at his home.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

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When Lex de Azevedo was a boy growing up in California, his mother (one of the famous King Singers) had an annual Christmas party for all of her friends and colleagues. Alfred Burt was one of those friends, and each year he wrote a new Christmas song that he debuted at the party.

"I remember when I was 14, and he was there in a wheelchair with his latest song. He passed away two months later, and a group of his friends got together to record all the songs so his wife could get the royalties." Those songs — including "Some Children See Him," "Caroling, Caroling," "The Star Carol" and others — have gone "into the repertoire of high school choirs everywhere. And it all started in our living room," says de Azevedo.

So, it is no surprise that those songs have always held special meaning for him. A few years back, he produced his own CD featuring Alfred Burt's songs. And this year, they will have a prominent spot in a Christmas concert that de Azevedo is putting together. The performance will be Monday in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

Sharing the program will be excerpts from "The Life of Christ: Gloria," an oratorio de Azevedo wrote several years ago telling the Christmas story through music and a text taken directly from the King James Bible. Also on the program will be several new jazz arrangements of favorite Christmas songs.

Bringing the music to life will be the 36-voice Millennium Choir; tenor George Dyer, reprising his role as Gabriel in "Gloria;" soprano Margo Watson, as narrator in "Gloria;" One Voice Children's Choir, from Utah County; and the Millennium Jazz Quartet.

De Azevedo hopes it will be "an intimate experience," reminiscent of those long-ago Christmas parties. He hopes people will have fun, as well as appreciate the messages and meanings of the season. "That's what Christmas is all about."

This marks de Azevedo's first Christmas concert in three years. And the past three years have been a busy time for him. Among other things, he "took nine months to complete a two-year program at the University of California and got a master's degree in jazz."

He loves jazz, he says. "I always have. That probably came from growing up among the King Singers." His first recording session, in fact, came when he was in the 11th grade, playing as a studio musician for jazz great Stan Kenton.

De Azevedo is the first to admit he had some amazing experiences in the music world as he grew up, having regular contact with people such as Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and Dean Martin. "At age 17, I was the music director for the Four Preps — as well as for the King Singers. I'd go to high school in the morning and work at Capitol Records in the afternoon. I was there the day Bobby Gentry walked in with her 'Ode to Bobby Joe.' I remember Glen Campbell coming in. My mother used to say I started at the top and have been working my way down."

After completing an LDS mission, de Azevedo was offered a full-time job at Capitol. "My first job was producing a recording by a gag-singer named Mrs. Miller, who sang out of tune with sincerity. It was a huge hit."

De Azevedo also played an important part in kick-starting the local music industry. "I had a dream of starting an LDS recording company, so we launched Embryo Records." The studio's first production was "Saturday's Warrior," followed by "My Turn on Earth." What's amazing, he says, is that they are both "still selling, still being performed." He also produced Kurt Bestor's first Christmas album.

Back in those days, de Azevedo says, "my biggest battle was to convince Deseret Book to carry our music." But in an interesting twist, Embryo Records was eventually sold to Excel, which was sold to Deseret Book — "and now they own the company."

De Azevedo is still making music. He has a couple of jazz CDs in the works. "They are kind of a follow-up to my earlier 'Mountains' and 'Moab' CDs." He's also involved with doing music for his daughter Rachel and her Signing-Time videos, which teach babies sign language. "I am so proud of my kids," he says.

And, de Azevedo has had a great time combining his love of jazz with his love of Christmas. "With jazz, you just have a lot of fun. And combining jazz with a choir is rather unusual. It's a great mix."

If you go

What: Lex de Azevedo and Friends Christmas Concert

Where: Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. Broadway

When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $15, general admission

Phone: 255-2787

Web: www.arttix.org


E-mail: carma@desnews.com

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