Aardvark Jazz Orchestra to present 50th Christmas concert Dec. 10

Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, with Mark Harvey, 2020Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, with Mark Harvey, first row center.

UPDATED Oct. 2: The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, led by Mark Harvey of Arlington, continues its 50th season on Saturday, Dec. 10, with its annual Christmas concert at the Church of the Covenant in Boston, the venue where Aardvark held its first concert, on Dec. 23, 1973.

This Boston holiday tradition will feature jazz-infused carols, soulful spirituals and Harvey originals, including his Afro-Jazz Benedictus and his high-energy arrangement of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, a staple of the Christmas concerts since 1973.

Tickets are $20, with proceeds to support the Poor People’s United Fund.

The concert, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled at MIT's mainstage Kresge Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. 

Among the selections will be Harvey’s Faces of Souls and Ellington’s It’s Freedom. A highlight will be the premiere of Harvey’s latest work, American Agonistes, channeling the moods of sorrow and outrage so characteristic of our times.

The Oct. 1 concert was presented by MIT Music & Theater Arts to honor Harvey’s long teaching career at MIT. Dr. Harvey recently retired after serving 40 years on the music faculty.

The venue is well-suited for Aardvark’s 50th season kickoff, as Kresge was home to Aardvark’s annual spring concerts for more than 30 years, hosting such notable Aardvark events as the 1986 appearance with guest artist Jaki Byard, the 1999 Duke Ellington Centennial and the 2019 concert with guest artist Ricky Ford.


Founded in 1973, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra is one of the longest-running large jazz ensembles in the world. To explain the band’s longevity, Harvey stated in a news release, “Aardvark has been fortunate to have a stable and dedicated personnel roster, many with 30 and 40 years of service or more. All of us share a vision of exploring new approaches while honoring the jazz tradition. My own compositions offer great improvisational freedom to the players, allowing room to experiment and explore fresh concepts together. The shared vision and the ever-unfolding collective creativity have kept us all engaged and challenged.”

Aardvark is eclectic, with concerts spanning Harvey’s own exploratory compositions, the jazz and blues spectrums, world music and the American classical traditions from Billings to Gottschalk to Ives and beyond. At the heart of the repertoire are Harvey’s original works, more than 200 compositions, which he describes as “blending traditional and experimental jazz approaches with modern classical ‘new music’ to produce an updated ‘Third Stream” sensibility.”

He goes on to say, “My compositional style has been greatly influenced by the players, on the model of Duke Ellington, with pieces evolving to feature various strengths and specialties of the extraordinary Aardvark musicians.” Also, he notes, “compositions have been influenced by what instruments are available, from our early beginnings as a brass band, to later editions with multi-percussionists, to our current configuration with a saxophone section that incorporates more than a dozen woodwind doubles. All of this gives me inspiration to compose a variety of sonic blends, colors and textures.”

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra has performed at concert halls, colleges and universities, festivals, jazz clubs and major cultural institutions. Guest artists have included jazz luminaries Sheila Jordan, Jaki Byard, Ricky Ford, Jimmy Giuffre, Geri Allen, Jay Clayton, Dominique Eade, Vinny Golia, Paul Lovens, Rajesh Mehta, Lewis Porter and Walter Thompson. The band has released 16 CDs, including 10 discs on Leo Records, one of the world’s leading adventurous music labels.

Harvey has performed in the U.S., Mexico and Europe; has recorded with George Russell (Blue Note) and Baird Hersey (Arista/Novus) and has appeared with Gil Evans, Claudio Roditi, Howard McGhee, Sam Rivers, Kenny Dorham and others. In 2019, Jazz Boston honored Harvey with the Roy Haynes Award for “exceptional contributions to jazz and the jazz community.”

In 2015, Harvey was named Boston Jazz Hero by the national Jazz Journalists Association. Commissions have featured such notables as Joe Lovano, Steve Turre, Herb Pomeroy and Ran Blake. Harvey, a retired Methodist minister, is senior lecturer in music emeritus at MIT, where he taught jazz studies for 40 years.

Aardvark is made up of Arni Cheatham, Allan Chase, Peter H. Bloom, Phil Scarff, Chris Rakowski, Dan Zupan/saxes and woodwinds; K.C. Dunbar, Jeanne Snodgrass/trumpets; Bob Pilkington, Jay Keyser/trombones; Bill Lowe/bass trombone, tuba; Rob Bethel/cello; Richard Nelson/guitar; Bruno Raberg/string bass; Harry Wellott/drums; Grace Hughes/vocalist; Mark Harvey/piano, music director.

This news announcement was published Friday, Sept. 16, 2021, based on information in a news release from Rebecca DeLamotte. YourArlington volunteer Kim Haase prepared it for publication. It was updated Oct. 2.

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