Courtesy of Wayne Escoffery

Ahead of the holiday season, the Yale Jazz Initiative released an album on Oct. 1.

The album, now available for listening on Apple Music, YouTube and Spotify, is called “This Christmas with Night is Alive.” Yale lecturer and American saxophonist Wayne Escoffery led an ensemble of musicians from the University and beyond, blending traditional holiday tunes with contemporary jazz.

This project is a landmark in Yale’s Jazz Initiative, showcasing a synergy of experienced artists and emerging talents from Yale. It features the Black Art Jazz Collective, including Jeremy Pelt and James Burton III, as well as musicians such as bassist Richie Goods, pianist Xavier Davis and drummer Quincy Davis. There are a total of eight tracks on the album, all renditions of some of the Christmas biggest hits: “Let it Snow,” “We Three Kings,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “White Christmas,” “This Christmas,” “O Holy Night” and “The Christmas Song.”

“I thought the [artists] really did a good reinterpretation, staying right on the line of jazziness while keeping the features of the original tunes,” Evan Branham ‘24 told the News.

According to Escoffery, the album was created with the intention to be enjoyed year-round. It maintains complex jazz harmonies and rhythms and preserves the traditional “integrity” of Christmas songs, he added.

The album also marks a musical milestone for Yale junior Teddy Horangic ’25, who recorded for the first time as a primary artist on the album and a major vocalist for three of the tracks. 

Horangic told the News she grew up first on a sailboat and later in a renovated bus which she said has had a strong influence on her musical style. She found her rhythm in the diverse sounds of bluegrass, country, punk, R&B and soul that permeated the various places she grew up in, she said.

But it was jazz that resonated with her, a discovery she made at the age of 10. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she took a gap year and dove into the New York City music scene, busking in Tompkins Square Park and performing at various venues across the city. 

“I was really being educated by mentors who would let me sing with them, literally learning on the job playing with people on the street,” Horangic said. “I basically came to Yale with a background of being a working musician in New York City, which is a very different lifestyle.”  

At Yale, she continued her involvement in jazz under the guidance of Escoffery, who also gave her the opportunity to perform in the Christmas jazz album. Horangic described the experience as a significant “learning opportunity.” 

Her experience recording the album was a departure from her usual live performances. 

“It was an amazing opportunity, my first time. It’s a fun album, and it was a great learning experience,” Horangic said. “[In live performances], you have to be aware of your audience and how they’re feeling the music. [Meanwhile for studio recordings, it’s more] “being able to be in a space with [other musicians], which was pretty amazing.” 

She told the News she is planning to record more albums in the future.

Escoffery explained that the album also highlights the prominence of jazz in the greater New Haven community, particularly the genre’s role in telling and cementing the histories of communities of color.

“Jazz is America’s classical music, born out of the Black American experience,” he said. “It fosters diversity and inclusion. So it’s important to have America’s really indigenous music that came out of the Black American experience represented at Yale.”

“This Christmas with Night is Alive,” is available for listening on YouTube at This Christmas with Night Is Alive – YouTube.

Lukas Nel covers Art Student Life for the Arts Desk. Originally from Stellenbosch in the Republic of South Africa, he is a second semester junior in Davenport College studying EECS and Mathematics, who is passionate about art in all its forms.