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December 22, 2023
Interview: Jazz Artist Liam Forde on the “Jubilant Joy” of Recording THE HOLIDAY SEASON Afresh
Photo Credit: Yodai Yasunaga

It’s the holiday season, as the classic song goes, and acclaimed recording artist Liam Forde is marking the festive occasion with a snazzy jazzy arrangement of that very number, now available off the Ballyhoo Music label.

An accomplished artist of many talents, Forde’s work spans the Off-Broadway, cabaret, and regional scene. Highlights include The Mountains Look Different (Mint Theatre Company), Much Ado About Nothing (Theater for a New Audience), Peter and the Starcatcher (Pioneer Theatre Company), and Eugenius (London, The Other Palace). For his work in Hand to God at the Studio Theatre in Washington DC, he received a Helen Hayes Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play.

His concert career spans the globe including locations in London and Paris, like the L’Auguste Théâtre, Café Universel, and Le Carré Parisien.

In addition to “The Holiday Season,” he’s released a full-length album of original songs, as well as a separate original single… with even more new music on the way. (“I’m hoping I can get it out by September,” he exclaims. “Fingers crossed!”)

In honor of the release of this spirited song — and the holly jolly season in itself — we sat down with Forde to discuss his inspiration for recording the song and the key to making it his own, as well as his history with the genre of jazz, his favorite Christmas traditions, and more.

So, leave a peppermint stick for old Saint Nick... and take a look at his answers below! (All, of course, while streaming the song up until the big day!) Happy holidays, everyone!

What was the inspiration behind recording this song specifically? Why was it the right fit for you and why was now the time to record it?

Kay Thompson, who wrote the song, is one of my biggest inspirations — a true renaissance woman [with] a zany sophistication all her own. Her songs and arrangements always brim with vitality. I often feel that I am channeling Kay, either in my arrangements or in my performance style — I spent the first five years of my career trying to be her! — so recording this song seemed like a natural fit. I wrote this arrangement about three years ago and have performed it annually at [Jim Caruso’s] Cast Party at Birdland with Billy Stritch ever since. I can always tell the audience is feeling what I’m feeling when I’m singing it. Billy and I had so much fun performing it together, so I knew we had to record it together. Of course, I would have done it sooner, but recording and releasing music, especially with a large band, is expensive!

Have you always wanted to do a Christmas single? Do you think it will lead to a full Christmas album? 

I do think I’ll record a Christmas album, yes! This is the first cover I’ve released; my first album in 2022 and my single [released] this past July were all original songs. It’s fun to take a song people already know and turn it on its head a little bit. I’m actually getting ideas about what songs to include on the Christmas album as I answer this question!

You’ve got such a soft timbre to your voice. What’s your history with the big band and jazz sound? What is it that appeals to you about this type of music? 

I’ve loved jazz and popular music of the ‘20s-‘60s for as long as I can remember. I was swept up first by the music of old Disney movies and Looney Tunes, then by Ella Fitzgerald singing the American songbook classics. The romance and grandeur of those songs always felt most true to me.

One of the hallmarks of jazz is its harmonic twists and turns, and that always excited me more than other styles of music. I loved going to the piano and trying to plunk harmonies and melodies out by ear. And then there are the words. Wordplay and wit were so big back then… and I’m hoping to bring it back.

Can you talk more about your history with the genre? How did you get started? Who are your inspirations? 

I played flute in the high school jazz band. I loved it, but my main focus was being the music director and arranger for the all-female jazz sextet. That was fun! My jazz band teacher would let me skip band rehearsal to rehearse with the girls all semester, then rejoin the band on the day of the concert. I even got to sing a few tunes with the jazz band backing me up, and I always liked that more than anything else. I continued jazz vocal arrangements all through my time at the Boston Conservatory.

This arrangement of “The Holiday Season” actually has a Mel Tormé cheekiness, a nod to Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross in the middle section, and a Nelson Riddle-inspired horn section, [all of whom are my inspirations].

And what is it about Christmas music that appeals to you? And why? Do you have a favorite Christmas song? Why? 

Many popular Christmas songs are about coziness, comfort, nostalgia, and celebration, and I am a proponent of all those things! In addition to "The Holiday Season," I'm really into “The Man with the Bag,” “Christmastime is Here,” and “The Christmas Waltz,” for their playfulness, melancholic beauty, and warm sentimentality, respectively.  

In your eyes, what makes a classic New York Christmas? What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? 

One of my favorite holiday traditions is getting Kir Royales with a dear friend at a popular French restaurant in the West Village. I suppose that feels very New York. I also have a big dinner party for my neighbors every Christmas season. Of course, as I said, I perform “The Holiday Season” at Birdland live with Billy every year before the season is over.

Lastly, I work in midtown, so I wouldn’t be a New Yorker unless I grumbled about the swarms of tourists that descend upon the area at Christmastime. I’m usually glad they're enjoying themselves, as long as I'm not running late.

In your opinion, what makes this single different from other Christmas singles out there? How did you make it your own?

There are very few recordings of “The Holiday Season” by itself. Many artists have covered the Andy Williams medley where it’s paired with Irving Berlin's “Happy Holiday,” but I’m proud to have made this recording, and to have brought the song to the forefront of the nostalgic holiday song canon so that it can shine in its own right.

Of course, I add my own playful sensibilities: for example, I wrote a brand-new middle section with lyrics that gently criticize the capitalistic hypocrisy of the holiday. (It's mostly for comedic effect).

I also wrote the horn arrangement — there's a big modulation at the end that brings the energy up, even though it's modulating down a whole step. (How d’ya like that for nerdy?)

Essentially, the single is my version of jubilant joy, and because it feels authentic to me, I have to believe that it is unique.

What do you hope listeners will get out of your song? What do you want to instill in them specifically with this rendition?  

Joy. And plenty of it. It’s as simple as that.

“The Holiday Season,” featuring Liam Forde & Billy Stritch, is now available on all digital and streaming platforms. For more information, visit and follow Forde on Instagram and TikTok @itsmeliamforde.

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