Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame
"Creating Unity Through Music"
November 21, 2014



Biographical material from various sources refers to Tulsa's Donald Ryan as "the master of diverse styles" and "a musical kaleidoscope, sparkling at everything he plays." Anyone who's seen and heard a Ryan solo piano performance knows the truth in both of those statements.


Of course, someone - and there aren't many - who can play that many different kinds of music has to know a lot of songs. And Donald Ryan does.

"I've been asked, `How many tunes do you know?'" he says. "And, wow, I'd have to say it's certainly in the hundreds, maybe the thousands, because I've been playing piano for so long."


In fact, Ryan's been at it since age three, when he took up the keyboard in the twin island country of Trinidad and Tobago, where he was born. That's also where he first heard Christmas carols, including two strongly influenced by the rhythms of his native West Indies, "Mary's Boy Child" and "The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy."


"I remember when I first heard them; I must've been in the single digits," he notes. "I think it was back in the late '50s, and they've been close to me ever since."


Attendees at Sunday's concert can expect to hear those two calypso-flavored carols, as well as a number of other holiday songs that have meant something, musically and otherwise, to Ryan over the years.


"I've loved Christmas music ever since I was a kid," he notes, "and when I play it I look for things that I like, that I can express myself in. Most of it is traditional music, more religious. There'll be some of that [in Sunday's show]. There'll be some music that's just seasonal. I look for things that have an infectious melody, that have harmonic possibilities that I can massage, and some things I can add rhythm to." He laughs. "I can add rhythm to just about anything."


As an example of that sort of a song, he mentions a title that seems a bit unlikely: the ancient classic "Silent Night."


"As it's written, it's pretty much just three chords - a one, a four, and a five," he explains. "I work it so that we get to use every chord, all seven in the key, and then a couple that are not in the key. I do the same kind of thing with `Greensleeves' or `What Child Is This.'


"I'll begin with Christmas, end with Christmas, and I'll have some Christmas in the middle," he adds, referring to his Sunday concert. "It won't be entirely Christmas music, but that will be at least half of it. The other things I'll be doing to complement and contrast. I'll probably do some ragtime, and a couple of things that are jazz-inspired - catchy, lively, but not so much swing stuff."


One of the songs he plans to feature is "A Child Is Born," the jazz standard written by trumpeter Thad Jones, which, he says, "is not Christmas, per se, although the title suggests it."


Attendees should keep in mind that Ryan's program is subject to change, which is only right when a solo performer knows, as he says, hundreds or even thousands of songs. He may even switch things up right in the middle of his concert.


"Oh yes, I have done that," he says with another laugh. "Of course, if I'm playing with a group, I don't want to spring those kinds of surprises, but in my last solo concert, yes, I threw a couple of things in there, just because what I was playing reminded me of something else.


"Right now, I have a few things I want to do, and I'm toying with a bunch of [other] tunes. As I get closer to the date and look for complimentary and contrasting material, I'll see which ones I want to play. I may not decide the program until the day before. Even the day of the show, I might throw something in there."


Donald Ryan's Christmas Concert is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, November 30, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa's Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street.


Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from, or by calling 918.928.JAZZ. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.


Ryan's show is the final entry in the Jazz Hall's 2014 Autumn Concert Series.


The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.



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Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame