Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra

The Story

DIVA will perform most of the music from Ella’s original album along with some other holiday classics including:

  • “Jingle Bells”
  • “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
  • “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
  • “What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?”
  • “Sleigh Ride”
  • “The Christmas Song”
  • “Good Morning Blues”
  • “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”
  • “Winter Wonderland”
  • “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
  • “Frosty the Snowman”
  • “White Christmas”

So, What's Going On?

Rowdy. Aggressive. Electric.

Not exactly the words you’d expect to describe a Christmas jazz concert? Move over “Silent Night,” Sherrie Maricle and her DIVAs are in town. DIVA is a big band ensemble of 15 gifted and versatile musicians. Based in New York City, DIVA’s all-woman members come from all over the world. The qualifications are a love of music (and we do mean LOVE, the players all have a genuine joy sharing their music), a bold personality, and musical excellence.

Whoa, slow that beat down! What’s Ella Fitzgerald got to do with this? What’s Maricle’s connection to Fitzgerald?

It just so happens that Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas is Maricle’s favorite holiday album. It was originally recorded by Ella Fitzgerald (and some other big names in jazz like Count Basie, Haven Gillespie, and Eddie Durham) in the summer of 1960 with a studio orchestra arranged and conducted by legendary jazz composer and arranger Frank DeVol. It was Maricle’s dream to recreate this music for a live audience. Working with the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation, Maricle went to Library of Congress and copied all of the original scores and parts. Then she sat down and re-orchestrated the music—all of it—for the instruments that make up DIVA.

Who’s Who

Sherri Maricle leads the DIVAs from her drum set. She’s just a little busy, also leading a quintet, FIVE PLAY, the DIVA Jazz Trio, and 3Divas. She performs with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, and has drummed, composed, arranged, and taught all over the world and won countless awards. Even with a doctorate in jazz performance and composition, Maricle isn’t done learning. She constantly studies different types of music from the perspective of a percussionist or composer.

DIVA is a jazz orchestra that draws rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. The inspiration for DIVA came from Stanley Kay, a manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich. Kay conducted a band in which Maricle was playing the drums and inspired Kay to consider assembling a group of female musicians to match Maricle’s talent and exuberance. After nationwide auditions, DIVA was founded in 1992. Today DIVA has recorded over 12 albums, performed all over the world, and was even featured in a 2013 documentary The Girls in the Band. DIVA is unique because it focuses on more than simply excellence in music—although there’s plenty of that—but the personalities of its members are allowed to shine on stage for a more personalized connection with the audience.

DIVA’s instrumentation includes:

  • Band Leader Sherrie Maricle on drums
  • Piano and acoustic bass
  • 3 trombones (2 tenors and a bass)
  • 4 trumpets
  • 5 saxophones (2 altos, 2 tenors and a baritone) who also play clarinet and flute

In addition, DIVA adds two special guests to their group for this performance, vocalists Sue Giles and Camille Thurman.

Ella Fitzgerald is an American jazz and singing legend who recorded almost the entire Great American Songbook—a catalog of the most influential and important jazz standards. Homeless at the time, she was discovered after winning an amateur singing contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater at age 15 and went on to sell more than 40 million albums and become the first African-American woman to win a Grammy® Award. She collaborated with some of the greatest jazz musicians ever including Louis Armstrong and Count Basie, and often performed with big-band singer Frank Sinatra. Fitzgerald is called the First Lady of Song for the footprint she left on American jazz.

Think About...

The Language of Jazz

Here are some key jazz terms to know and to listen for during the performance:

Articulation Performance techniques used by musicians that determine the style or sound of the music by specifying how individual notes are to be played within a section or entire piece of music
Improvisation Creating music or song spontaneously, a technique that requires great musical skill and creativity
Melody The tune of a piece of music created by a series of notes; most often recognizable as the main tune you hum or sing along with in a musical work
Harmony Two or more notes played together that create a compatible or pleasant sound
Rhythm A strong, repeated pattern of sound
Soloing When a musician improvises by elaborating on the music’s melody and harmony in their own personal style
Jazz Standards Popular musical compositions, mostly created between the 1920s and 1960s for Broadway musicals and films. They are called “standards” because they are so widely known and performed, they have become a permanent part of the jazz music repertoire, also known as the “Great American Songbook.”

Check This Out...

  • DIVA prides itself on music with personality. Look and listen to see how that personality is revealed. Their goal is to spread happiness to their audience, which comes as a result of their exuberance while playing. Can you see or hear their excitement? Is it contagious?
  • You’ll likely know many of the pieces played as holiday standards, but with a jazz twist. How do the sounds of jazz (see below to explore some of the language of jazz) change familiar songs? Do you hear any improvisation on familiar melodies?
  • Maricle is unusual because she leads the band from the drum set. Study her as the music is played. How does her leadership look and sound? Is her leadership obvious, or more casual? If you didn’t know she was the leader, would you be able to tell?
  • Swing is a type of Big Band music, part of the jazz style, in which the music is played with a swing time rhythm that emphasizes the off-beat. Swing has a strong groove that is kept going by rhythm instruments (like drums, of course). See if you can feel the swing throughout Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.

Think About This...

  • Why do you think Sherrie Maricle was inspired to completely re-arrange Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas album? Do any holiday songs hold special significance for you? How do you honor things that are important to you or that you’re passionate about?
  • People listening to DIVA have used words like “vibrant,” “magnetic,” smokin’,” and “electrifying.” What sounds and instruments do you hear that fit with these words? What words come into your mind as you listen to DIVA play?
  • Ella Fitzgerald said, “Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” How do Ella’s words relate to you? Think of something you love or that you really want to do. How can you pursue it?

Take Action: Swing It Forward

Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra seriously love what they do. The group is known for the energy and passion in their music—they all just seem to be having a great time! In fact, they believe that because the audience can feel their excitement through the music played, they gain an automatic connection with their listeners. Maricle actually says, “Our only goal is to make the audience happy.”

What are you passionate about doing that transmits happiness to others? Maybe it’s music, like DIVA. Perhaps it’s dance, or visual art, or poetry. How do you feel when you know that something you love also provides joy to someone else?

Snap a picture or take a video that represents something you do to spread happiness and post it to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, or any other social platform. Tag five passionate friends and ask them to join in too. Use #SwingItForward as your hashtag.


N00b Guide to Jazz

So…What’s all the jazz about jazz?

First timer? Don’t be overwhelmed. Jazz music is all about the experience—of performing and listening—so relax and enjoy yourself. Jazz is based on syncopated beats, interesting sounds, and improvisation, meaning that no one is quite sure where a performance might go, including the performers. Unlike classical music which makes every effort to create a unified sound, jazz is all about individual people and instruments coming together to combine their unique sounds in order to explore artistic expression and emotions.

(If you’re already a jazz fan, skip this and move on to the next section.)

But hold on…some history first:

Many people consider jazz one of America’s best contributions to the world of music. Jazz first emerged about 100 years ago in the American South, most distinctly in New Orleans, Louisiana. This seaport city served as home to people of African, French, English, Caribbean, and other backgrounds. It also became a melting pot for music from these many traditions. African American musicians fused elements of ragtime, blues, classical, and big brass band sounds to create this distinct new type of music.

After the first jazz recordings were made in 1917, jazz spread across the nation. It evolved over decades, helped along by influential musicians. In the 1920s, trumpeter Louis Armstrong introduced improvised solos and Duke Ellington popularized big band jazz; in the 1930s, people began dancing to jazz music, thanks to the upbeat sounds of Benny Goodman’s and Count Basie’s swing music. Charlie Parker’s groundbreaking bebop of the 1940s led to Miles Davis’s complex “cool” style in the 1950s. Jazz moved into the 1960s with pioneers like John Coltrane and his modal jazz; the next decades brought more change—from fusion, which brought together multiple styles, to the neo-classical leanings of Wynton Marsalis and other “young lions.” Jazz continues to evolve today—building on its vast legacy of innovation and experimentation.

And one more thing…

You also should know about jazz standards. These popular musical songs were composed mostly between the 1920s and 1960s for Broadway musicals and films. They are called “standards” because they’re so widely known and performed. They have become a permanent part of the jazz music repertoire, also known as the “Great American Songbook.”

Want to learn more about jazz music and musicians? Check out some of these links:

Jazz 101
A detailed breakdown of different type of jazz including suggested listening for each style

How to Listen: An Introduction to Getting into Jazz
A generic listening guide to help you enjoy your journey into jazz

Or visit our Related Resources (to the right of this page)


Nerd Guide to Jazz

(New to jazz? Skip this for now.)

Think you already know all the jazz about jazz? Then this is the guide for you.

You don’t have to be a trained musician to be a bit of a jazz nerd—although you might be. Just listening to jazz will give you an appreciation for the individual mastery and collaboration that it takes to make great jazz music.

If you think you might want to go even deeper into learning about jazz, or even learn to play and improvise, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Listen, listen, listen. And did we mention listen? You already know that jazz is an art that is as much about the experience as the notes played. Jazz is an auditory art, so listening is the best way to learn. You’ll also hear new instruments and sounds. Try streaming jazz radio online or use YouTube to listen to a variety of standards. Speaking of…
  • Learn a few standards. Listening to standards like “Autumn Leaves,” “All of Me,” and “I Got Rhythm” will familiarize you with common chord progressions, bass lines, and give you a feel for different rhythms. If you want to go beyond simply listening to standards…
  • Take lessons. Finding a good teacher can open a whole new world of jazz. A great teacher can help you choose an instrument (many specialize in several), show you what to start with, and teach you basics to begin developing your sound. Even if there aren’t teachers in your area, technology can bring lessons to you. Sites like OnlineJazzSchool.com, offsite link offer lessons via Skype.
  • Discover what you love on the web. There are so many genres of jazz. Finding online jazz communities on social media, YouTube, etc. will expose you to musicians and jazz enthusiasts who can broaden your horizons.

For more information on expanding your love of opera or for pointers on how to begin a singing career, try these links:

All About Jazz
Proclaiming itself “the most comprehensive jazz resource on earth,” All About Jazz offers articles, photos, and sound clips from everything jazz.

Jazz Radio
Hundreds of channels of streamed jazz allow you to hear jazz from all genres, time periods, and styles.

Soprano Sax: The Story of a Skinny Horn
This NPR jazz sampler features the soprano saxophone throughout jazz history.

Or visit our Related Resource (to the right of this page)

Adult Guide

Parents and Teachers: We've Got You Covered

Hey adults! This is for you. If you’re not too familiar with jazz or Ella Fitzgerald, read on and we’ll fill you in. Good news though, most of the repertoire will be holiday standards you’re probably familiar with. If so, you’re already ahead of the game.

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra is made up of some of the most talented musicians of our time… often called musical geniuses. They’re spunky, they love to swing, and they’re full of personality. Led by Sherrie Maricle on drums, they’ve got a performance sheet longer than a John Coltrane solo (just a little jazz humor). You’ll hear the set list from Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, with a lot of DIVA flair.

Ella Fitzgerald is an American jazz legend… royalty even. Fitzgerald became one of the most accomplished female musicians of all time, collaborating with the best musicians of her day, and recording a songbook that included almost all of the jazz standards. Called the “First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald helped bring jazz and swing to the forefront of American culture.

For more, check out these links:

Jazz 101: An Introduction to Swing

Ella Fitzgerald – Official Biography

American Masters timeline on Fitzgerald’s life

Alright, you’re ready to hear Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra: Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.




Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

This program is made possible with support from Chamber Music America’s 2015 New Jazz Works Program funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

This performance is made possible by the Kimsey Endowment; The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; and the U.S. Department of Education.

Major support for educational programs at the Kennedy Center is provided by David and Alice Rubensteinthrough the Rubenstein Arts Access Program.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center 

with the support of

The US Department of Education 

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee
for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions


You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.