Jerry Nelson: A snazzy, jazzy Christmas - The Hegg Brothers restyle holiday favorites

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

The night is fast approaching when children will try to stay awake as they listen for a nocturnal visitor, a midnight marauder who breaks into houses and leaves stuff instead of stealing things.

Santa Claus is, in essence, a reverse burglar.

A grand tradition that has been handed down across the generations involves forcing children to learn Christmas songs and singing in a choir. While there are some kids who actually enjoy that sort of thing, there are others who see singing in public as an activity that violates the Geneva Conventions.

I was the type of kid who thought that singing in public was an anguishing ordeal. As if to add insult to injury, participating in the Christmas choir also meant taking a bath and donning my Sunday duds. It was a hat trick of torment.

I might feel differently if I possessed even the tiniest modicum of vocal talent. I could be a professional singer but only in the sense that people would pay me to stop singing.

Just because I can’t make music doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good musical performance. I also can’t draw – even my most earnest efforts appear as though they were scrawled by someone who had been blindfolded and spun around three times – but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate fine art. I especially enjoy that masterly, dog-centric painting titled “A Friend In Need.”

Fortunately, there were kids in my choir who believed that what you lack in talent you can make up for with volume. The shout-singers drowned out much of the choir and made it possible for those who, like me, were musically impaired and felt the need to camouflage ourselves with vigorous lip-synching.

Despite my non-performance in the choir, I always received a candy bar at the conclusion of our grade school Christmas concerts. The lesson was clear: Fake it until you make it, and you’ll still get a Hershey bar. 

In keeping with this grand tradition, our two sons participated in Christmas choirs when they were youngsters. The difference between them and me is that I have them on video tape.

Dale, my father-in-law, had a VHS camcorder (if you don’t know what VHS is, you’re probably younger than some of my socks), and recorded a couple of our sons’ grade school Christmas choir performances. I later had the tapes digitized so that we can continue to watch our young sons as they yodeled their way through their Christmas concerts.

Upon review of the footage, I found it interesting to see how other parents dressed their kids. The little cherubs were obviously coerced into enduring fashion choices they would have never made for themselves. In other words, nothing much had changed since I was a boy.

Decades have passed since anyone at our house has been part of a choir, and my wife and I were recently waxing nostalgic about what it was like to experience a live performance of Christmas music. This is why we immediately said yes when our friends Jen and Tim asked us to join them for a nearby holiday concert.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve led sheltered lives, but it was unlike any Christmas concert we’d ever experienced. The music was provided by The Hegg Brothers Band, a Sioux Falls area group that specializes in music from the jazz genre.

The Hegg Brothers Holiday Jam was a treat.

It came as no surprise, then, when The Hegg Brothers Band belted out traditional Christmas tunes that had been thoroughly jazzified. Up until that point the most exposure my wife and I have had to jazzy holiday tunes has been from watching the gripping docudrama “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

The Hegg Brothers displayed such a high level of melodic skills that they could have played “Linus and Lucy” with one of their hands collectively tied behind their backs. They took time-honored Christmas tunes – including many that I had lip-synched to as a youngster – and reimagined them with a jaunty, upbeat tempo.

I was never a big fan of “Little Drummer Boy.” The Hegg Brothers somehow restyled the tune in a such a way that it was not only tolerable but pleasurable.

What I enjoyed most was when they sang all six verses of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” The phrase “your brain is full of spiders” shot me straight back to my boyhood and reminded me why that particular song is among my favorite Christmas tunes.

Listening to The Hegg Brothers Holiday Jam was almost enough to make me want to sing along. If that had happened, it would have been a true Christmas miracle.

Plus, I probably would have gotten paid to stop singing.

Jerry’s book, "Dear County Agent Guy," is available at and in bookstores nationwide