Regina's Dione Taylor helps sing praises of Jewish songwriters who penned Christmas classics

A Canadian jazz singer who hails from Regina is part of the cast for Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas.

Jazz singer gives voice to Christmas favourites in documentary Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas

Regina-born jazz singer Dione Taylor is part of the cast of the documentary Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas, which looks at the Jewish songwriters who penned many Christmas classics. (Marc Lemyre/CBC)

What do you get when you bring together a singer hailing from Regina, a Chinese restaurant, one former Barenaked Lady and — underpinning it all — the Jewish songwriters who penned many of the most cherished songs of the Christmas season?

Those are just a few of the elements in the mix for Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas, described as an "offbeat, irreverent musical documentary" set largely in a Chinese restaurant.

It tells the story of the Jewish songwriters who crafted a much-loved soundtrack to Christmas, writing classics like White Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Christmas Song, among many others.

Dione Taylor, a jazz singer who was born and raised in Regina, talked to CBC Radio's The Morning Edition about being part of the cast for the documentary.

"I think it's amazing the way they created and captured the essence of the holidays in such iconic songs," she said of Jewish songwriters like Irving Berlin, Mel Tormé, Jay Livingston, Ray Evans, Gloria Shayne Baker and Johnny Marks.

Capturing Christmas elements

Many of these composers were part of immigrant families who left their home countries for America. Taylor thinks they may have seen an opportunity to create a new life for themselves, as well as a new experience for the people in their adopted land.

Their talents as songwriters shone through as they gave life to the Christmas experience, she said, like the quintessential elements of the warmth of gathering together with family amid the setting of snowy weather.

"They just happened to be Jewish songwriters. I don't think that's such a crazy thing. I just think it kind of happened that way."

The documentary features a diverse set of elements: in addition to Taylor, a jazz singer who was born and raised in the Queen City, the movie also features former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page, Bourbon Tabernacle Choir lead vocalist Dave Wall, and the self-described "Balkan-klezmer-Gypsy-party-punk-superband" Lemon Bucket Orkestra, among others.

It blends together archival footage, musical performances and interviews.

Taylor said her participation developed partly from her past work with documentary producers Jason Charters and Liam Romalis.

A love of good music

"When they said, 'We want to put this documentary about Jewish songwriters together and we want you to be involved,' I kind of thought, 'Well, that's weird,'" she said.

I'm from Saskatchewan — I know all about the white Christmas and silver bells and skating, and that wonderful experience and the joy of spending time with my family.- Dione Taylor, jazz singer

"But you know what, we share a love of good music. We share a love of the holiday and I think that's how we ended up working together."

As for the documentary's setting, Taylor says it's a nod to the fact that many Jewish families have traditionally spent Christmas at Chinese restaurants, since they may not celebrate Christmas at home and very few other public spaces are open on the holiday.

While Mel Tormé and Bob Wells, composers of The Christmas Song, may have whipped up their Christmas confection in the heat of Hollywood, Taylor says this type of seasonal music strikes a chord in her.

"I'm from Saskatchewan — I know all about the white Christmas and silver bells and skating, and that wonderful experience and the joy of spending time with my family," she said.

"So I think it's really great that I get to sing songs that reflect the experience that I know and love when it comes to the holiday."

The documentary Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas airs Thursday Dec. 7 at 9 p.m. on CBC TV.