Mesmerized by Eartha Kitt’s tantalizing and teasing performance of “Santa Baby,” R&B-jazz saxophonist Shawn Raiford has been playing his version of the holiday classic in his set for over twenty years. It’s become a perennial fan favorite, inspiring the Sacramento-based saxman to record and release his rendition. Grammy winner Derek “DOA” Allen (Lionel Richie, Janet Jackson, Tyrese) produced the single that began collecting playlist adds on Monday (November 20).
Raiford is a high-energy, award-winning concert performer and his recording projects are a blend of R&B, jazz, funk and soul. Yet his take on “Santa Baby” exhibits an entirely different sound and style. The track Allen crafted is a slow, deliberate and seductive straight-ahead jazz cut. Whereas Kitt’s voice flirts and seduces playfully, Raiford’s tenor sax warms, charms and comforts. Along with some backing sax sounds from Eddie Minnifield (Prince, Sheila E., Aretha Franklin), Allen decorated the track with bells and strings that add whimsical nuances, enhancing the childlike feelings of wonder at Christmastime.
According to Raiford, some Christmas magic took place in Minnifield’s recording studio while the single was tracked.
“We did it in one take and it’s the only song I’ve ever recorded in one take. We did a second pass but stuck with everything from the first take. I fell in love with that song since Eartha Kitt sang it. The way she acted out the song, it was electric! When we get around the holidays and I start playing ‘Santa Baby’ at our shows, we get so many raves from fans,” said Raiford who leads The Shawn Raiford Experience, a popular band on the NorCal scene that has opened for or performed with Teddy Riley, Yolanda Adams, Freddie Jackson, Pete Escovedo, Eric Darius and Jeff Ryan, and has been playing dates this year with R&B singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Chuckii Booker.
Raiford has been ramping up all year for the release of his second album, “The Next Step,” which Allen is producing. Thus far, he’s issued three singles to preview the set slated to drop in April – “Forever,” “Leave The Door Open” and “Vallejo.”
In addition to spending time with his family during the holidays, Raiford is a thriving entrepreneur who is committed to serving and giving back to his local community, which spans from Sacramento to his hometown, Vallejo.
“Every year, my company gives back. We give food and toys, and we do a lot for the community. We feed nearly two hundred people during Thanksgiving and Christmastime. I’ve always wanted to be able to give back and make sure that people have food and presents to unwrap,” said Raiford who plays at Yoshi’s in Oakland on December 18 and at The Palace Events in Dallas on January 13.