Tim Warfield
Jazz saxophonist Tim Warfield will perform at the Strand-Capitol on Dec. 22. (www.messiah.edu)
If things had gone just a little differently, Tim Warfield could have been a drummer. Or a world-famous fine artist.

That the York native ended up an internationally known jazz saxophonist is a quirk of fate, or luck, or divine intervention.

“I wanted to play drums; my mother said ‘not even remotely possible,'” Warfield says in a recent phone interview. “Then I wanted to play trumpet; couldn't get a sound out of that instrument.”

He tried other instruments, ones that represented jazz in his mind. Trombone, upright bass, vibraphone? No, no and no.

‘Beautiful': But the fortysomething musician who still lives in the York area vividly recalls the day the instruments came to McKinley Elementary. A 9-year-old Warfield sat cross-legged on the floor during the school assembly introducing the music program choices.

“They had all the instruments on the stage, and there was the saxophone on the far right, and it was the most beautiful instrument I'd ever seen,” he says. “I blew into the mouthpiece, it made a sound and that was it.”

Life gave him another nudge at 11, when the gifted artist was studying with older students at the then-York Academy of Arts.

“I did a lot of charcoal, chalk, watercolor, pencil,” he says. “I was drawing, I was studying martial arts, and I was playing music all at the same time.”

Jazz fans should be grateful to the watercolors.

“I became frustrated (with watercolors), and my focus changed to the saxophone,” he says.

Christmas concert: It seems to have worked out well for Warfield, who played to a standing-room-only crowd in Philadelphia on Dec. 1. His Jazzy Christmas concert, which doubles as a release party for his new holiday album, will make a few more stops before coming home to the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center — saving the best for last.

“York is the grand finale,” he says. “In York, it's going to literally be 90 percent of the musicians that are on the record. There will be no other place like that.”

That's why the York show is dubbed the All-Star Jazzy Christmas, Warfield says.

“All the artists are leaders in their own right,” he says of the performers joining him: pianist Cyrus Chestnut, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, bassist Rodney Whitaker, drummer Clarence Penn and vocalist Joanna Pascale. “Many of them are or have been on major labels, and many of them are Grammy-nominated.”

Why Christmas? The album features 10 songs — nine Christmas tunes in new jazz arrangements and one jazzed-up Hanukkah “Dreidel Song.” The idea came to Warfield after a few too many times playing gigs where piped-in holiday music filled the space between sets featuring jazz standards and originals.

“So you play an original, and after you finish your set you hear ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas,'” he says. “At some point, my brain just clicked that this just doesn't feel right. You gotta be more apropos to the holiday.”

That thought led Warfield to develop new takes on familiar tunes including “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Silent Night.”

“Those tunes are great, but they're not really great for jazz music unless you can make them interesting,” he says of traditional carols. “So that was the challenge, trying to make them more adaptable to a jazz setting” without losing the Christmas spirit.

The challenge: Improvisation and a sturdy foundation of knowledge work hand in hand for Warfield.

“If you have the intention of moving anything forward, then you really have to have a strong understanding of what it is or what it was before you can define what it will be,” he says.

When everything comes together, the knowledge informs the performance without forcing it into a predetermined shape.

“It's weird because I know where I am and I know what I'm doing, but I'm also lost. I'm a part of the moment,” he says. “The greatest moments I've had are when I can't remember at the end of the night what I played.”

See the show

Tim Warfield's All-Star Jazzy Christmas will start at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York. The concert will feature both popular and obscure Christmas music in new jazz arrangements.

CDs will be available for purchase.

Concert tickets are $20-$35.

For more information, visit www.strandcapitol.org or call 846-1111.

— Reach Mel Barber at mbarber@yorkdispatch.com.