With their music, the sibling duo Carpenters left an impression on generations of fans.
One of Karen and Richard Carpenter’s fans is Lisa Rock, who will pay tribute to them with “A Carpenters Christmas” on Thursday, Dec. 1.
The Christmas show with her six-member band draws from the Carpenters’ popular Christmas albums and variety shows.
Audiences can expect to hear songs such as “Merry Christmas, Darling” and a jazz version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” The show focuses on the jazzier side of the Carpenters, who were originally part of a trio. In the beginning, Karen Carpenter played the drums.
“Her drumming was absolutely incredible,” Rock said.
“People didn’t know where that voice came from behind the drum kit. They couldn’t see her, so they moved her out front and got a drummer,” Rock said.
Rock said with the Christmas show, she tries to recreate a similar variety show feeling as the Carpenters’ Christmas specials. The duo also made a special appearance on a Perry Como Christmas special.
Rock and her band will also perform other hit songs from the Carpenters.
The duo is best known for songs such as “Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Superstar,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “Yesterday Once More.”
While Rock and her band stay true to the original songs, they put new twists on the tracks.
“It’s through my voice now, and it’s through my band. So, it’s a little faster, a little slower. It’s interpreted a little differently… There are subtleties that are ours just by virtue of us playing them this many times,” Rock said.
“It definitely is through our bodies now, but it’s still their arrangements and everything in her original key, which also makes us unique as well. Because I actually have a four-octave range that allows me to hit all of those notes naturally.”
Rock also has a national touring tribute to the Carpenters called “Close to You: The Music of the Carpenters.”
Rock said the shows mostly attract longtime fans, but there are also new listeners who come out and discover the music.
Over the years, Rock had met family members of, and people who knew, the Carpenters.
“We have firsthand stories of things that we get to share with our audience. Then the audience shares with us, people who have met them…Their postman’s daughter came to our show. She told me how Karen would wait in the garage when they were playing with their band…When he would show up, she would run out of the garage to get the mail…I met the man who sold Richard his first Cadillac. Really cool things like that. It’s an honor to get to do this,” Rock said.
In the show, Rock shares stories about the Carpenters as well as about her touring experiences.
“We spend time after the show as well talking to people and asking the audience questions,” Rock said.
This is the 12th season for Rock’s tribute shows. From the start, the shows highlighted the music and lives of the Carpenters but weren’t meant to be impersonation.
“I always wanted to do their music and talk about them and their journey but not be them,” Rock said.
Rock focuses on the Carpenters’ music and not on Karen Carpenter’s battle with and death from anorexia.
“They were just musicians playing their music. That’s what I love. That’s the type of entertainment I appreciate the most is having a pure singer and band that it’s all about the music,” Rock said.
“We wanted to honor their music down to the notes that they played. Those arrangements were so lush and so original, and Richard was so ahead of his time.”
She said the show still feels fresh because every set and audience is different. She has played in iconic spaces where her heroes have performed.
“It’s still exciting. I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t. It’s not a job to me but an obvious passion and something I love every second of,” Rock said.
One of the songs in the Christmas show spotlights Rock’s backup singers, while instrumental tracks highlight the band. A Tucson-based choir will join them. It’s important to Rock to showcase up-and -coming musicians.
“We all came from our high school and junior high bands and choirs. We have music written out for that, a couple of pieces where they get featured singing with us and playing with us. I don’t know who gets more out of it because it’s such a thrill to share the stage with the future of our industry,” Rock said.
When Rock was young, she admired the Carpenters.
She especially remembers a duet featuring Karen Carpenter and Ella Fitzgerald, which she has incorporated into her shows.
“That one holds a special place because I remember watching that and being blown away by her not singing pop hits but singing jazz and musical theater. Karen’s range, that was what really got me,” Rock said.
If you go
Lisa Rock in “A Carpenters Christmas”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1
WHERE: Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress Street, Tucson
PRICE: Tickets start at $22
INFO: 520-547-3040, foxtucson.com