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Cirque Du Soleil
(Cirque Du Soleil)
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Patricia Barber
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Cirque Du Soleil
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Jim Pearce
“Why I Haven't Got You”
Prairie Dog Ballet
(Oak Avenue Publishing)
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Andy Timmons Band
“Gone (9/11/01)”
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Ralph Towner
Time Line
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Anoushka Shankar

Amos Lee
"Arms Of A Woman"
Amos Lee
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Julius Curcio
"American Pie"
Alligator Shoes
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"Come Alive"
Changing Into Me
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Feature [Issue #18]
: Buyer's Guide: Jazz Christmas CDs
By Scott Yanow

Christmas songs and jazz musicians have long been a very compatible mix. Many of the key Yuletide favorites, such as “Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Rudolph, The Red- Nosed Reindeer,” and “Silent Night,” utilize chord changes that are perfect for jamming. Whether played by dixielanders, beboppers, or modern musicians, Christmas tunes often sound at their best in jazz settings.

Despite that fact, full-length Christmas albums by jazz musicians and singers were largely unheard of until the 1960s and far from a common occurrence until a couple of decades later.  One cannot find a full CD of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, or John Coltrane Christmas songs.  Even Mel Torme and Rosemary Clooney, who are associated with Christmas (due to Torme’s “The Christmas Song” and Clooney’s acting in the Bing Crosby movie, White Christmas), did not record Yuletide sets until late in their careers.  However, early on there were a few classic performances of Christmas jazz that were recorded.  Among the most notable are Fats Waller’s rollicking “Swingin’ Dem Jingle Bells,” scat singer Leo Watson’s stream of consciousness reworking of “Jingle Bells,” Louis Armstrong’s “Zat You, Santa Claus,” Charlie Parker’s “White Christmas” (a request documented on a radio broadcast from Christmas 1948), Miles Davis/Bob Dorough’s cynical “Blue Xmas,” and a countless number of renditions of Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” with tenor great Dexter Gordon’s being a favorite.

By the 1960s, the constant radio airplay of Christmas songs during December made having a holiday hit quite lucrative. In more recent times, it seems as if no musician or singer’s discography is complete without including at least one Christmas CD.  Today there is quite a glut on the market, a delight for fans of collectors of Christmas jazz sets. There are well over 100 that are currently available.

All styles of jazz are covered except for the avant-garde.  Just to name some of the more notable releases, in the dixieland and trad jazz field, there is Jim Cullum’s Hot Jazz For A Cool Yule (Riverwalk 79605), Ted Des Plante’s Christmas Night In Harlem Stride (Solo Art 125), Christmas With the New Black Eagle Jazz Band (Daring 3025), and a pair from pianist Butch Thompson: Yulestride (Daring 3010) and Bethlehem After Dark (Daring 3036).  Swing is represented by Al Grey’s Christmas Stockin’ Stuffer (Capri 74039), tenor-saxophonist Scott Hamilton’s Christmas Love Song (Concord 4771), Dave McKenna’s Christmas Ivory (Concord 4772), Mark Shane’s What Would Santa Say (Nagel Heyer 055) and the Glenn Miller Ghost Orchestra’s In The Christmas Mood (Laserlight 15418).  If one wants bebop and straightahead Christmas jazz, A Dave Brubeck Christmas (Telarc 3410), Kenny Burrell’s Have Yourself A Soulful Little Christmas (Cadet 779), Wynton Marsalis’ Crescent City Christmas Card (Columbia 45287), Joe Pass’ Six String Santa (Laserlight 15 470), An Oscar Peterson Christmas (Telarc 833720), Marcus Roberts’ Prayer For Peace (Novus 63124), Christmas With The George Shearing Quintet (Telarc 83438) and Jimmy Smith’s Christmas Cookin’ (Verve 314 513 711) are each quite worthy, as are two from Tom Kubis’ Big Band: It’s Not Just For Christmas Anymore (Cexton 72133) and A Jazz Musician’s Christmas (Sea Breeze 2121), Retro Swing has not neglected Christmas as one can hear on Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Whatcha’ Want For Christmas (Big Bad 1108), the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Christmas Caravan (Mammoth 354 980 192) and Brian Setzer’s humorous Dig That Crazy Christmas (Surfdog 44101).  Trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez gives us A Latin Jazz Christmas (JMI 7504), the late Grover Washington Jr. offered Breath Of Heaven (Columbia 68527), pop trumpeter Chris Botti’s December (Columbia 86864) is a big seller and even Boots Randolph got into the act with Christmas At Boots’ Place (Laserlight 15471). Vocalists are represented by Rosemary Clooney’s White Christmas (Concord 4719), Harry Connick Jr.’s When My Heart Finds Christmas (Columbia 5755), John Pizzarelli’s Let’s Share Christmas (RCA 66986), Diane Reeves’ Christmas Time Is Here (Blue Note 73344), Take 6’s He Is Christmas (Reprise 26665), Mel Torme’s Christmas Songs (Telarc 83315) and Joe Williams’ That Holiday Feeling (Verve 843 956). All of this is not even including such samplers as A Brazilian Christmas (Astor Place 4006), Yule Be Boppin’ (Blue Note 56991), Yule Struttin’ (Blue Note 94857), A Chiaroscuro Christmas (Chiaroscuro 332), A Concord Jazz Christmas Volumes One and Two (Concord 4613 and 4720), and Christmas Songs (Milestone 9211).

So what to buy?  Each listener will have their favorites but here are my five. Jim Cullum’s Tis The Season To Be Jammin’ (World Jazz 21) has long been a delight, hot jazz interpretations of 17 Christmas songs by such fine players as clarinetist Allan Vache, pianist John Sheridan and cornetist Cullum. Veteran pianist Jay McShann and soprano-saxophonist Jim Galloway play spirited Christmas swing on Jim & Jay’s Christmas (Sackville 3054). Ella Fitzgerald’s 1959-60 classic Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas (Verve 440 065 086) has been expanded from 12 to 18 performances and is full of fun.  The Manhattan Transfer’s The Christmas Album (Columbia 52968) is perhaps most famous for the vocal quartet ending “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” with “Look out, old Santa is back!”

And one should not leave out Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy 8431).  Pianist Guaraldi had a second career as the writer of the music for the beloved Charlie Brown animated series.  His famous set is highlighted by “Linus And Lucy,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” and “Christmas Is Coming.”
The very best Christmas jazz sets, mix together the celebratory with the reverent and sound enjoyable even in July. Have a happy 2006!

Buyer's Guide: Jazz Christmas CDs

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