It’s that time of year, we’ve been making our list and checking in twice! Hand-picked by our Media Director John Orysik, this is the ultimate playlist of classic jazzy holiday tunes, without the schmaltz.
“Carol of the Bells”
Wynton Marsalis – Crescent City Christmas Card
With a nod to the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ beloved A Child’s Christmas in Wales, this album might have been titled, A Child’s Christmas in New Orleans. It draws on the music that Wynton grew up playing at midnight masses and other Yuletide celebrations. Reimagined and interpreted, Wynton’s jazzy arrangements swing with joy, reverence, and playful good humour.
“Little Drummer Boy”
Kenny Burrell – Have Yourself a Soulful Christmas
After its original release on Cadet Records in 1966, Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas was out of print for years until a 1992 reissue. With pensive, meditative, precise playing, it’s a must-for-the-season with a definitive jazz hit version of “Little Drummer Boy”.
B.B. King – A Christmas Celebration of Hope
A Christmas Celebration of Hope is the 39th studio album by American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter B.B. King released in November 2001 through MCA Records. The album earned King two Grammy Awards: he, Anthony Daigle and John Holbrook were presented the award for Best Traditional Blues Album and the track “Auld Lang Syne” earned King the award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas
Not surprisingly, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the tenth best selling holiday album in North America. With a mix of original songs (“Christmas Time Is Here”, “Linus and Lucy”) as well as covers of well-known Christmas songs (“The Christmas Song”, “O Tannenbaum”), it’s a holiday standard for generations.
“Run Run Rudolph”
Chuck Berry – Rhythm & Blues Christmas
Written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie and published by St. Nicholas Music, “Run Run Rudolph” was first recorded by Chuck Berry in 1958 and released as a single on Chess Records. It has since been covered by numerous other artists, sometimes under the title “Run, Run, Rudolph”. The song is a 12-bar blues, musically similar to Berry’s very popular and recognizable song “Johnny B. Goode” and melodically identical to his song “Little Queenie”, released in 1959.
Count Basie – Verve Presents the Very Best of Christmas Jazz
On a warm July day in 1961 Ernie Wilkins came to a Count Basie Orchestra gig at Birdland in New York with a newly completed manuscript in his hand. He had just finished an arrangement of the holiday classic “Jingle Bells” and wanted to have the band give it a test-run. The raucous chart was a huge success and has been featured on many holiday compilations ever since.
Booker Ervin – Ultimate Jazz Christmas
Fifty-six years in the making, the earliest track on the Ultimate Jazz Christmas album is Nat King Cole’s rare 1946 original trio version of ”The Christmas Song” written that year by Mel Torme and Robert Wells; the most recent track is Norah Jones’s poignant version of Horace Silver’s beautiful ”Peace,” a 2002 track from the EP that Norah Jones recorded upon signing with Blue Note Records. Booker Ervin takes on the classic “White Christmas” originally made famous by Bing Crosby.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Frank Sinatra – Frank Sinatra
No holiday playlist would be complete without a little Frank Sinatra. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, was first sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis.
“O Holy Night”
Mahalia Jackson – Christmas with Mahalia
Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Soul, was a ground breaker, the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall, she also brought her gospel sound to European audiences. Her first Christmas album was called Sweet Little Jesus Boy and released in 1956. Christmas with Mahalia was released in 1968 and also features gospel arrangements of “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells”.
“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”
Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Wishes you a Swinging Xmas
Written by lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne in July 1945, in California during a heat wave. “Let it snow…” has be covered more recently by the likes of Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, and Jessica Simpson. Ella Wishes you a Swinging Xmas was recorded in the summer of 1960, with a studio orchestra arranged and conducted by Frank DeVol. It is Fitzgerald’s only Verve complete album of Christmas tunes.
“Merry Christmas Baby”
Charles Brown – Rhythm & Blues Christmas
Considered an R&B holiday standard, “Merry Christmas Baby” was credited to Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore, and originally recorded in 1947 by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, featuring the singer and pianist Charles Brown. Brown’s style dominated the influential Southern California club scene on Central Avenue, in Los Angeles, in the 40s and he influenced performers such as Cecil Gant, Ivory Joe Hunter, and Ray Charles.
Bobby Timmons – Holiday Soul
Holiday Soul was recorded in 1964 by Bobby Timmons, and released on the Prestige label. Not only did Bobby do stints as a sideman in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, he was also part of Cannonball Adderley’s band.
“The Christmas Song”
Gene Ammons – The Christmas Collection
A legendary and pioneering tenor saxophonist in bebop jazz, cool school jazz, and, later, soul jazz, Gene “Jug” Ammons played alongside fellow greats including Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Fats Navarro and Sonny Stitt. The Christmas Collection was a released in 1988 on Prestige, from tracks recorded in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
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“Here Comes Santa Claus”
Ramsey Lewis – The Very Best of Christmas Jazz
Sound of Christmas was pianist and composer Ramsey Lewis’ first holiday record featuring tracks recorded in 1961 and released on the Argo label. The trio recorded a follow up, More Sounds of Christmas, in 1964.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (part one)
Carla Bley & Partyka Brass Quintet – Carla’s Christmas Carols
Recorded in 2008 at La Buisonne Studio in the south of France, Carla Bley and bassist Steve Swallow took a break from touring in Europe with the Partyka Brass Quintet to record this release that was extremely well received.
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That’s it folks! The team here at Coastal Jazz wish you all a very happy holidays and all the best for 2018!