Music for a Cool Yule
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Music for a Cool Yule (2012)
by Thomas Cunniffe and Marti Mendenhall
For this year's edition of "Music for a Cool Yule", we have combined reviews of the classic and current holiday albums into one column. We have old favorites, new releases (from 2011 and 2012), plus a Spotify list of highlights to keep you in the holiday spirit. You can access the Spotify list by clicking the play button in the Spotify box at left.

Geri Allen
’s m
usic has always demanded close listening, and her holiday CD, “A Child Is Born” is no exception. This is not an album to play in the background while  trimming the tree, but rather music for listening while contemplating the spiritual meaning of Christmas. Allen challenges the listener with inventive re-imagined versions of familiar carols, and with intriguing musical cameos that portray the Gema melodies of Ethiopia. While essentially a solo piano album, Allen overdubs (or simultaneously plays) a virtual orchestra of keyboards including Fender Rhodes, farfisa, clavinet and celeste. There is also a brief spoken word chant by Farah Jasmine Griffith, and two short originals with female chorus. On one track, Allen and sound designer Jamieo Brown create an unique soundscape combining Allen’s piano rendition of the ancient chant “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” with sampled tracks by the Women of the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collective of Alabama. Yet this CD is at its best when it is just Allen and the piano as she creates breathtaking improvisations in tribute to God.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, vocalist Jackie Allen and pianist/vocalist Judy Roberts were the toasts of Chicago. Although they performed their own solo gigs, it was when they paired as a duet that they made their most memorable music. Allen’s soulful delivery was a perfect foil for Roberts’ witty musicality. “Santa Baby” was their first album together, and the chemistry is immediately evident on their duet performances. “Winter Wonderland” features both on vocals: Allen on the traditional lyrics and Roberts with her own “Desert Wonderland” words. They perform the sexiest version ever recorded of the title track. There’s no little-girl feigned innocence here; Allen and Roberts portray two crafty seductresses who know how to get exactly what they want for Christmas. (We were unable to include these tracks on our Spotify list, but here are links for the YouTube versions of “Winter Wonderland” and “Santa Baby”). There are several solo numbers for both women, including Allen’s luminous medley of “Some Children See Him” and “A Child Is Born” and Roberts’ piano medley of “Hanukkah, O Hanukkah” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. The current edition of the disc is a “collector’s edition” with six additional tracks, including two different songs titled “Snowbound”. This album is a delight from beginning to end. Get yourself a copy.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

(Columbia/RPM 32250)
Tony Bennett has recorded several Christmas albums over his career, but "A Swingin' Christmas" is by far the jazziest. The veteran entertainer is joined by the horns of the Count Bas
ie Orchestra, and guests Toots Thielemans and Monty Alexander, with rousing arrangements by Bill Holman, Torrie Zito, Frank Foster and Bennett's musical director Lee Musiker. The album opens with Holman's uptempo chart on "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and then slides into a delightful version of "Silver Bells" with Bennett and the rhythm section. Alexander reins in his ample technique throughout the album, playing in a restrained Basie style. Johnny Mandel's "Christmas Love Song" (here listed as "All I Want For Christmas Is You") uses the same shimmering background that the composer created for the Manhattan Transfer's version (see below) with Thielemans providing a brief but heartfelt solo. The Basie-ites sound best on the playful version of "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" and the relaxed swing of "Winter Wonderland". Bennett is in splendid voice, although his delivery on "Christmas Time Is Here" seems a little rough-hewn for this tender song.  A duet version of "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" features Bennett with his daughter Antonia, and while her voice is breathy and uncolored, she sings in tune and with good diction. This album is a fine addition to Bennett's extensive discography and to any holiday jazz listener's holiday collection.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

Dave Brubeck’s unique sense of jazz rhythms made him a maverick in the 1950s and 60s. While he is still a master of unusual time signatures and polytonality, his 1996 solo Yuletide album, “A Dave Brubeck Christmas” is a mix of busy-city-bustle and sitting-by-the-fireside.  Picture yourself walking on a busy downtown street, Christmas shopping while passing by beautiful store windows and people wrapped in Christmas finery.  An album of quiet classics like, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Joy to the World,” and a few off the beaten path, such as Brubeck’s original “Cantos Para Pedir las Posadas,” this album has an old-fashioned style that is timeless.—MARTI MENDENHALL

I’ve praised the work of Ann Hampton Callaway in these pages before, so it should be no surprise that her album “This Christmas” is one of my favorites. Callaway exudes holiday warmth with her luscious renditions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “White Christmas” as well as her hip remakes of “Jingle Bells” and “Carol of the Bells”. The title song is a Callaway original, as are the delicious “Manhattan In December” and the stirring “God Bless My Family” (the last a duet with Callaway’s sister, Liz). Calloway is accompanied by a jazz quartet through most of the album. The band personnel rotates through the disc and it includes pianists Mike Lang and Alan Broadbent, bassists John Clayton and Dave Carpenter and drummers Jeff Hamilton and Ralph Penland. Judd Miller plays EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument) on several tracks and his instrument evokes trumpet, flute, harmonica and (at one point) a klaxon. Clayton’s arrangement on “The Christmas Song” is a highlight, opening with Callaway’s voice in duet with Clayton’s bowed bass, and then moving into an attractive slow swing. This lovely album was originally issued on Angel, but Callaway owns the rights and it has been reissued on N-Coded and Telarc.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

For his new holiday offering, "That Time of Year", pianist Bill Cunliffe draws on his Episcopalian upbringing, including several classic Christmas hymns in the playlist, starting with a glowing version of "Angels From The Realms of Glory" and later playing a gently swaying rendition of "I Saw Three Ships" (listed as "On Christmas Day") and a reverent "Coventry Carol". With the exception of a guest appearance by vocalist Denise Donatelli on "I'll Be Home For Christmas", this is a solo piano album, and Cunliffe is up to the task with incisive bass lines on a swinging "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and a rhythmically re-imagined "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy", sparkling improvisations on an uptempo version of "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem", and subtle touch on both a wondrous reharmonization of Praetorius' "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming" and a modal/mixed-meter arrangement of "We Three Kings". His version of "Jingle Bells" is a tour de force taking the old chestnut into all kinds of unexpected territories and his rubato performance of "Silent Night" evokes the mystical feelings of this special time of year.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

(Verve 827 150)
As breezy and unpretentious as the lady herself, "Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas" is a delightful album that appeals to music lovers of all ages. When this album was recorded in 1960, Ella Fitzgerald was in peak vocal form, and nearly everything she touched turned into gold. Several pieces seem geared to the younger set, including "Jingle Bells", "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town" and appearances by both Rudolph and Frosty, but Fitzgerald has some treats for the grown-ups too, notably a sultry version of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve", a grooving "Good Morning Blues" and a glorious medium-tempo arrangement of "White Christmas". Frank DeVol's big band arrangements are hip and engaging,  and there several fine soloists featured on the album (not listed in my copy, but probably including trumpeter Don Fagerquist, pianist Lou Levy and vibraphonist Frank Flynn). The choral backups have not dated as well, but they're fun in a kitschy way. The current CD version includes several alternate versions of these songs with Ella and a different orchestra.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

This recording is a timeless classic!  Vince Guaraldi grew up in the West-Coast San Francisco jazz scene.  He was hired to score the first “Peanuts” television special for Charles Schultz in 1964.  The initial program was never picked up, but Guaraldi recycled much of the score for the holiday classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.  Tracks off of this recording are played regularly during the Holiday season, and the reasons for its popularity are evident.  A sense of movement threads each piece together, flowing and propelling you forward to each track.  You will find yourself humming along and infused with the child-like wonder of Christmas.  The expanded edition includes four alternate takes and credits long misidentified sidemen.  This is definitely a CD to include in your special Christmas collection!—MARTI MENDENHALL

If you like your Christmas music big and brassy, you’ll love Stan Kenton’s “A Merry Christmas”. With four trumpets, two each of tenor and bass trombones, four mellophoniums, tuba and rhythm section, the overtones are rich and the chords thick and juicy. Kenton only arranged the Christmas medley and a funereal “O Come All Ye Faithful”, leaving the rest to Ralph Carmichael, an ordained minister and leader of several sacred albums (Carmichael also provided the lush orchestrations for Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song” LP). Most of the arrangements are fairly short, but they swing and contain bits of improvisation here and there. The only deterrent is the omnipresent sleigh bells, which turn up throughout, even on hymns like “Once in Royal David’s City” and “Angels We Have Heard on High”! The CD edition is filled out with two bonus cuts: a spoken monologue from Kenton, “What Is Santa Claus” and a swinging seven-minute medley from one of Kenton’s most productive alumni, Maynard Ferguson. Even if you’re not a huge Kenton fan, this is a very enjoyable holiday offering.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

(Verve 4717)
Collecting music from at least four different sessions, "Christmas Songs" is nonetheless a highly unified collection of holiday fare from Diana Krall. The majority of the tracks feature the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and these find Krall at her most comfortable, playing and singing with more abandon than usual. She occasionally borrows from other singers (the "crazy about horses" line from Ella's "Jingle Bells", and a melodic paraphrase from Carmen's "Christmas Song"), but for the most part, she trusts her own imagination and creates original and swinging variations. John Clayton wrote all of the arrangements for the big band, and he got a beautiful rich sound from the group. Several of the band's soloists are featured, including Jeff Clayton, Tamir Hendelman, Gilbert Castellanos and Rickey Woodard. The remainder of the album features Krall with small groups (including Stefon Harris, John Clayton, Anthony Wilson, Jeff Hamilton and others) and with a large orchestra conducted and arranged by Johnny Mandel. All of the music is of extraordinarily high quality and the CD programming  adroitly gives the album direction and variety. In short, a fine example of Diana Krall at her best.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

Any Christmas jazz album that starts with a quote from “Giant Steps” is bound to get your attention. Austrian vocalist Elisabeth Lohninger’s CD “Christmas In July” does just that and then adapts Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song” to the changes of the Coltrane classic! Needless to say, it takes an adept imagination and razor-sharp ears to create such a unique juxtaposition, but Lohninger and her band pull it off admirably. Pianist Walter Fischbacher created this arrangement as well as most of the other tracks on the album. The carols come from all over the world and Lohninger’s performances encompass nine different languages!
(Translations may be found here). There are at least as many musical styles present, and the band, which also includes guitarist Axel Fischbacher (no relation to Walter), bassist Johannes Weidenmüller and drummer Ulf Stricker, plays everything from jazz to reggae to funk with great conviction. Axel’s solo work ranges from hard-edged rock to straight-ahead jazz to acoustic folk, and Walter’s linear piano solos sparkle with inventiveness. Weidenmüller is a fine duet partner for Lohninger on the intro to the French “Petit Papa Noël” and Stricker generates plenty of thunder, even when playing with brushes. Lohninger has an expressive voice with superb diction and excellent pitch (she teaches voice and ear training at the New School in New York, and it’s obvious that she practices what she teaches!). Her scatting, while underutilized on this recording, is quite creative and tasteful. This album is not too “warm and fuzzy”, but it is an excellent introduction to these fine musicians.—THOMAS CUNNIFFE

Newly reissued by Justin Time, "Many Times, Many Ways" is a 1998 collection of holiday music from Eugene, Oregon-based vocalist Halie Loren and pianist Matt Treder. In addition to standards like "The Christmas Song", "Let It Snow" and "Home For The Holidays", the playlist includes the moody "Blue Holiday" (by Andre Rasmussen and John Gilliam), a version of "My Grown-Up Christmas List" that is less histrionic than Jane Monheit's, and two charming piano solos by Treder. Loren's voice is quite seductive, very expressive, and a little more world-weary than one might expect from her youthful appearance. Treder is an exceptional accompanist, playing with great discretion, letting Loren have the spotlight and knowing what not to play. At 38 minutes, this album is over much too soon, and it's too bad that Loren and Treder didn't return to the studio to add a few bonus tracks to this well-programmed holiday album. Listeners looking for something a little different from the norm should seek out this recording.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

For Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul and Cheryl Bentyne, every nuance is perfection.  Manhattan Transfer has the vocal intimacy that can only come from years of singing and performing together.  The current group has been together since 1978, and has more than proved their quality with longevity.  For “The Christmas Album,” every song is a lush pleasure on the ears, and fills the heart to brimming with a cup of rich, hot chocolate cheer for the Holiday season. Johnny Mandel’s arrangements add just the right amount of holiday warmth, and the tracklist includes a beautiful original “Christmas Love Song”, a swinging “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” (with a vocalese to a Paul Desmond solo from the “Jingle Bell Jazz” album discussed below), and a collaboration with Tony Bennett on “Snowfall”.  This CD is perfect for spending a romantic day trimming the tree, or in the car on the way to Grandma’s house.  You’ll find your fingers tapping the steering wheel in no-time, or reaching across the seat to hold hands.  Any way you slice it, this recording is swingin’ fun and Christmas romance all in one.—MARTI MENDENHALL

(Epic 77711)
Released at nearly the same time as Diana Krall's "Christmas Songs", Jane Monheit's "The Season" aims at a wider  audience with several holiday pop classics in the playlist, including Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" and the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling". There's also a fun new Santa song, "The Man with the Bag", which was used in a Target commercial around the time of the album's release. Monheit sings these songs and several wintertime staples with plenty of emotion (only going over-the-top with "My Grown-Up Christmas List", but nearly there on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"). On several of the tracks, she's backed by a fine orchestra with most of the arrangements written by Rob Mounsey, but on the tracks with her working com
bo of Michael Kanan (piano), Miles Okazaki (guitar), Orlando Le Fleming (bass) and Rick Montalbano (drums), she seems freer  with the material, sounding extremely playful on "Sleigh Ride" and creating wonderful melodic variations on "Moonlight in Vermont". This album has been released in several formats, including a DualDisc version with a remix of the album, live performances and an interview on the DVD side.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

The legacy of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France has manifested into several “gypsy jazz” ensembles. Some, like the Hot Club of Detroit, have expanded the genre to include later compositions, while others seem content to re-create the duets of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt night after night. Doug Munro’s group, La Pompe Attack, seems to be somewhere in the middle. The repertoire includes music written after Reinhardt’s death, and the arrangements are within the Hot Club style. His CD, “A Very Gypsy Christmas” was recorded live in the studio, and it features violinist Howie Bujese, clarinetist Ken Peplowski and vocalist Cyrille Aimée rotating in the spotlight backed up by guitarists Munro and Ernie Pugliese and bassist Michael Goetz. Bujese and Munro are both experienced players who play in many different styles, so it follows that both play within the style but have their own approaches to the models of Grappelli and Reinhardt. Peplowski’s smooth clarinet is an effective contrast to the rough-hewn guitar of Munro and the two weave beautiful intersecting lines on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. Cyrille's cheery vocals and playful scat highlight “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”. There is a clever arrangement of “We Three Kings” that alternates between triple and duple time, and even “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is treated in a loping gypsy jazz arrangement. This is a fun, charming album worth picking up.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

(RCA 66986)
John Pizzarelli’s love of classic jazz came through the musical passions of his father, Bucky Pizzarelli. “Let’s Share Christmas” features arrangements by Clare Fischer, Michel Legrand, Ralph Burns and Johnny Mandel and the swinging sounds of the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The album is highlighted by John’s vocal and instrumental styling of tunes such as “White Christmas”, “Sleigh Ride”, and “Snowfall”, but also includes a delightful original “Santa Claus Is Near”. His smooth tenor takes you down memory lane with a swingin’ Christmas style that is perfect for trimming the tree or taking a romantic ride for two in the nearest sleigh.  This recording is a keeper, and a great way to keep the romance of Christmas alive and well this time of year.—MARTI MENDENHALL


The Real Group is a Swedish a cappella quintet that has “been in development” for 27 years. Initially inspired by Bobby McFerrin, they have become international favorites with their challenging settings of “Chile con Carne” and “A Cappella in Acapulco.”  Their Christmas album, “En Riktig Jul,” was released in 1997.  Listeners may shy away from this recording in Swedish, but the crystal clear vocal harmony, fused with Christmas songs popular in any language, make this a highly intriguing holiday offering.  You will readily recognize versions of “Silent Night”, “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” and “Santa Lucia”.  The perfect blend and thick harmonies of these arrangements are a pleasure to hear!  This foray through a culture rich in musical history, including many traditional Swedish carols, may well become your new shelf favorites.—MARTI MENDENHALL


The mixture of sacred music and jazz is not a new idea, but rarely has the mix worked as well as on Will Scruggs' new Christmas suite, "Song of Simeon". Based on a collection of contemporary and traditional carols, Scruggs offers a perfect balance between religion and improvisation, keeping the focus on the traditional Nativity story but still allowing extended solos. Scruggs (tenor and soprano sax) features his post-bop sextet Jazz Fellowship throughout: Brian Hogans (piano), Dan Baraszu (guitar), Tommy Sauter (bass), Marlon Patton (drums) and Kinah Boto Ayah (percussion). He augments the group with a 8-piece horn ensemble on several tracks and adds guest trumpeter Joe Gransden on the first part's closer, "Go Down Moses". Although this is a completely instrumental composition, Scruggs wisely included the lyrics to each piece within the liner notes, which helps the listener follow the various treatments of the familiar story. Based in Atlanta, Scruggs deserves nationwide attention for this superb fusion of theology and music.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

One of the true classics of the Christmas jazz discography, "Christmas" was also the very first album by Gene Puerling's Singers Unlimited, and the only one of their albums not recorded in the Black Forest of Germany. Recorded in Chicago in 1967, it was designed as an audio Christmas card for the advertisers for which Puerling and his fellow vocalists Bonnie Herman, Don Shelton and Len Dresslar had recorded commercial jingles. Only a few of the tracks include the rich harmonies and multi-track recordings by which the group would become famous; the rest of the program consists of exquisite versions of classic carols like "While By My Sheep", "Joy To The World" and the "Wassail Song" as well as a half-dozen of the Alfred Burt carols, mostly sung in their original settings. The album also includes a charming arrangement of "Good King Wenceslas" (with Dresslar perfect in the title role and Shelton as the page), and a stunning versions of "Coventry Carol" and "Carol of the Russian Children" both featuring Herman's glorious lead soprano. In addition to being beloved by vocal jazz fans, this album also appeals to those who appreciate fine holiday music in any form.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

Here’s a great idea that bears repeating: a collection of 10 brand-new Christmas songs written in the classic style with intelligent lyrics, catchy melodies and understated arrangements. Guitarist Chris Standring and vocalist Kathrin Shorr have created a winning folio of delightful songs and on their album "Send Me Some Snow" they perform  alongside talented sidemen including pianist Mitchell Forman, bassists Larry Steen and Dan Lutz, harmonica/woodwind specialist Dino Soldo, and drummer David Karasony. The arrangements and production are first-rate, but they are mere backgrounds to the songs themselves, which Shorr delivers with an elastic, rough-on-the-edges, soulful sound. All of the lyrics are secular, and while some of the lyrics echo familiar holiday themes, Standring and Shorr’s best efforts come when they take on an alternative perspective. Such is the case with “Dear Santa”, which may be the first Christmas song to take the viewpoint of Mrs. Claus, who has the same wish every year: to be with her man on Christmas Eve. This album should be required listening for any musician planning a holiday CD. I hope that several of these new Christmas gems turn up on other holiday albums in the coming years.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

(Philips 548 303)
The Swingle Singers were one of the most popular vocal groups of the 1960s, and one of the reasons for their global success was their substitution of scat syllables for lyrics. Their bubbly, swinging interpretations of Bach led to a series of albums where they applied the same rhythmic approach to music of the Classical and Romantic periods. In 1967, the group took a slight detour to create a delightful Christmas album “Noëls Sans Passeport” (“Christmas without a Passport”). As the title implies, the album includes holiday music from all over the world. Most of the songs are familiar and each is performed in compact arrangements of one or two choruses. With the exception of “White Christmas” and “Silent Night”, all of the tunes are connected in two- or three-song medleys. Ward Swingle wrote all of the arrangements, and because he was working with songs instead of fully-composed classical works, he had great flexibility in creating his settings, adding Bach-like counterpoint to “Jingle Bells”, lush harmonies to “White Christmas”, a groovy bass countermelody to the Danish “Dag Visen” and big-band styled shout choruses to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. The Swingles, with their incomparable lead soprano, Christiane Legrand, sing these pieces with accuracy and rhythmic precision, without losing the warmth. Those interested in investigating later holiday recordings by the Swingles should hear "Unwrapped", which includes a stunning arrangements of "Away in a Manger" and Joni Mitchell's "River", and the EP, "Yule Songs" with original pieces by the current members of the group.THOMAS CUNNIFFE

Matt Wilson's deep, dark sense of humor is evident throughout "Christmas Tree-O", especially in its unorthodox playlist. This CD may contain the only
instrumental jazz versions of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Mele Kalikimaki”, and certainly the strangest rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus ever committed to disc. Yet, for all the inspired zaniness on the jacket and on the disc, there is solid musicianship throughout the recording. Playing tenor and soprano sax, as well as clarinet, bass clarinet, piccolo and toy piano (!), Jeff Lederer takes the lion’s share of the solos, balancing his improvisations between straight-ahead blowing and wild free rants. Wilson augments his drum kit with sleigh bells and timpani, and juxtaposes the crisp sound of his snare with the highly melodic pitches of his tom-toms. Bassist Paul Sikivie provides solid support throughout, with effective arco playing in the stunning medley of Albert Ayler’s “Angels” and the carol “Angels We Have Heard On High”, and a bouncy two-beat in the klezmer-gone-wild “Mele Kalilimaki”. The arrangements by Lederer and Wilson rethink classic songs like “Christmas Time Is Here” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” to surprising and delightful effect. Wilson’s liner notes recommend playing the disc while cooking, decorating or motoring to Grandma’s house, but in truth, this disc is best saved for the hippest of your holiday friends.THOMAS CUNNIFFE


New among this year's holiday recordings is a splendid duet single by Jane Monheit and Sara Gazarek (shown at right at the recording session). The song, "Come Spend Christmas With Me" was written by Larry Goldings and Cliff Goldmacher, especially for the two vocalists, and it contrasts the holiday season in Los Angeles (Gazarek) and New York (Monheit). Gazarek and Monheit achieve a great vocal blend (their voices are more similar than you might think) and the song is  well-written and quite romantic. All of the proceeds from this digital download goes to the ASPCA. The track can be accessed here. So download several copies of this track (and please be legal about this) to share with family and friends. It's an excellent digital stocking stuffer and it's all for a good cause.

Virtually every label has issued a holiday jazz sampler or two, but few have been as artistically successful as Columbia’s 1962 “Jingle Bell Jazz”. The original LP fetches high prices on ebay and GEMM, but the 1980 LP reissue is fairly easy to find and usually affordable (Avoid the CD, which does not include some of the best cuts from the original album). The LP includes a mightily swinging “Jingle Bells” by Duke Ellington, a sassy “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” by Dave Brubeck (with a classic solo by Paul Desmond), a mystical “We Three Kings” by Paul Horn (the link is for a TV broadcast version of the same arrangement), a deeply cynical “Blue Xmas” by Miles Davis and Bob Dorough, and the bopping “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie” by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.  Nearly as good is the first “Concord Jazz Christmas” CD with Karrin Allyson’s atmospheric mixed meter rendition of “Coventry Carol”, Marian McPartland’s sparkling “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, Ken Peplowski and Howard Alden’s delightful version of “Winter Wonderland” and Susannah McCorkle’s touching “The Spirit of Christmas”. “Yule Struttin’: A Blue Note Christmas” is a mixed bag, highlighted by Dianne Reeves’ version of the previously unheard Thelonious Monk song, “A Merrier Christmas” and Count Basie’s rollicking “Jingle Bells”. Justin Time's latest anthology "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" includes two early tracks by Diana Krall, and several unissued tracks by Taurey Butler, Hilary Kole, Ranee Lee and Oliver Jones.  The Hot Club of Detroit’s hilarious version of “The Chipmunk Song” can be heard on Mack Avenue’s “Jazz Yule Love II” and Nat King Cole’s very first version of “The Christmas Song” (without strings) is included on Rhino’s “Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits, 1935-1954”. Louis Armstrong’s delightful reading of “The Night Before Christmas” (which turned out to be his final recording) is part of LaserLight’s Armstrong holiday compilation, “Christmas Through The Years”.

Several memorable holiday recordings have been included on non-holiday albums. Charlie Parker’s unique arrangement of “White Christmas” was preserved from a Christmas 1948 broadcast and is part of “The Complete Live Performances on Savoy”. Dexter Gordon recorded “The Christmas Song” on his 1970 album, “The Panther” and 17 years later, he played on Tony Bennett’s version of “White Christmas” from the album “Bennett/Berlin”. The Modern Jazz Quartet recorded several versions of John Lewis’ “England’s Carol” (based on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”), but my favorite is the 1974 “Last Concert” recording. Roseanna Vitro recorded Steve Allen’s “Cool Yule” twice, once on Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz” and on her Allen tribute, “The Time of My Life”. The latter version can be heard on the attached player, courtesy of Ms. Vitro.
Mel Tormé
recorded several ver
sions of his classic “The Christmas Song”, but he never did it better than in a Japanese concert with the Marty Paich Dek-tette.

There are plenty of honorable mentions to our holiday disc list, including albums by Wynton Marsalis, Mel Tormé, Joe Williams and others, but we hope to include those albums and other favorites in future editions of this feature. Meanwhile, we at Jazz History Online wish you a peaceful and joyous holiday season.