A few days ago, I was chatting with bassist Jimmy Haslip. While our conversation was, alas, mostly serious, there were a few lighter moments. Turns out that the Yellowjackets, a jazz-rock fusion band Jimmy spent decades with, had recorded a Christmas album. As it happens, the album, “Peace Round”, was the first Christmas recording I played this season. It’s a very good one, although in a genre dominated by Andy Williams, Mariah Carey, The Chipmunks, or even The Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, the Jackets might not be an obvious first choice. When I mentioned this, we both burst out laughing and said simultaneously, “Everyone has a Christmas album!” Ain’t it the truth? I really had no idea. And I’ll bet you didn’t either. Not only have I not heard most of this stuff, I hadn’t heard of many of the recording artists. Can ANYONE make a Christmas album? Looks that way. I thought I had listened to a lot of music and I have. But this is, well, amazing.
Let’s start with a little quiz. Which of the following artists, in no particular order, has not made a Christmas album? Don’t be a prig. It can be called Holiday Hip-Hop or something like that, but it’s the thought that counts. So don’t be splitting hairs. This isn’t a Princeton seminar. Ok. No cheating. The names are in no order, and all of them are, or were, real people or groups. There’s some bias here because I readily admit to listening to very little recent vocal (i.e., recorded after 2010). Sorry, Boomer Bias, but I can only take so much Drake. Or is it Drek?
Ferlin Husky. Englebert Humperdink. Theresa Brewer. Ed Ames. Jim Nabors. Oscar Peterson. The Beach Boys. Rosemary Clooney. The Temptations. Roseanne Barr. Regis Philbin. David Hasselhoff. Al Hirt. Wynton Marsalis. Dave Brubeck. Dr John. The Swingle Singers. Bobby Rydell. Marian McPartland. June Christy. Enough? You want more? Ok. Trick quiz. Everyone there released a Christmas album, albeit Marian MacPartland did hers through National Public Radio. Understand, I’m not putting Oscar Peterson on the same level as David Hasselhoff. I’m just sayin’. Everyone has a Christmas Album. Except for maybe Miles and Monk. I’d have paid a lot to see Miles decked out as Santa and glaring over a horn. If you know of any such photo, contact me.
The simple discovery that everyone has a Christmas album was comforting in its way. For years now, or so it seems, the Season needs a Reason, and a war on something or other (why not Christmas) seems appropriate. I know this is another one of those Trump things, a bs grenade to convince his followers that their White Christmas world (literally) is under attack. But I think it’s pre-Trump. And it’s not the only seasonal controversy. I haven’t heard much about “Baby it’s cold outside” as an ode to sexual harassment lately. Maybe because it isn’t cold outside, or because, for once, we have bigger things to worry about, like the “fake” Covid 19 that’s carried off 300,000 plus souls. But really, if you’re worried about Festivus, Eid, Kwanzaa or some other heathen ritual, cool it. There are a lot of Christmas recordings because there is a lot of money in Christmas. Duh? So as long as there is commerce, or capitalism, there will be a Christmas. And there will be Christmas records. Many recorded by people you had no idea existed. And for good reason. Anyone trying to make a living as a musician will explain it to you. Incentives matter.
Now, so as this is not a total waste of your time, I am gonna give a list of a few of my Christmas favorites. They are all drawn from some variant of jazz because that’s what I mostly listen to. And maybe I can help a starving artist (or their estate) since my list doesn’t really look like the better known ones.
- Joe Pass, Six String Santa. Joe was another gift from Pittsburgh to the world. There are other wonderful guitar players from the Burgh, Joe Negri, for one, but Pass landed on me first.
- God Rest Ye Merry, Jazzmen. An Anthology. My favorite all-time Christmas recording is Dexter Gordon doing Merry Little Christmas. LTD could have played Tantum Ergo in whole notes and it would have been sensational.
- Joe Williams, That Holiday Feeling. This is for grown ups with Scotch and a fireplace. His ironic version of What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? sounds just weary enough to let you know Joe knew a lot disappointment in his day. The version of A Child is Born is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in any genre of music
- Rosemary Clooney, White Christmas (Concord). When she was really a kid, she starred in the movie with Bing Crosby. She did not have an easy life and probably had more Christmas recordings than Louis Armstrong. She made some wonderful recordings toward the end of her career on Concord that really rose to the level of her talent. This was one of them
- Manhattan Transfer, The Christmas Album. From moody snowfalls to screech lead big band on Happy Holidays. And how can you miss with Sweets Edison making an appearance?
- Yellowjackets, Peace Round. If you don’t like Bob Mintzer or Jimmy Haslip, you should be watching Welk reruns (did he have a Christmas recording? Of course he did!!! Champagne Ladies Just Want to Have Fun……)
I’m gonna stop there. My antiquated CD carousel only holds five, so I’m already out of room.
Feliz Navidad!!! From Dr. John and NOLA