For the record or – in this case – CD, the 12 Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day. Boxing Day in England is the day after Christmas. The Sherlock Holmes Christmas story “The Blue Carbuncle” takes place on Boxing Day, not Christmas Day. In my youth, my parents put up the tree on Christmas Eve or shortly before and we decorated it on Christmas Eve. During the years that I did time working for radio stations, one of my pet peeves was programmers’ concept that Christmas music should begin immediately after Halloween and completely cease at Noon on Christmas Day.
That having been said…uh, typed…here are 12 Christmas CDs to keep your Christmas swinging long after the presents are unwrapped and the Christmas dinner has digested, but, then again, it would be a shame to wait until then to play them.
‘Tis the Season…to be Jammin’! – The Jim Cullum Jazz Band
You might have heard the Cullum band on NPR’s Riverwalk Jazz Live from the Landing radio program. This CD features one of the band’s best lineups and sparkling arrangements by the incomparable John Sheridan.
Snowfall – The Four Freshmen
According to founding member Bob Flanagan this might be the best Four Freshmen lineup of the group’s long history. The harmonies of the original group that inspired the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson are as lush and full as ever and the arrangements as crisp and biting as a winter snowfall. Of particular note: 2nd voice Curtis Calderon is IMO the best trumpeter going today and he is given plenty of room to shine.
Merry Christmas – Stan Kenton
I’m not much of a Kenton fan – usually finding his band too discordant, but his burnished brass and “brotherly” sax section is perfect for this collection of traditional – yes: traditional – Christmas favorites.
Merry Christmas – The Mills Brothers
Herbert, Donald and Harry Mills could sing the phone book and make it work. Harmony that somehow only brothers can attain adds warmth to this album which is divided into secular tunes and sacred carols.
Santa Baby – Houston Person
Okay, I’m fudging on this one. I just now ordered it for myself, but I’m including it because a) I don’t generally like tenor saxes, but I love Mr. Person’s very tasty and melodic work, b) I gave my brother a copy of this CD for Christmas and he’s raving about it – and that’s higher praise then I usually get for my own work, and c) he has included a rare Christmas gem: A Christmas Love Song by Johnny Mandel, Allen and Marilyn Bergman. The only other place you’ll probably find it is on the Manhattan Transfer Christmas CD. It was written as a trombone solo by Johnny Mandel – he wrote the Theme from M*A*S*H among many other things – and subsequently the Bergmans added the lyrics.
Christmas – Oscar Peterson
Nobody could tickle the ivories like Oscar Peterson and on this CD he tickles the icicles as well. The selections range from joyously up-tempo to reflectively pensive. Peterson is ably abetted by a jazz quintet and string ensemble. Of particular note: flueglhornist Jack Schantz.
Merry Christmas from Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Orchestra
All big band fans owe Johnny Carson a deep debt of gratitude for using his considerable influence to keep the Tonight Show Band together for the entirety of his tenure as host. Each Christmas, viewers were treated to Carson turning over a segment to the band playing as the cameras panned over Christmas themed artwork. This CD is a work of art in itself: the ultimate big band Christmas album.
Christmas with the George Shearing Quintet
Snow can be cool and it can be elegant and no two attributes better sum up this Christmas album and George Shearing himself.
Hooray for Christmas! – John Sheridan’s Dream Band
Quite a few albums ago now, John Sheridan begin recording albums utilizing sidemen he admired and enjoyed working with and arranging the tunes to showcase their talent. Throughout the years there have been personnel changes due to death and other less permanent scheduling conflicts, but the high level of musicianship has always been maintained. “Hooray for Christmas!” is new for 2010 and is already a favorite of mine. Sheridan’s unique and creative arranging is at the top of its form. Two favorites: Sheridan’s original tune “Christmas Will be a Little Lonely This Year” and Gordon and Warren’s “I Know Why and So Do You” sung by my favorite of all current jazz singers, Rebecca Kilgore
Christmas Songs by Sinatra – Frank Sinatra
Songwriter Sammy Cahn was asked who he thought to be the best singer. Without hesitation he replied, “Frank Sinatra”. When asked why, he replied that many other well-known and gifted singers approached him to ask him to write them hit songs just as he had many times for Sinatra. He would write them the songs and they’d often say that they couldn’t sing them. He said that Sinatra never said that he couldn’t sing a song. His phrasing is legendary and attributed to the influence that Tommy Dorsey had when the young Sinatra was vocalist for his band. But another key to his style is in his preparation: he would study each lyric as if it were a script before he put the words and the music together which meant that he gave each song an actor’s interpretation. The Sinatra classic version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is on this album along with a mix of 14 other tunes ranging from “White Christmas” to “The Lord’s Prayer”.
Noel – Small World
Drummer/vocalist Kyle Keener and 7-string guitarist Polly Harrison are Small World, appearing at The Bistro in San Antonio among other locations. For recordings and special events they invite some of their friend – the best in the biz – to join in. Keener’s drumming is propulsive and original, his vocals unassuming and just right and Harrison’s guitar work ranks with the top artists.
This Is Christmas – The Voices of Jimmy Joyce
Friends of the Burt family received a very special Christmas gift every year: a brand new Christmas song. The Reverend Bates Burt began the custom and when he was old enough to do so his son, trumpeter / arranger Alfred Burt began contributing. Upon the elder Burt’s death, his son continued until his own early death from lung cancer. This CD contains the complete collection of the Alfred Burt songs including “Caroling, Caroling”, “Sleep, Baby Mine”, “The Star Carol”, and “Some Children See Him”. And why is this collection included in a “swinging” collection? Just listen and I think you’ll agree to its rightful placement.