I was out for a late dinner the other night and bumped into a fellow jazz devotee, trombonist Eric Coy, who teaches band at a high school in Lakewood. He was unwinding after their school Christmas concert, and I guess he had Christmas music on his mind because he asked me what my favorite holiday tune was and what recording of it I liked best. The next thing I know, I’ve got Christmas music on my mind! So, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been listening to this season, some are newly-discovered, and some are “old chestnuts.”
Speaking of nuts…I’ve mentioned many times my affection for the Ellington-Strayhorn arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” but Shorty Rogers also did a great record of The Swingin’ Nutcracker. Shorty did the arrangements, and the band included Conte Candoli on trumpet, Frank Rosolino on trombone, Art Pepper and Bud Shank on altos (Bud also played flute), Bill Holman, Richie Kamuca and Bill Perkins on tenors, Pete Jolly and Lou Levy sharing the piano duty, and one of the best big band drummers of all time, Mel Lewis! Released in 1960, here’s the “Like Nutty Overture.”
That same year, The Modern Jazz Quartet recorded a terrific version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” arranged by Gunther Schuller for the MJQ and an orchestra, and released as “England’s Carol.”
They ended up recording it later, with just the quartet, for their 25th anniversary – which they mistakenly thought was going to be their last concert and so the album was called The Last Concert. Happily, for the jazz world, they missed playing together and soon reunited for another 15 years!
Another from the ‘60s – 1966 to be exact – is Kenny Burrell’s Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas. One of the highlights from this all-around-great album is “Little Drummer Boy.”
Kenny, who turned 85 this year, is still going strong and, in fact, just released a big band album recorded live at Catalina’s Jazz Club, called Unlimited 1. Although it doesn’t have any Christmas tunes on it, it has two tunes that I’ve been listening to a lot this season. One is a new version of a former hit for Kenny, called “Soulero.” It was written by Richard Evans, who wrote the arrangements and conducted the band on Kenny’s Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas. The other is an original ballad by Kenny called “Remembering.” It has his lyrics, too, about looking back to times that “brought us joy,” which is often the theme of popular Christmas songs.
And while we’re on the subject of not-quite-Christmas tunes, I have a new hero. He is German-born pianist Martin Sasse. His most recent release came out last June, and guitarist Peter Bernstein is the guest soloist throughout. The album is called A Groovy Affair, and it features several Sasse originals, including one called “Winter Waltz.”
Another couple of small group classics are Bill Evans’ version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and Charlie Parker’s “White Christmas.”
Getting back to big bands, though, here’s Louis Armstrong with Benny Carter’s Orchestra in 1955 in L.A.
And Diana Krall in L.A. with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
Finally, here’s an hour with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, along with special guests Cecile McLorin Salvant, Gregory Porter, and Rene Marie.
I hope you have as much fun listening to all these jazzy holiday recordings as I do. The hard part was narrowing down the list to a manageable blog size!
Thank you for all your support of KJazz this year. Looking forward to a jazz-filled new year!