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Best Bets for Christmas CD Listening

Your CD rack is bulging with all those great jazz CDs, but tell me this . . . do you have a portion of your collection devoted to holiday albums? No, you say? Well why not? It’s common knowledge that most of the old jazz dudes and dudettes put out at least one Christmas album during their lifetime. Labels practically made it a mandatory for their artists in the ‘50s & ‘60s. Those time honored albums of Ella scattin’ in the New Year, Nat’s mellow voice setting the holiday mood, Clooney and Bing ushering in a White Christmas, even Alvin & the Chipmunks had a place among the family’s Christmas collection. Some rare Christmas albums were never reissued and many have become real collector’s items.

Following in that merry tradition, there are still holiday albums being made - some reissued favorites, others newly produced CDs by some of today’s most exciting artists. Whether your looking for a few CDs to add to your collection, a stocking stuffer for friends, or music to jazz up your holiday party, Jazz Review presents a brief selection for you to consider for your listening pleasure over the holiday. Some are available in your local record stores, others through ease of purchase on the Internet.

Yule Be Miserable," 2003 Verve Records
Picture a street Santa passed out across the bar at a neighborhood tavern with a cigarette burning in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other. Don’t let this Verve compilation CD cover and catchy title fool you. Inside are some rare and wonderful holiday offerings by the likes of Louis Armstrong with " ‘Zat You, Santa Claus?" "Blue Christmas" by Billy Eckstine, "My Birthday Comes on Christmas" featuring Spike Jones and his crazy little boy vocals, a bluesy "Merry Christmas, Baby" by B.B. King, "Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney" by Ella Fitzgerald, and "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Aaron Neville. If that’s not enough to tickle your Christmas fancy, how about "Stormy Blues" by Billie Holiday with Harry "Sweets" Edison or Jimmy Rushing singing "Good Morning Blues" backed by Count Basie and his Orchestra? An utterly fantastic collection of rare and unique holiday singles from the great Verve Music Group. All 12 tracks A-1! Available in record stores or go to

Yellowjackets "Peace Round, a Christmas Celebration," 2003 Yellowjackets Enterprises
From the Old English Canon, "Peace Round" Mintzer, Ferrante, Haslip and Baylor pose the question, "What a goodly thing if the children of the world could dwell together in peace? A round begins with the statement of a theme by a single voice. As the theme is passed from one voice to the next, what began as a solitary voice, grows into a rich chorus." This album suggests that by one voice, one song or idea, it may be possible to join your one voice with others in reshaping our world into a peaceful place. Nice arrangements of traditional favorites such as The First Noel, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Winter Wonderland, Silent Night, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and White Christmas. Available exclusively at

"Harry for the Holidays," Harry Connick, Jr., 2003 Columbia Records
A fan of Connick’s, I must admit I didn’t completely "get into" this album until the 9th track when Connick slowed the pace down with "I’ll Be Home for Christmas." Perhaps I was anticipating the wonderful crooner to belt out some of the traditional holiday fare in the style I’ve come to adore, but Connick offers a mix of original and traditional Christmas songs that expand and shed the conformity of his former self, entering into a new dimension. I could have done without two of Connick’s originals - "The Happy Elf" and "Nothing New for New Year" with mixed vocals by George Jones ala Country & Western, but for one song, and one song alone, I’ll still cherish this holiday CD for track #14, "This Christmas." Connick is deliciously sexy with a tinge of huskiness in his voice on this marvelous song by Donny Hathaway/Nadine McKinnor a real piece of work by Connick with Gospel Choir backing and gorgeous guitar work by Leo Nocentelli and George Doering! Another outstanding offering is "Silent Night," track 16. Available in record stores and through Watch for Connick’s new CD in February 2004 featuring standards from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Now that’s worth waiting for.

"A Merry Christmas," from the creative world of Stan Kenton, Capitol Records reissue
This is a wonderful reissue of serious orchestral and swinging big band Christmas music from master Stan Kenton and producer Lee Gilette - seeing as how this was during Kenton’s "Romantic Approach" album. As it describes in the liner notes, "Gilette suggested bringing in arranger Ralph Carmichael to help on the project Carmichael, an ordained minister and quite a talented, spirited guy who is now head of a very successful record company making religious records." The instrumental results are stunning. Recorded in Los Angeles at the Goldwyn Sound Stage in February and March of 1961, it was "difficult enough to get the Christmas spirit in Los Angeles on December 25, when it’s warm and sunny," remembers mellophonium player Keith LaMotte (also working later on Nat "King" Cole’s Christmas album). "Someone bedecked the microphones at the Goldwyn Studio with red and green crepe paper for the first session on February 21," he recalled. The true spirit of Christmas lies within the tracks of this beautiful CD with the added bonus of a narrated track by Kenton about whom Santa Claus is, and a rare track by alumnus Maynard Ferguson, "Christmas for Moderns." A collectable, try or Capitol Records at www.hollywood&

"Latin Jazz Christmas," 2003 Concord Records
This collection of muy caliente Christmas songs by some of the finest Latin jazz performers is sure to make your eggnog boil! Ed Calle, Arturo Sandoval, Caribbean Jazz Project, Poncho Sanchez, Pete Escovedo, Ray Obiedo, Jim Gasior, Dan Warner, Justo Almario and Shiela E. are hot, hot, hot! You sure won’t have the Christmas blues when you pop in this CD. Tropical Latin rhythms are played to perfection and are sure to put a little warmth in those chilly winter bones. Look to Concord for the finest in Latin jazz around the holiday season, including their 2001 "Playboy Latin Jazz Christmas, A Not So Silent Night" CD. What grand and happy music. Thank you Concord. Both available in record stores and

"Cool December," "Yulesville" and "Under the Mistletoe," 2003 Shout Factory
From the guys at Shout who have everything "for the discerning pop culture geek" comes three great retro compilation CDs with every artist from Duke Ellington, Jo Stafford, Julie London, Nancy Wilson, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae to Bobbie Darrin, Kevin Mahogany, Artie Shaw, John Pizzarelli, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, The Manhattan Transfer, Stacey Kent, the Randy Van Horne Singers to the, way, way out - Claudine Longet, Leon Redbone Ann-Margaret, Booker T. & the MG’s and Tiny Tim. It’s all too much fun with great graphic CD covers and even better liner notes. I love these former Rhino guys at Shout. Sixteen tracks each CD gives you hmm, let me do the math 48 tracks of titillating Christmas music. Who else could come up with a warm and fuzzy winter, reindeer & romance and the other tinseltown! Sold separately. Available at

"Merry Magic," Eric Reed, 2003 MAXJAZZ
The second release in the MAXJAZZ Holiday Series, Eric Reed does and outstanding job with 13 tracks of holiday fare, including one of Reed’s own compositions, "Angels in the Snow." Another superb artist in the MAXJAZZ lineup, Reed is a real talent on piano. A connective vibe in unison, Reed’s excellent labelmates include the company of the outstanding Steve Nelson on vibes, Barak Mori on bass, Rodney Green on drums, Erin Bode and Paula West on vocals. I may find myself listening to this CD throughout the year for its excellence in artistry. But then, of course, what else would you expect from the superb MAXJAZZ label? This isn’t just your gooey, ho-hum Christmas album. This is real jazz! Marvelous! Available in stores and at

"This Time of Year," Steve Tyrell, 2002 Sony Music
This is the follow-up to acclaimed vocalist Steve Tyrell&&&s hit album "Standard Time," and his very first collection of holiday classics. It features swinging versions of a dozen seasonal favorites including "I&&&ll Be Home For Christmas" & "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town "(from the film "The Santa Clause 2). Tyrell has been sweeping the town by storm with his delicious vocals from the Jazz American Songbook and Bluesy classics with guest spots on television, movie sound tracks and performance tours. Hip and jazzy, Tyrell tickles your fancy with his good looks and sexy gravel-tinged vocals. Tyrell will be performing in Los Angeles in December at Catalina’s Bar & Grill and in January in Orange County, then Las Vegas on January 15 before heading to CT. Available in stores and on the Internet at

"MAXJAZZ Holiday Series," 2002 MAXJAZZ
A file compilation of vocal jazz from with two selections each by Mary Stallings, René Marie, Carla Cook, Philip Manuel, Bruce Barth, Laverne Butler, and Christine Hitt. Excellence can be found on very single track! All this vocal talent with the exceptional backing of Mulgrew Miller-piano, Bruce Barth-piano, Michael Pellera-piano, Ugonna Okegwo-bass, Edward "Bill" Huntington-bass, Adonis Rose-drums, Gerald Cleaver-drums, and Montez Coleman-drums covering the various tracks. Founded in 1997 by Richard McDonnell, MAXJAZZ hosts a fine array of stellar performers and state-of-the-art sound quality. Available in stores and at

"A Nancy Wilson Christmas," 2002 Manchester Craftsman’s Guild/Telarc Jazz
Nancy Wilson’s first ever full-length Christmas album with proceeds benefiting the Pittsburgh-based Manchester Craftsman’s Guild. Still going strong on this year’s list is this fine offering from 2002. Joining Nancy on this benefit holiday album is the Nancy Wilson Trio, The New York Voices, and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Band and guests comprised of Herbie Mann, Monty Alexander, Claudio Roditi, Ali Ryerson, James Moody, Jimmie Heath, Jon Faddis, Earl Garner, Antonio Hart, Renee Rosnes, Slide Hampton and countless others. It’s a good mix of timeless Christmas standards and inspirational selections benefiting a noteworthy organization, adding to the already impressive attributes of the elegant Miss Wilson humanitarianism. Available in stores and at

"Big Band Christmas," The Chris McDonald Orchestra, 2003, A Green Hill Instrumental Classic
If the full sound of a big band swinging from Christmas into the New Year is your forte, "A Big Band Christmas" is the choice you should make. Arrangements are delightfully presented by a swinging set of 19 musicians comprising the orchestra, on 12 tracks arranged by McDonald. The Green Hill gang produces a lovely array of music from outstanding artists that are sure to please the hoi polloi. Their many fine instrumental CDs can be obtained not just during the holiday season, but throughout the year at fine stationery, card shops and boutiques. To locate a store in your area, call 1-800-200-4656 or visit their website at

"Let it Snow," Michael Bublé, 2003 Warner Bros. Records
Some report he is 25 years old - some say 28, but one thing is certain, Michael Bublé (prounced Boob-lay) is one of the most talented and engaging male vocalist I&&&ve heard since Sinatra. This Vancouver Canadian can swing, swing, swing with a voice that can only be described as dynamite! Discovered by producer David Foster, Bublé is absolutely unbelievable with a crooner&&&s voice that will make your socks roll up and down. Rush to and purchase his Christmas album, "Let is Snow," and while you&&&re at it, get his 13-track debut album too. You won&&&t be disappointed. What a talent! Available in record stores or go to

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Last modified on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 20:18
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