A good Christmas album is one that your family can enjoy year after year, becoming recognizable in a few notes. It can fade into the background of joyful conversations or accompany a melancholy mood. Way back in 2012 Gordon Au’s Grand St. Stompers put out a Christmas album that has stood the test of time. Christmas Stomp should be part of the yearly ritual for all early jazz and swing fans.
The lineup includes many of the top young New York stars, back when they weren’t so well known to our readers. Tamar Korn and Molly Ryan trade vocals; Gordon Au alternates trumpet and cornet, multi instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman joins him on clarinet with Matt Musselman rounding out the front line on trombone. Nick Russo on banjo and guitar, Rob Adkins on bass, and Kevin Dorn on drums, make up the lively rhythm section. It’s a testament to their commitment that all of these musicians are still active, and we can hope to follow them for decades to come.
2012 was an optimistic moment in the New York scene, a generation of musicians were coming into their own and riding a wave of enthusiasm for early jazz. This album of Christmas classics and Christmas obscurities captures that energy. There are even substantial liner notes explaining the song choices, and the musical goals of each arrangement, unusual for a Christmas record.
Tamar Korn is found in all her 20s novelty glory, adding a joyous comedy feel to “Zat You, Santa Claus?”, and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”. Molly Ryan brings her innocent charm to traditionals including “Winter Wonderland”, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”.
“The Only Thing I Want for Christmas” is taken from 1939 Eddie Cantor radio performance, including a recreation of the spoken intro. It’s the sort of great tune that can become a family favorite no one else knows.
There is a lot of space for the band to jam between verses. The horns fall in line at times for a big band sound, but they also strike out for both ensemble improvisation and enjoyable solos. Gordon has a late career Louis Armstrong sparkle to his playing.
The band plays a few instrumentals including a fantastic arrangement of “March of the Toys”. “O, Holy Night” is given an upbeat New Orleans treatment that works surprisingly well. The last track, “All the Other Christmas Songs”, lives up to its name with the band smoothly combining what feels like dozens of immediately recognizable Christmas melodies into a new and cohesive work the way only jazz players could.
Recorded in a moment that trad style playing was dominant in the swing community the album is very danceable. Perfect for a Christmas Ball, even if your just having a ball in your kitchen.