From Elvis to Ella, from Crosby to Sinatra, from Nat King Cole to Dean Martin, each of these American artists created Christmas albums worth spinning again every December. I dig ’em all, from “White Christmas” to “Blue Christmas,” from “Jingle Bells” to “Silver Bells.”
As for jazz-oriented seasonal recordings, Orlando-based trumpeter Charlie Bertini recorded two must-have albums of holiday instrumentals— Christmas Cookies: Jazz Treats for the Holidays and A Fresh Batch of Christmas Cookies (both on Arbors Records, 1992 and 1997, respectively). On Fresh Batch, Charlie and pianist Randy Morris even wrote an original tune, “Santa’s Little Girl.”
Similarly, Minneapolis pianist Butch Thompson gave Christmas hymns such as “Adeste Fideles” and “Ave Maria” a festive Fats Waller treatment on Yulestride (Daring Records, 1994), and Allen Toussaint’s New Orleans Christmas (1997), comes complete with a loudly ringing “Jingle Bells” by the Rebirth Brass Band.
Another album by the same title, New Orleans Christmas (Putamayo Records, 2007),
showcases “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” vocalized by Banu Gibson & The New Orleans Hot Jazz and “Santa’s Second Line” by the New Birth Brass Band.
One of the best compilations of Christmas jazz and R&B tunes, Hipster’s Holiday, (Rhino Records, 1992) includes Eartha Kitt’s seductive “Santa Baby” and Babs Gonsales’ daring “Be-Bop Santa Claus,” a ghetto parody of Clement Moore’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Jazz royalty such as Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and Lionel Hampton are also represented here as on “Christmas Night in Harlem” performed by Armstrong and His All-Stars.
Another happy hipster, the late guitar-picker Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, released a pleasant holiday disc called Crazy for Christmas (Surf Dog Records, 2010) on which he cleverly recast the jazz standard “Somebody Stole My Gal” as “Somebody Stole My Santa Claus Suit.”
So deck the halls, hang the mistletoe, and rock around that Christmas tree to these cool Yule tunes!
Russ Tarby is based in Syracuse NY and has written about jazz for The Syncopated Times, The Syracuse New Times, The Jazz Appreciation Society of Syracuse (JASS) JazzFax Newsletter, and several other publications.