If you have any sort of mainstream musical career, one of your best bets for creating an afterlife legacy is to record a Christmas album or two or ten. Every sugary Pop star for the last 30 years has some sort of wintertime holiday album for sale. Bing Crosby is the reigning king of the Christmas album and his fine, monetary example, is what leads all new singers-in-search-of-longevity into lining up to record these, often tired, musical memes.
I prefer my holiday music with a Jazz tinge and I’ll share with you three of my all-time favorite albums. First up is magnificent Jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell’s “Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas” where he fires up his six-string archtop and lets us have it right between the eyes. Kenny’s playing is always dynamic and ferocious and he adds tremendous energy and innovation into these seasonal standards. Kenny’s whipping strings will hypnotize you and set you back on your heels. He sets the jewel standard in Jazz guitar no matter the tonal topic.
My next favorite holiday Jazz album is Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Vince is a multi-talented musician and composer and he’s never been better than on this set of instant standards he wrote for a children’s classic. Vince knows how to craft a melody, and the fact that so much of his music is bent for a child’s ear gives us all great hope that some of that magic will sink in and grow and be realized later in life as the child challenges adult memes of repression and solitude. You can’t beat Vince when it comes to creating a hummable tune and that is his great gift to us all: Simplicity in melody and deep complexity in the underlying chords structure. Vince reminds us of our humanity as we hum along with him.
I’ll close this holiday Jazz review with the quiet and beautiful introspection found in Dave Brubeck’s “Christmas.” This is an album of holiday song covers, but Brubeck brings his unique take on the songs. This is Brubeck and his piano — and that’s it! No drummer. No clarinet. It’s just Dave and his fingers on the keys and it is a pure and heavenly gift to the ears and the heart.
What are your favorite holiday albums? Do you lean toward the contemporary sound, or do you inflect more to the Blues or Jazz standard?
I have to admit that there are no holiday albums with which I am really familiar. I do, however, like the music I have heard on Charlie Brown specials on television when I have seen them.
Vince’s Charlie Brown holiday music made its television debut in 1965 — so we’ve had a long-stewing standard of excellence in music appreciation by acclimation and osmosis — that few recognize but everyone can identify.