Australian jazz royalty Loretta Barnard has had enough of the standard Christmas fare, so Mama’s cooked up a gumbo of festive toe-tappery.
Tired of “Frosty the Snowman?” Sick to death of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town?” Ready to rip your ears off if you hear “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” one more time?
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Have we got a deal for you!
Not including carols (with appropriate religious overtones), there are about a gazillion Christmas songs out there. Some are schmaltzy, some saccharine, some sweet, some sensitive. Christmas songs are found across all musical genres. I particularly love Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s Messiah with its ubiquitous “Hallelujah Chorus,” but I’m a classical kind of gal.
Today, however, we’re treating you to some more unusual jazzy tunes with a Yuletide theme and it is a treat, so read on …
Let’s get this show started with the legendary Louis Armstrong and a red hot band playing up a storm. “Zat You, Santa Claus” was recorded in 1953, I think. Satchmo is enjoying himself immensely, a joy immediately transmitted to the listener.
I defy you not to smile when you listen:
Like many of you, “Jingle Bells” drives me nuts. Unless it’s the Fats Waller version from 1936.
Fats is accompanied by Gene Sedric (sax), Herman “Yard Dog” Autrey (trumpet), and Al Casey (drums), and they take the corny Christmas standard and give it an exuberance it never had before. Or since, I’d say. Fats’s stride piano style and his unmistakable vocals make this version a festive musical gem. You’re welcome!
One of the greatest ever jazz singers, the fabulous Ella Fitzgerald, pops in now to add a bit of old-fashioned charm. This recording of “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney” was made in 1950.
“Merry Christmas Baby” was recorded in 1950. It features Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra, with Hampton on vibes and Sonny Parker singing those bluesy lyrics. Sonny wants Santa to bring his baby back to him. Much as I love Otis Redding, his version doesn’t come close to Parker and Hampton’s. Go on, check it out.
If your tastes run to something cool, real cool, man, then have a listen to Miles Davis, accompanied by Marcus Miller and David Sanborn, playing “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Can’t get much cooler than Miles.
Speaking of cool, have a listen to “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen,” a 1978 recording featuring Australian jazzman Don Burrows on flute. You’ve never heard a version like this one. It’s a shame it’s not better known.
This is just a little tiny taste of what’s out there. I mean, I could go on. Frank Sinatra did lots of Chrissy songs with rich orchestral accompaniment and there’s always the wonderful gospel of the great Mahalia Jackson, especially her gorgeous “Silent Night,” or as I like to call it, “Si-o-lent Nigh-ee-ite”.
The last word must go to Louis Armstrong. It’s been a longstanding tradition in my family that every Christmas Eve, we listen to his enchanting rendition of the classic Clement Moore poem “The Night Before Christmas.”
My brothers and their pals always try to replicate exactly the intonation, the phrasing, and the utmost delight Satchmo conveys in his recitation. Often, too much wassailing renders this impossible, but they have a lot of fun and, hey, that’s what it’s all about. If you’ve never heard it, this will be a charming little treat.
Happy listening and as Satchmo says: Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!