Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Some Jazzy Stocking Stuffers

Following our previous Christmas jazz posts, Ira Ironstrings plays Santa Claus and Christmas with Louis Armstrong are some favorite jazz Christmas albums from the Pete Kelly collection.
An early 10" lp with delightful jazz holiday music is Urbie Green's A Cool Yuletide recorded in 1954 for RCA's subsidiary X label.
This is nice cool mainstream with some boppish touches, not unlike the Dave Pell Octet.
The personnel is Urbie, Joe Wilder,trumpet- Al Cohn,tenor- Al Epstein, baritone (a nice surprise) -Buddy Weed,piano-Mundell Lowe,guitar-Milt Hinton,bass and Jimmie Crawford and Don Lamond splitting up drum chores.The arrangements are by Charles Shirley. All these men are top studio players and great jazzmen.

The ensembles are tightly voiced and Joe Wilder's clean,boppish horn is a highlight thruout. Some of the highlights are a neat version of All I want for Christmas with a Northwest Passage riff on the intro and coda. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa has a bit of the Jimmie Lunceford 2 beat before breaking into 4/4 for solos. Urbie's sweet Dorsey-ish horn is featured on White Christmas and Christmas Song with some nice spots by Lowe's guitar. Winter Wonderland is played at a medium swing with Joe getting in some Cootie-like plunger spots. Santa Claus is Coming has a bit of the Birth of the Cool sound with some tasty piano by the underated Weed.
The lp has been long out of print and not yet restored to CD but you can try ebay or youtube. It's worth the search.

Fans of Glenn Miller will really enjoy Christmas Serenade-In the Glenn Miller Style , a 1965 Columbia lp reuniting Tex Beneke, Ray Eberle and Paula Kelly and the Modernaires.
The studio band was arranged by Alan Copeland (a former Modernaires vocalist-he may sing on this session). There are some of the Miller reed and doowah brass sounds but the band has more of a swinging Les Brown sound.
Tunes from the original Miller book are It Happened in Sun Valley and Jingle Bells. Tex's vocals are a joy thruout and Merry Christmas Baby is tailor made for him. His tenor work on the album is exellent and he gets some mellow spots on Christmas Song and Snowfall (a nice chart). Sleigh Ride is given a nice swinging ride with more of Tex's tenor and the Mods have many nice moments with Tex and Ray Eberle (Ray sounds a bit creaky on his solo spots).
I noticed a curious arranging passage. The vocal coda on Christmas Song was later used on Herb Alpert's version on his own Christmas Album. Perhaps vocal arranger Shorty Rogers remembered it and worked it into his own chart!
This session came out on lp and later on cassette(I still have my copy) and has made the transfer to CD.

One of the classic jazz Xmas albums is Hark the Herald Angels Swing! (World Jazz-1972) by The World's Greatest Jazz Band.
This is one of the band's best lineups with Yank Lawson and Billy Butterfield,trumpets- Ed Hubble and Vic Dickenson,trombones- Bud Freeman,tenor- Bob Wilber,clarinet and soprano-Ralph Sutton,piano-Bob Haggart,bass and Gus Johnson,drums.
Bob's Bob Crosby-like charts abound and all the soloists excell in a very happy session.
Highlights include the title tune, a real swinger with Billy wailing up high on the out chorus. Yank and Gus turn Little Drummer Boy into a neat jazz conversation. (Yank using his trusty Harmon mute). Silent Night is turned into a bluesy but sacred outing and Vic and Gus get in some good humored vopcalizing on Jingle Bells and Rudolph. Ralph shows off his own Fats Waller piano and vocal chops on I'll be Home for Christmas. Christmas Song features the pure pretty Butterfield fleugelhorn. Every track is a gem. This is the kind of jazz album that even non-jazz fans will respond to.
As of this writing the lp hasn't been transferred to CD-It certainly should. You can get a copy on ebay and sample tracks on Youtube. Here's hoping someone puts it out on CD soon.

For Trad Jazz fans here are two tasty treats. In 1984 World Jazz released another standout Christmas album this time by the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. Jim's band from San Antonio has been a fixture on the trad scene for 50 years and this edition of the band is an excellent one.
"Tis the Season to be Jammin' features Jim on cornet, Randy Reinhart,trombone-Allan Vache,clarinet-John Sheridan,piano-Howard Elkins,banjo/guitar- Jim Johnston,bass and Ed Torres,drums.
The tunes range from a scorching Sleigh Ride to a Basie-ish Christmas Waltz in swingtime with a mellow Elkins vocal. We also get bluesy,sacred takes on O Holy Night and Ave Maria. Vache's hot clarinet takes honors on God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen and Randy's feature on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas gives us shades of Teagarden. There's a nifty Santa Claus is Comin' with a Hot 5 style ensemble and merry band vocal. John Sheridan takes a stride feature on Nutcracker Rag. This is a wonderful album, expertly played and full of jazz joy.
It's available on CD from Jim Cullum's Landing. (the CD has bonus tunes not on the lp).

The great Turk Murphy and his San Francisco Jazz Band put out a lovely Xmas lp recorded in 1984 and 86. The lp was issued on the Merry Makers label and sponsored by See's Candies who also sponsored Turk's weekly radio shows from the Fairmont Hotel.
Songs of Christmas features several Turk originals along with favorites such as Silver Bells,
Santa Claus is Comin' and O Christmas Tree (alias Maryland,my Maryland). From the trad repertoire are Chimes Blues, At the Christmas Ball, Santa Claus Blues and a fun oldie, The Storybook Ball (also recorded by the Castle Jazz Band). There's also a great caricature of Turk on the cover by Ward Kimball of Firehouse Five fame.
Personell is Turk, trombone/vocal- Bob Schulz,cornet- Lynn Zimmer,clarinet/soprano- Ray Skjelbred,piano-Bill Carroll,tuba and John Gill on banjo, drums and vocal. This is one of Turk's best later bands and the album is full of great trad jazz sounds. I don't think it's been transferred to CD but you can check ebay for lps.

Back to swing sounds and a real sleeper that came out in 1986, Christmas in Jazztime by Glenn Zottola and his group. This album released on the Dreamstreet label has an instrumentation similar to the Urbie Green session and features tightly voiced ensembles and great soloists. Leader Zottola is a very versatile trumpeter with a clean, swinging sound capable of ranging from boppish runs to Louis-ish riffs and high notes. The wonderful Maxine Sullivan is a special guest on Jolly Old St. Nick, White Christmas and Jingle Bells.
Personell is Zottola, George Masso,trombone (I'm sure he did some of the arranging) - Phil Bodner, clarinet/alto/piccolo- Joe Temperly, baritone/ soprano/bass clarinet- Derek Smith, piano- Milt Hinton,bass and Butch Miles, drums.
There are many wonderful moments including a swinging Let it Snow featuring all the soloists. Winter Wonderland gets a nice bossa nova feel and Silent Night has a bluesy Duke feel with electric piano. On White Christmas, Glenn gets into his Louis bag with a classic Pops cadenza.
Joe's big sound on bari is featured on Christmas Song (he followed Harry Carney in the Ellington band). Greensleves gets a cool shuffle treatment and on Santa Claus there is more of Glenn's nod to Pops with a high note climax. All the soloists are tops but I should single out Masso's fluid but muscular bone work and the great clarinet spots by Bodner (a top studio reed man). The great rhythm section swings all the way thru.
The album has yet to surface on CD but do look for it on ebay and Youtube.

I'd also like to mention some compilations. Big Band Christmas on Columbia features Duke(Jingle Bells), Woody Herman(Let it Snow),Les Brown(We Wish you the Merriest), Jimmy Dorsey(Dixieland Band from Santa Claus Land), Les Elgart(Greensleeves), Claude Thornhill(Snowfall) and a lovely White Christmas by Bobby Hackett. It's been on cassette but perhaps not CD yet.
Jingle Bell Jazz also Columbia has been around for a while and is on CD. The tunes have been re-shuffled over the years from the lp days. The constants are Duke's Jingle Bells, Hamp's White Christmas, Brubeck's Santa Claus is 'Comin' and Chico Hamilton's Winter Wonderland. The lp originally had the Dukes of Dixieland playing Frosty the Snowman.
A Swinging Big Band Christmas on Laserlight CD features Lombardo, Krupa, Nichols, L. Brown, Larry Clinton, Bob Crosby and a lovely Christmas medley by Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band. The highlight is Jack Teagarden's vocal/trombone feature of The Christmas Song recorded in 1954 and hard to find.

In closing , here are some random favorites that are out there on compilations or Youtube. The Firehouse Five plus Two's joyous rendition of Jingle Bells on Good Time Jazz(1950). Tommy Dorsey's Santa Claus is Comin' (1935) and March of the Toys (1939) on Victor. Dick Robertson's I Want You for Christmas (1937) Decca with a young Bobby Hackett. For more lovely Hackett check out his change of pace version of We Need a Little Christmas (Epic 1966) with pianist Ronnie David on The Swingin'est Gals in Town (Collectables CD). Louis Prima's composition What Will Santa Say? (When he finds Everybody Swingin') is a fun novelty from 1936 on Vocalion and there's that great duet of Jack Teagarden and Johnny Mercer with Paul Whiteman on Christmas Night in Harlem (Victor 1934). And lest we forget the amazing re-interpretation of the Nutcracker by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn on Columbia CD.
Here's hoping all these Jazz Christmas goodies bring you Happy Holiday Listening.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year. We'll be back with more blogs in 2012.

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