Best Jazz Christmas Music

Suggestions for a jazzy Christmas season with music to fuel the Yuletide feeling. Three jazz CD picks to launch your holidays with style.

Every holiday brings with it a cartload of music, some of it good, most of it a bit grating on the nerves over time. This is especially true of Christmas, when old favourites get played so often they are no longer favourites by the 24th or so. What’s good for the soul in late November can be sheer torture come mid-December.

Bing Crosby and Boney M might have seemed like good ideas when you were unpacking the decorations, but if their appeal has since worn thin, consider injecting a bit of jazz into your holiday listening repertoire. Light, modern, sophisticated – jazz is in fact perfectly suited to the season, whether you’re shopping, trimming, baking or celebrating with friends and family. Here are three suggestions for holiday listening to extend your patience and augment your enjoyment.

Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

One of a handful of voices that defines the sound of twentieth century jazz vocals, Ella Fitzgerald‘s playful way with a tune is always a delight. It only makes sense that this joy would extend to Christmas pop favourites. Ella’s friskiness is infectious, whether she’s ringing the “Jingle Bells,” retelling the tale of “Frosty the Snowman,” or simply offering her take on “The Christmas Song.” Ms. Fitzgerald’s performance is note-perfect and undeniably fun, while Frank Devol’s arrangements are classic pop-jazz. This one is always a crowd pleaser.

Vince Gauraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas

If you’re like me and you fancy a bit of melancholia amid the tinsel and hosannas, this is the perfect fit. It might also bring on fits of nostalgia, of course, since it is the soundtrack to a holiday cartoon we’ve all seen often enough to have memorized the dialogue.

But at its heart beats a lovely, jazzy, slightly sophisticated set of takes on traditional Christmas compositions, played by a very capable jazz trio. I expect this was Gauraldi’s lifelong albatross – a serious and seriously talented pianist nevertheless best known for the music to a Christmas cartoon. A strange thing to hang your hat on, perhaps, but I can think of far worse legacies.

Various Artists, Verve: Very Best of Christmas Jazz

Just a bit of overlap here, as Ella’s take on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” reappears, but otherwise this collection offers thirteen other musical distractions from the holiday bustle. A lively mix of vocal and instrumental tunes, from orchestral to small group jazz, there’s something here for everyone, whether you prefer piano (Oscar Peterson), organ (Jimmy Smith), guitar (Kenny Burrell) or saxophone (John Coltrane). Vocal versions of seasonal favourites come courtesy of Ella, Joe Williams, Mel Torme, Louis Armstrong, Shirley Horn and others.

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