Cool Selections For A Warm Christmas

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Recently, an old friend and I were talking about what we think are the most popular jazz albums.

My friend put forward the “usual suspects:”

Kind of Blue

A Love Supreme

Time Out

This gave me pause.

“What? he said: “What else could be more popular?”

My reply: “I think we are assuming that everyone else likes jazz to the same extent that we do… Which we know is very much not the case.”

“Good point. Meaning…?”

“I think there are more people with a Nora Jones record than Time Out. Or how about that Charlie Brown Christmas record?”

“It may very well be the only jazz record that my wife’s family listens to.”

My friend nodded and the topic of conversation shifted to – what else in Canada:

Hockey.

As a child, I loved A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

Of course, it was the soundtrack to a beloved Christmas special – among a roster of other cartoons that were on TV only once a year. As I grew older, I lost touch with it.

But it re-emerged when my wife and I started dating.

My in-laws and her uncle and aunt always play it during this time of year.

Especially while hosting Christmas Eve.

Not only do I now associate that record with great memories, but also it goes to my earlier point: they all have a copy of that record (on green vinyl, no less, for my wife’s uncle and aunt.)

With Kind of Blue and Time Out… nowhere to be found.

Funny enough, this past week, when I had some free time, I sat down at the piano and analyzed the album.

It’s a masterpiece.

I mean that. The playing is incredible. More importantly, however, the range of emotions on the record is awe-inspiring.

Truth be told: I am grateful for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Its beautiful music continues to be the soundtrack to memories made with family.

And it’s the perfect antidote to avoiding yours truly becoming a monocle-wearing, hair-splitting, “that’s not jazz” curmudgeon.

Perish the thought.

But on that note, here are a few tracks to compliment your listening this Holiday season. Enjoy!


Santa Claus is Coming to Town
– Bill Evans

It’s Bill Evans. ‘Nuff said.

Reclamation
– Brandee Younger

Let’s hear it for the harp. This is a gorgeous track.

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
– Charles Mingus

I know that the holidays also become a time for us to remember the departed.

My grandmother passed away this year. It’s sad to think that this will be the first Christmas without her.

This tune is one of the most poignant laments in jazz.

Prayer Meetin’
– Jimmy Smith.

If you are looking for something uptempo and bluesy.

Moonlight in Vermont
– Johnny Smith.

The perfect soundtrack to snow falling.

Tributary
– Julian Lage

…only because I wanted to include something from my favorite album of the year.

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cstolliver
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December 19, 2022 6:25 am

Great job! I must admit, I just started listening to holiday music yesterday, and when the Guaraldi version of “O Tannenbaum” came on, I thought, now it feels like the holidays.

mt58
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December 19, 2022 8:09 am

Such a nice compilation. It made for a relaxing and meditative commute this morning.
Much appreciation for the article and thoughtful curation.

mt58
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December 19, 2022 10:31 am

.  🙏 

Phylum of Alexandria
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December 19, 2022 8:52 am

Excellent! I’ll have to check out the selections here I haven’t heard.

As far as Christmas jazz goes, it’s hard to compete with Vince Guaraldi. I have a Christmas for Lovers compilation that’s mostly quite good, from which I first learned of Yusef Lateef via his inviting take on Duke Ellington’s “Warm Fire.” It’s now a Christmas staple for me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3bYMux3Fic

Pauly Steyreen
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December 19, 2022 9:55 am

My jazz fandom doesn’t extend too far beyond the classics… throw in some McCoy Tyner, a dash of Ahmad Jamal and even a touch of Ron Holloway. But for me, Kind of Blue will always be the yardstick against which all other jazz albums are measured (and fail to measure up).

Vince Guaraldi definitely has space in this little room. I don’t often consume jazz as comfort food… I usually expect it to challenging and demand my attention. But the Charlie Brown tunes scratch that itch for jazz that goes down easy without being boring (i.e. everything in the “smooth jazz” realm).

LinkCrawford
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December 19, 2022 9:58 am

You’re hitting on part of why I treasure the Christmas season so much. Why else would any (normal) person under 60 years old ever play a Nat King Cole song or Frank Sinatra or Perry Como or…jazz, as you say. Vince Guaraldi’s album is the one weak bridge that a lot of folks have to jazz music.

As a whole the album is great. The only song I’m not much of a fan of is his reading of “Greensleeves”. But the rest of it is very good to perfect. Those first few bars of the instrumental version of “Christmastime Is Here” are the sounds of heaven.

I’ve thought about writing a column here about the song “Linus and Lucy”. I’m not sure if there’s enough to say about it or not, but I’m still thinking….

LinkCrawford
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December 19, 2022 10:16 am

I am always astounded at how people can continue to listen to new music as they age. Some just love listening to new songs by new artists. I cannot do that. Only a little at a time. Except with the more ambient genres like easy listening or lounge or classical or jazz. I can enjoy listening to new stuff like that any day. Does that mean I’m actually more of a fan of jazz music than pop music? Or maybe those genres are just easier to digest casually than pop music.

LinkCrawford
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December 19, 2022 10:33 am

I laughed at “…we were young and made our own noise.”

mt58
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December 19, 2022 11:19 am

(Parenthetically, gang: we need to get this man an avatar…)

LinkCrawford
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December 19, 2022 1:14 pm

I suggest…
(oops that was supposed to be a response to mt58’s suggestion for an avatar for our author.)

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Last edited 1 month ago by LinkCrawford
Virgindog
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December 19, 2022 2:09 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Funny, I was going to suggest this:

minormajor7.PNG
mt58
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December 21, 2022 10:04 am

^
Done. And you’re lookin’ quite spiffy, I’d say.

Edith G
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December 20, 2022 10:56 am

It’s good to read you again m2 7th, like I’ve said before, jazz isn’t my genre at all, but I’ll try to listen to a couple of your suggestions.

And best wishes for you too.

Virgindog
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December 19, 2022 10:35 am

Masterpiece is right. It’s a shame we only listen to it in December.

Well done, minor major.

JJ Live At Leeds
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December 19, 2022 10:40 am

I’m a novice when it comes to jazz, I don’t actively choose to listen to Christmas songs (just stepping into any store or turning on the radio in the car means being swamped by them and that’s enough for me) and although Charlie Brown is reasonably well-known here I don’t think its anything like the cultural touchstone I imagine it is for you guys therefore I wasn’t even aware there is a Charlie Brown Christmas album.

Based on the commendation of its status as a masterpiece though I intend to broaden my horizons and give it a go before the week is through.

Virgindog
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December 19, 2022 2:12 pm

Tangentially, I discovered Bob’s Christmas Ska Radio over the weekend. It’s all ska versions of Christmas songs, and I love it. If you want holiday music but are tired of the same old versions, give it a shot.

R.S.Wonham
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December 20, 2022 12:16 pm

Vince Guaraldi does not get the “jazz master’ respect he deserves. I frequent many a record store and there are a number of these where he does not have his own name card in the jazz section (found in “G Misc” instead). The man introduced more people to jazz, albeit straight forward jazz, than any other. If it were not for him, my exploration of the genre would have been limited and occured later in life.
I scored the Deluxe vinyl Charlie Brown Christmas album directly from Craft Records and am loving it. Nothing compares to the original, but it is a joy to hear alternate takes of beloved tracks and the banter between the musicians in these takes. Craft has some excellent vinyl pressings. Peanuts, Schulz, and Guaraldi FOREVER! Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

cappiethedog
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December 20, 2022 1:08 pm

I recently bought Vijay Iyer’s Uneasy. There’s a song about malevolent tap water. We have our own issues. I went to my first demonstration of any kind last Saturday. I was nervous. I needed something to calm my nerves. I like Iyer. I’ll be buying more of his albums.

I have no idea if Infinity is a major work of John Coltraine’s, but I found jazz that is my jam.

I was always aware of this genre blind spot. But your series of articles made me pro-active, minor major 7th.

dutchg8r
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December 20, 2022 5:11 pm

mM7!!! Good to see you again, been awhile. And agreed, the Charlie Brown Christmas album is terrific – it totally works like a warm blanket in front of the fireplace to give you immediate warm fuzzies.

It’s funny, I actually don’t associate any music with Christmas Family memories. We were always too busy having epic board game competitions and watching football and playing in the snow. (Thanks to that reliable lake effect snow, grandma’s house always had a good foot of snow come Christmas day in Northern PA). She’d have about 20 of us crammed into her kitchen for dinner, so putting a radio on was kind of pointless over all that noise, lol.

dutchg8r
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December 21, 2022 8:43 pm

Ok, dude, you just wrote the outline to your next article – I would LOVE to read about one of those Christmas get-togethers!!

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