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The Best Holiday Jazz Recordings (An Early Present)

Sad Christmas Tree is Sad.

Call me grumpy, call me undeservedly crotchety in spite of my years, call me what you want, but hearing Christmas music on the radio BEFORE Halloween this year was just too much. It could also be that I had a terrible cold and wished I could’ve been out there in the freezing rain impressing people with my witty costume commentary on Occupy Wall Street instead of stuck inside hearing an ill-timed “White Christmas”.

It could also be that I just hate being happy. Because, to be honest, Christmas music usually makes me deliriously happy.

In honor of the rest of the world LOSING its MIND, you all are getting an early start on your Jazzy Christmas selections whether you like it or not. Here is the first half of my jazz Christmas top 10 (in no particular order):

1. “Jingle Bells” – Count Basie & His Orchestra (Roulette, 1962) Few things are as amazing as Count Basie on the piano and few things are as amusing to me as the fact that Basie would occasionally use this as an opener regardless of the season.

2. “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” – Ella Fitzgerald (Verve, 2002) This rendition just slays me every time. It perfectly captures that stroke of midnight melancholy that everyone experiences at some point. Or is that just me…

3. “Greensleeves” – John Coltrane Quartet (Impulse, 1961) The quintessential jazz sojourner deigning to do Christmas is laughable in theory, but of course, Coltrane does “Greensleeves” as much justice as I believe it’s ever been done. A really brilliant jazz waltz with some of the best musicians to have ever walked this wintery world.

4. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – Vince Guaraldi Trio (CBS Records, 1965) Sorry to take the easy way out on this one, but no list like this is complete without this record. Guaraldi is one of the most underrated jazz composers and pianists out there and this album is just pure joy. Full disclosure: this album very nearly defines the holiday memories of my childhood, but I don’t think I’m alone on that one.

5. “I’ve Got MyLove To Keep Me Warm” – Billie Holiday (Columbia,1937) This is just unadulterated joy from the queen herself. I like to listen to this track and picture Lady Day at some seedy Harlem party, slurring this one out with an egg nog (generous on the nog) in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Analyze that as you will. And then go listen to this glorious historical recording (make sure to get the original Columbia track and not the 1955 Verve recording. Though it’s interesting to hear both side by side.)
…And with that, you’ll have to wait ’til a more appropriate season for the rest of my list! In the meantime, carry on with your 72 days of Christmas, ye merry gentlepeople.