Nat King Cole “The Christmas Song” ~ This is the fourth recording of one of the most famous holiday songs ever, co-written by Mel Torme back in 1946. This rendition features a string arrangement and Cole’s deeply burnished voice, one that defines the word “smooth”.
Ahmad Jamal Trio “Snowfall” ~ There is perhaps no pianist alive who has delivered more listening pleasure than Ahmad Jamal. He is 90 years old and has been playing professionally for 76 of those years! Of his 100 or so albums, his best recordings were made live. This was taken from his album Cross Country Tour 1958-1961 Vol. 2, and it is pure sonic delight, with his characteristic “space and light” on display.
Ramsey Lewis Trio “Christmas Blues” ~ An infectious beat, a great band, and Ramsey’s instinct for what is both good and popular present a vivid contrast to our previous selection. This recording appeared on the trio’s Sound of Christmas album from 1961, which generated great popularity for its high melodic charm.
Ella Fitzgerald “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” ~ A straightforward, jazzy approach to this number shows Ella at her understated best. Perfect diction and a dedication to being a member of the band, rather than the diva, make this one of her standout performances.
Peggy Lee “Winter Wonderland” ~ For this listener, Peggy Lee was and is highly underrated. She was a superb stylist, and she made every song her own, often in subtle fashion.
The Moods “Christmas Is Here” ~ Who are The Moods, you are probably asking. They’re an Australian jazz group who are equally adept with ruminative jazz numbers such as this holiday one, as they are with putting on a rousing live rock performance. Start here with them and you’ll want more.
Diana Krall “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” ~ The best-selling female jazz vocalist of all time (every album debuts at no. 1 on the Billboard Jazz charts) is at the peak of her form here. Low key, sultry, and authentic, qualities not often found in each other’s company. She’s the best on the scene today, and we’re the lucky ones.
Michael Bublé “All I Want For Christmas” ~ Okay, he’s not Frank Sinatra, and he’s not Tony Bennett, but he’s got their love of the classic songs and he’s a dynamic performer. His is a contemporary voice, reminiscent of Harry Nilsson, and he may have created a new classic here.
Lou Rawls “Merry Christmas Baby” ~ Lou got his start singing backup for Sam Cooke, although it was his mid ’70s breakout single “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”, that brought him acclaim. Call this jazz, call this r & b or soul, we’ll take all we can get.
Dean Martin “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” ~ We’ve said it before and it’s time to say it again. Listening to Dean Martin sing makes people happy, and it transcends genre, age, or your present state of mind. Conjure up a mix of 15 year-old Glenfiddich Scotch on your side table, McIntosh Audio Equipment in your living room, and a beautiful girl walking by, slowly, and you’re in a Dean Martin State of Mind.
Nancy Wilson “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” ~ By the time she was four years old, Nancy had decided she was destined to become a singer. Our favorite saxophonist, Cannonball Adderley, heavily influenced her career. He directed her to concentrate on jazz, and she became so popular in the early ’60s that 4 of her albums made the top 10 in the space of a single year. She was known as the Queen of Jazz, but preferred to be called “a song stylist”. And what style it was!
James Brown “Please Come Home For Christmas” ~ The jazziest soul singer ever, a master of the ballad despite his flashy over-the-top dynamics on stage. Did he learn from from the tear-drenched Otis Redding, or did Otis take heartbreak lessons from The Famous Flames? All we can say is we listen to James Brown, and then we play some more James Brown.
Lena Horne “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” ~ A swinging big band and some terrifically dynamic vocals from Lena make this recording a sonic and instrumental delight. The production veers toward the overdone, but for this listener, the operative word is “overwhelming”. Love it.
Ella Fitzgerald “Sleigh Ride” ~ She appears for the second time on this playlist, but we’ve searched high and low for any other recording that renders this chestnut as fresh and invigorating as Ella’s. Great trombone solo here! And bass fretwork that makes for a finger-snapping listening experience…
Vince Guaraldi Trio “Christmas Time Is Here” ~ This is taken from the classic 1965 album A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is a perennial best seller. It’s a quietly elegant closer to this collection of great jazz works for the holiday season.
Brian Miller is the Publisher and co-Editor of Vivascene. A former record store owner and business writer, his interests range from vinyl records and high performance audio to design, photography, and succinct writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org