CHRISTMAS JAZZ Part I
People who know me recognize the reverence I hold in my heart for the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, with a special emphasis on Christmas. Best time of the year, followed by that vast wasteland that ends only with the incipient hope provided by the arrival of pitchers and catchers for Spring training. As much as I love the holiday season, I acknowledge that it can be a sad period, leaving one wistfully ruminating about one's failure to achieve personal happiness, or the loss of someone close, or an awareness of the foibles of mankind. As a character in Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition muses: "Sometimes I despair the species, you know?" Nothing captures the sweet pain as effectively as the numerous covers by jazz artists of many of the holiday standards. Some of my favorite recordings are cheery and upbeat, but most reveal a world weariness that induces in the listener the desire to appreciate life's little pleasures when they present themselves, without expecting more. Over the next few weeks, I'll pay tribute to some wonderful songs and artists. The English folk song "Greensleeves" and the nineteenth century "carol" version of the piece, "What Child is This?" have both been well represented in holiday song compilations, but never better than when the legendary saxophone god John Coltrane recorded it in 1961 with his quartet, including McCoy Tyner on piano, and featuring Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet. Coltrane's album Africa/Brass, offered a big-band sound, as Coltrane complemented his combo with a who's who of studio musicians who trucked out to Hackensack to make history. Below is the LP version from Africa/Brass, followed
by a shortened version taken from the 1961 Live! At the Village Vanguard recordings.
David Benoit's luminous 1983 version of "Carol of the Bells" is largely known by its opening fingerings. It's been labeled "Smooth Jazz' and appropriated for a million commercials, including a famous one starring the scantily clad Victoria's Secret angels. In Benoit's interpretation, it is the song's central section, an extended bridge, that merits praise, as Benoit kicks into LA jazz byplay with his combo.
Finally, today, let's pay tribute to the greatest jazz pianist ever! New Jersey's own, the legendary Bill Evans, didn't record many Christmas tunes, but his "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," set down in 1964, ranks with the best. Following that recording is a rare piece of audio from the Complete Bill Evans on Verve which captures a self-amused Evans vocalizing the tune! More to come soon! Let me know what you think.