CHRISTMAS JAZZ Part III


Today we have a look at some legendary jazz performances of holiday standards. Let's begin with the Oscar Peterson Trio. Canadian born, Peterson has been a jazz icon for the last sixty years (Peterson died in 2007 at 82) with a unique and signature style as a jazz pianist. He recorded with Armstrong, Basie, Fitzgerald, Ellington, Gillespie, and countless other greats. His Christmas album, An Oscar Peterson Christmas, is replete with memorable covers, but none better than the lesser known "Christmas Waltz," a tune written by songsmiths Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne for none other than Francis Albert Sinatra. Peterson's interpretation, with a strong bass line by David Young, is polished and bright, the sweetness to complement the inherent wistfulness of the waltz tempo.

Dave Brubeck rode the wave of the West Coast jazz sound to legendary status. Time Out, with the classics "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk", for many, is the greatest jazz album ever. Dave turned 91 yesterday. He remained a vibrant performer well into his 80s, often with his musical sons as members of his combos. I was fortunate enough to attend a performance in the mid 70s. He's won a slew of awards around the world. He was a Kennedy Center honoree in 2009. Below are two recordings of "Santa Clause Is Coming To Town," the first with Paul Desmond on alto sax and the second with Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax. Two very different sounds but equally compelling.


Can't imagine leaving without a vocal. Here is the very great Shirley Horn with "Winter Wonderland." Washington D.C.'s own, Miss Horn exhibited talent at a very young age and received a scholarship to Juilliard, but her family was too poor to pay her living expenses in New York. Miles Davis claimed that he discovered Shirley Horn (of course), and she was a strong presence in his life for decades, especially as an interpreter of his work. Her minimalist approach to a lyric, her phrasing, and her extraordinary piano accompaniment vaulted her to the pantheon of female jazz vocalists, though she never received the acclaim that blessed her contemporaries. No one ever used silence more effectively. I saw Shirley play at the Blue Note, a decade ago, and though she had lost some of her upper vocal register, her piano work was sublime, despite losing a foot to amputation in her battle against diabetes. Shirley died in 2005. Enjoy.