CHRISTMAS JAZZ Part IV
Yup. It's that time of the year again. Thought I'd focus on one song today--the soulful R&B favorite "Merry Christmas Baby", which has become a holiday staple. The song, penned by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore, hit # 3 on the Billboard charts in 1947 with a recording by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers and the great Charles Brown on vocals. It has been covered by myriad song stylists, including everyone from Booker T to Bruce. Below are a few of the more interesting renditions. For many years I created mix-tapes (actually mix-CDs) of great jazz Christmas recordings. Often times Soul and R&B songs complemented the traditional jazz recordings. "Merry Christmas Baby" pretty much showed up annually. First up is the original--Charles Brown. Brown recorded this song any number of times, including the duet decades later with Bonnie Raitt that follows. You can also find a clip taken from the Jay Leno Tonight Show on YouTube in which Miss Raitt pays tribute to the great blues singer. If it has been taken down, you can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCJuHT0HIOk
The third Charles Brown video catches him in L.A. in 1984 with a version that thrills the audience.
But there are so many wonderful versions that I can't really call Brown's "iconic". This is a tune that allows for deeply soulful or gospel-inflected interpretations as well as the more conventional R&B takes. Here is a live version by Brother Ray, recorded in a monastery in Germany in 1979!
And then we have the King of the Blues, B.B. King and, of course, Lucille with the recording I have heard the most of all of them. Followed by a very soulful interpretation by Booker T and the MGs.
Anyway, enjoy these versions, but check out the many other wonderful covers, including an earthy version by Etta James, a delicate performance by guitarist Kenny Burrell, and an uptempo knockout by Lou Rawls. I'll leave you today with a stately reading by the Ramsey Lewis Trio, one of my favorites: