I tried for a mix of known and unknown gems by my favorite artists. I imagined the kind of songs I’d want to play at a Christmas party, some ballads, some uptempo, a good mix of styles and eras. Enjoy!
Last Christmas, Wham: George Michael is a guilty pleasure. If you love eighties cheese like I do it doesn’t get much better than this.
Happy Xmas (War Is Over), John Lennon: I love this message. Lennon’s dedication to the idea of World Peace (think Imagine) is truly inspiring. It is so applicable year after year.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Beach Boys: The lush, slightly out of tune harmonies are so heart warming. I love the orchestral accompaniment on this tune too, not what you often get on their other albums.
A Warm Little Home On A Hill, Stevie Wonder: This song almost brought me to tears when I first heard it. It’s simplicity, heartfelt vocals, nothing beats Stevie. Everything he touches is gold.
The Secret of Christmas, Ella Fitzgerald: This song just slays me. Ella’s smooth vocals and poignant tremolo brings out the heartache of a spurned lover. Not all Christmas songs need be joyful. I chose this song for its sadness and nostalgia, which paradoxically accompanies the holidays too.
All I Want for Christmas is you, Mariah Carey: A classic. You put this on at a party and everyone goes nuts. Need I say more?
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Bill Evans: One of my favorite jazz pianists. I love the loungey feel he plays with on this classic tune. It’s got hints of stride style and bop. He always manages to balance the cerebral and visceral side of jazz with elegance and accessibility.
The First Noel, Bob Dylan: Did you know Bob Dylan had a Christmas album? You didn’t? Do you know why? IT’S HIDEOUS! I threw this one on for a good laugh. Dylan’s vocals are so shot, arrangements are incredibly plain, it’s a miracle this was ever made! Kory Reid, this one’s for you!
I’d Like You For Christmas, Julie London: Hands down, the sexiest voice in jazz. I want Julie London for Christmas!
Jesus, What a Wonderful Child, John Legend: Soulful, hard groove. Joe Jennings included this song in one of his Christmas medleys. Brings back memories of wailing on this tune in front of packed houses at our MET Museum concerts. That’s Christmas.
Honorable mention: check out James Brown’s Funky Christmas album. Hilarious and fun tunes with classic James Brown hysterics and groove.
Two Chanticleer tracks:
Die Stimmen des Kindes, Mäntyjärvi: Captures the mystery with his cool, chromatic lines and extended harmonies. By far, one of my favorite composers for us.
Coventry Carol, Rathbone: Haunting dissonances and intensity. Good balance of simple and complex chord structure.
[Editor's Note: The Bob Dylan track is unavailable on YouTube.]