Christmas songs may be the last true standards: a body of tunes that everybody knows by heart, even those who don’t celebrate the holiday. Is it any wonder, then, that so many jazz musicians have taken a crack at them? Religious dimensions aside, both Christmas and jazz honor tradition, making them a hand-in-glove fit that also provides easy entrée for listeners. (Not to mention fruitful territory for improvisers.)
Here you’ll find 10 of the finest jazz recordings of holiday music from the album era. Discs not included on this list are not necessarily the chaff, but the ones listed below are unquestionably the wheat. Swing the ancient yuletide carols!
- Vince Guaraldi Trio: A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy, 1965)
It’s the most famous of jazz Christmas albums because it is as remarkably timeless as the TV special it accompanies. For one thing, it introduced the world to the now-iconic “Linus and Lucy,” a.k.a. “The Peanuts Theme,” as well as the warm, sentimental “Christmastime Is Here.” But a generation of future musicians were also taken in by Vince Guaraldi’s lustrous arrangements of “What Child Is This” and “The Little Drummer Boy,” and his sprightly originals “Christmas Is Coming” and “Skating.” Guaraldi’s trio (with bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli) is unfailingly sensitive, often delicate, but its swing is undiminished.