Listen while you read: Open up the Verve jukebox in a new window (the jukebox will automatically play a snippet of each tune from the album)
Don’t let the strange (though cool-looking) cover with a multi-coloured unicorn eating a flower fool you. This is a Christmas album, and an excellent one!
Don’t get me wrong. I have quite a few favourites to listen to around the Christmas season, including Bing Crosby’s White Christmas (1961). There are times when I like to listen to some traditional carols or some Amy Grant Christmas tune (despite the fact that I would consider anything Amy Grant produces utterly hokey at any other season). Sometimes I even get out the ol’ trumpet and play a few Christmas carols myself, or torture friends by doing a trumpet duet with my friend Jeff. I always like to hear U2′s rendition of “Chistmas baby please come home”, the Eurythmics’ version of “Winter wonderland”, or Sting’s “Gabriel’s message” on A Very Special Christmas (1987). Bells of Dublin (1991) by the Chieftans is another lively and upbeat one with a different sound.
In terms of jazz, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) (or without that cartoon), and I do especially like Diana Krall’s Christmas Songs (2005). But this bluesy and jazzy album by Ella Fitzgerald, which is very well-produced and remastered, wins out in many ways.
Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (1960, Verve) opens with a fast paced “Jingle bells” that my five year old son requests to have replayed just about every time we listen to the album (it ends with a memorable “I’m just crazy ’bout horses” line from Ella). The swinging beat stands out it in this song, as it does throughout the tunes, and the not-overdone style of back-up-singing that accompanies Fitzgerald’s smooth but trumpet like vocals is also characteristic of the album as a whole. There are also slower, softer pieces, like “The Christmas song”, in which Ella is accompanied by a vibraphone and some soft-playing saxophones. Vibraphones are also prominent on Ella’s excellent rendition of “White Christmas”. More somber but especially highlighting the range of Ella’s voice is the We Three Kings / O Little Town of Bethlehem medley. The album concludes with an up-beat and swingin’ version of “Christmas island”. This album stands the test of time.