Some of you may have seen this last season, but if you missed it, here are a few fantabulous holiday sounds that will break the monotony of the piped-in stuff you hear in every store this time of year.
Lou Rawls – “Merry Christmas HO! HO! HO!”
A lot of people forget that when he first started, Lou Rawls was primarily a jazz signer. This is perhaps one of the hardest swinging vocal Christmas records ever. Recorded in 1967, it features an incredible version of “The Little Drummer Boy.” If you can find a copy of this, pick it up. I believe it’s been remastered and reissued, but under the title “Lou Rawls Swingin’ Christmas”.
Ray Charles – “The Spirit of Christmas”
Ray’s only Christmas album has been on a lot of people’s shelves for years and for good reason. “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” are among the highlights here, and the remastered version includes a duet Charles did with Betty Carter on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from 1961.
Freddy Cole – “I Want a Smile For Christmas”
Unfortunately, this one is out of print, but you may be able to find a used copy online or in your favorite record shop. Freddy puts that magical Cole touch on everything from “Blue Christmas” to “Jingle Bells”, the latter being my favorite version of the song.
Now obviously, I can’t list Freddy’s record without listing one of the definitive Holiday albums of all time…
Nat King Cole – “The Christmas Song”
If you’ve only heard one version of “The Christmas Song” (aka “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”), there’s a 99.9% chance that it was Nat’s version.
Plas Johnson – “Christmas in Hollywood”
This one most people may not know about, but it’s an absolutely fantastic album that Los Angeles based saxophonist Plas Johnson did a few years back. Plas is a fantastic tenor player and goes in a soul-jazz direction here with an organ trio and special guest, vocalist Ernie Andrews. Andrews tears it up on “Merry Christmas Baby”, as one would expect.
Houston Person & Etta Jones – “Together at Christmas”
The last Christmas album Houston made with Etta before her passing features some things that the two had done before on various Christmas sides (but new recordings), plus some new material recorded here for the first time. Together, these two always deliver a soulful, swignin’ time.
Jimmy Smith – “Christmas ’64”
Didn’t think I’d have a list without another organ record did you? This one has been around for, well, 45 years to be exact. However, Verve has reissued it under the new title “Christmas ’64”. Past incarnations have always been “Christmas Cookin’ “. Regardless the title, Jimmy is on point here, both in small group settings and with a full big band.
Now I’m sure there are dozens of other very worthy Holiday albums, but these are the ones that I’ve always got on in my house during the season.
OH…WAIT JUST ONE MINUTE! How could I forget the three MOST played Holiday tunes of all time in my house…
Have a happy, safe and swingin’ Holiday season!