It's that time of year again when I pick my favorite classic jazz holiday album. I always try to select obscure albums you may have overlooked, forgotten about or weren't even aware existed. This year, the winner is trombonist Urbie Green's A Cool Yuletide, recorded for RCA's "X" label in 1954.
Originally a 10-inch disc, the album features Joe Wilder (tp), Urbie Green (tb), Al Cohn (ts), Al Epstein (bar) [who's listed as "Al Young"], Buddy Weed (p), Mundell Lowe (g), Milt Hinton (b), Don Lamond (d) or Osie Johnson (d). The arrangements were by Charlie Shirley.
The tracks are Christmas Song, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, White Christmas, Jingle Bells, My Two Front Teeth and Winter Wonderland.
According to the December 4, 1954 issue of Billboard...
"This is jazz set for the Christmas season and one that will please many youngsters on holiday from School. It contains eight well-known Christmas tunes played in rather cool fashion by the Urbie Green ork. And the classic Christmas items sound pretty entrancing on the jazz kick. And happily no vocals are included. There is a lot of fun and a lot of good jazz to this set, and it has a chance for attention during the Christmas season. Cover is cute."
Two outstanding Green solos appear on White Christmas and The Christmas Song, and Cohn has wonderful spots as well. It's nice to know that back in 1954, kids had taste, as did the record companies marketing to them.
Unfortunately, the album doesn't seem to have been reissued on CD. But you may be able to find this hearth-warmer as a download.
Past years' winners...
Eddie Higgins Trio—Christmas Songs (2004). Joining the pianist here are bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe Ascione. As I noted last year, what I dig about this one is the drifting-feather quality of Higgins' piano playing, not to mention the perfect song list. All the chestnuts are here, and Higgins roasts each one with jolly grace.
June Christy—This Time of Year (1961). This is an unusual holiday album that grows on you fast. The tunes have intricate melodies and restless lyrics, but the real star here is Pete Rugolo, whose arrangements adhere to a jazz feel without selling out. And all the while, the charts frame Christy's hip, dry-vermouth vocal sound perfectly. It's tough not to love an album with a cover featuring Christy in red stretch ski pants and a waist-length shearling jacket poised to hurl a snowball.
Jo Stafford—Happy Holidays: I Love the Winter Weather (1955-56). Much of this collection has been culled from Stafford's Happy Holiday (1955) and Ski Trails (1956), both released originally by Columbia. Each track on this CD collection is a work of art, with Stafford's inimitable warm, maternal singing style backed by the handsome, clarinet-high orchestrations of husband Paul Weston.
JazzWax clip: There are no clips of this album on YouTube. So here's June Christy singing The Merriest from This Time of Year...