Friday Night Jazz: Favorite Holiday CDs

Its that time of year: It started around Halloween, and by now I am already tired of walking into stores and getting assaulted with endless repetitions of really bad, really corny Xmas music we’ve all heard far too many times to enjoy any longer. (I say, F&%k Rudolph!)

Here’s a way to get into the holiday musical spirit without having to
endure the usual annoying cloying tunes. This is one holiday-themed
list that won’t make you ill.

Since we first mentioned these CDs years ago, many of them have been remastered. And once again, we see many of them on sale at Amazon for under $10.



1. Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

There truly is no better Christmas album than this one.  It is 180 degree from all that junk holiday music you hate: Recorded in 1960, it is without a doubt the swingingest Christmas album ever recorded.

A Jazzy big band, brilliant arrangements and Ella’s perfect voice make this album a must have Christmas
albums, period.

Even though I already own this, I fear I must add this remastered  version of Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, Ella Fitzgerald


2. A Charlie Brown Christmas

The classic Peanuts Christmas Jazz Masterpiece: For those of a certain age, "the first time you listen to this disc you will undoubtedly be transported directly back to your childhood" (one reviewer noted)and thats absolutely true.

Indeed, for lots of us, this was our first introduction to Jazz — and Vince Guaraldi is still a great intro. A must have.  A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special


3. Oscar
Peterson Christmas

: Oscar Peterson Christmas

Sophisticated yet unobtrusive, this CD is an ideal jazz instrumental
backdrop to all your holiday activities. Peterson mades this warm,
mellow album accessible to non-Jazz buffs, while at the same time
keeping it sophisticated and interesting enough for afficianadoes to
enjoy. This CD, along with the Ella disc, are two of my favorites. Its
perfect for sipping an evening cocktail and
sitting in the dark with nothing on but Christmas lights.  Oscar
Peterson Christmas


December 4.  December, Piano Solos

December holds the distinction
of single-handedly putting
Windham Hill on the map. This collection of solo piano works crossed
over from new age to popular to seasonal.

I always loved having this as
one of 5 CDs on the carousel (back in the days of 5 CD disc players).
Yes, kids, there was a shuffle play before the iPod. December, Piano Solos: 20th Anniversary Edition, George Winston



5. Merry Christmas from Motown

: Merry Christmas from Motown

A terrific collection of favorite Motown artists doing all the usual
songs; The work was interesting enough that the series from Motown saw
a few more versions of this after the success of the first one.

This first collection is all Motown A-list:  The Temptations, Diana Ross & The Supremes,  Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Stevie Wonder.

Merry Christmas from Motown (Various Artists)



6.  A Winter’s Solstice: Windham Hill Artists

Following the success of December, this album became one that built
a Windham Hill tradition of New Age seasonal music / mixed artist

They are now up to number VI in the Winter Solstice Series. A Winter’s Solstice: Windham Hill Artists

7. Christmas with the Rat Pack

: Christmas with the Rat Pack

Break out the cocktail shaker, its time for some Christmas drinks with Frank, Sammy and Dino!  This is a boozy holiday
compilation, a perfect retro lounge soundtrack for a bachelor pad. My favorite comment about this:  "the novelty of
having three of the 20th century’s most notorious sinners belt, whoop,
and sing the praises of sleigh bells, roasting chestnuts, and the
virgin birth would be enough to recommend this dizzy, 21-track delight,
but there’s actually some rewarding pop archaeology here as well."

Christmas with the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin Sammy Davis Jr.


8.  Wintersong

: Wintersong

Sarah’s elegantly beautiful voice mixes some traditional (but not ubiquitous) Christmas
songs along with some more modern holiday tunes (John Lennon’s "Happy
Xmas (War is Over)" and Joni Mitchell’s "River"). If you enjoy her lovely and haunting voice, you will most likely enjoy this collection. (I suspect this collection may grow on me) Wintersong, Sarah McLachlan


9. James Taylor at Christmas

: James Taylor at Christmas

Nicely balanced between pop and jazz selections, with more stately
hymn-like fare and balladry. Anything JT does manages to sound fine via his charmingly understated, mellow, soulful
voice. (and a must own for JT fans)  James Taylor at Christmas


10. Rhino:
Swingin Christmas
and Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One (2 way tie).

These two are similar hipster recordings:

: Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One

Ultra-Lounge is a martini-and-mistletoe combo from the late 50s/early 60s. Think of
the Doris Day movies of that era (or even Tony Randall’s), and you get
the picture of the big band sound on many of the tracks. Its very retro, and features the likes of Nat King Cole, Dean
Martin, Lou Rawls, Julie London, Jackie Gleason, Peggy Lee, Billy May,
and Les Brown.  Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One

: Rhino: Swingin Christmas

The Rhino collection digs deeper back to the 40s to more recent cuts — a diverse collection of songs covered by Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, Esquivel, The Manhattan Transfer,  Vic Damone. (Les Brown is the only artist present on both discs).

Swingin Christmas

That should be enough to keep you warm all winter!

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. D. commented on Nov 30

    You shop too much.


    BR: I actually don’t shop all that much. What I think you mean is I CONSUME too much . . .

  2. Jason commented on Nov 30

    This one may be a little on the periphery. Yet, if one thinks Nutcracker ballet, it’s definitely Christmas-y.

    The Brian Setzer Orchestra “Wolfgang’s Big Night Out”


  3. gypsy howell commented on Nov 30

    Totally agree with you about Ella, Barry. It’s a classic, and I never tire of hearing it.

    Here’s my all-time favorite though — perfect for a cold, snowy evening, a blazing fire and some nice spirits of your choice… Bruce Cockburn’s Christmas album.

    Bruce Cockburn Christmas

    Hope the link posts correctly. Apologies in advance if it doesn’t.

    Have a wonderful holiday.

    — Daily lurker, seldom commenter.

  4. JJL commented on Nov 30

    Barry has fine jazz for Friday night, I have Dokken, Cinderella, and Poison. 80’s glam rock rules!

  5. Rob Dawg commented on Nov 30

    “Christmas Time is Here” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio is da bomb. Rediscover the Estrada Brothers Latin Jazz Sextet “The Christmas Song.”

  6. Jdesmond commented on Nov 30

    No Perry Como??? Bah Humbugg…..

  7. Viamede commented on Nov 30

    December is lovely but I prefer Summer (Corina,Corina).

    It took me a while to figure out why they are barely making 5 disc cd carousels anymore. Ours still works fine..the whining of the random search and move is half the charm.

  8. peter from oz commented on Nov 30

    thanks barry
    great selection
    enjoy tonite’s jazz
    rgds pcm

  9. PrahaPartizan commented on Nov 30

    Great choices! Might I also recommend “Winter Dreams for Christmas” by R. Carlos Nakai and William Eaton, if you can find it. It’s a stunning and haunting combination of Native American flute and stringed instruments (mostly guitar but also lyre and harp guitar). I’ve always found it to be the best CD available to soothe the spirit after a hectic round of whatever during the holiday period.

  10. Graham commented on Nov 30

    Thanks Barry
    There are also many new versions of older classics in smooth jazz format that are great to listen to, often found on the streaming audio sites.

  11. ken h commented on Dec 1

    Thanks but no thanks Barry. I really do appreciate the odds and ends you post. As far a Christmas music goes, I think I would almost rather enjoy sticking a sharp pencil in my eye or cutting my wrists with butter knife. Jeez, what a scrooge! I know, but I think it’s having to listen to piped Christmas music since Oct?

    Merry Chistmas everyone, even you Dennis Kneale!

  12. howard green commented on Dec 1

    You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the “Doris Day Christmas album.” Great stuff by one of the best vocalists ever!

  13. JohnG commented on Dec 1

    Wow, and i thought I was the only person who liked to sip cocktails and wear nothing but Christmas lights….

  14. bob commented on Dec 1

    You missed 2 great ones—Christmas Island (Leon Redbone)(a duet with Dr John was a classic) and a Ray Charles Xmas album I cannot find at the moment.

  15. guest commented on Dec 1

    There is no ‘too much’ when it comes to good music.

    I’m surprised you didn’t add ‘God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen’

  16. D. commented on Dec 1

    No. I meant you shop too much… if you’re already sick of X-Mas music, you shop too much!

  17. Todd Peters commented on Dec 2

    The 1993 release “The Christmas Album” by David Foster is outstanding. Tom Jones, Michael Crawford, Vanessa Williams, et. al

  18. nades commented on Dec 3

    THANKS !

  19. Tom commented on Dec 6


    Thanks for the rec on December. I’m listening as I type this, and finding it most enjoyable.

    It was another website’s random rant about Christmas music a few years back that led me to my favorite, “The Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning,” by Michael Praetorius. Fantastic late-medieval hymns (actually Catholic ones that never see the light of day today) in a church setting with organ. “Quem pastores laudavere,” where were you all my life?


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