Lovely (Christmas) Recordings Hosted by Keith McNaul

Yes, I freely admit to loving Christmas music. Come Thanksgiving it's pretty much all I play until after New Year's Day. To sustain myself that long, I've had to collect a wide variety beyond the usual fare that gets played on the radio. For this list I've omitted the chestnuts everyone knows; no Vince Guaraldi "A Charlie Brown Christmas", no Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby, although I love all that stuff too. I have about 2500 Christmas tracks, mostly ripped from CDs, and I could easily include many of them here. But these are the some of the ones I turn to first when the season comes.

Oscar Peterson: An Oscar Peterson Christmas (Telarc, 1995)
I bought this on CD the Christmas after I got my first real job and could afford the buy music regularly. Being able to buy gifts for everyone really rekindled my Christmas spirit. Listening to this album always takes me back to that time. I had also just started listening to jazz that year, so I was also hearing my old favorites in a completely new way. The whole album is good but it is the ballads that really make time stand still for me.

Available from Tidal

Percy Faith, His Orchestra and Chorus: Christmas Is (Columbia, 1966)
This one is vintage 60's. The female chorus on the title tune and a few other tracks, the lush slow numbers, and the bachelor pad stuff which sounds like the soundtrack to a lost Austin Power's film reminds me of childhood Christmases with mom spinning albums on the console stereo (although we didn't have this particular one).

Available from Tidal

Arturo Delmoni and Friends: Rejoice! A String Quartet Christmas (John Marks Records, 1995)
A very nicely played collection of carols (no "Frosty" or "Jingle Bells" here). Perfect listening with a snifter of something by the fire. This was written up by someone in Stereophile when it first came out in 1998(?), which is how I learned about it but, I'm too lazy to see if it's on the website (it is ;-). There were three volumes released under the Rejoice! name. All three are grouped together on TIDAL. I only own the first but the others are good too.

Available from Amazon (CD)

Various Artists: Jazz For Joy: A Verve Christmas Album (Polygram Records, 1996)
And what artists! Shirley Horn, Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln… and those are just the vocalists. I believe all of these tracks were recorded for this album, so you're not getting retread performances you've heard elsewhere. I like everything here but Shirley Horn sings "The Christmas Song" in that utterly captivating way she had with a ballad. And Stephen Scott's instrumental "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" makes me think of outdoor Christmas lights coming on at dusk and coloring the snow. It's not all mellow fare though. Some of the instrumental tracks really move. Nothing here sounds tossed off.

Available from Tidal

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (Verve Records, 1960)
Okay, this one probably qualifies as one of the “chestnuts” I wasn't going to include but, it's Ella, and it's Christmas, and it swings (and sways) like crazy. The expanded version is available on TIDAL. Listen to the last bonus track once (sung in a whiney kid-like voice) just to verify if you want to skip it thereafter.

Available from Tidal

Dextor Gordon: The Panther (The Christmas Song) (Universal Music, 1970)
I'm cheating here because there is only one Christmas track on this album. His performance of "The Christmas Song" is one of my very favorite pieces of Christmas music regardless of genre. Whenever it comes on I stop and play along with each note in my head. The opening piano notes that fall lightly like snow set the mood. This, to me, is the sound of a human soul.

Available from Tidal


I'm a family man whose wife and daughter will be gamely listening to the above Christmas music, and a whole lot more, for most of their waking hours at home for the next month or so. I'll end this with a question to anyone who has read this far. Are you an audiophile that likes Christmas music? If you're willing to admit it, I'd love to hear your recommendations.

Merry Christmas, or whichever holiday you may be celebrating this time of year!


Share your Lovely Recordings with us!

COMMENTS
Christian Goergen's picture

Hello Keith, thank you so much for your recommendations and the glimpse into your past. Luckily my youngest daughter, 19, appreciates to bake christmas cookies with me. At this time of the year we are extremely german. Google for recipes like " Berliner Brot" and "Linzer Schnitten". And of course we're listening to "Weihnachtsmusik". The usual suspects, like Vince Guaraldi, Frank Sinatra (she insists on the vinyl version) and Ella. My favorites from my childhood are: Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass-Christmas Album, James Last-Christmas Dancing. More contemporary explorations: The Roches-We Three Kings. Myrdhin, Andrea Chauvet, Philippe Launay-Noel Celtique and The Candomino Choir-Kauneimat Hengelliset Laulut. All found on Amazon Unlimited (you can enyoy it nevertheless). Fröhliche Weihnachten for all of you.

sonnenwender's picture

Hi Keith, thanks for the suggestions and I completely agree, I also can't wait for the festive season to arrive in order to have a good excuse (and not feeling ridiculous) playing Christmas music. I will check out some of the albums you mentioned that I didn't know. My best of include: Nils Landgren's "Christmas with my friends". He has by now published the 4th album and it never gets boring. In 2010 the newly found Bravura Records gave away some live recorded Christmas songs for free (you can still find them here: http://www.bravurarecords.com/music.html) , which I find wonderful. I am still hoping they will sell full albums some day. I also like the cool Jazz of David Ian's "Vintage Christmas" and "Tinsel and Lights" by Tracy Horn. Happy X-mas listening

BradleyP's picture

Keith -- Thank you for this list of recommendations! I look forward to enjoying them, as I'm sure I will.

Here is my list, which tends heavily toward the traditional carols and ancient liturgical hymns but often with unexpected arrangments. The sonics on these albums are stellar, too. Enjoy!

Vintermane; Sode Julenatt (Have recorded on 2L, but not this one, but sounds like 2L.)
Christmas!; Various Artists (Harmonia Mundi)
Grex Vocalis; Magnum Mysterium (2L)
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; A New Joy: Orthodox Christmas (Harmonia Mundi)

fabiodeluca's picture

Hi Keith
Congratulations for your nice selection

I also recommend you a wonderfully recorded new Christmas songs jazz album from Italy: 'Merry Christmas baby' by Fabrizio Bosso Quartet.

Available on Tidal
Absolutely recommended

Regards
Fabio

Antonmb's picture

For this list. Albums I come back to regularly:
Leon Redbone - Christmas Island
Canadian Brass - A Canadian Brass Christmas
Pete Seeger - Sings Traditional Christmas Carols
John Fahey - The New Possibility: John Fahey's Guitar Soli Christmas Album
Charlie McCoy - Christmas
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge - On Christmas Night
Clare College Choir - The Holly and the Ivy
Chet Baker & Christopher Mason - Silent Nights

deckeda's picture

My wife is the one who starts playing Christmas music Thanksgiving. She even bought a subscription to the Hallmark Channel to watch their cheesy soap operas, er I mean Christmas-themed chick flicks.

I don't have such an affliction but, freely admit to needing at least these two every year. I've loved them both since my parents were spinning them on the changer, back in the '60s.

1) Ray Conniff, We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Everyone's heard most, if not all of it, a zillion times. But no holiday event can exist without it IMO. Unapologetically swanky schmaltz, brilliantly arranged and performed. Columbia CS 1892. The CD version is OK but for high res you'll need a clean LP. On the other hand, most of these were related on Conniff's first Christmas LP, "Christmas with Conniff" and that's available from HDTracks.

2) Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, The Sounds of Christmas

Each LP side has one track ... it's two 20 minute medleys ranging from formal choral to more of that 60's schmaltz-y, jazz and pop. Finally reissued in 2014, but lo res streaming only. This "MP3" iteration is cleaner and better detailed; the LP has body and soul. No legit CD exists; they are sad needledrops. Not the sort of obscure title that would ever make it to Acoustic Sounds or MoFi as a $50 LP reissue, which is too bad. Capitol ST 1260. It's early stereo but done well. I've not heard the mono version, T 1260.

X