© 2024 WBGO
Discover Jazz...Anywhere, Anytime, on Any Device.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ready or not, here come the yuletide grooves

'Merry Christmas from José James' finds the singer finessing holiday fare old and new.
Janette Beckman
'Merry Christmas from José James' finds the singer finessing holiday fare old and new.

Are you ready for the holidays? Has it come too soon again this year, or are you preciously savoring every aroma, sight and sound signaling the season?

As we're in the business of sound here on Jazz United, we thought it would be fun to consider the soundtrack of this time of the year. But the two of us represent opposite sides of the spectrum: Greg is a self-admitted Grinch when it comes to holiday jazz, while Nate is a full-blown Elf.

One thing we can agree on is that holiday standards provide a chance to hear many of today's artists navigate standard song forms and lush harmonies. Some are also stepping forward with brilliant new original compositions in the seasonal spirit, but it can take years before those tunes join the holiday canon.

It so happens that 2021 has yielded some notable Christmas albums in our musical neck o' the woods. We'll touch on a few of them, with a special focus on saxophonist Kirk Whalum and vocalist José James, who both mix in choice originals with exceptional arrangements of familiar fare.

Whalum turns "Angels We Have Heard on High" into a dreamy showcase, recast in floaty 15/8 meter. And James masterfully builds on the spirit and sound of John Coltrane's epochal version of "My Favorite Things," with help from pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Jharis Yokely and saxophonist Marcus Strickland.

We also recommend recordings and literature found in the WBGO Holiday Gift Guide, authored by Nate, on This I Dig. And we share an invigorating new treatment of "A Child is Born" by friend of the show Dara Tucker, produced by Greg.

So let us know whether it's more of a "Deck the Halls" or "Bah, humbug" vibe in your household — and above all, make sure that you subscribe to and share Jazz United.

Jazz United is produced for WBGO Studios by Trevor Smith.

Stay Connected
Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.