This holiday season, Verve Records/UMe is boxing up some of the most classic jazz holiday titles and wrapping them in a new vinyl box set titled Verve Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. This lavish collection brings together Ella Fitzgerald's Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (1960), Kenny Burrell's Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas (1966), Ramsey Lewis's Sound of Christmas (1961) and Jimmy Smith's Christmas '64 (1964) (also known as Christmas Cookin') for the first time. With the holidays just around the corner, it's the perfect swinging, syncopated backdrop to get you in the Yuletide spirit and soundtrack your festivities.
Since the dawn of jazz, the genre's innovators have pulled material from all corners of the Great American Songbook and beyond as springboards for improvisation — and the Christmas canon is no exception. On Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, the First Lady of Song approaches Great American Christmas songs like "Jingle Bells," "Sleigh Ride," "The Christmas Song," and "Frosty the Snowman" with vivacity and sophistication. Sixty Christmases after its release, the album's timeless appeal has only grown over the years. In a retrospective review, All Music proclaimed, "this is as good as jazz Christmas albums get," and just last year, Rolling Stone ranked it No. 1 on their "40 Essential Christmas Albums" list, calling the set "superb" and praising Fitzgerald's "exquisite phrasing and subtlety." In celebration of the album's 60th anniversary, "Frosty The Snowman" has received its first-ever official video, a charming animated video by Fantoons Animation Studio that features Ella and Frosty in a winter wonderland storybook setting.
Verve Wishes You a Swinging Christmas includes a variety of jazz greats' instrumental takes on the Christmas canon via three albums that haven't seen a vinyl reissue since the '60s. On Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas, guitar master Kenny Burrell serves up soulful renditions from the carol book ("The Twelve Days of Christmas," "Away in a Manger"), down the church aisle ("Mary's Little Boy Chile," "Children Go Where I Send Thee") and the R&B wheelhouse ("Merry Christmas, Baby"). JazzTimes declares it "was and is a landmark album" while All Music admires Burrell's "pensive, meditative, precise playing" and calls it "a must-have."
The box cranks the fun up a notch with Sound of Christmas by the Ramsey Lewis Trio, which features bassist Eldee Young, drummer Isaac "Red" Holt, and string arranger Riley Hampton. By swerving around any potential treacle and keeping things light at a mere 29 minutes, Lewis and his colleagues ensured Sound of Christmas was a highly accessible slice of holiday cheer. "Lewis avoids the overly reverent... in favor of songs he can tear through with the brisk gait of a sleigh ride and the delight of a full stocking," All About Jazz mused."[H]is sensitivity to the tastes of the public served him well here."
Rounding out the collection is a yuletide offering from Jimmy Smith, the master of the Hammond B-3 organ. On Christmas '64, which was known for decades as Christmas Cookin' after being reissued in 1966 with the alternate cover and title, Smith offers up a mix of secular Christmas songs and traditional carols backed by a big band and several trios. He makes a heel-turn from dignified orchestral overtures, like on "We Three Kings (of Orient Are)," injecting the proceedings with funky, down-home energy to get bodies moving this December. "It's hard to believe that 'Silent Night' could ever swing as much as it does here," All About Jazz noted. But all you have to do is drop the needle on these bluesy interpretations to believe Christmas could be so danceable. For the first time in more than five decades, the LP will be released with its original cover and title.
Why wait until the Christmas shopping rush to secure your vintage sounds? Verve Wishes You a Swinging Christmas offers four titles in their original packaging, all beamed from jazz's past to warm up your holiday season in the present.
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* Amazon: https://amzn.to/3pY4dW7
* Website: https://Verve.lnk.to/SwingingChristmas