Real Christmas Music
December 19, 2016 4 Comments
I’ve become increasingly weary of the ‘Christmas music’ barraging all of us during the “holiday season.” As part of my own personal revolt, I do my very best to steer clear of places playing songs about Santa Claus, reindeer, and Christmas trees, cringing when I’m forced to hear them. For me, they serve as reminders of the increasing commercialization and marginalizing of Christianity in general. Maybe I’m just getting old. OK, I am getting old.
As an alternative, I play more traditional Christmas music here at casa Craig. Well, perhaps not exactly traditional. But it’s my tradition. I don’t have very much Christmas music, but at least I have some variety in what I do have.
A perennial favorite for years has been Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. Sure, it has a song about a Christmas tree (and one is prominently displayed on the album’s front cover), but the theme of Charles Schulz’ cartoon is that Christmas is much more than a silly tree. Can one remain untouched by Linus’ declaration of Christmas’ true significance as he quotes from Luke 2, the birth of the Christ child? OK, I’ll also admit that I never tire of the song “Linus and Lucy”. And who can dislike “Skating”? Plus, I love the simplicity of the brief rendition of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”.
A relatively new acquisition – a used record I found somewhat recently – is John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album, which features the guitarist playing traditional Christmas music (see here for track listing and review). The stripped down setting beats any of the over-produced music one typically hears blaring at the stores.
Another perennial favorite is George Winston’s December, a solo piano outing, as is usual for this artist. This recording contains appropriately themed music not typically heard during the season, such as “Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head”. It boasts a particularly lovely version of “The Holly and the Ivy.” Incidentally, Winston’s very first record was released on Fahey’s Takoma label.
Another record that gets spun on the turntable – yes, a turntable – is More Mistletoe Magic, a collection of various jazz artists on the then roster of Palo Alto Records, an outfit lasting only five years, from 1980 to ’85. One cut features the infrequently recorded vocalist Sheila Jordan accompanied by acoustic bass (Harvie Swartz) on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman / We Three Kings”. The disc only crosses over into the more commercial holiday fare on a couple songs. But the good outweighs the not-so-good, and it’s splendidly recorded in glorious analogue (as opposed to digital). Plus, there are some unusual, jazzy arrangements.
Totally unrelated to Christmas but related to the theme of music in this post, I was dumbfounded yet overjoyed to receive the news (late, as usual for me) that Henry Threadgill won the Pulitzer Prize for music this year, with his In with a Penny, In with a Pound release. The release features his collective Zooid – look up what that means, I had to. The group consists of acoustic guitar, cello, tuba, drums and Threadgill’s alto sax or flute, hardly a standard configuration for a band – by any standard.
I have been listening to Threadgill’s very uncommercial jazz-related music for years, thus prompting my reaction. To add to my delight, I recalled that I have an autographed LP, released (and signed) in 2005, an edition limited to only 1000 copies. At this time the Zooid combo was made up of acoustic guitar (same performer as above – Liberty Ellman), oud, cello, tuba, drums (same as above – Elliot Humberto Kavee), and the leader/composer.
It’s been a very strange and disappointing year in myriad ways, but this was one bright spot. May next year be more luminous.