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by Seth Colter Walls

December 1, 2014

Jazz for the Holidays

by Seth Colter Walls  |  December 1, 2014

Here is a universal law of music in the Western world: Every year, people tire of Christmas standards, but at different speeds. As your family holiday party's official DJ, you may reach a point where you need to placate the folks still clamoring for the same old carols and chestnuts, while also not driving from the room more restless listeners who don’t care to sing any more sleighing songs tonight.

Jazz, as ever, is a good social solution. The underlying tunes may be familiar, but the approaches here won't strike anyone as overly tired. No one else plays "White Christmas" the way Charlie Parker does, for example. Duke Ellington’s band had a way with "Jingle Bells," and also crafted a thorough re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite (presented in its entirety at the end of this playlist). Wynton Marsalis, Bill Evans and Ella Fitgzerald also cut memorable versions of seasonal tunes, all presented here.

Not all of these songs were recorded with the holidays in mind. Rahsaan Roland Kirk used the familiar "We Three Kings" theme for his own purposes on "We Free Kings," for instance; maybe you can use the current of familiarity as an excuse to get your family to give his flute-work a chance. Think of it as a present you're giving to a world overrun with cookie-cutter Christmas interpretations.

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