Not everyone likes Christmas music. Some people positively hate it. Some tolerate it. Musicians, however, if they choose to partake will be remembered forever during this time of the year. Even if they are long past their popularity window, or perhaps dead like Elvis, who’s rendition of Blue Christmas still comes to mind during the holidays and every time other musicians cover it.
Although I am not religious, I love Christmas music. I have fond memories of trying to sing along to Away In The Manger, Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem, Good King Wenceslas and all the other holiday favourites. I am trying to learn Rudolph The Red Nosed Rain Deer on the piano. It is not going well but I am enjoying the process. When I talk about Christmas Music, I am not talking about the Christmas soundtracks in retail stores or elevators. I am talking about good Christmas music where the artist takes ownership of a song and puts together an arrangement that is beautiful and personal. Or where the artist writes a wonderful new song that will become a seasonal classic.
With this in mind, The Doc and I attended a Christmas concert last weekend with hopes of starting off the season with some good music. This artist, Jenn Grant, is local and has been touted in the media as great for years. She has released several CDs and has toured North America, Europe and Australia. But Jenn Grant, on this particular night, was disorganized, unprofessional and appeared unrehearsed. She had her crib notes scattered all over the floor in the front of the stage, which she would try to sort through with her feet. She kept forgetting the words and singling the wrong words. If you don’t know the words to Away in a Manger, look them up! Or don’t sing the song. She only sang about six songs and the arrangements were very basic and of poor quality. I felt sorry for her back up musicians.
On top of this she was trying to film a holiday special for her You Tube variety show called Jenny Town. She tried some skits, held a Rubik’s Cube competition and at one point decided to cut her husband’s hair. It was like a very bad Dean Marten show after Dean, a big alcoholic in his later years, had too much to drink. People were getting up and leaving during the show. The Doc summed it up as something you might see put on by high school students. But on second thought, we both decided that we have seen high school students do much better. Talk about disappointing. Had we known that it was going to be like this, we never would have purchased tickets.
Soooooo the next day, feeling bad that I had dragged The Doc to such a poor show, I gave him an early Christmas stocking stuffer. The new Nora Jones CD entitled I dream of Christmas. Besides, it is not fun getting a Christmas CD on Christmas day when you can only really play it for a single day.
Norah Jones is a singer and song writer that we have been listening to for years. Billboard named her the top Jazz artist of the 2000’s decade. Her Christmas album did not disappoint. Of the thirteen songs on the CD, six of them are written by her. These six pull you in and, on the first time through, you feel them already becoming part of your holiday play list. Her arrangements of all the songs are unique and wonderful. And like all good jazz songs, they make you want to move and sway. Her version of Run Rudolph Run has become my favourite of that song. Oh the drums… Have a listen:
Well that got us into the holiday spirit so I decided to dig out some of my other favourite Christmas CDs. Yes I know, CD’s are passé, but I still own them and I still play them. Next I played Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong. Sarah is a internationally famous, Canadian singer songwriter who has won two Grammy Awards and four Junos. She is also known for founding Lilith Fair, a concert tour that helped usher other female songwriters into the mainstream during the late ’90s. On this CD, she introduces her own song Wintersong, and does beautiful renditions of John Lennon’s Happy Xmas, Joni Mitchell’s River and Gordon Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night. It is nice to see her pay tribute to Joni and Gordon, a couple of other well-known Canadian Artists. Have a listen to River:
Afterwards, I put on Diana Krall, another internationally famous Canadian musical artist. Diana is a jazz pianist known for her contralto vocals. She takes traditional jazz to another level. She has performed with Ella Fitzgerald and for the late Oscar Peterson on his 80th birthday. And, by the way, she is married to Elvis Costello. Diana’s CD entitled Chrismas Songs, has a big band feel. Many songs are accompanied by a jazz orchestra. You hear trumpets and other horns, standup base and of course Diana playing the piano. She has made all of them her own and you can tell that she is enjoying herself. You will want to swing and sing along. Here she is with Let It Snow:
And finally, some Christmas music that has been in our collection for over thirty years. Mannheim Steamroller. If you like instrumental Christmas music, this is music for you. Mannheim Steamroller is an American neoclassical new-age music group founded by percussionist/composer Chip Davis. They have been around since the 80’s and still do Christmas concerts. The music has both an orchestra and electric sound. We have two CDs that get played often during the Christmas season. Here is one of my favourite songs:
Consider these my Christmas gift, although I can’t take any credit for all this talent only for appreciating it. If you can’t get out to a good concert this holiday season, you will now be able to hear what I hear. I hope you enjoy it.
Thank you for reading
Photo: Jenn Stone