Saturday, December 17, 2011

Carping on about Christmas Music...

Every year I rant and whine a little bit about Christmas music -- because the songs are overplayed, and come back like zombies year after year, instead of disappearing after a reasonable amount of radio play. But this year, I've had a realization that changes everything... but first, a quick recap of my old ramblings about Christmas music:

five artists that shouldn't, and five artists that need to make a Christmas album
(anything yet from Neko Case, Regina Spektor, Jack White, Alicia Keys, The Flaming Lips, or Tom Waits? I mean, we had one from Justin Bieber this year)
one Christmas song I liked
Tim Minchin's Post-Christian Christmas song
Sufjan Stevens' fabulous Christmas albums

And, good enough to rate re-posting: the funniest Christmas Music youtube video (in my opinion)

OK then...

I can't believe I haven't looked more into Christmas music by Jazz artists before.

Why? Because my problem with Christmas music summarizes thusly:

Christmas music always either reinterprets a classic song, or composes a new song.
If you reinterpret a classic song, your version probably won't stand up to a version done previously by another artist... and the classics have been done to death. If you write an original song, given that Christmas classics are some of the prettiest, most majestic, and enduring songs ever written in Western music, your new song probably won't stand up to the sheer songwriting featured in other christmas songs. You can't win.

But jazz is a no-brainer, really. Why? Because the whole thing many jazz artists do is reinterpret "standards." What does that mean? Taking a song that's been sung many times before, and bringing something new, unique, and special to it. And that was exactly the problem I described with Christmas music.

How many artists have sung "Mack the Knife," "Cry Me A River" or "My Funny Valentine"? Tons. And more will. And jazz artists work to take something that's been done before, and bring something new to it, to make it fresh again. Some artists have done especially memorable versions of some of those songs, but there's always room (if you're a good jazz musician) for another stab at it. So... starting with Verve and Blue Note records I'll be giving Jazz Christmas music a try.

One more thing:
Added to my list of artists who need to make a Christmas album:
Jamie Cullum


Jazz artist Avishai Cohen, from Israel... is invited to do some excellent Hanukkah music, if he prefers.

Portishead shouldn't make a whole Christmas album, but they'd make the saddest Christmas song ever made, and that would be worth it.

Stars should, too.


Anonymous said...

Bestest Evar: The Kinks, "Father Christmas"

Christmas Songs said...

These are awesome! I'm definitely with you when it comes to Jazz Christmas Songs. They are great!