Holiday Music Favorites

November 30, 2007 at 2:05 pm Leave a comment

I’m really not sure why, but every year I still enjoy it when everyone starts playing the holiday music again. Not counting the traditional carols , there are hundreds of holiday songs – I have a fake book with 275. However, there are a relative few that seem to get the most attention year in and year out. So every year I start playing my arrangements of my favorites again. I never have written them down, so each year I need to remember and often reconstruct the arrangements. This actually works out well, as every year I seem to be able to add one or two enhancements to each.

Three of my consistent favorites are “The Christmas Song” (also known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”) with music written by Mel Torme, “Christmas Time is Here” with music written by Vince Guaraldi for the original “Charlie Brown Christmas” TV special from 1965, and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie.

The Christmas Song

Mel Torme

Mel Torme was from Chicago, born in 1925. He died in 1999. He showed enormous talent at an early age, writing and performing professionally as a teenager. It is worth noting that “The Christmas Song” dates from 1944, when Torme would have been only 18 or 19 years old. He also claimed that he wrote the music in about 40 minutes.

Torme was an incredible jazz vocalist. It might reasonably be claimed that the only contemporary who matched or perhaps exceeded his ability and skill was Ella Fitzgerald. He could scat, had flawless pitch, unerring rhythm and a beautiful voice (his nickname was “the Velvet Fog”). This is a video clip that shows well what he could do:

“The Christmas Song” has been covered hundreds of times. Still, the standard version that still gets the most airplay each year remains the version recorded by Nat King Cole with his trio in 1961. This was not Cole’s first recording of the tune – there were several dating back as far as 1946.

Click here for a delightful story about the song and Mel Torme.

My version is a straight ahead, slow tempo arrangement:

The Christmas Song Stream Mp3

Christmas Time is Here


Vince Guaraldi was born in 1928 and was from San Francisco. His trio’s performance of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”, which he also wrote, was a top-40 hit (going to 22) in 1963. This is one of those tunes almost everyone has heard, but many do not know what it is called or who the artist is. This is that rendition:

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” has been covered by many other artists. I have a particularly nice version by guitarist Earl Klugh and another by pianist David Benoit (who cites Guaraldi as a major influence).

Guaraldi is most famous for providing the music for the first several Peanuts TV specials, starting with “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. While searching for the right music to accompany a planned Peanuts television documentary, Lee Mendelson (the producer of the special) heard a single version of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” by Vince Guaraldi’s trio on the radio while traveling in a taxicab on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Mendelson contacted Ralph J. Gleason, jazz columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and was put in touch with Guaraldi. He proposed that Guaraldi score the upcoming Peanuts Christmas special and Guaraldi enthusiastically took the job, performing a version of what became “Linus and Lucy” for Mendelson over the phone two weeks later. The soundtrack was recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, whose other members were bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli. Guaraldi went on to compose scores for sixteen Peanuts television specials and the full-length movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Guaraldi died suddenly of a heart attack in 1976 at the age of 47.

Much of Guaraldi’s work is harmonically rather simple, relying heavily on the diatonic I, IV, and V chords. “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” is like this, as is “Linus and Lucy” and much of the “Charlie Brown Christmas” music. “Christmas Time is Here”, however, is anything but. It is full of altered chords and chromatic progressions. My version emphasizes those advanced harmonies and adds several substitutions as well:

Christmas Time is Here Stream Mp3

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, dates from 1934. It was first sung on Eddie Cantor’s radio show in November 1934. It became an instant hit with orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day and over 400,000 copies sold by Christmas. It is certainly one of the most popular holiday songs of all time. It is a pretty solid tune as well – jazz pianist and legend Bill Evans recorded a version on a non-Christmas album: Trio ’64. My version is solidly in the straight-ahead jazz tradition:

Santa Claus is Coming to Town Stream Mp3

Happy holidays!


Entry filed under: Guitar, Holiday Music, Jazz, Music, Oldies.

Teen Idols Addendum Holiday Music Favorites (Addendum)

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