Written by Bernie Brink
There are several holiday tunes written by jazz composers that have become quintessential favorites of the season: Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here,” and Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song.” A recent addition to this canon is Thad Jones’ stirring ballad, “A Child is Born,” which has been showing up more frequently on holiday albums over the past decade or so. It’s easy to imagine that the title alludes to the birth of the Christ child, so it’s not surprising that it has been adopted as a holiday piece.
But did you know that “A Child is Born” was not conceived as a holiday tune? Written in 1969 by bandleader and composer Thad Jones, it was merely the latest edition to the songbook for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Thad’s tender and heartwarming composition was based on the work of the band’s pianist, Roland Hanna, derived from an improvised interlude Hanna would play on the bandstand between sets. Thad and Mel both felt that the beauty of the tune was appropriate to reflect the birth of any child, and wished it might be played and remembered in that spirit. Shortly after its initial recording by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra on the 1970 album Consummation, it caught fire and quickly became a jazz standard, recorded by the likes of Bill Evans and Tony Bennett, Kenny Burrell, Stanley Jordan, and many others.
One notable holiday recording is on an album of the same name, 2011’s A Child is Born, a solo outing by renowned jazz pianist Geri Allen. Allen was a deeply spiritual artist, and this recording – indeed, this entire album – reflect some of her most poignant, expressive playing.