November 2022 Article

November 2022 Article

With “the season” (as in, “’’tis the season”) rapidly approaching, many of us are seeking out and reaching for great holiday albums, both old favorites and new discoveries.  Nothing can get you into the spirit of the season quite like a good holiday tune.  But there are several beloved songs that were not written for the holiday canon.

Perhaps the most infamous and glaring example is Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.  Even before the famed film adaptation, Julie Andrews performed it on a Garry Moore holiday television special in 1961.  But it was in 1964 that it became entrenched as a holiday tune when bandleader Jack Jones featured it on his Christmas album that year, The Jack Jones Christmas Album.  Anticipating the release of the musical’s film adaptation in the spring of 1965, Jones’ producer was approached by Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s publisher to record something from the musical, an effort to produce a hit recording to drive ticket sales (similar to Louis Armstrong’s classic recording of “Hello, Dolly!”).  The promoter recommended “My Favorite Things,” surely due to its winter imagery, but the record producer protested, “But that’s not a Christmas song.”  “Just add sleigh bells,” the promoter suggested.  Ultimately, Jack Jones agreed to record it, and on the heels of a popular Christmas album and a hit film, the song became fixed in the holiday songbook.

Increasingly, a well-known ballad by bandleader/composer Thad Jones has been appearing on holiday albums, “A Child is Born,” perhaps based on a tenuous assumption of a reference to the Christ child.  The tune itself was drawn from an early performance tradition by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, where the band’s pianist, Roland Hanna, would routinely perform an improvised solo interlude between sets.  Over several evenings, Hanna improvised and formulated the germ material for the song, which Jones later wrote down and arranged for the band.  The group first recorded it on 1970’s Consummation, and of the tune, leader Mel Lewis says simply, “We feel that this piece should be played while every child is being born; we’d have some better people in this world for it.”  A lyric was later applied by Alec Wilder, but merely references “this child,” with no mention of religious figures or holiday imagery.  A great tune to enjoy year-round!

Another holiday favorite, “Snowfall,” also has jazz origins.  A product of Swing era composer and bandleader Claude Thornhill, it was written in the 1930s for Ray Noble’s band and was first presented as an uptempo dance number with a modest Latin element, titled “A Fountain in Havana” (you can hear an allusion to the Spanish tresillo or Afro-Cuban clave rhythm in the bass line).  Later, in 1941, Claude Thornhill’s own star began to rise with his own orchestra, and as was the custom at the time, Thornhill’s band needed a theme song to play each night while on tour.  Having to make the decision last-minute, Thornhill chose a pre-existing work, “A Fountain in Havana.”  Rearranged for the Thornhill band, the tempo was slowed to highlight the band’s impressive clarinet section, as well as Thornhill’s own impressionistic piano fills, two elements that later inspired the cool jazz movement of the 1950s.  This “cooler” version was retitled, and “Snowfall” became the theme song for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra throughout the 1940s.  Today, the music remains just as evocative as its title.

While you may know these songs from perennial holiday repertoire, their secular origins lend them to repeated listening all through the year!  By the same token, as we gear up for the holiday season, you can expect to hear these great works and more throughout the season on Jazz 93.5.