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Digital Music

A Gift From The Internet: Free Holiday Music

By Published: November 27, 2004
Her CD is a solid piano and vocals collection of 17 songs, including some original and humorous selections. Her Web site, instead of offering audio samples, instead posts an instrumental version of the entire album in MIDI format, a longtime computer file format that relies on a sound card or other synthesizer for playback. The files are tiny - only a few kilobytes each - and load in seconds. Most modern soundcards are advanced enough to replicate the pianist's work convincingly, although those with advanced models or dedicated software synthesizers will reap a much better performance.

Lost, of course, are her vocals and the instrument quality simply can't match the real thing on even the best of machines. But it's an interesting novelty, and those familiar with MIDI can tinker with the songs - altering their tempo, for instance, or changing the instrumentation to a Fender Rhodes or barking dog.

The U.S. Air Force Bands Program
Winter Holidays Music

One of several government and military sites with free songs for download. Most of the approximately 40 songs at this site are conservative classical/choral performances, but easy to sample and download. Possibly a nice gift for someone with connections to various ongoing disputes overseas.

Various Artists
Songs Of Praise

Because Christmas is a Christian holiday, many religious sites offer huge numbers of free songs in a variety of styles as downloads. is mentioned here as an example, even though it's thin on anything that could be called jazz, but because it also offers a number of bonuses, including printable scores, MIDI versions of the songs and accompaniment tracks minus the lead instrument or vocals.

The Last Christmas Album
Hazard Records (album at the Internet Archive )

Let's call this the avant-garde contribution, even though it's more techno/electronica than jazz. Truth is, this collection defies normal classification or description.

Marx Bar has recorded 12 previous Christmas albums for the open-source label Hazard Records, and this final album presents some of the best songs along with a handful of new ones. In addition to the 23 songs - all fairly short and most simply going by the title of "Deconstruction" - there are printable jewel box and CD labels.

It will be hard for casual listeners to identify much of what's happening here as Christmas music, although avant-garde types ought to get a kick out of trying to identify what classics the compositions might be based on. I couldn't pick out a single bar until the fourth song (the first "Deconstruction") where a few notes of "Silent Night" are twisted into an entirely different tune, sort of like a damaged CD being played over a synth-beat and sampled vocals background.

The number of people considering this suitable holiday fare will probably be close to zero; those wanting to analyze it and do some deconstruction of their own may be a bit higher. Otherwise, stash it for the next time someone brings up the topic of the strangest and/or worst holiday album ever. No disrespect to X.Marx, who's got loads of creative talent, but the mainstream is never, ever going to relate to it.

For additional holiday reviews and articles visit AAJ's Holiday Jazz page .

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