Various Artists: Christmas With the Jazz Legends, Vol. 2 (2006)
Lone Hill Jazz is best known for their straight reissues of long unavailable, valuable jazz sessions. But this anthology is a messy hodge-podge of holiday songs, ranging from legitimate jazz instrumentals and vocals, to crossover vocals awash in strings and vocalists who are well outside of jazz.
There are some memorable diamonds mixed in with the obvious coal. Billie Holiday's swinging "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, not necessarily a piece one thinks of as a Christmas song, fits in beautifully, with nice instrumental licks behind her by Ben Webster, Edgar Sampson and Jonah Jones. Chet Baker has his chops together for a breezy miniature setting of "The First Noel, while Kenny Burrell's relaxed setting of "White Christmas is made for a cozy evening near the fireplace. Maynard Ferguson's wild ride through "Jingle Bells is lots of fun and Stan Kenton's scoring of "The Twelve Days of Christmas is tightly arranged but full of surprises. Louis Armstrong shines in the exuberant big band treatment of "Christmas in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, most of the vocal numbers suffer from excessive, heavy arrangements, often with annoying backing choirs. Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole are all burdened with these dated charts, so even in the best of voice, one can't help but feel that each of these tracks is out of place. What's even more ridiculous is the inclusion of blues crooner Charles Brown, pop singer Harry Belafonte and Bobby Helms' stupefying "Jingle Bell Rock, none of which can even remotely be considered jazz. But the producer of this collection was only interested in putting something together, rather than take the trouble to find memorable Christmas jazz recordings and creating a proper package with complete personnel credits. Skip this Christmas turkey.
Track Listing: White Christmas; Silent Night; Christmas Medley (Carol Of The Bells/Melodies For The Daylo/Sanctissimo); Christmas In New Orleans; Jingle Bells; I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; The First Noel; The Christmas Waltz; Frosty the Snowman; Merry Christmas, Baby; Jingle Bell Rock; Mary's Boy Child; What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?; Christmas Eve; Please Come Home For Christmas; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; White Christmas; Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town; The Twelve Days Of Christmas; Ole Santa; Christmas Night in Harlem; Christmas Blues; Silent Night; The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot; Jingle Bells.
Personnel: Ella Fitzgerald: vocals; Dinah Washington: vocals; Louis Armstrong: vocals; Jimmy Smith: organ; Swingle Singers: vocals; Billie Holiday: vocals; Chet Baker: trumpet; Nat King Cole: vocals; Charles Brown: vocals, piano; Bobby Helms: vocals; Harry Belafonte: vocals; Ramsey Lewis: piano; Billy Eckstine; Frank Sinatra: vocals; Kenny Burrell: electric guitar; Lena Horne: vocals; Stan Kenton: piano; Gordon Jenkins: arranger, leader; Nelson Riddle: arranger, leader; Maynard Ferguson: trumpet.