Each December, I carefully select a different album for inclusion in my JazzWax Vintage Holiday Album Hall of Fame. I established this humble institution in 2008 largely to steer you to old-fashioned favorites that may be unknown to you or simply forgotten. As you know, I love holiday music, but I’m constantly frustrated by how many works in the genre are weighed down by artless choices. For a holiday album to resonate from start to finish, it has to have smart song arrangements and a warm vocal that’s endearing, not sappy. In the spirit of these parameters, my vintage pick this year is Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.
Arranged and conducted by Frank De Vol and recorded for Verve on July 15 and 16, 1960 at New York’s Fine Sound studio, the album has it all—charm, nostalgia and Ella’s soulful cheer. Unlike many holiday albums, you don’t feel compelled to shop when you hear it. You feel like curling up in front of a fireplace with a loved one or opening a book. And you feel as if you’re over at Ella’s house.
Unfortunately, the personnel in De Vol’s band for this session has never been listed. Someone should set aside time and do the research with the union records. There’s a lot of great playing here by musicians who have gone unheralded for too long.
Here’s Ella’s Sleigh Ride, which, to my ear, features J.J. Johnson on the trombone solos. De Vol’s spirited arrangement and Ella’s honey-rich voice ahead of the beat creates the sensation of childlike impatience and velocity. Meanwhile, the swing here rocks the sleigh…
Now meet the rest of the JazzWax Vintage Holiday Album Hall of Fame family, in order of their induction with links to Amazon…
2015—Two albums with the same name: Bobby Timmons’ Holiday Soul and Don Patterson’s Holiday Soul. Both trio albums were recorded for Prestige in Nov. 1964—the former on the 24th and the latter on the 25th.
2014—Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass: Christmas Album (1968).
2013—Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme’s That Holiday Feeling! (1964).
2012—Duke Pearson: Merry Ole Soul (1969).
2010—Eddie Higgins: Christmas Songs (2004).
2009—June Christy: This Time of Year (1961).
2008—Jo Stafford’s Happy Holidays: I Love the Winter Weather (1950s).
Bonus: Here’s one of my favorite all-time holiday tracks—Jo Stafford’s By the Fireside, from her Ski Trails (1956) album with the Starlighters, arranged by husband Paul Weston..