Sunday, April 01, 2007

JohnsCDs 2006-0970-009 - 'Tis The Season

If you had told me last year that my annual look at homemade Christmas comps would have been extended into April, I would have waited for you to yell "APRIL FOOL!"

Well, that's exactly what has happened and today just happens to be April Fool's Day. It also happens to be the FINAL day of our annual look at homemade Christmas comps.

We have two more comps from our friend Martin Johns who sent us a jawdropping, earthshattering, astounding 21 Christmas comps - each of which has rarely covered the same ground and always manages to surprise as well as entertain.

The comp you see before you deals with Christmas jazz - always a welcome sound over my speakers at the computer or on my boombox.

To get some better understanding behind this stunning looking Christmas CD, here is the section that you've grown to love. It's very well known as...


Like the Country CDs, there's a strong constituency for my Jazz CDs. One year, I was explaining to a friend of mine that "I can't do jazz every year". "Why not?" she asked. As I didn't have an answer, the Jazz comp became part of my annual repertoire.

I was going for a particular mood, here. This one, I feel, is best listened to at about 2:00 AM. Close your eyes and let the music wash over you. Of course, if you don't like jazz...

Mae West was included specifically for Dee (my "why not?" friend). I knew she'd appreciate it.

Graphically, everything I do is an experiment. The new computer had a program called Discus Re and I was just playing around with that. I have to report that the only artist on the cover who's also on the CD is Billy Eckstine.


(Click on image to enlarge)

1.) I knew they released their new Christmas CD only in Japan in 2005 but I DIDN'T know it was released at Christmas last year (note to self: check the jazz sections)! Cheryl, Alan, Tim, and Janis tackle Charles Brown's perennial favorite and transform it into a religious experience.
2.) WHOA! Look up the definition of silky smooth in the dictionary and you might see a picture of Carmen McRae. Pure gold from the budget LaserLight comp "Blue, Blues Christmas" (1997).
3.) It's official - this is the second song from Jane Fuller I've heard in two days and I am in love! There's more heat in Jane's voice than in that fire she's singing about. From her "The Spirit Of Giving" album that I just bought!
4.) GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Skafish is a bonafide Chicago legend (heard this guy play piano at a student lounge - pure genius)! I didn't know he had a Christmas album. Scary part is - he's gotten BETTER! Martin, thank you!
5.) WOW! I've never heard Christmas blues / jazz done with a saxophone as lead instrument! This is glorious! Second song from Bobby Felder & His Friends in two days from their "Christmas Jazz At People's Church" - the better of the two!
6.) Recorded in 1966 at the tender age of 73, Mae West put all of her oomph into her Christmas album (which might explain why she only had eight songs on the album). This version of "Santa Baby" might be the best track on the album - just enough Mae and not over the top. I'd take this version over Madonna's any day of the century!
7.) Bruno Hubert and his trio give us an excellent pure jazz version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", adding new welcome life to a standard Christmas carol. Find their Christmas album on the Vancouver Jazz label.
8.) WOW! Mandolin jazz! Martini Red's tune evokes memories of Fred Astaire's "Putting On The Ritz" - grand stuff! This song is on "We Three" (only Christmas track on the album) or on "Holiday Feast V6".
9.) This isn't Billie Holiday I'm listening to... but it's awful close! Tanya Kalmanovitch not only sings great jazz but she's playing the both the viola and violin on this! Tasty cut from the 2003 album "Let It Snow! Unique Canadian Winter Music"
10.) A soft jazz version of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" - well played by Hiro Honshuku. Hiro's name is above the title of this Christmas album - well deserved!
11.) This is the second track I've heard from Wes Burden this week... sounds a lot like Kenny G... but Burden doesn't go overboard a la Mr. G - I can handle this. Off his 2005 "A Christmas Journey" CD.
12.) WOW! This was the B-side of Billy Eckstine's 1953 holiday single (A-side "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?). Mr. B give this the FULL Eckstine treatment - good to hear this again (might end up on my annual Christmas CD)! Find this diamond in the rough on one of two different Verve Christmas comps.
13.) I just melted. That's Dinah Washington on my speakers, singing about "Ol' Santa". About as good as it gets. This was on the LaserLight label (gotta reevaluate my thinking about that label)? "Christmas Blues & Shout" is a BOX SET? LaserLight's getting better... Hmmm...
14.) The best purveyor's of smooth jazz over the past 20 years, Hiroshima has a beautiful song that invokes visions of falling snow. A haunting track off their 2004 "Spirit Of The Season" album
15.) The most straightforward song by Jane Fuller I've heard... still a cut above! (See # 3 above).
16.) Martin's snuck some authentic Christmas blues here... Otis Rush recorded this for NPR's "Bluestage" on Christmas Eve, 1990 - hints of jazz yes, but it's the blues and 10 minutes of it... wow!
17.) It's unfathomable... Ruth Brown (who singlehandedly helped Atlantic Records get a foothold in the business) never recorded a single Christmas song. That was until this 1986 appearance on NPR's "Harlem Hit Parade" when she sang two songs. Her sassy voice gives "The Christmas Song" a new hip, soulful glow to it - what a track!
18.) "One more song before I go..." Ruth starts off reverently, her voice cutting through like the bow of a ship. As the song builds, she lets loose and proves why she was the Queen of R&B. By the end of this song, my eyes were misting up with tears... I'm glad Ruth got her wish and recorded some Christmas songs.

And Martin was afraid of putting together a Christmas jazz comp! I will listen to this one over and over and over!

This comp made me fall in love with Jane Fuller, reconnected me with Skafish, passed along some new great jazz artists I've never heard before (Bruno Hubert Trio, Tanya Kalmanovitch, Martini Red), and showcased some of the greatest jazz artists out there (Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine, Manhattan Transfer).

However... this CD passed into legend when I heard Ruth Brown.

Last November, Ruth died from a heart attack and complications of a stroke. I knew she never recorded a full Christmas album but I managed to have one Christmas song by her - "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas". I posted it as a tribute to Ruth at and here at the yuleblog throughout the 2006 downloading season.

Martin knew he had this on cassette somewhere and quickly rushed it to Stu Fink, his friend and audio guru of 30 years. Stu did a splendid job transferring Brown's two lost Christmas songs and Martin preserved it forever on this comp. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Ruth!

UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2006-1172-001 - A Sleigh Full Of Joy: Sharity Rarities 2006 (THE FINAL COMP!)


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