Swing into the Season with Some Choice Holiday Tracks, in Take Five

Dec 17, 2017

Hear five standouts, handpicked by a few of WBGO's announcers. And don't miss our on-air holiday programming blitz, which kicks in on Christmas Eve. Stay tuned for a lot of swinging holiday music, and a few surprises.

Ted Rosenthal Trio, “Winter Wonderland”

Pianist Ted Rosenthal first turned heads winning the second Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition in 1988. On record, he has honored Bill Evans, Bud Powell and Beethoven; proved that there are constantly new images of Monk; took part in the outstanding Maybeck Solo Recital series; and majestically moved us with a trio performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. With his 2013 holiday album, Wonderland, Ted, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Tim Horner play the holidays with their own spirit: the hard-swinging “Winter Wonderland,” a Bud Powell-influenced “Angels We Have Heard on High,” or a reimagined jazz take on Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed Flutes,” from the Nutcracker Suite. It’s a fresh-snow sleigh ride through the music that gives the season magic.

Gary Walker, music director and host of Morning Jazz 

Jimmy Smith, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

The true title of this English carol is “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen.” (I always insist on the properly placed comma.) I get a full-tilt rush when Jimmy’s organ explodes from the Billy Byers big band arrangement.

– Michael Bourne, host, Blues Break and Singers Unlimited

Huey “Piano” Smith and The Clowns, “Twas The Night Before Christmas”

Originally recorded for Ace Records, probably in 1964, this track combines Huey’s recitation with the Doctor John band playing “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.” Hearing Huey verbally is unique, since he wasn’t a singer, and had a stable of different singers on hits such as “Don’t You Just Know it” and “Rockin’ Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Flu.” (I’ll feature this song on an Xmas edition of my Portraits in Blue show on December 22.)

— Bob Porter, host, Portraits in Blue, Saturday Morning Function and Swing Party

Dexter Gordon, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

It’s a song from a musical about my hometown: Meet Me In Saint Louis, sung on screen by Judy Garland. Kirk Lightsey’s piano tinkles like dancing icicles, and Dexter’s sound glows with the warmth of an open fire — with or without chestnuts roasting. — M.B.


Stan Freberg, “Green Chri$tma$”

Billy May composed and arranged some of Freberg’s funniest (and swinging-est) parodies, and “Green Chri$tma$” is a mini-musical about advertising — decades before Mad Men. Freberg’s Scrooge is on Madison Avenue brainstorming ways to profit from Xmas marketing when he’s confronted by a fellow (voiced by Daws Butler) who owns a small spice business in Nutley, N.J.  Scrooge envisions the Magi delivering his spices, but the fellow only wants to wish everyone peace and good will. Scrooge thinks he’s a Yule fool. — M.B.