Archive for christmas jazz

Two New Jazz Albums To Warm Your Holidays

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2017 by curtjazz

Each Holiday Season usually brings a few new discs in most genres, including jazz. Here’s our take on a couple that stand apart from the rest:

Champian Fulton – Christmas with Champian

Christmas with Champian final coverThis delightful Oklahoma native has had quite a year – She released a fine, all instrumental album (Speechless). This was followed by a terrific, live date, as a co-leader, with the great tenor saxophonist, Scott Hamilton (The Things We Did Last Summer). Champian Fulton now caps 2017 with Christmas with Champian, her first Holiday disc. It is another winner.

To be successful, Christmas albums, need to exude a certain joy of the season and this one does, from the finger-snapping backbeat of “White Christmas” (nice work by drummer, Fukushi Tainaka, throughout) to the closer, “Merry, Merry Christmas”, a lovely original number by Ms. Fulton. The rest of the album is filled with familiar songs of the season but thanks to Ms. Fulton’s first-rate piano work and the rock-solid backing of her sidemen; Mr. Tainaka, bassist David Williams and Champian’s dad, trumpeter Stephen Fulton, these tunes have new life.

Then there are Ms. Fulton’s vocals – to these ears, her sound is an amalgam of Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson, to which she has added a touch of Blossom Dearie’s playfulness and charm. Yet, it manages to be all her own. She has grown by leaps and bounds as a singer, in the decade that she has been a part of the jazz scene. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, opens with a cool, bluesy piano figure, which pulled me in, prior to Ms. Fulton’s sassy vocal, which was then followed by a rollicking piano solo…Nice. Papa Stephen is on board, with his flugelhorn, for a swinging “Sleigh Ride”, with dad being pushed a little by his baby girl during his solo. That brought a smile to my face. “A Child is Born” is the stronger of the album’s two instrumental tracks, thanks to Ms. Fulton’s sensitive piano and outstanding work on the bass by Mr. Williams.

Order through Ms. Fulton’s website

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars – Champian Fulton has produced a classic Holiday album that should be heard all year round.


Jason Paul Curtis – These Christmas Days

Jason-Paul-Curtis-These-Christmas-Days-CoverJason Paul Curtis is a Washington D.C. based vocalist and songwriter, who mostly works with a big band, called Swing Shift and a small combo, Swinglab. He is a pleasant, modern swinger, in the Harry Connick, Jr., Michael Bublé vein. For this, his second Holiday themed album, he has concentrated on his own music, having written eight of the album’s ten tracks.

These Christmas Days, has a warm, family feeling, with most of the tracks referencing family celebrations and Christmas memories with his children. Curtis is in fact, joined by his daughter, Isabella, on vocals, on two of the album’s more memorable tracks; the lightly swinging, “December Again”, which will touch a soft spot in the hearts of any of us who have watched our kids grow up too quickly; and the bouncy, “I Want Snow”, with a warm alto sax interlude by Dave Schiff. “Came Winter”, a finger snapping piece, with a punchy big band arrangement, and good solos. It’s a winning tune but its lyrical content is more along the lines of Wham’s “Last Christmas”, with its topic of Holiday season bitterness against the treachery of a former lover. Not exactly one for decking the halls. “I’ll Feel Christmas”, with its Motown derived backbeat and the happy freneticism of “Christmas Breakfast” are more like it, as they celebrate, respectively, the start of the Holiday Season, in the city and the joy of Christmas morning with those you love.

The arrangements are sharp and tight and Mr. Curtis is in excellent voice, throughout. If you’re looking for a well-played, Holiday jazz album, with tunes that are not in the traditional vein, give These Christmas Days a try.

Order through Click HERE

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. A Charismatic, swinging and warm Holiday album.


JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz – Thursday, 12/1: JazzMas Begins with Buff Dillard

Posted in Charlotte Community Rado, Holiday Jazz, Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2016 by curtjazz

Buff Dillard

In the same way that we used to on Live365’s Curt’s Cafe Noir, we will celebrate the Holidays throughout December on JAZZ LIVES with CurtJazz on Charlotte Community Radio. And we will kick off our “JazzMas” celebration in fine style, during our show on Thursday, December 1, with our special guest, trombonist Buff Dillard, who will join me from 7pm – 8 pm (ET).

Born into a musical family, Buff exhibited an interest for singing, drums and playing brass instruments at an early age. By the age of twelve, the trombone had become his passion and he decided to focus on mastering the slide. As a student of Martin Luther King High School in Philadelphia PA, his gift allowed him to attend the Philadelphia All-City Jazz Academy. While there, he performed with the Philadelphia All-City Jazz Band, Pieces of a Dream, and the legendary Count Basie Band. He was also able to attend jazz workshops instructed by the celebrated jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.


As a solo artist, Mr. Dillard has released a total of 8 independent projects, including his latest album, Mr. Bonejazz and his Holiday themed EP Christmas Moments. Buff is endorsed by Conn/Selmer/King Instruments and continues his career as a trombonist, performer, independent international recording artist and CEO of Buff Dillard Music LLC.

During JAZZ LIVES!!! on December 1, Buff Dillard will join me during the 7 pm hour of the show. We will talk about his music, his influences, his current projects and we will play a few tracks from Christmas Moments that will help to get us all in the mood for the Holiday Season.

Be sure to join Buff Dillard and me as we prove that there’s nothing better than “Bone for the Holidays’, on JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, Thursday, December 1; from 6 pm – 9 pm (EDT); on CLTCRadio.

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, airing LIVE every Thursday from 6:00pm to 9:00pm via OR use the Mixlr app where you can listen and chat with our hosts and guests alike.





New Holiday Jazz Albums 2015

Posted in New on the Playlist, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , on December 15, 2015 by curtjazz

When I first started featuring Christmas and Holiday Season Jazz on my web station, Curt’s Cafe Noir, in 2005, it took a bit of work to find sufficiently diverse jazz content to allow the station to run all Holiday music. Now, ten years later, there’s so much music to choose from, from so many different sources, that I can program 24 hours of Holiday Jazz and afford to be selective.

From Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra’s Joyful Jazz, “Merry Christmas John Coltrane”

And this season has brought another crop of strong and varied Christmas Jazz Albums. Here are samples from a few of my favorites that you’ll hear on Curt’s Cafe Noir’s 24/7 JazzMas Party, through December 26. As an extra bonus, we have the album that is my favorite new seasonal offering, Etienne Charles’ Creole Christmas, in an exciting live version, recorded at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, in New York City.

From the Count Basie Orchestra’s A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas! “Good Swing Wenceslas”

Enjoy the samples, pick up a copy of the full albums, if you dig the tracks and tune in to Curt’s Cafe Noir WebJazz Radio, for great Christmas Jazz.

From David Benoit Trio’s Believe; “The Christmas Waltz” (feat. Jane Monheit)

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Recorded Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in NYC; trumpeter Etienne Charles with a concert version of his new album Creole Christmas


Album Review: New York Voices – Let It Snow

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the November 2013 edition of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

New York Voices

new york voices

LET IT SNOW – Five Cent Records FCR-0001  Let it Snow; Christmas Song/Christmas Time; O, Little Town of Bethlehem; O Come, O Come, Emanuel; We Three Kings; Holiday for Strings; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Sleepers, Wake!; O Come All Ye Faithful; The Merry Medley; I Wonder as I Wander; We Wish You a Merry Christmas; Silent Night

PERSONNEL: Darmon Meader, vocals, tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, flute; Peter Eldridge, vocals, piano; Kim Nazarian, vocals;  Lauren Kinhan, vocals; Andy Ezrin, piano; Paul Nowinski, bass; Marcello Pellitieri, drums; Bob Mann, guitar; David Finck, bass; Ben Wittman, drums; Tyler Kuebler, alto sax; Andy Axelrod, alto sax; Tedd Baker, tenor sax; Grant Langford, tenor sax; Doug Morgan, baritone sax; Brian MacDonald, trumpet; Kevin Burns, trumpet; Rich Sigler, trumpet; Time Leahey, trumpet; Joe Jackson, trombone; Jim McFalls, trombone; Dave Perkel, trombone; Lee Gause, trombone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Frank Greene, trumpet; Matt Holman, trumpet; Randy Andos, trombone; Mike Davis, trombone; Studio Orchestra.

By Curtis Davenport

This album was as inevitable as snowfall at the North Pole. New York Voices have been moving in this direction since they appeared on the GRP Christmas Collection II singing a gorgeous version of “I Wonder as I Wander” in 1991. They then backed the great Nancy Wilson on a few selections on her first full length Christmas Album a decade later. Now in their 25th year as a group, we finally have the vocal quartet’s first disc of Holiday tunes, Let It Snow. It is just what you would expect from them; swinging, tasteful arrangements, strong vocal harmonies and a few well-placed surprises.

Over the years, New York Voices has been compared, understandably, to The Manhattan Transfer. They are both vocal quartets comprised of two men and two women that are closely associated with jazz. However, perhaps due to their lack of pop chart success, the NYV over the years have taken a few more chances than their more famous predecessors. This is also the case on their respective Holiday releases. I’ve always thought that the Manhattan Transfer’s Christmas Album, with the notable exception of a couple of tracks, was a disappointingly staid affair. Let it Snow, on the other hand, swings hard right out of the gate and keeps that pace going through the majority of its 13 selections.

The arrangements, which range from big band to full orchestra to a cappella are right on the money. “Let It Snow”, with a big band charts by the legendary Don Sebesky and a tenor sax solo by NYV’s jack of all trades Darmon Meader, is a joyous opener; full of blaring brass and scatted vocals. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, arranged by Meader is a finger snapper, with creamy harmonies and a cool as winter guitar solo by Bob Mann. “We Three Kings” takes on a Middle Eastern air, appropriate for the subjects of the song, with beautiful contrapuntal harmonies. “Holiday for Strings” is a pleasant surprise as Meader’s vocal adaptation breathes new life into this old MOR radio staple. I’ve never cared for this song until now, as Meader has uncovered the hidden swing that was always there. Another winner is “The Merry Medley”, a mashup “The Man with the Bag”, “I’d Like You for Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, encased in a big band setting. Each group member takes a quick turn as the leader and “Santa…” even takes a turn as a Bossa. “I Wonder As I Wander” is back, in an arrangement quite similar to the one from GRP 20 years ago, the big difference is this time the horns are real, instead of synthesized. It still mainly exists as a showcase for their vocal harmonies, which are some of the best in the business. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is done as an extremely pleasant jazz waltz highlighted by Andy Ezrin’s tasty piano solo,  Peter Eldridge’s vocal  duet with bassist David Finck and some Swingle Singers inspired group scatting.

Let It Snow is a very strong Holiday album from one of the best jazz vocal groups around today. New York Voices manage to walk a fine line, with enough jazz content to keep their fan base happy and manage to keep things lively and accessible enough to be enjoyed by those who may be looking for something new for their seasonal celebration. I’m glad that New York Voices finally got around to making the album that they always had in them.

The 12 Tracks of Christmas

Posted in The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2009 by curtjazz

The 12 Tracks of Christmas

hipsters holidayThis time of year has more music directly associated with it than any other holiday season, in all genres.  Being a jazz fan and a lover of this season, I’ve spent a lot of time (and a bit of money), chasing down jazz music that has a Christmas theme.  Sometimes an artist recorded an entire album, sometimes it was just a one-off; intended to be a seasonal 45.  I’ve found some cringe worthy clunkers and also some really creative efforts, that I’ll sometimes play long after the decorations have been put away.

I’ve often heard the complaint that there’s no good jazz around this time of year, so I went through my collection and put together a list of a dozen Holiday tracks that are some of the most memorable for me; either for creativity, musical prowess, hip humor or any combination of the three.  Please note that this is certainly not an exhaustive list and there are a lot of excellent tracks and albums that did not make this list.  I certainly could have made it larger, but 12 seemed like a good number for any Christmas themed list.  So here they are, my completely subjective list of the 12 coolest jazz Christmas performances, listed in alphabetical order.  In addition, I’ve supplied the name of at least one in-print CD on which the track can be found:

  • Be-Bop Santa Claus – Babs Gonzales – Though this beboppers’ re-imagining of The Night Before Christmas , has references that are as dated as a zoot suit, it is still a hip, quirky and cool delight.  I’ve heard others attempt this track over the years, but they’ve never matched the original.  “I’m the Be-Bop Santa from the cool North Pole and I been down since the days of old”. Gonzales was an unheralded forefather of today’s rappers and this was the pinnacle of his storytelling art. (Album: Hipster’s Holiday [Rhino Records])
  • Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern) – Miles Davis – Miles infamously and rather cantankerously dismissed this track and its writer/singer, Bob Dorough, in his autobiography.  With all due respect, the “Dark Prince” must have been having a bad day when the subject came up.  “Blue Xmas” is 2:41 of dynamite; from Willie Bobo’s wake-up call on bongos, to Wayne Shorter’s short but fiery tenor statement, to Dorough’s socially conscious lyric, that is still relevant today.  Besides, this track is a jazz trivia geek’s dream.  It’s one of the very rare cases of Miles backing a singer.  It’s Bobo’s only recorded appearance with Miles, to my knowledge, and the rest of the band (Shorter, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb) is a coming together of members of Miles’ two greatest groups. It’s not “jolly”, but it’s good jazz. (Album: Jingle Bell Jazz [Columbia/Sony])
  • Christmas Waltz – Nancy Wilson – This is Nancy in her mid ‘60’s prime, when she could make a Miranda Warning sound sexy. It’s swaddled in strings and Ms. Wilson sings and swings a little behind the beat for effect; IMHO it’s the best version of this song ever recorded. (Album: Back 2 Back Hits: Christmas – Nancy Wilson  & Lou Rawls [Capitol])
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen Jimmy Smith – There’s still something about the start of this track with sound of the tympani, followed by the majesty of the trombones and horns that makes the hair on my arms stand at attention (kudos to arranger Billy Byers).  By the time Smith enters, about a minute into the track, the tension has reached the breaking point.  And what an entrance it is!  Jimmy’s  B-3 screams, groans, bubbles, glides and does everything but deliver presents, while Grady Tate’s drums keep things swinging and Byers’ brass eggs Smith on.  This track has lost nothing after 45 years. (Album: Christmas ’64 (a.k.a. Christmas Cookin’ ) [Verve])

  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Dexter Gordon – This is LTD in the midst of his triumphant late ‘70’s return to the U.S. after more than a decade of self-imposed European exile.  Kirk Lightsey’s piano sets a Holiday mood and Dex keeps the joy flowing, with his familiar big tone and quotes from other tunes.  The nine-plus minutes pass jauntily by in what seems to be 1/3 of the time. (Album: Jingle Bell Jazz [Columbia/Sony])

  • Here Comes Santa Claus – Ramsey Lewis – Leave it to Ramsey to take one of the lamest of all Christmas tunes and make it cool.  Red Holt and Eldee Young lay down a Latin-Soul beat and Ramsey swings his you-know-what off, as he brings the funk. It’s the coolest track on one of the coolest jazz Christmas albums of all time. (Album: The Sound of Christmas – Ramsey Lewis Trio [Verve])
  • Merry Christmas Baby – Lou Rawls – The last time I saw Lou Rawls was on a TV special, a little before his death, singing this song, in the same swinging big band arrangement as on this track from the ‘60’s.  Though he looked frail, this brassy chart seemed to energize him and he still sounded like the Lou of old.  Charles Brown may have been the first, but Lou gave this song some urban Chicago “swagga”.  It’s almost too cool for Christmas (Albums: Merry Christmas Baby – Lou Rawls; Back 2 Back Hits: Christmas – Nancy Wilson & Lou Rawls)
  • My Favorite Things – Kenny Burrell – Burrell’s 1966 Christmas disc is an underappreciated gem. This track makes the list because of Burrell’s playing and Richard Evans fantastic horn arrangement, which push Kenny to take things even higher. Get this disc before it disappears again. This track is one of many standouts on it. (Album: Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas – Kenny Burrell [Verve])
  • Sleigh Ride – Ella Fitzgerald – Ella’s joyous sound meeting up with this most joyous of Christmas tunes is a perfect match.  I love Frank DeVol’s arrangements throughout the album, but I love it here that they took it at a finger snapping mid-tempo instead of the breakneck pace that many have tried.  Ella is having a ball singing it and you’ll have one listening to it at well (Album: Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas – Ella Fitzgerald [Verve])
  • Toyland – Diane Delin – I wanted to have a sleeper pick, as a part of this dozen and this is it.  Diane Delin is a Chicago based jazz violinist, who plays with a light swing and striking lyrical beauty (think Ray Nance).  Victor Herbert’s Toyland is one song of the season that is not overplayed.  Ms. Delin performs it in a spare version, backed by piano, bass and drums, bringing her gorgeous tone to the fore.  This is one of the highlights of her Offerings for a Peaceable Season CD, which is one of the more refreshingly non-traditional Holiday jazz discs, around today.  Another highlight is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, with just Delin’s violin, Larry Kohut’s bass and Eric Montzka’s percussion. Not easy to find, but worth tracking down (Album: Offerings for a Peaceable Season – Diane Delin [Blu Jazz Records] – available through artist’s website )
  • Winter Wonderland – Ray Charles – Ray Charles’ lone Christmas album, from 1985, was honestly, a mixed bag. His legendary status long secure, he was capable of lapsing into self-parody by then and he does a few times on this disc.  However, he could still rise to the occasion and show you flashes of “The Genius”, when he felt like it.  “Winter Wonderland” was one such track.  Cool, sweet and swinging, with some tasty electric piano by Ray in the middle.  Just relax, pour another eggnog and tap your toes, as you envision Brother Ray, and that unforgettable grin. (Album: The Spirit of Christmas – Ray Charles [Concord])

  • ‘Zat You Santa Claus – Louis Armstrong – This was my dad’s all time favorite Christmas song.  Satchmo, the storyteller and entertainer take center stage on this famed, humorous track.  Many others, from Harry Connick, Jr. to Garth Brooks have performed this Jack Fox tune, but they all fall short of Louis Armstrong & the Commanders definitive performance and Tutti Camarata’s brassy arrangement. (Album: Louis Armstrong & Friends: The Christmas Collection [Hip-O Records])

These tracks and many, many others are featured on Curt’s Café’s 24/7 jazz Christmas party. We are playing nothing but instrumentals and vocals by great jazz artists, around the clock until December 27.  Join the party by clicking this link

Curt’s Quick Christmas CD Buying Guide

One more thing before I go.  I listed a bunch of great Christmas CDs as a part of the 12 tracks.  If you’re still looking to jazz up your Holidays, here are a few more good ones, that are heavy on the jazz content and not overplayed.  All are in available in CD and/or mp3 through on-line dealers, such as


OOP – Pick up if you can

Here are three out of print Christmas CD that have some great music. They are worth picking up if you see them somewhere at a reasonable price:

May you and those you love, have a happy, healthy and abundantly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous New Year.  Thanks for making my station and my blog a part of your musical year.

Until the next time the jazz continues…