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A Modern Jazz Christmas

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Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.

Christmastime is here again, so this week on the show, I’ll be celebrating with a few holiday favorites from the jazz world. Instead of featuring Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and other standard-bearers of tinsel and holly, I’ll be looking at a few more recent artists. We’ll hear Christmas standards performed by jazz and traditional pop singers from the current century, including people like Kurt Elling, Dianne Reeves, Gregory Porter and more.

It’s a Modern Jazz Christmas, coming up next on Afterglow

Music - Dianne Reeves - Little Drummer Boy

Dianne Reeves in 2004 with “Little Drummer Boy” [:04]

Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re taking a modern jazz approach to Christmas music, exploring some holiday favorites performed by singers from the past two decades. Coming up later this hour, we’ll hear from a few well-known voices like Kurt Elling, Jane Monheit and Harry Connick Jr. [We’ll also hear a brand new Christmas track by John Legend and Esperanza Spalding].

I’ll kick things off with singer and pianist Diana Krall. Krall’s 2005 album Christmas Songs, featuring the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra is a modern Christmas classic, a real tasteful and jazz-forward album of swinging Christmas tunes.  I’ll play one track from that album now, a wintertime favorite that dates back to 1934.

Here’s Diana Krall with “Winter Wonderland,” on Afterglow

Music - Diana Krall - Winter Wonderland

Music - Laverne Butler - Sleigh Ride

Jazz singer Laverne Butler in 2001 with the Leroy Anderson Christmas song “Sleigh Ride.” That comes from a compilation record called Max Jazz Holiday, from Max Jazz Records (now part of Mack Avenue Records). Before that we heard Diana Krall and the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra from her 2005 Christmas album. That was the Felix Bernard and Dick Smith song “Winter Wonderland.”

I’ll keep things upbeat for a bit longer. This next modern Christmas track comes from jazz singer Dianne Reeves, off of her 2004 Blue Note album Christmas Time Is Here. The song is another Christmas classic, written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn during a summer heat wave. This is Dianne Reeves with “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” on Afterglow

Music - Dianne Reeves - Let It Snow

Music - Jane Monheit - The Christmas Waltz

Two Christmas songs by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. Just now, we heard jazz singer Jane Monheit with “The Christmas Waltz.” That comes from her 2005 Christmas album called The Season. Before that we heard Dianne Reeves from her 2004 Christmas album performing “Let It Snow.”

We’re looking at modern jazz takes on Christmas favorites this hour. I’ll turn now to singer Kurt Elling, who released a Christmas album in 2016 called The Beautiful Day. In typical Elling fashion, the album is more than just a collection of standards, but something larger that explores the secular and spiritual side of the holiday. Woven throughout the album, Elling has included several “Images” of the traditional carol “Good King Wenceslas.” It’s not necessarily an album to keep on in the background of your holiday party, but certainly a great album for those wanting a little more out of their Christmas music.

I’ll play a rare Christmas song that Elling has unearthed for the album. This song comes from the forgotten 1970 film musical Scrooge by songwriter Leslie Bricusse. This is Kurt Elling with “Christmas Children,” on Afterglow.

Music - Kurt Elling - Christmas Children

Kurt Elling from his 2016 Christmas album called The Beautiful Day. That was “Christmas Children,” a little-known Christmas song by Leslie Bricusse.

Our next modern jazz Christmas song comes from two much more traditional artists—Tony Bennett and the Count Basie Big Band—from an album they recorded together in 2008. Their album A Swingin’ Christmas is just that, a fun, swinging take on Christmas favorites performed by one of the best singers and one of the best bands in the land.

Here’s Tony Bennett and the Count Basie Big Band with “Silver Bells,” on Afterglow.

Music - Tony Bennett - Silver Bells

Tony Bennett in 2008, with the Count Basie Big Band, performing “Silver Bells,” a Jay Livingston and Ray Evans tune from 1950.

Coming up after a short break, we’ll hear more modern takes on Christmas favorites, including music from John Legend and Jon Batiste. Stay with us.

I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow

Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been taking a look at some modern jazz vocal interpretations of Christmas songs this hour, ignoring the old-school holiday classics from Bing Crosby and the like. Still ahead, we’ll hear from singers John Legend and Esperanza Spalding, and hear Gregory Porter perform a Nat King Cole Christmas classic.

I’ll start this next set with a jazz singer and pianist who is not new to the Christmas music game: Harry Connick Jr. Connick’s 1993 Holiday album When My Heart Finds Christmas was a top-seller that year, and a staple of holiday radio stations ever since. His most recent holiday album called What A Night! came out in 2008, and features the singer’s soulful take on some Yuletide favorites, plus some originals.

I’ll play a track from that album now. This is Harry Connick Jr in 2008 with Charles Brown’s blues song “Please Come Home For Christmas,” on Afterglow.

Music - Harry Connick Jr - Please Come Home For Christmas

Harry Connick Jr, from his 2008 album What A Night. That was the bluesy Christmas song “Please Come Home For Christmas.”

Another singer who has emerged recently as one of the finest traditional pop interpreters is Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane is mostly known as an animator, actor, and voice-over artist, and his shows Family Guy and American Dad. I was initially skeptical of MacFarlane, but the guy does his homework and has a fine voice too. He’s clearly a devoted Sinatra acolyte, even finding the rare Sinatra tunes that other sings won’t touch. I like that about him.

I’ll play one of those rare Sinatra Christmas songs sung by MacFarlane now. This Seth MacFarlane from his 2014 album Holiday For Swing performing “Christmas Dreaming,” on Afterglow.

Music - Seth MacFarlane - Christmas Dreaming

Jazz singer and pianist Jamie Cullum in 2016 with his original holiday song “Show Me The Magic.” Before that, we heard Seth MacFarlane with the rare Irving Gordon/Lester Lee song “Christmas Dreaming.” That comes from MacFarlane’s 2014 album Holiday For Swing.

Our next modern Christmas performance comes from R&B singer John Legend, from his latest Christmas album from 2018 called A Legendary Christmas. One of the tracks from this album has Legend paired up with the jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, singing a pop Christmas classic with a slight jazz groove underneath.

Here’s John Legend and Esperanza Spalding with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” on Afterglow.

Music - John Legend and Esperanza Spalding

Music - Jon Batiste and Judith Hill

Singer, pianist and melodica player Jon Batiste, featuring jazz and R&B singer Judith Hill, and their groovy version of the Christmas Carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” That’s from Batiste’s 2016 Christmas album. Before that, we heard another duet, this time between John Legend and Esperanza Spalding, performing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” That’s from Legend’s 2018 Christmas album A Legendary Christmas.

I have one more modern take on a Christmas classic for you this hour, and this one doesn’t come from a Christmas album. Rather, it’s from a tribute album to the song’s original artist. In 1946, Nat King Cole turned “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” by Mel Torme and Bob Wells into a beloved Christmas staple. 

In 2017, Gregory Porter paid tribute to Cole on his album Nat King Cole & Me. Although it’s not a Christmas album, Porter included “The Christmas Song” as the final track on the album. His arrangement is a little more modern, but certainly an homage to the Nelson Riddle arrangement made for Nat King Cole.

Here’s Gregory Porter in 2017 with “The Christmas Song,” on Afterglow.

Music - Gregory Porter - The Christmas Song

Singer Gregory Porter with Mel Torme and Bob Well’s song known simply as “The Christmas Song.” That comes from Porter’s 2017 album Nat King Cole & Me. And thanks for tuning in to modern jazz take on Christmas music, on this edition of Afterglow.

Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.

Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at

I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow


Kurt Elling explored both the secular and spiritual side of Christmas on his 2016 Christmas album "The Beautiful Day" (Okeh Records)

Christmastime is here again, so this week on the show, I'll be celebrating with a few holiday favorites from the jazz world. Instead of featuring Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and other standard-bearers of tinsel and holly, I'll be looking at a few more recent artists. We'll hear Christmas standards performed by jazz and traditional pop singers from the current century, including people like Kurt Elling, Dianne Reeves, Diana Krall, Gregory Porter, John Legend and more.

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