Each December since 2008, I've selected a different album for the JazzWax Vintage Holiday Album Hall of Fame. I established this modest institution largely out of frustration. I love holiday music, but so few albums are perfect. For an album to resonate from start to finish, it has to have swing, smart song arrangements and warm vocals. 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.
Unfortunately, the personnel in De Vol's band for this session has never been nailed down. Someone should set aside some time and do the research with the union records. There's a lot of great playing here by musicians who have gone unheralded for decades.
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 velocity. Meanwhile, the swing here rocks the sleigh...
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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