Thursday, December 14, 2000

Holiday Jazz 2000: ’Tis the season to be wary

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 12.14.00

[Web master’s note: Northern California film critic Derrick Bang — the eldest, youngest and only son of this site’s jazz guru, Ric Bang — has surveyed the holiday jazz scene since the late 1990s, with lengthy columns that just keep growing.]

I got word, a month back, that music labels would be considerably more cautious with holiday releases this year, because sales were “flat” in 1999. No surprise, really; after enjoying a level of modest popularity and producing smallish — but reliable — profits for several decades, seasonal releases exploded in 1998 and ’99. Everybody had to release a holiday album, and of course many didn’t find the listeners they deserved.

That’s what happens when the market gets flooded: We all drown, artist and fan alike.

This year’s seasonal music releases are fewer and further between, and that’s particularly true of holiday jazz, where a couple of labels have adopted the tactic employed by the U.S. Postal Service, which simply recycled last year’s reindeer stamps.

Thus, Concord has resurrected two 1997 releases, spruced ’em up with new cover art and new titles, and released them anew.

I call that pretty damn sneaky.

In fairness, both are worth adding to your library; just make sure you don’t already own them.

Piano fans can’t do better than Dave McKenna’s Christmas Party: Holiday Piano Spiked with Swing (Concord CCD 4923-2, previously issued as Christmas Ivory, CCD-4772-2), an ambitious, one-man collection of superb solo work: blues, stride, swing rag and anything else the then-67-year-old acoustic phenomenon set his mind to. It’s a grand series of cuts by a guy who knows he doesn’t need to impress listeners with needless flash; his renditions of “Silver Bells’’ and “Silent Night,’’ in particular, are poignant in their quiet clarity.

But this isn’t a sedate album by any means; McKenna swings and boogies his way through plenty of up-tempo covers of everything from “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” to “Sleigh Ride,” while including a perky original dubbed “An Eggnog, Some Mistletoe and You.” Good stuff.