I have an embarrassingly large CD and record collection – spread across two flats (not both mine, in case you were wondering) and occupying everything from shelves to suitcases. Courtesy of YouTube, I thought I’d share some of the choice items – particularly some of the less well known ones.  Think of it as a slowly evolving, digital mixtape...

There’ll be a new song most days (at least that’s the plan) so keep checking back and please post your comments and suggestions as well.

There aren’t too many Christmas blues but this is the best of the bunch. There are a lot of good versions - Otis, B.B. and Elvis all had a go as did Ms Jones' near namesake (with whom she is often, unforgivably, confused) Etta James.  Maybe we’ll play one of the others next year.

Since we’re really done with Christmas now, it seems appropriate to finish with a lyric which concentrates firmly on the, er, purely secular aspects of the holiday season...

 

OK, so I think we can squeeze in a couple more Christmas songs since the cards (in my Mum’s house at least) aren’t coming down till the 6th.  Here’s the biggest one of all.

The Manhattan Transfer are far and away the most successful jazz vocal group of the last several decades. This is from their Acapella Christmas album. 

There is something palette cleansing about a bit of unaccompanied singing.  Our ears are so attuned to hearing voices backed by instruments that it feels both warmly intimate and yet a little stark at the same time. 

 

I get a bit defensive about Jack Jones.  I can’t understand why, for example, when virtually everything recorded by Tony Bennett is (rightly) available on CD, the majority of Jones’ 60s and 70s albums have never been reissued.  Perhaps because he is younger and not touched by the romanticism of the ‘swing era’ he is bracketed and dismissed as ‘easy listening’ – that vapid term that condescends to both audiences and artists, brackets the likes of Burt Bacharach with Andre Rieu and manages to imply that  the output of say, Karen Carpenter, somehow demands less of a listener than that of Ellie Goulding.  Of course music shouldn’t, necessarily, be ‘hard’ but neither do I think the term ‘easy listening’ is primarily meant to imply quality.

Yet that is exactly what Jones’ music has been throughout his career.  He’s worked with most of the top arrangers (Paich, Riddle, May) and some that are less well known but equally accomplished (Pete King).  His big hits (Wives and Lovers, Lollipops and Roses, Call Me Irresponsible) are pure class.  Most importantly, singing as beautifully, as simply and with the shades of emotion that Jones summons is HARD.  Just try singing along with this one if you don't believe me!

He is virtually unique among the major exponents of the Great American Songbook in that he draws equally on what are often seen as opposing traditions.  He grew up with Sinatra, Tormé, Bennett et al but his father, Allan Jones, was a tenor star of 30s and 40s movie musicals (most notably the 1936 Show Boat) and it’s probably because of the classical training that his father insisted upon that Jones fils is still singing so well today.  Two years ago I heard him sing The Impossible Dream with more energy and passion than many singers half his age.  Given his background, comparisons with the likes of Vic Damone make at least as much sense as with Sinatra et al.  Like Damone, he can swing if he wants to but his key selling points are a lovely voice and direct emotional connection to a lyric - and, while Vic has just about the most beautiful voice in pop, Jack brings a greater variety of tone and emotional shading.  It didn’t hurt that he was also much sexier than his other nearest rival, Andy Williams.  In fact he mastered the art of combining sex and romance (even Sinatra tended to go for one or the other).  And, more than any other male singer of his era - with the exception of the otherwise very different Bobby Darin - he is just as adept at standards as he is at pop songs - check out his version of Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows.

While RCA seem uninterested in reissuing his albums (his earlier Kapp LPs have appeared on CD in dribs and drabs), Jones has pressed up a few of them himself and they’re available via his website.  Along with collections of Legrand and Aznavour songs, there’s his 1969 Christmas With Jack Jones.  Pete King’s arrangement of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas starts in a rather dark place but, as Jones begins to sing, the winter sun comes out and all is comfort and warmth.

 

A party record for New Year’s Eve.

This is another not-really-a-Christmas-song that still features regularly on Christmas albums and thus meets my fairly loose criteria for inclusion.  Most people know Ella’s Songbook version of I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm but not quite so many are familiar with the duet from her second album with Louis.

Exchanging the former’s joyous Paul Weston arrangement for the peerless quartet of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis and Louie Bellson, Mr and Mrs Jazz do that thing of sounding utterly spontaneous on material they know inside and out.