The 5 Best Jazz Christmas Albums

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The Best Christmas Jazz

Sound of Christmas
Courtesy of Universal

When Christmas comes around, it's time to pay extra close attention to all those Christmas TV commercials, clear some extra space on the credit cards and think of ways to thoroughly overspend your budget (and plan for the ensuing financial hangover in January).

Better yet, why not invite some friends over for some good food and conversation or snuggle up with your significant other for a little fireplace warmth? They’re both better options than being trampled by the huddled masses of Black Friday and will benefit greatly from the right soundtrack.

For that portion of the party planning, herewith are the 5 best jazz Christmas albums of all time. Ho, ho, ho, jazzbo.

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Vince Guaraldi: 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' (1965)

Charlie Brown Christmas
Courtesy Concord Music

There are those who scoff -- including maybe Guaraldi himself -- but who can resist the gentle swing of “O Tannenbaum,” the chiming ring of “My Little Drum” or the beauty of “Hark The Herald Angels Sing (and wonder which angel, exactly, is Harold)?

And even the biggest Scrooge of all has the inner drive to dance like Snoopy when he hears “Linus And Lucy,” even if it happens only once a year.

Hear It. Buy It.

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Various Artists: 'Hipster's Holiday' (1999)

hipsters holiday
Courtesy Rhino

Subtitled "Vocal Jazz and R&B Classics," this 18-song collection from the folks at Rhino Records truly is a hipsters holiday. A couple of cuts from "Jingle Bell Swing" are duplicated here but, otherwise, the fare here is fun and unique.

Mabel Scott’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” sounds like it’s straight from a '40s nightclub, Pearl Bailey’s “Five Pound Box of Money” is hilarious, and Julia Lee and Her Boyfriends’ “Christmas Spirit,” albeit a little downtrodden, is heartfelt and delicious.

Skip the vastly overplayed Eartha Kitt version of “Santa Baby” and ignore the hideous cover of Louis Armstrong dressed in a Santa suit.

Heart It. Buy It.

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Ella Fitzgerald: 'Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas' (1960)

Ella Fitzgerald
Courtesy of Universal

“It’s in the bag,” Ella Fitzgerald says, as she puts a wrap around her version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” one of a dozen and a half holiday tunes Miss Ella recorded back in 1960. Many decades later, there’s still no one who’s done it better.

Along with paying homage to her Christmas-y friends (Rudolph, Frosty, Santa), Fitzgerald jams on “Good Morning Blues,” melts into the lovely acoustic guitar ballad “The Secret of Christmas” like an ice cube in a Manhattan and soars on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” just to keep things interesting. Frank DeVol’s arrangements are perfect, even the ones with the background singers.

Hear It. Buy It.

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Ramsey Lewis Trio: 'Sound Of Christmas' (1961)

Sound of Christmas
Courtesy of Universal

Originally recorded in 1961, Ramsey Lewis’ ​"Sounds of Christmas" might be just 29 minutes long but, like those precious minutes in front of the fireplace wrapped in an imitation bear skin rug, it’s a half hour well spent.

Lewis made this record with Eldee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums; they were arguably his best foils ever and, as a trio, they sounded as if they were of one mind. True to form, the music is sensitive sometimes and funky always, even when string man Riley Hampton adds his arrangements to the proceedings. The title cut, alone, sounds like one big party, and the band’s rendition of “The Christmas Song” is as good as they come.

Hear It. Buy It.

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Various Artists: 'Jingle Bell Swing' (1999)

Jingle Bell Swing
Courtesy of Sony

Sony Music scoured their catalog back in 1999 to put together this compilation, and it stills stands up well, provided you’re not looking to sing-a-long.

Duke Ellington's “Jingle Bells” swings hard, and his orchestra’s rendition of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” recast as “Sugar Rum Cherry,” is just a tad creepy, as if it could have very well been part of the original Grinch soundtrack.

There are a couple of fun though hardly standard cuts from Louis Prima (“Shake Hands With Santa Claus” and “What Will Santa Say? (When He Finds Everyone Swingin’)”) and a gorgeously dusky take on “The Christmas Song” offered by the lovely Carmen McRae.

There are also some weird things toward the end -- Miles Davis’ anti-commercialism rant “Blue Xmas” and a strange spoken word piece by Art Carney -- but that’s why it’s on the list (and Mannheim Steamroller is not).

Hear It. Buy It.