Twenty-eighth music presentation session (The Christmas special) for the blind and visually handicapped took place on 16th of December 2020 in the presentation room of Czech agency SONS (Czech Blind United) in Prague. Since the previous session, I managed to establish a cooperation with other cities as well, but due to current limitations, all activities are stopped. Luckily SONS in Prague were flexible to make it happen shortly before the Christmas when the limitations were slightly lifted. You can find the background of this story in an article about the first session here.
List of songs and their final scores:
Congratulations to Carla Bley, Concept Art Orchestra and Beata Hlavenková
|01 – Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – ‘Zat You Santa Claus? (Live)||7|
|02 – Beata Hlavenková – Adeste Fideles||11.5|
|03 – Billie Holiday – I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Yesking Remix)||0|
|04 – Kjetil Bjerkestrand, Tore Brunborg – O, Du Herlige||5.5|
|05 – Glenn Miller Orchestra – Jingle Bells||5.5|
|06 – Audience choice #1 – Chris Rea – Driving Home For Christmas||6.5|
|07 – Concept Art Orchestra – Vánoce Dospělých||12.5|
|08 – Jamie Cullum – Let It Snow (Live)||3.5|
|09 – Halford – Oh Holy Night||10|
|10 – Das Kapital – Happy Saturnalia||3|
|11 – Audience choice #2 – Michael Bublé – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas||3.5|
|12 – Bonus – Carla Bley – Away In A Manger||14|
As Christmas holidays were coming and we agreed to make this session relaxed and in a family environment, I prepared the playlist according to the holiday season. It was mainly based on the Christmas special playlist I did for Czech national radio – Český rozhlas Jazz. You can find a Spotify playlist here.
Thanks to my friends, I collected a big number of tips on Christmas jazz albums. One of the first I received was Big Band Holidays from Wynton Marsalis with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I was totally blown away by the power of the big band and performance of guest singer René Marie in ‘Zat You Santa Claus?. You can basically hear the life experience in her voice. This was also a music video tip I sent to my friend Michael Rozsypal for his morning show at Czech DVTV.
Next to international names, I love to give space to Czech artists, which deserve attention. For number of years, I have a big respect for a singer and piano player Beata Hlavenková. There are many beautiful tracks on her album Bethlehem from 2017, but Adeste Fideles with her gentle melancholic touch is a pure beauty.
Going back internationally, I went for a track from an album which was recommended to me by Petr Vidomus, the creative director of Český rozhlas Jazz. It was a compilation called Verve Remixed, coming from this well-known label and including quite adventurous remixes. Billie Holiday’s I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm received quite a cool Caribbean vibe from DJ duo Yesking.
Next track came from Petr’s wife Eliška Vidomus, a frontwoman of Czech jazz project Fanfán Tulipán, which did well in 24th session. It was O, Du Herlige from organ player Kjetil Bjerkestrand and saxophonist Tore Brunborg released on their 2017 album Nordic Christmas. You know, it is a very short track, but it’s truly epic. It starts with a massive organ melody and later on gets supported by an emotional saxophone line.
Jingle Bells is a term which is naturally associated with modern Christmas. But it also became something which people started hating about Christmas. I am pretty sick of this melody as well. However, I was digging in the whole Christmas jazz world for about two or three weeks and the story behind Jingle Bells from Glenn Miller Orchestra, was one of the most refreshing and the coolest discoveries. I heard many versions of this song, majority killing my brain, but this one is a true gold. It was actually the only Christmas song he wrote with his orchestra before his death. Later on his co-players recorded many other tracks in the view of “how we believe he would do it”, but his footprints within Xmas department are truly only here. Story of Glenn Miller Orchestra is amazing and look it up, but the main thing I like about their version of Jingle Bells is the fact, it has occasional very avant-garde moments and orchestra is busy and surprisingly progressive even in parts where others would turn on an autopilot 2:00 – 2:10.
First Audience Choice
First audience choice came from a long term guest and my good friend Vladimír Dvořák. Chris Rea is very popular in Czech Republic and this track reminded me of my childhood big time. Unfortunately this video includes some of the worst synchronization of the singer and the playback I ever seen.
After The Break
At the start of the second block I wanted to include another Czech name, which was a big band called Concept Art Orchestra. Their members are some of the biggest talents of our scene and you can find also a Christmas album in their discography. They concentrated there on both Czech carols and wrote a couple of new songs. Great arrangements and awesome guest vocals from Dan Bárta. High scores from all voters.
Within Czech region a lot of people also love British singer Jamie Cullum. His shows at Colours Of Ostrava festival are legendary and “British Sinatra” just released his Christmas album The Pianoman at Christmas, including only his original tracks, which he hopes to become new standards. However, I went for a live version of Let It Snow, which is added on Spotify to The Pianoman at Christmas as a bonus track. I have a big thing for this track, maybe because of the Die Hard movie, but Jamie is truly aging well!
Next track was a special gist for metal fans in the audience. I try to keep the genre spectrum wide and I am always nicely surprised, when the audience gives high votes for the tracks within the wilder, experimental and heavier departments. One of the first Christmas albums, I ever fell in love with was Rob Halford’s Winter Songs. I was starting my music journalism career as a rock/metal kid in HardRocker magazine, where I gladly wrote a review on this album. It was just amazing to hear metal god singing tracks that we all know from Home Alone movies.
Talking about experimental, avant-garde and wild, I was totally amazed by another tip from Eliška, which was French avant-garde jazz band called Das Kapital. Their Christmas album: Das Kapital – Loves Christmas will be forever in my Top Xmas Albums list. They play standards as White Christmas or Silent Night in their own way or even Last Christmas from Wham! in a version which sounds, as it was played by under-average punk band formed by street cats. Their version of O Tannenbaum is awesome dark avant-garde melancholic piece, but I went for Happy Saturnalia. It includes great arrangements and their humor, as well as a great story. Saturnalia was a period in an Ancient Rome celebrated in the second half of December. Sacrifices, heavy drinking and slaves changed roles with their masters, they masters were serving slaves. It’s like putting LSD in your egg cognac. Amazing album which deserves to be enjoyed throughout the whole year.
Second Audience Choice
Second audience choice came from an older lady, coming regularly with her assistance dog. Mrs. Vondráčková is an amazing woman which asked me long time ago, to try to add once in a while some songs in Spanish or Portuguese, as she is studying these languages. She even brought me wine as a Christmas present, so when she asked if I could play sth from Michael Bublé, I respected her wish. It was time for sth really hard core Christmas sweet and I believe Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas fitted this category.
For a bonus I was having a dilemma, if I should play We Three Kings from Kurt Elling, which is a great progressive melodic track or a slightly challenging but very strong track Away In A Manger from Carla Bley. I am a not a type of person who would love to create fake images. We Three Kings is a beautiful track, which I love coming back to, but I needed something raw and bittersweet for the end. I just loved to read about Carla Bley, who is free jazz legends and her quotes about not creating crazy Christmas atmosphere and rather have a good wine, fits into my definition of a cool grandma. However the best way how to summarize this session and the mood this song created in the end, came from visually handicapped gentleman and my friend Antonín:
“Christmas season is not bad, but no one says, you will definitely feel great. I see a member of a family, maybe a mother, which is trying to create Christmas setting exactly as everybody is used to. On one hand it works. We can feel a harmony, great sounds including a piano or a brass instrument. But suddenly we feel some hangover, sobering up and then another wave of holiday mood. We are going through a holiday season, but everything is more honest now. Not only because of Covid situation, but everything is becoming much rawer. We are bombarded with a perfect image of the holidays full of snow, smiling children and bunch of other things. However the joy is not continuous and especially this year we could feel the disgust towards an “ideal” world. The main reason why I love this song is this misbalance, it’s an amazing disharmony. Carla managed to perfectly represent it. At the same time, I feel it’s not something for a mainstream radio. They do not play it anywhere, it is not in the charts, as well many other tracks that would deserve more attention.”
All the best in 2021.