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12 holiday jazz songs that aren't from Vince Guaraldi

Chris Maskell

How many years in a row have you listened to Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas? Admittedly, it’s quite good, but there’s a whole treasure trove of other jazz albums out there that could serve as a worthy soundtrack for your holiday celebrations.

In the list below, we’ve put together a collection of some of our favourite jazz covers of holiday songs to upgrade your seasonal musical wallpaper.

Related: CBC Music brings you the 5 streams of Christmas

Oscar Peterson, 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' (from An Oscar Peterson Christmas)

With the help of an A-team of Canadian jazz artists, Oscar Peterson shows his ability to transform simple carols into toe-tapping quartet pieces throughout this record. A standout track on the album, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" appears as an up-tempo swinger and features spectacular playing by guitarist Lorne Lofsky, drummer Jerry Fuller, bassist Dave Young and Peterson himself.

Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra, 'Merry Christmas Baby' (from Big Band Holidays)

With their ultra-tight, big-band sound, Wynton Marsalis’s flagship Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra is a prime candidate for a Christmas album — which they delivered in the form of Big Band Holidays. The album is complied from several editions of the band's year-end concerts, and this bluesy Johnny Moore/Lou Baxter tune puts the spotlight on vocalist Gregory Porter and includes a mean saxophone solo from alto player Sherman Irby.

Chet Baker/Wolfgang Lackerschmid, 'Christmas Waltz' (from Artists Favor)

Featuring a quartet with trumpet, vibraphone, flute and bass, this track might have the most interesting instrumentation of anything on our list. The interplay within the group is fantastic — just check out those trumpet counterlines behind Lackerschmid’s vibes solo. And of course, Chet’s trumpet tone is to die for!

Jimmy Smith, 'Jingle Bells' (from Christmas '64)

We’re willing to bet that guitarist Kenny Burrell, drummer Billy Hart and organist Jimmy Smith play the most swinging version of "Jingle Bells" you’ve ever heard. Initially released on Smith’s record Christmas ’64, it was later reissued on Christmas Cookin’, which features some great large ensemble arrangements as well as groovy small group tracks like this one.

John Coltrane, 'Greensleeves' (from Africa/Brass)

Coltrane’s take on this English folk tune shares many similarities with his earlier recording of "My Favourite Things," and not just because both feature his inspired soprano playing. While this version is a large ensemble recording from 1961, "Greensleeves" also makes another appearance on Coltrane’s legendary Live at the Village Vanguard sessions from later that year.

Emilie-Claire Barlow, 'Angel’s Lullaby' (Live)

Accompanied only by guitarist Reg Schwager and William Sperandei on trumpet, Emilie-Claire Barlow’s sterling voice is on display as the trio navigates this delicate number. It’s interesting to contrast this take with the one on the album (Winter Wonderland), which nicely puts a quartet solo section between a piano-voice duet intro and ending.

Herbie Hancock/Eliane Elias, 'I’ll Be Home For Christmas' (from Jazz to the World)

Pianists Herbie Hancock and Eliane Elias take a duet approach to this 1940s hit, with Elias (left channel) laying down the melody and Hancock (right channel) taking a typically prolific solo. Sadly, the take is pretty concise, and we can imagine these two could stretch out much longer on this tune.

Ahmad Jamal, 'Snowfall' (from Ahmad Jamal's Alhambra)

Ahmad Jamal’s trio had some great arrangements in their repertoire, and this piece is no exception. The floaty vamp never gets old, the swing sections are perfectly placed to break things up and the ending is hilarious.

Dexter Gordon, 'The Christmas Song' (from The Panther)

"Dexter Gordon” is almost synonymous with “beautiful ballads,” so it’s no surprise that he does this seasonal chestnut great justice. Many artists have covered this song, but Gordon’s complete mastery of this lyrical style makes this version one of our favourites.

Diana Krall, 'Winter Wonderland' (from Christmas Songs)

Diana Krall collaborates once again with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, who appear on this record to lead their big band through a pile of vocal-centric arrangements. We’re particularly fond of the voice/bass duet that starts this one off, as well as Krall’s cheeky alteration of the lyrics at the track’s conclusion.

Charlie Parker, 'White Christmas' (from Live at the Royal Roost)

Originally broadcast live from New York City’s Royal Roost club on Christmas Day 1948, this cut has plenty of charm. Featuring a lineup of bebop legends (including Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Al Haig on piano, Tommy Potter on bass and Max Roach on drums), this Irving Berlin tune is used as a launching point for a series of great solos. Keep an ear out for a wry quote from a certain other Christmas tune in Parker’s solo!

Oscar Peterson, 'Oh Christmas Tree' (from An Oscar Peterson Christmas)

It seemed fitting to cap off this list with another take from An Oscar Peterson Christmas. Maybe we just have a soft spot for solo piano ballads, but Peterson’s bittersweet touch and gorgeous reharmonizations turn this holiday favourite into something that could be listened to regardless of the season.

Bonus: Miles Davis, 'We Three Kings of Orient Are' (live)

We couldn’t resist adding in this gem from a 1987 episode of Late Night with David Letterman. Who ever said the Prince of Darkness didn’t have Christmas spirit?

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