Monday, December 14, 2015

My Musical Advent Calendar

"Christmas Time Is Here" /
Diana Krall

Palate cleanser time. 

Personal note:  I'm working with a youth choir that's providing live music for a museum screening of the brilliant 1965 animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas.  I have heard this number over and over for the past several weeks. But you know what? It's such a great tune, it never gets old.

The genius thing about the original TV show, as far as I'm concerned, is that they hired a bona fide jazz composer, pianist Vince Guaraldi, to provide a soundtrack -- and he delivered with songs that have become holiday staples. The syncopated piano riff "Linus and Lucy" is indelibly etched on my consciousness, but this more laid-back number has wormed its way into my heart lately as well.

And while these songs are ineffably charming when performed by kids, I'm zooming straight to this copasetic version by jazz pianist Diana Krall.

(Okay, yeah, I know that she's married to Elvis Costello, seriously one of my all-time faves, whose memoir Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink I've only just finished reading. But is that not a reason to love her more?)

Ah, yes, Christmas time is here, with all its attendant madness -- and what we all really want is a song that lags lazily behind the beat, that fulfills those holiday requirements with a deliciously minimalistic approach.

And Diana Krall -- god love her -- is totally confident enough to keep it all downscaled, with an illusion of effortlessness. "Christmas time is here," she acknowledges, "Happiness and cheer." Yeah, from there on it's a wish list of clichés: snowflakes, sleigh bells, carols, firesides.  But Krall's vocals are so warm and relaxed, the piano parts glancingly light. It's all about scaling it back and showing restraint. As we all need to do.

I love the tiny edge of grit in her voice, the caressing warmth of her delivery. Yeah, we've heard this song a million times. But it takes a true artist to make us hear it anew. 

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