Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December 2014 - Featured Playlist (NML-Jazz)

There’s a lot of great music in NML-Jazz, of course, but did you know that there’s quite a bit of festive Christmas content as well? From the timeless sound of A Charlie Brown Christmas to the Fantasy Records artist roster to the classy retro vibes of David Ian’s new holiday traditions, you’re sure to find your Yuletide cool side right here in NML-Jazz.

To hear the playlist, access NML-Jazz as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Christmas folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Vince Guaraldi Trio – Linus and Lucy – So yeah, no Christmas is complete without a few spins of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and we’ve got it for you. One of the most popular Christmas albums of all time, it has sold over three million copies and continues to introduce jazz music to new generations.
2. David Ian – Jingle Bells – Over the last few years, pianist David Ian has masterminded a pair of classy, retro-tinged Christmas albums of his own, and this year he produced and featured on a holiday album by CCM stalwart Peter Furler. Simple but utterly charming, his renditions of classic Christmas tunes, like this version of “Jingle Bells”, will find their way indelibly into your holiday listening.
3. Boney James – This Christmas – Originally written by Donny Hathaway and Nadine McKinnor in 1970, it has become a modern classic covered by over 100 different artists. Included here is the version recorded by platinum-selling saxophonist Boney James, with Dee Harvey providing the vocals.
4. Brook Benton and Caro Emerald – You’re All I Want For Christmas – R&B singer Brook Benton charted a number of singles from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, and here his 1963 tune “You’re All I Want For Christmas” gets a reworking featuring contemporary Dutch jazz/pop vocalist Caro Emerald.
5. The Staple Singers – Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas? – The Staple Singers had a No. 2 hit with this track from their 1970 album We’ll Get Over. The entire album, released by Stax Records, features the legendary Booker T and the MGs as the backing band, and the youngest sister Mavis, a legend in her own right, takes over much of the lead.
6. Albert King – Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ – This Mack Rice-penned tune (Rice’s own version also appears on this same album in NML-Jazz) is a saucy holiday celebration perfectly suited for Albert King and his guitar. King lets his feisty fretwork takes center stage for much of this track, sharing a blues Christmas with you.

7. The Dramatics – Christmas Just Ain’t Christmas (Without The One You Love) – Formed originally in 1964, the Dramatics were an R&B group that persisted across five decades. They released a Christmas album in 1997 that included their version of “Christmas Just Ain’t Christmas (Without The One You Love)”, written by Kenny Gamble and Leon A. Huff.

8. Lou Rawls – O Holy Night (Cantique De Noel) – Frank Sinatra once said that Lou Rawls had “the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game.” Not a bad recommendation at all. Here his “silky chops” are applied to one of the most dramatic melodies in the Christmas repertoire, “O Holy Night.”

9. The Emotions – What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas? – The Emotions consisted of three sisters who launched their career with Volt Records in 1969. While they had their biggest success a few years later with Columbia Records, they released a number of singles through Stax, including the holiday tune “What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?”
10. Sonny Rollins – Count Your Blessings – White Christmas sits comfortably in that pantheon of great holiday films that everyone loves, regardless of their generation. “Count Your Blessings” is just one of the iconic Irving Berlin tunes used in the movie, and in this version it is performed by saxophonist Sonny Rollins.
11. Ruth Brown – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Ruth Brown had a series of R&B and pop hits in the 1950s before retiring to raise her children. She returned to music in the seventies, eventually joining the Fantasy Records roster. Her merry little take on this Christmas standard appears on a Fantasy holiday collection simply titled Christmas Songs, which also features Chet Baker, Joe Pass, and more.
12. Mel Tormé – The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) – NML-Jazz includes quite a few extraordinary versions of this holiday standard, but it only seems fitting to feature a version recorded by the writer himself. Mel Tormé composed the tune and remaining lyrics after finding a few spare lines lyricist Bob Wells had scrawled down in an attempt to cool himself off on a blazing hot summer day.
13. Dianne Reeves – Little Drummer Boy – Dianne Reeves released Christmas Time Is Here in 2004, right in the middle of a streak where she won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance four times in six years. She has often made use of world music rhythms, and her rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” takes that approach.
14. Anita Baker – My Favorite Things – Because everyone knows Christmas is all about getting stuff, “My Favorite Things” has become popular as a holiday tune. (That’s mostly a joke.) This version is sung by Anita Baker, who has done pretty well for herself, winning eight Grammy Awards and releasing five platinum albums.
15. United States Air Force Airmen of Note – Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Here’s another song composed during a summer heat wave as an attempt to conjure up cooler feelings. While accepted now as a Christmas song, it contains no holiday reference, and its first recording, by Vaughn Monroe in 1946, topped the charts in January and February.
16. Eric Reed – Winter Wonderland – Eric Reed is a jazz pianist and composer who spent several years in Wynton Marsalis’ septet before setting out to front his own group. He has collaborated with many different jazz artists, including Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, and Benny Carter. Here he plays “Winter Wonderland”, yet another Christmas favorite that doesn’t actually mention the holiday.
17. Trio X – In Dulci Jubilo – “In Dulci Jubilo” dates from medieval times and is best known to the English-speaking world as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”, a translation dating from the 19th century. This version of the carol melody is performed by the Swedish jazz group Trio X.
18. Freddy Cole – O Little Town Of Bethlehem – Nat King Cole’s little brother is a solid musician in his own right, and the title of his 1990 album I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me is a declaration of such. In 1995 he released I Want A Smile For Christmas, a tasty jazz holiday album that includes this version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.
19. Mary Stallings – I’ll Be Home For Christmas – “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was originally released by our old friend Bing Crosby in 1943 as the B-side to “White Christmas”. It is sung from the perspective of a World War Two soldier writing home to family. While a massive hit in the US, the song was actually banned from broadcast in the UK by the BBC, as they felt it would bring down morale.
20. Norah Jones – Peace – Our playlist closes with this contemplative track from Norah Jones, one of the best-selling jazz artists of all time. Maybe it’s not strictly a Christmas song, but, accompanied only by her piano, Jones sings of peaceful late-night contemplations, making it the perfect way to wind down after an evening of holiday revelry.

December 2014 - Featured Playlist (NML): The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer

And so this is Christmas. For no other holiday is music such a central part of celebrations both sacred and secular for so many people. Naxos Music Library includes a wide array of Christmas music to accompany your holiday observances, and we’ve included in this playlist an assortment to help guide you. After all, sharing music is the best way to spread Christmas cheer!

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

 1. John Jacob Niles – I Wonder As I Wander – Niles composed this tune after hearing a young girl in Appalachian North Carolina sing a brief fragment of melody at a fundraising meeting. He took these bits of tune and developed them into one of the more haunting and lovely holiday folk songs widely heard today.

2. Bernard de la Monnoye – Patapan – Patapan was originally written in the Burgundian dialect and published in 1720, and it tells of shepherds playing flutes and drums in celebration of Christmas. The version included here is performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the New York Philharmonic, with Leonard Bernstein conducting.

3. Raymond Scott – The Toy Trumpet – Known best for its use at the end of the 1938 film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm starring Shirley Temple, “The Toy Trumpet” has become a popular holiday and pops tune. Fun fact about the film: Temple learned to play the drums for a scene, but her mother protested, saying that the posture needed to play drums was “unladylike”. The scene was ultimately cut from the film.

4. Traditional – The Enniscorthy Christmas Carol – Known from at least the mid-19th century, this folk carol is from County Wexford in southeastern Ireland. This recording is taken from a gorgeous collection of Wexford carols released this year by Irish singer Caitríona O'Leary, with guest vocals by Roseanne Cash, Tom Jones, and Rhiannon Giddens.

5. Camille Saint-Saëns – Oratorio de Noël, Op. 12: Air: Domine, ego credidi - Saint-Saëns, 23 years old at the time, knocked out his Christmas Oratorio in less than two weeks, allowing a full ten days before the work was premiered on Christmas Day 1858. This beautifully stirring passage is scored for tenor, choir, organ, and strings.

6. Benjamin Britten – A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28: Balulalow – Britten’s partner Peter Pears described A Ceremony of Carols as “a ceremony of innocence, a musical representation of life before the fall.” Indeed, a profound sense of purity and wonder can be heard in this work, which Britten composed for treble choir and harp.

7. Johann Sebastian Bach – Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248: Part II, Aria: Schlafe, mein Liebster, genieße der Ruh' – Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was originally composed to be performed across six church feast days of the Christmas season. While not as widely known as Handel’s Messiah, which was composed seven years later, this work is equally rich and even grander in scale, and has earned its own solid place in today’s sacred Christmas celebrations.

8. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov – Christmas Eve Suite: VII. Polonaise – A witch, the devil, a bunch of people tied up in sacks, all under a moonless and starless December sky… Such is the subject matter of the story upon which Rimsky-Korsakov based his opera Christmas Eve. Festive, right? Luckily, the score is full of Rimsky-Korsakov’s characteristically colorful orchestration, and this polonaise is a highlight of the suite derived from the opera.

9. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – 3 German Dances, K. 605: No. 3 in C major, “Die Schlittenfahrt” – Mozart is well known for having a playful side, to the point of sometimes being crass (at least according to societal and musical mores of the day). “Die Schlittenfahrt” (Sleigh Ride) is one example of his playfulness, as he makes use of tuned sleigh bells, something that may well have startled a more buttoned-up, proper society.

10. Franz Xavier Gruber – Stille Nacht – Franz Gruber was a German schoolteacher who worked a second job as organist and choirmaster at a local church. On Christmas Eve 1818, Joseph Mohr, a Catholic priest, brought him the lyrics to set to music, but the organ was broken down. As a result, the first performance was carried out the next day using a guitar for accompaniment.

11. Adolphe Adam – Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night) – Poet (and wine merchant!) Placide Cappeau was commissioned to write the lyrics to this sacred carol, a task he accepted despite being an atheist himself. The song, composed by Adolphe Adam, was first performed in 1847 by an opera singer, so it only seemed right to select here a rendition by Plácido Domingo. It’s certainly a melody made for a big voice.

12. Katherine Kennicott Davis – The Little Drummer Boy – Written in 1941, this Christmas class began to receive wide attention when it was recorded fourteen years later by the Trapp Family Singers (yes, those Trapp Family Singers) as “Carol of the Drum”. It became a big hit in 1958 for Harry Simeone, who gave the song its current title and claimed writer’s royalties for his arrangement.

13. Traditional – Fum Fum Fum – This carol originated in Catalonia and likely dates from the 16th or 17th century. There is no consensus about the meaning of “fum” in this context; the word is Catalan for “smoke”, but it has also been described as the sound of a drum or guitar, or as the act of playing the fiddle.

14. Kirk Elliott – Nutcracker Nouveau (after Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker): V. Sugar Plum Fairy – Ensemble Polaris put their unique spin on Tchaikovsky’s Christmas fixture, blending classical with folk, roots, klezmer, bluegrass, and a little bit of everything else. Using instruments such as clarinet, mandolin, and cello, they have created here a whimsical reimagining worth hearing.

15. Mykola Leontovych – Carol of the Bells – Leontovych wrote this melody in 1904 and based it on a Ukrainian chant. His original lyrics were regarding the coming of the new year, which in his day and culture was celebrated in April. American Peter Wilhousky wrote the English lyrics in the 1930s, adapting them to apply to Christmas and the Gregorian new year.

16. Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Phil Spector – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – This tune was originally written for Spector’s wife Ronnie, but her lackluster performance necessitated giving the song instead to Darlene Love, who made it a holiday classic. This version, performed by Death Cab for Cutie, is taken from a compilation that also features Pedro the Lion, Copeland, and more.

17. Irving Berlin – White Christmas – Outside of, you know, Jesus, Mary, and Santa Claus, there’s no figure who’s become more synonymous with Christmas than Bing Crosby. Okay, so that’s a bit hyperbolic, but no holiday playlist is truly complete without ol’ Bing singing “White Christmas”. It’s the best-selling single of all time, too, and by quite a bit; at over 50 million copies sold, its competition so far is Elton John’s decidedly un-festive “Candle in the Wind”, a long shot with 33 million.

18. Bob Wells, Mel Tormé – The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) – This song was started by Bob Wells when he tried to combat a blazing hot summer by listing things that made him think of cold weather. Mel Tormé took that list and forty minutes later had the song that would go on to be the most performed Christmas tune of all time. The version here is sung by Tony Bennett.

19. Hugh Martin – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – This song was written in 1944 for the film Meet Me in St. Louis, where it was performed by none other than Judy Garland. Thirteen years later Frank Sinatra asked Martin to “jolly up” the lyrics for him, and the original line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” was replaced with “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

20. Traditional – We Wish You a Merry Christmas – This song originates from sixteenth-century England. Carolers would often be given treats by the wealthy on Christmas Eve, hence the lyrics about figgy pudding (similar to the traditional English Christmas pudding). The version here is performed by the United States Navy Band and Sea Chanters Chorus.

Oh, and there’s a bonus track, but you’ll have to go to the playlist to find it. It’s only one of the greatest pieces ever composed, updated on a grander scale by one of the greatest composers who ever lived. No big deal, right?

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.5 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

November 2014 - Featured Playlist: Northern Lights

From the fjords to the Baltic Sea, from the realm of the reindeer to an island forged in fire and ice, Scandinavia has captured the imagination of wanderers and wonderers around the world. It’s a region rich with history, one that spans from before the rugged reign of the Vikings to some of the most affluent and progressive societies of today. It also boasts a proud and distinct musical heritage that incorporates land, legend, and culture as effectively as any other corner of the globe. This is the mystical, mighty sound of the Northern Lights.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Traditional – Ye Honest Bridal Couple/Sønderho Bridal Trilogy Part I – This track marries two traditional wedding songs, the first from the far-flung, foggy Faroe Islands, and the second from Fanø Island, just off the west coast of Denmark. It is performed by the Danish String Quartet, who channel their finely honed technical chops into a beguiling arrangement that kicks off one of the best new classical releases of the year.

2. Lars-Erik Larsson – Förklädd Gud (God in Disguise): Kring höstlig vaktelds bränder – Premiered on a Swedish broadcast in 1940, Larson’s God in Disguise includes musical passages intercut with narration, a form popular with radio at the time. Both thematically and musically, the work is a plea for simplicity composed at a time when the world was becoming torn apart by war. It continues to be one of Larsson’s best-known contributions to the Swedish repertoire.

3. Jean Sibelius – Karelia Suite, Op. 11: III. Alla marcia: Moderato – The Karelia region lies in eastern Finland, on the border with Russia. It was an area much loved of Sibelius; as a young man he was fascinated by its folk music, and he also spent his honeymoon there. The suite which the region inspired was intentionally simple in style, as Sibelius felt this would lend a greater air of authenticity to the folk-inspired work.
4. Carl Nielsen – Symphony No. 5, Op. 50: II. Allegro – Completed in January 1922, Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony carries no intentional influence of World War I, but in the composer’s own words, “not one of us is the same as we were before the war.” Upon hearing it, it’s not hard to conclude that the war did indeed play a role in the symphony. A fun side note for Star Wars fans: While presumably a coincidence, one recurring five-note motif (for example, 1:59-2:06) might sound quite familiar to you.
5. Edvard Grieg – 2 Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34: No. 2, Våren (The Last Spring) – Grieg set 12 poems by Norwegian nationalist poet Aasmund Olafsson Vinje to music, then arranged two of these melodies for string orchestra. The poem upon which this track is based depicts a springtime colored by the recognition that a person might not live to see another, and this blend of renewal and farewell is masterfully expressed in the music.
6. Ole Bull - Et Sæterbesøg (A Mountain Vision) – Bull is known best as a highly successful violinist who was described by Robert Schumann as being on the same level as the legendary Niccolò Paganini. Though he composed over seventy works, only about ten are much known today, including this folk-influenced piece for solo violin and orchestra. He was also a friend of the Grieg family, and he recognized and encouraged young Edvard’s talent.
 7. Niels Gade – Et Folkesagn (A Folk Tale): Brudevalsen (Bridal Waltz) - Niels Gade was an important influence on several Scandinavian composers who followed him, including Edvard Grieg and Carl Nielsen, and he is considered to be the greatest Danish composer of his generation. His Brudevalsen became a vital part of Danish weddings, but it is said that he didn’t judge it to be particularly great at the time, and that it had to be rescued from a trash can.
8. Wilhelm Stenhammar – String Quartet No. 5 in C major, Op. 29, “Serenade”: II. Ballata: Allegretto scherzando – Stenhammar had quite the varied output, and though he was a pianist himself (the finest Swedish pianist of his time at that), his string quartets have been described as the most important works in that form between Brahms and Bartók. However, they remain relatively unknown outside Sweden, and unjustly so.
9. Kurt Atterberg – Symphony No. 2 in F major, Op. 6: II. Adagio – Presto – Adagio – Presto – Adagio – Atterberg was 24 and finishing up his engineering studies when he began work on his Symphony No. 2. That summer was spent in the Stockholm archipelago, sleeping on bare cliffs where he “was not precisely alone…” as he cryptically put it. This second movement, composed at the time, certainly hints at a youthful exuberance sparked by more than just the beautiful landscape.
10. Vagn Holmboe – Viola Concerto, Op. 189: I. Allegro moderato, ma con forza – Danish composer Vagn Holmboe may have been 82 when he composed his Viola Concerto, but the work crackles with the energy and bravura of a youthful spirit. While his work typically is solidly Nordic in style, this concerto contains a slight Jewish influence as well, in honor of Israeli virtuoso Rivka Golani, for whom the work was written.
11. Kaija Saariaho – Notes on Light: II. On Fire – Saariaho was known early in her career as a post-serialist composer, but she grew tired of its restrictions, saying “I don’t want to write music through negations. Everything is permissible as long as it’s done in good taste.” Her work also became less reliant on electronics and more open to melody. Notes on Light is a cello concerto composed in 2007 that is indicative of this Finnish composer’s development.
12. Kalevi Aho – Symphony No. 12, “Luosto”: I. Samaanit (The Shamans) – A tremendously prolific composer, Aho frequently draws inspiration from Finland’s past. This is especially evident in this symphony, which was premiered on a mountainside in Lapland. It conjures up images of the region’s primeval past, full of superstition and rugged landscapes, with music that is brutal, beautiful, and majestic each in turn.
13. Esa-Pekka Salonen – Nachtlieder: III. Frei, wie Kadenz – Salonen, of Finland, is probably better known as a conductor, but he’s also won prestige for his compositions, to the point that both talents were featured in a recent advertisement for Apple’s iPad Air. The work included here is a movement from a suite for solo clarinet and piano that he composed when he was only 20 years old, a brief inkling of the great things to come.
14. Jón Leifs – Requiem, Op. 33b – Musically speaking, Iceland is best known for contemporary artists like Sigur Rós and Björk, but Jón Leifs is the captivating island nation’s most prominent classical composer. His short choral piece titled Requiem is one of four works he composed for his daughter Líf, who drowned in 1947 when she was only 18. The constantly shifting major-to-minor tonalities are a heart-wrenching expression of both tender love and inexpressible grief.

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.5 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery!