Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas Will Warm An Atheist's Heart

Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas album is a secular holiday delight sure to please every listener, even atheists and agnostics. Originally released in 1960, the sound here is warm and inviting as a Yule log burning in the fireplace—once you get past the opener "Jingle Bells", which is somewhat brighter, brasher and more in your face than the rest, though having Ella in your face is hardly problematic.

Ella is front and center, closely mic'd and with just a kiss of reverb producing an exciting sense of her in the room. Frank DeVol's sumptuous (but not too rich) swinging arrangements for a dozen Christmas favorites are sensibly hip and without gimmicks, so they don't at all sound dated sixty years after the four New York City summer sessions during which this album was recorded. Imagine Ella singing "Let It Snow" during a hot New York summer. She makes it sound like December. The mix puts the orchestra more hard left/right than you'll hear in modern recordings but there's still plenty of center fill, producing a super-natural sonic picture. De Vol's arrangements can be heard on recordings by Nat "King" Cole, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan and many other singing greats. He knew how to be heard without being intrusive so there's plenty to discover with every listen. On "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer" Ella playfully goes into a "Tom Dooley" riff acknowledging that year's The Kingston Trio monster hit.

Ella covers "Frosty the Snowman","Sleigh Ride", "White Christmas", "The Christmas Song" and others you'd expect to hear on a set like this and unlike some other such sets that feel it necessary to include one "serious" religious Christmas song, this one does not. On "Frosty the Snowman" she's backed by subtly placed vocal chorus. The album is a musical holiday gift you're sure to enjoy this season and the super sound is guaranteed to light up your system. If you're old enough to remember 1960 the album's "vibe" will take you back there. It did me.

Rich, mellow sound, ear-pleasing arrangements, and of course Ella Fitzgerald's good cheer make this a Christmas season winner you're sure to play often at least until the 25th of December and perhaps beyond. And if this review sounds like advertising copy, so be it! Perfect QRP pressing too.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Jazz listener's picture

and one of the nicest jackets I’ve come across in a long time - beautiful quality. Clearly produced by people who care at every level, including the packaging.

cheyne.mcnab's picture

that this is a terrific LP. So warm and inviting; I love the rich arrangements and of course Ms. Ella delivering.

I see that El Jefe, aka ‘Jazz listener’, is delighted with this piece as it confirms his own opinion. Which is cool, I do that too and it makes me feel content/validated. But to me this highlights how both the Malachi review explosions and Uncle Mikey’s more detailed reviews for all analog heavy hitters can coexist. Malachi helps us to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s new, and the big dog Mike weighs in on our most highly anticipated reissues. It’s a beautiful thing! Thanks to all :)

Jazz listener's picture

I love Christmas music in general so almost any genre of Christmas album gets my thumbs up. Even, gasp, country. And the jacket is a purely objective opinion (for once) - there is no denying it is gorgeous!

cheyne.mcnab's picture

Good morning @Jazz listener. You're right; this release is high quality down to every last detail! Off the top of your head, are there any other must-own and available Christmas titles that you recommend? So pleased with this one (my first Xmas LP) that I'm wanting to round out my Holiday collection

Intermediate Listener's picture

Peggy Lee, Ultimate Christmas, reissued last year, is good.

Also terrific are Telarc CDs (sorry) by Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and George Shearing.

Disappointed with Christmas albums by ordinarily great Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith.

Jazz listener's picture

As a Diana Krall fan I also recommend her Christmas Songs album featuring the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi Trio is a classic. Merry Christmas - Bing Crosby, another classic. I also recently picked up Norah Jones’ I Dream of Christmas and Tori Amos’ Christmastide which are both quite excellent and a must if you’re a fan.

cheyne.mcnab's picture

to the both of you. Will check those out! Cheers

xtcfan80's picture

You might like Stan Kenton's A Merry Christmas! from 1961.
Kenton is currently out of favor in many jazz circles but I grew up with and love this album. On the classical front, I love The Tallis Scholars Christmas Carols And Motets and Anonymous 4 ‎– On Yoolis Night (Medieval Carols & Motets)

Intermediate Listener's picture

English men and boys choirs are special in this repertoire, especially Kings College Choir. Many fine, beautifully recorded albums from the 50s and 60s, such as On Christmas Night (Argo) and Carols from Kings (EMI). Hard to go wrong with any of them.

volvic's picture

Cannot wait to start spinning in a few weeks.

Intermediate Listener's picture

No Christmas music until December.

Mark Evans's picture

so much I bought two copies. This summer a local suburban Chicago record store was selling used LPs of Frank DeVol arrangements for 10 cents each and I picked up a variety of 20 LPs for $2.00. They didn't know what they had till I told them.

Tom L's picture

What an amazing career that guy had! Composer, band leader, actor, and he scored so many movies and TV shows that they can hardly be listed.
I especially remember him as the sour bandleader Happy Kyne on Fernwood 2 Night.

Tom L's picture

that I'm an expert on Frank De Vol. No way! His name just rang a bell as an actor-from Fernwood or possibly an old episode of Gunsmoke-so I looked him up on Wikipedia.

PeterPani's picture

One time the bespoken reissue, second time the mono original. I will compare the two and the "worse" one will be a nice pre-X-mas gift.

Keek's picture

Another absolute Christmas classic is Johnny Mathis’ Merry Christmas from 1958. Fantastic singing and the music was arranged and conducted by Percy Faith. Speaking of Percy Faith, his Music of Christmas in stereo from 1959 (mono from 1954), is a perfect helping of late 50’s, pre-ironic, orchestral bombast. I mean that in a good way. Real Gone music remastered this one for CD in 2019. That would be the digital version to get.

In jazz, a long-lost 1954 album by trombone player Urbie Green, Cool Yuletide, was remastered and released in 2019. This is a hidden classic. At times it sounds to me like the Miles Davis nonet playing Christmas music. It’s only available for download as far as I can tell. Qobuz has it in 192/24. Tidal and other CD-quality and above download sites probably do too.


Also really good, jazz pianist Duke Pearson’s 1970 Merry Ole Soul was just rereleased on vinyl by Blue Note. His version of Sleigh Ride, where he doubles on Celeste, is a personal favorite.


hrboucher's picture

You can’t please everyone. I dislike the album musically, although I usually like Ella a lot (“Ella and Louis” is a favorite of mine).

rl1856's picture

"Hipsters Holiday" a great assortment of Xmass tunes from Dizzy Gillespie, Ertha Kitt, Bob Dorough, Miles Davis, Big John Greer, Louis Armstrong, Lambert Hendricks & Ross.