Stan Kenton

Re-released in 2003

JazzTimes Top Ten Christmas Jazz Albums Of All Time

AllAboutJazz Top Ten Christmas Jazz Albums Of All Time




Definitely not for a romantic evening in front of the fireplace, Kenton’s A Merry Christmas is bombastic, sounding like a Christmas day parade marching through your living room. Though recorded in 1961, the album has a timeless feel about it. The large orchestra simmers down only once, for their rendition of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Even “O Holy Night” is given a triumphant, brassy treatment. 
It is refreshing to see that Kenton’s orchestra decided to mix in a few more traditional hymns and carols with the typical Christmas fare. While songs such as “Good King Wenceslas” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” are usually better served by a classical string orchestra, the band’s decision to include them offers a welcome reprieve from tiresome tunes about Santa Claus and will please those hoping to hear a more spiritual take on the holiday. 

Track Listing:

1. O Tannenbaum (Traditional) 01:58

2. The Holly and the Ivy (Traditional) 01:52

3. We Three Kings of Orient Are (Sidney Arodin / Traditional) 02:14

4. Good King Wenceslas (Traditional) 01:45

5. The Twelve Days of Christmas (Traditional) 04:07

6. Once in Royal David’s City (Traditional) 02:04

7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional) 01:46

8. O Come All Ye Faithful (Frederick Oakeley / John Reading / John Francis Wade) 03:17

9. Angels, We Have Heard on High (Traditional) 02:11

10. O Holy Night (Adolphe Adam / Traditional) 02:10

11. Christmas Medley: Joy to the World/Away in a Manger/The First Noel (Traditional) 08:24

12. What Is a Santa Claus? (Traditional) 02:32

13. Christmas for Moderns: The First Noel/White Christmas/O Come All… (Irving Berlin / Mel Tormé / Traditional / Robert Wells) 07:07

Recorded October 14, 1960 – April 11, 1963

Produced by Lee Gillette (1-12) and Teddy Reig (13)

Arranged by Willie Maiden (13), Stan Kenton (8, 11) and Ralph Carmichael (all others)

Reissue produced by Michael Cuscuna


When bandleader Stan Kenton was approached to record an album of holiday music in 1961 he agreed, on one condition — no songs about singing snowmen or flying reindeer. The resulting album, “A Merry Christmas”, is a polyphonic masterpiece that is at once progressive and traditional. Included are such well-known classics as “O Tannenbaum” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as well as lesser known gems like “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Once in Royal David’s City.” Featuring Kenton’s idiosyncratic style of arranging piercing trumpets over a wooly blanket of trombones and mellophones, this is beautiful, forward-thinking and angular music that addresses both complex classical harmony and Basie-style swing. Epitomizing this is the intricate and delicate harmonic dissonance on “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” a must-hear for Kentonites. As a bonus, the album includes Kenton regular trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s stellar 1960 medley “Christmas for Moderns,” which features the high-note master’s hip takes on such other holiday nuggets as “White Christmas and “Jingle Bells.” Fans should also get a kick out of Kenton’s humorous 1963 spoken word piece “What Is Santa Claus?”

Matt Collar (AllMusic)