Anyone who knows me is well aware that one of my passions in life is jazz music. I have to admit, though, that I find most “Christmas jazz” to be pretty banal, particularly when vocals are part of the mix. In fact, I almost didn’t check out the concert I’m about to introduce you to, as the very idea of a “Jazz Piano Christmas” didn’t strike me as particularly promising. I’m glad that I pushed through those prejudices and discovered this one.
If you decide to trust my recommendation, what you’ll discover is a recording of the 22nd annual Christmas jazz piano concert sponsored by National Public Radio and hosted at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
On the stage are the Cuban musician Alfredo Rodriguez, the veteran bebop player Barry Harris, nine-time Grammy winner Eddie Palmieri, and Jason Moran, the newly appointed Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor for Jazz.
The free live stream opens with a recording from a few years back, capturing an original Christmas song by the noted pianist and jazz educator Dr. Billy Taylor, who died late last December. On a personal note, I was able to attend Dr. Taylor’s funeral during my sabbatical month in New York, and will never forget Ramsey Lewis stepping up to the piano to play an impromptu version of the old hymn, “Precious Lord.” Quite a moment.
To access the NPR concert, simply click here. But before you do, I should tell you that it ranges from the familiar (Barry Harris’s version of “Christmas Time Is Here”) to the more challenging (Rodriguez’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and Palmieri’s “We Three Kings”) to the utterly lovely (Jason Moran’s “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”).
Hoping I haven’t steered you down what you think is a blind alley… and if you do like it, then I’d suggest you go next to the concert from 2009, with Ramsey Lewis, Billy Taylor, and Robert Glasper, among others.