Christmas sights and sounds

The listening room


I looked forward every year at The Windsor Star to writing a feature about new seasonal CD releases.

I avoided writing about the latest from 20-something pop and hip-hop artists because they tended to trivialize the season and were generally filled with over-wrought new compositions that had very little to do with Christmas, and more with marketing.

That brings me to this list, which is a selection from my personal collection of the last 30 or so years. In no particular order, here they are. You should be able to order most of them from your favourite online source.

Carols From Clare, conducted by John Rutter (EMI Classics): This is a real classic from 1967, with several compositions by Rutter, including the magnificent opening track, Shepher’s Pipe Carol, and many traditional carols. Put this on Christmas morning with a hot beverage.

Grover Washington Jr., Breath of Heaven (Columbia): The smoothest of smooth jazz artists turns a dozen traditional¬† carols and 20th century songs into a relaxing respite from the winter’s worst. Great for Christmas eve with a glass of sherry.

Loreena McKennitt, A Midwinter Night’s Dream (Quinlan Road Recordings): Canada’s Celtic harpist infuses her originals and traditional carols with musical flavours from around the globe. Another Christmas eve selection.

Stan Kenton, A Merry Christmas! (Capitol): Dating from 1961 and reissued in 2003 on Blue Note, this is my all-time favourite big band Christmas album. Great for playing while enjoying Christmas dinner.

Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas (Capitol): Growing up in the ’60s, this Gordon Jenkins-arranged album was seldom off the turntable in my house. One side is contemporary, the other sacred. Thankfully, it was reissued on CD in 2005. A great accompaniment to tree-trimming.

David Foster, The Christmas Album (Atlantic): Almost from the day it was released in 1993, this became a staple of the season in households and radio stations everywhere. The concept of Foster heading up an all-star cast of performers is a gift that keeps on giving. Good anytime during the season.

Cincinnati¬†Pops under Erich Kunzel, Christmastime Is Here (Telarc): Our beloved John Morris Russell learned his pops chops from the late Erich Kunzel. Russell, of course, has taken over in Cincinnati and is adding to the legacy. If you have fond memories of Russell’s Christmas pops concerts while in Windsor, then pick this up to find out where he got some of his inspiration. An album of cheer for Christmas morning.

Diana Krall, Christmas Songs (Verve): If there’s one contemporary artist you can trust with Christmas music new and old, it’s Diana Krall. And none other than Tommy LiPuma and Johnny Mandel co-produced it. This is a must for your Christmas get-together with family and friends.


The man in the red suit


Windsor Symphony was promising a visitor from the North Pole at its concerts Dec. 15-17 at the Capitol Theatre.

One of my fondest memories takes me back to the days at the Chrysler Theatre and the arrival of Santa during a WSO Pops concert. A certain well-known individual dressed in red and white could be heard bellowing seasonal wishes from the rear of the auditorium.

He was the embodiment of the Jolly Old Elf. His initials are P.H., and I think at the time he was on the WSO board of directors, maybe even its president. By day, P.H. tends to the law. But his most passionate work is in support of the city’s cultural welfare.

With P.H., everything’s in balance.