Birth of the Yule

Years ago around Christmas time, I was hanging out with John Sumner and some other musicians after a gig, listening to some records and having a few tastes. We got to kidding around, combining Christmas carols with jazz tunes to form song-title puns. As I recall, “Joy Spring To the World”, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, Sing, Sing”, “Silent Night In Tunisia”, “Sippin’ At Jingle Bells”, “What Child Is This Thing Called Love?” and “O Little Rootie Tootie Town of Bethlehem” were among the ones we came up with.

Many years later I started writing as a hobby, well before I had a blog site. My first 100 pieces or so were about baseball, sent by email to a slowly growing circle of fellow baseball fans on a group list. It was a way of keeping us entertained over the long winter months and when I started branching out and writing a few things about music I created a second email-list of jazz people.

As Christmas approached in 2010, something made me remember the old Christmas-jazz song-puns and I sent out a few of them along with some new ones, explaining the origin and how they were put together. I proposed a sort of seasonal game, encouraging friends to write in with their ideas and takes on this to see how many jazz-Christmas hybrids we could come up with and how cringe-worthy or clever these might be.

I wondered about the response, but needn’t have. It didn’t take long. My friend Bill McDonald was the first to jump all over this. Though not a musician by trade, he plays pretty respectable jazz guitar as a hobby and has a good working knowledge of tunes, as well as a sharp wit, a good memory and just the kind of sick, pun-loving mind that relishes this sort of challenge. He offered a few submissions that used some jazz sources beyond bebop that I hadn’t thought of. He also introduced a new technique of pun construction, what we might call the “festive keyword insertion”. By way of this, say, “Here’s That Rainy Day” became “Here’s That Reindeer Day” and “Say It, Over and Over Again” became “Sleigh It, Over and Over Again”. Later in the game, Bill also suggested some non-Christian festive songs like “Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa”, instead of “Quando, Quando” – hey, a dog of a song like that deserves such a deliciously foul pun.

Another method we stumbled upon was the “common word segue”, whereby the last word of a Christmas song is also the first word of a jazz standard, or vice versa, forming one tune out of two. For example, “Merry Christmas Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”, with “baby” being the common word. My obsessively febrile mind occasionally likes to string these together into a long stream-of-consciousness medley, like “Merry Christmas Baby Won’t You Please Come Home for the Holidays of Wine and Roses of Picardy”. I promise I’ll try to stay away from too many of those, they’re a little sweaty even for me.

Now we were getting somewhere and as I offered new daily “totals”, more people wrote in – Ted O’Reilly, Mark Eisenman, Ted Quinlan, David Braid, Mark and Simmy Zaret, Jim Vivian and many more, including my son Lee, who offered a few good arcane additions late in the game. I was amazed at the variety of different ideas and viewpoints people offered – tunes or Christmas topics I hadn’t thought of – and as these continued to mushroom, one thing lead to another. It became a series for a few weeks and keeping track of all the new “songs” on the list became more and more of a challenge. We were up to well over a hundred in seemingly no time.

As Christmas came and went I shut down the game for obvious reasons, pretty confident we had run the course at about 200 titles, many more than I would have predicted. Just before New Year’s I sent out the final “master list”. I’ve decided to mount this again, so to speak, because a lot of newer readers missed it the first time around. The rest of you will just have to grin and bear it, or select “delete”. Besides, this might help put some of us in a Christmas mood – I can’t speak for anybody else, but not much else this year seems to be working for me on this front. Oh well, it’s early yet.

What follows is more or less the master list from 2010, though I’ve added a few new ones and subtracted some of the weaker ones, believe it or not. There may not be much meat left on this particular bone, but any new contributions from you readers out there in cyber-land would of course be most welcome. I’ve sorted them into some loose categories and most of them will be self-explanatory. Where necessary, I’ll add some credit and/or commentary, especially with some of the more obscure references, or those that involve some local colour. Some of the songs bring up some amusing stories, which I’ll tell. Without further ado then, here’s the “Birth of the Yule” song list. If possible, enjoy…… and if not, no hard feelings:


TRADITIONAL CAROLS:

“Joy Spring To the World”

“O Little Rootie Tootie Town of Bethlehem”

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing Sing Sing”. Or, “Hark and The Herald Angels Sing”

“The First Noel You Needn’t”

“It Came Upon A ‘Round Midnight Clear”.

“Good King Wenceslas Night When We Were Young”. Or, “I’ve Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good, King Wenceslas”

“What Child Is This Thing Called Love?”

‘Who Comes This Night Has A Thousand Eyes”

“God Rest Ye, Most Merry Gentlemen Don’t Like Love” From my son Lee, based on an old Cole Porter standard I barely know, but which he seems pretty familiar with despite being 25 years younger than me. This is more than a little scary, but there you have it. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“O, Holy Night in Tunisia”

“We Three Kings Porter Stomp” I believe pianist Dave Restivo chimed in with this.

“Silent Night and Day”

“The Best Is Yet to Come All Ye Faithful”

“Is You Adeste Fidelis, Or Is You Ain’t, My Baby?” Sorry, Louis Jordan.

“In Excelsis, Tin Tin Deo”

“Jeru Bambino” A late brain-wave from my oldest friend Robert Allair, using Gerry Mulligan’s nickname instead of “Jesu”. Yowza.

“Angels We Have Heard on Groovin’ High”

“The Little Drummer Boy Next Door”

“Diggin’ With Dex the Halls”

“Mood Indigo Tell It On the Mountain”. Or, “Go Tell It On the Mountain Greenery”

“O, Black and Tannenbaum Fantasy”. As I remember, another late entry from Lee. I’d been wracking my brain for weeks trying to come up with something on “O, Tannenbaum” and the kid stepped in and saved the old man’s sanity, at least for the time being.

Next, some “clusters” – “Blowin’ the Blues Away In A Manger”  “Love Will Find A Way In A Manger” “Long Ago and Far Away In A Manger”  “Away In A Manger in Paradise”

“Do Nothin’ Till You Hear What I Hear”  “‘Deed I Do Hear What I Hear”
“Do You Hear What I Hear A Rhapsody?”  “JuJu Hear What I Hear?”
“Diga Diga Doo You Hear What I Hear?”  “Daahoud You Hear What I Hear?” Who knew that one innocent Christmas carol could yield so many howlers?

“Light A Candle, Jack de Johnette Isabella” This is one of my favourites of all, a late addition from Sam Levene, an old hipster if ever I’ve met one. I wasn’t familiar with the traditional French carol he used, but love the way he worked the famous drummer’s name in to replace “Jeanette”. Brilliant.

CHRISTMAS SONGS:

“Sippin’ At Jingle Bells”  “Ring ‘Dem Jingle Bells”  “Jingle My Bells”  “Django Bells” Apologies due to Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Bill Evans and John Lewis. Sorry fellas, but then again…you never call, you never write…..

“Sandu Claus Is Coming To Town” David Braid proved pretty resourceful at this game, contributing this and several other goodies which I’ll note later to avoid ruining the “surprise”.

“Walkin’ In A Winter Wonderland” A subtle one, fusing the famous Miles Davis blues tune – credited to Richard Carpenter, but I doubt it – with the familiar Christmas standard.

“The Christmas Song For My Father” (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire Down Below). With apologies to Mel Torme, Horace Silver and Ted Curson. Another of Braid’s, as I recall.

“Have Yourself A Mayreh Little Christmas” Using another Horace Silver tune. Not surprisingly, the tunes of frequent-fliers like Silver, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Duke Ellington have provided much of the grist for this festive, or festering, mill.

“I’ll Be Flying Home For Christmas”

“It’s the Most Wonderful, Wonderful Time of the Year” Johnny Mathis had a 1950’s hit with “Wonderful, Wonderful”, which Sonny Rollins also recorded a memorable version of on his great record, NEWK’S TIME.

“A Christmas Waltz For Debby”

“Quicksilver Bells”

“Sleigh Ridin’ High”

“So, What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Another almost invisible one – think KIND OF BLUE.

“Santa Baby, All the Time”

“Frosty the Snow Lover Man” Or, ” My Frosty, the Snow Man’s Gone Now”

“Christmas Time is Here, There and Everywhere”

“Have A Holly (Nimmons) (Pete) Jolly Christmas” I remember this one being the brain-child, if you will, of retired broadcaster, jazz maven and all-around good egg Ted O’Reilly. He’s used the first name of Phil Nimmoms’ daughter Holly along with pianist (and sometimes accordionist) Pete Jolly. It’s a little unwieldy and silly, meaning it fits right in.

“(I’m Dreaming of) A Perry White Christmas”. Or, “Angel, Eyes Dreaming of A White Christmas” The first one is an homage to the wonderful Toronto saxophonist Perry White – no relation to Clark Kent’s editor – and deserves some explanation. Apart from his formidable musical abilities, Perry is very athletic and blessed with good looks that have made him a notorious lady-killer over the years. This has led to some funny lines among the local jazz players, like “Perry White has girlfriends who haven’t even been born yet.” And, “No matter where you are or who you’re with, Perry White is somewhere better having more fun than you”. For these reasons, we should all dream of having “A Perry White Christmas”.

“All I Want For Christmas Is My Tea For Two Front Teeth”

“Blue Mitchell Christmas”

“It’s Beginning the Beguine To Look A Lot Like Christmas”.  Or, “I’m Beginning To See the Light A Lot, Like Christmas”

“Merry Christmas Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home?”

“(I Saw Mommy Last Night Kissing Santa Claus and Got) That Old Feeling”

“Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow More Blues”

“Jingle If I Were A Bell Rock”. Or, “If I Were A Jingle Bell Rock”

“‘Dis Here Comes Santa Claus” Sorry, Bobby Timmons.

“Felice Navidad ‘Dere” Ditto.

“Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer-ly Beloved”  “Rudolf the Red Cross Reindeer” “Rudolf the Red Knozz Moe King” The last entry is based on a Wynton Kelly tune, itself a pun on “No Smoking”.

JESUS, MARY, and JOSEPH (in more ways than one):

“Jesus Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?”

“Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joseph”

“One Morning In Mary”

“Never Will I Mary”

“Halo, Young Lovers”

“Madonna Lee”

THE NATIVITY:

“Infant, Eyes Under A Blanket of Blue”

“Nativity Dancer”

“Stablemates”

“Baby, It’s Cold Inside”

“There’s A Small Hovel”

“You Turned the Stables On Me”

“Let’s Get Loft”

“Love Flocked Out”

“Parker’s Moo”

“Tonight I Shall Sheep (With A Smile on My Face)”

“My Little Brown Crook”

“It Seems To Me I’ve Shepherd That Song Before”

“Honey, Suckle Those”

“Cow About Ewe”

“Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Manure”

“Embraceable Mule”

“Barn To Be Blue”

“Straw Eyes”

“Hay There”

“Speak Low”

“Mangers In the Night” From Mark and Simmy Zaret, as I recall.

“Why Was I Born on Christmas Day?”

THE THREE WISE MEN and THEIR GIFTS:

“It’s Magi” Years ago I was babysitting my niece one afternoon around Christmas time, she was three or four. After her nap, I took her out to the local playground where she careened around while I sat on a bench trying to stay awake. Suddenly she pointed and said, “Uncle Steve, they’re going to visit the baby Jesus!” I turned and spotted three Sikh gentlemen in turbans walking in tandem. I nearly died laughing – from the mouths of babes.

“Gold Folks”

“Frankincense I Fell For You”

“The Myrrh I See You”

“East of the Son”

“Dromedary Air” Oy, Danny boy…………

SANTA, the NORTH POLE and the ELVES:

“Big St. Nick”

“Be Claus of You”

“Sootprints”

“Sleigh It, (Over and Over Again)”

“On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Sleigh” (Santa, feh.) Perhaps David Braid’s wittiest addition.

“Polar”

“Fun In Deep Freeze”

“Ice Work If You Can Get It”

“Eronelf”

“Elf Dreams Come True”

“The Workshop Song” Nat Adderley is victimized here and on the next one.

“Sack O’ Toys, Whoa”

“Just Squeeze Me, Green Chimneys” A Duke Ellington-Thelonious Monk medley.

“There Snow You”

“There’s Snow Greater Love”

SANTA’S REINDEER:

“Rudolf Minor”

“Comet On A My House”

“Something Cupid Like I Love You”

“Dancer of the Infidels”

“Pfrancering” After “Pfrancing”, a blues which Miles Davis often used as a play-off theme in the early ’60s.

“Dasher You’ve Gone”

“Way Down Donner In New Orleans”

“KlactoVixenstene” After one of Charlie Parker’s most amazing tunes, “Klactoveedsedstene”.

“Blitzenkrieg Baby” With apologies to Una Mae Carlisle.

“Hooves Sorry Now?”

“Here’s That Reindeer Day”

“Come Reindeer Or Come Shine”

“Reindeer Old Stockholm”

“Antler Hagar’s Blues” W.C. proved pretty handy here.


CHRISTMAS TREES and TRIMMINGS:

“O Christmas Tree Little Words”

“Violets For My Firs”

“Spruce the Mooche”

“Pine and Dandy”

“If You Could Cedar Me Now”

“One Ornament Julep”

“Bough Swell”

“Holly Things You Are”

“Have You Met Mistletoe Jones?”

“Popsicle Mistletoes”

“Tickle Mistletoe”

“I Got Wreathm” A creation of bassist Jim Vivian, one of the most particular people I know, and one of the funniest.

“Shiny Stockings” You know, hung by the Mike Mantler piece.

“Ivy Found A New Baby”

“My Hearth Belongs To Daddy”

“Tinsel Tinsel Deo”

“It Was Written In the Cards”

CHRISTMAS DINNER and FOOD:

“O Tangerine”

“My Lil’ Darlin’ Clementine”

“Big Butter and Eggnog Man”

“Just You, Just Mead”

“In the Stilton of the Night”

“Salt Peanuts”

“The Girl From Empanada” Empanadas are a type of stuffed bread dish, either baked or fried. They’re common to various cultures – Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American, Italian, Southeast Asian. I associate them with Christmas because when I first met my wife Anna – back when her father was alive and her mother was in better shape, and her sister Fran and nephew Kyle both still lived in Toronto – they used to make at least three huge ones on the day of Christmas Eve. It was a food ritual that, between the prep, baking and eating, took most of the day. One was stuffed with a homemade pasta called “lolli” and tomato sauce, one with broccoli and Italian sausage and another with “baccala” – Italian for salt cod. Her mother Maria used the leftover dough to make “pizza sarda” – a simple pizza with just small slices of anchovy, minced garlic, pepper, oregano and a little olive oil on a thin crust. To tell the truth, I wasn’t all that crazy about the empanadas, but I fell on the pizza sarda like a starving man, eating almost the whole thing while the others stuffed themselves with the empanadas. Anna’s mother was amazed that a “mangiacake” like me loved it so much, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

“Someday My Mince Will Come”

“But Nuts For Me”

“I Yam In Love”

“I’m Pudding All My Eggs In One Basket”

“Cheers” (C. Parker.)

“It Must Be Cranberry Jelly, (‘Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That)” This one merits some explanation and provides an excuse to tell one of my favourite jazz stories, which I first read in Bill Crow’s marvelous book “Jazz Anecdotes”, a gift to all jazz fans. Back in 1942, Chummy MacGregor and George “The Fox” Williams wrote a jazz/pop novelty song called “It Must Be Jelly (‘Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That)”, with words by one Sunny Skylar. Glen Miller’s band recorded it in 1944 for RCA Victor and a year later Woody Herman also recorded it as a single and a V-Disc. So one time, a bunch of musicians were hanging out at someone’s house, drinking, carrying on and listening to records – sounds familiar. The host put on some Woody Herman records and the guys couldn’t decide who was playing drums on one particular track – some were sure it was Shelly Manne, others equally adamant that it was Jake Hanna. Lee Katzman, a wonderful trumpet player and noted wag, silenced the discussion with the following: “It must be Shelly, ’cause Jake don’t jam like that!”  That has to be the hippest, most inside one-liner I’ve ever heard, it still kills me. And to Bill Crow, one of my life heroes, thank you for getting it down on paper – Merry Christmas Bill, and all the best.

“Brome For the Holidays” A ducky one, don’t you think?

“Goosey Gander”

“Stuffy”

“The Yule Gravy Waltz”

“My Brining Hour” Brining a Christmas turkey is something we became aware of about ten years ago. You soak the fresh bird in a solution of water and kosher salt in a large pot for about 24 hours, then pat it dry and put it in the fridge until cooking. The process greatly speeds up the cooking time and ensures a moister turkey with crispy skin. It’s the way to go.

“Carvin’ the Bird” (C. Parker.)

“Yardbird – Sweet” (Ditto.)

THE ANTI-CHRISTMAS:

“Scrouge” After “Rouge”, one of the arrangements John Lewis contributed to the 1948-50 Birth of the Cool sessions.

“You’re An Old Scroogie”

“Ebbenezer Tide”

“The Jitter-Humbug Waltz”

“Clap Hands, Here Comes Marley”

“Charlie’s Fezziwig” (C. Parker again.)

“Ghost Of A Christmas Yet To Come Chance”

“Grinchworm”

“Lump of Charcoal Blues”

THE NUTCRACKER:

“I Love A Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”

“Taxi War Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”

BING CROSBY:

“It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Bing”

“Bobsleds, Bingles and Brie”

GIFTS:

“How Are You Fixed For Gloves?” From Maureen Kennedy, a classy singer who knows a ton of good, out-of-the-way songs.

“Gift Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams”

“Milenberg Toys” After the old New Orleans chestnut, “Milenberg Joys”.

“Glad To Be Unwrapping”

JAZZ TUNES WITH A CHRISTMAS TWIST:

“Crepescule With Noellie”

“Yule Eyes”

“Out of Ho Where”

“A Wassail Boat In the Moonlight and You”

“Summit Partridge Drive”

“These Yuleish Things”

“Don’t Get Around Yon Virgin Much Anymore” Also from Jim Vivian, and it still makes me laugh. Speaking of laughs and people named Vivian….my first mother-in-law is named Viv and like my mother, she worked for years as a teaching assistant in a kindergarten. One year they got the kids painting pictures of Christmas subjects and one little boy did a picture of a jolly-looking circular fellow. Viv complimented him on such a nice portrait of Santa Claus and the boy answered, “It’s not Santa Claus, Mrs. Thompson, it’s Round John Virgin!” I can still hear Viv’s cackling laughter the first time she told that story, one of my favourite memories of her and of Christmas.

All God’s Chillun Got With Him”

“Ask Me Now, It’s Christmas Time”

CHRISTMAS PHRASES:

“I’m Coming, Yes Virginia There Is A Santa Claus”

“There Was No Blue Room At the Inn”

“I’m Making A List and Checking It Played Twice”

MEDLEYS:

“Mangers In the Silent Night We Called It A Day”

“The Christmas Thong I’ll String Along With You and the Night and the Music”

“Have Yourself A Very Early Little Christmas, Get Out of Town, It’s Too Late Now”

NON-CHRISTIAN FESTIVE SONGS:

“Hannukah, I Love Her So”

“The Dreidel Song” (The Cradle Song)

“Hard-Hearted Hannukah”

“Jews In the Night”

“Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa”

“Diwali Me”

Counting the medleys as one entry each, that’s 210 titles in all, by my count. All I can say is O, Holy Shite.

Merry Christmas, Bon Jovi, and Auld Eddie Lang Syne.

© 2015 – 2017, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.

9 thoughts on “Birth of the Yule

  1. This is mind-boggling. Re your speculation about “Walkin'” and its authorship, here’s something I wrote in 2000 for the CD reissue liner notes of the Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt BOSS TENORS IN ORBIT:

    Pianist Junior Mance had been working with Ammons’s group since 1947. As Mance described it: “Sonny was stranded without a gig in Chicago, and he used to sit in with us all the time in a little joint called the Congo Lounge on the South Side. So they played together a hell of a lot before they ever recorded.” Ammons and Stitt made their first recordings in March 1950 in New York for the Prestige label; the session produced their first hit, “Blues Up and Down”. In April, they returned to a New York studio with a four-horns-and-rhythm septet and recorded a blues called “Gravy”. The tune later became much better known as “Walkin’” with Ammons’s manager credited as composer; it was a staple in the repertoire of trumpeter Miles Davis and many others. However, Mance states unequivocally that the piece was composed by the veteran composer-arranger Jimmy Mundy, who was writing for the Ammons septet. “I stayed at his house with him [Mundy] and his wife,” says Mance, “and we talked a lot about music, and he wrote this thing called “Gravy”. He wrote the original tune, the melody; I was there when he was doing it. That’s the last time I noticed it was “Gravy”; next time it came out “Walkin’” with Richard Carpenter’s name on it.” No one is sure why or how this happened.

  2. Steve, thanks for the mention in your article. It was fun to one of the many (and highly twisted) contributors to this magical Christmas endeavor. Best of the season and I will see you in the new year.

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