Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why Your Christmas Music Should Include Jazz

If you're one of the few living civilians who has read Understanding Media by my fellow Edmontonian, Marshall McLuhan—and no, seeing his cameo in Woody Allen's Annie Hall doesn't count—you're privileged to have been present for the coining of two renowned phrases: the-medium-is-the-message and the-global-village. Me? I'm still haunted by his concept of Hot-to-Cool Media. 
Illustration from GRP Christmas Collection CD (1988)
It is a coincidence that McLuhan chose the word "cool" to describe media requiring effort in consuming/apprehending them. Jazz is said by aficionados to be "cool," but what McLuhan meant was that it was among the media requiring me to supply some understanding—to connect some dots—in order to fulfill the listening experience. When jazz musicians give us instrumental Christmas carols, they're inviting us to join in and re-live the message. Their musical presentation is ever-new, often surprising, and intentionally different—take Daryl Stuermer's The Little Drummer Boy for example. They have created a new wineskin to carry a potent, dynamic, growing elixir—a musical incarnation retelling the birth of mankind's salvation. We provide the lyrics, or hum along to engage with their celebration...squaring the circle, so to speak.

I've heard many people say they "hate" jazz, and I can sympathize. Some jazz can be frantic, non-melodic, showy and loud. But there's also a genre called Smooth Jazz, derived from West Coast Jazz, invented by my dear, late friend Shorty Rogers. Christmas jazz is almost always smooth. In this day of iTunes, where you can purchase individual songs, it's never been safer, easier and more affordable to spice up your Christmas repertoire with some tasty jazz. I'll give you some links to sample a few luminous examples below, but first consider that you probably already own at least one jazz Christmas CD: the Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas

I still consider The Carpenters' Christmas Portrait to be the best yuletide recording of all time—which is vocal pop and symphonic instrumental, with only sprinkles of jazz-like piano tossed in. I then rank Amy Grant's 1983 A Christmas Album in second place, followed quickly by Michael W. Smith's 1989 Christmas. Don't even think of not buying the complete album if you don't already own these vocal classics (which also contain entire instrumental songs).

The CD cover atop this post perfectly epitomizes jazz: an incomplete drawing, an iconographic representation, beckoning you to fill in the blanks. And so I offer the GRP Christmas Collection as the best-of-breed (it has grown to three volumes). Next is from our local boy, Larry Carlton, who offers Christmas at My House, and he's in a quartet too: FourPlay, whose 1999 classic Snowbound opens with my all-time favorite Christmas instrumental recording—Angels We Have Heard on High.  The GRP label also released the wonderful Making Spirits Bright in 2004, following the 2002 success of trumpeter Chris Botti's pensive December on Columbia (a title he shared with George Winston's famed 1982 CD).

I hope this small sampling is enough to convince you to check out some smooth jazz this Christmas—and become part of the celebration of Jesus' wondrous arrival on earth.

I don't make any money from any of the links above. GooglePlay offers web-based 90-second samples—triple what Amazon offers. The app-based, proprietary iTunes Music Store also gives 90-second previews, but doesn't offer any way to "share" music. So listen at Google and buy wherever you wish.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2012: Annus Horribilis For Conservatism

I have not written a post in this space for almost six weeks. Today, December 6th, is the one month anniversary of Democrat Barack Hussein Obama's reelection as President of the United States. On that day Republicans also lost a couple of seats in the Senate and a handful in the House—retaining control over just one third of the U.S. government's Executive-Legislative power structure. I was shocked by those results. I fell, and have yet to get up.

Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up... (Prov. 24:16)
FALL #1: As 2012 began, I was just returning to Tennessee from Iowa, where I'd had dinner with the conservative Republican candidate I was supporting for the nomination, Newt Gingrich. But his was always an uphill battle against monied "Massachusetts Moderate" Mitt Romney. Once again Republicans nominated the least conservative guy on the premise that he was most electable.
By late spring, I'd licked my wounds and considered the good things about Romney—of which there were not a few. And, apart from the Petulant Paulians—who just can't fathom why their wild-eyed, silver-haired, lets-be-nicer-to-Iran candidate didn't carry the day—supporters of Gingrich, Santorum, Bachmann and Cain rallied 'round Romney. We were back in the race.
FALL #2: Some twenty-two states sued the United States government over the constitutionality of Obamacare. As the Supreme Court's '11/'12 term came to an end, conservatives suffered a body-blow when Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote the PPACA as a tax in order to save it. He defended his feeble legal reasoning whining "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices." Those ill-chosen words should haunt Roberts for the rest of his life...and they certainly rang in the ears of conservatives heading into the Political Convention season.

In Tampa, despite a dust-up with the irascible Ron Paul, who headlined an off-site rally of his own, the Republican Convention went pretty well—Clint Eastwood's comedic schtick brilliantly capping off the event. 

FALL #3: The Democrat's craven, cynical, shameless tactics escalated all year long. Most obvious was their planned, coordinated phony War-on-Women narrative, launched in collusion with the corrupt Clintonista George Stephanopolous. As moderator at one of the 385 Republican Presidential Debates, he famously inserted an issue that nobody—neither Democrat or Republican—had been talking about in the campaigns: access to contraception. Mitt Romney actually had the best response to the question: "Huh?" Romney asked the moderator what state or federal agency was attempting to restrict women's access to contraception? No reply, just a repeat of the question. And of course Rick Santorum, proving he will never be ready-for-primetime, took the bait, sinking not only his candidacy, but also emboldening David Axelrod to keep throwing dust in the eyes of voters (ie: Romney's tax returns, Romney murders wife of employee, Republicans throw granny off a cliff, etc).

Somehow conservatives fought through the debris and Romney managed to build momentum in public opinion polls—both state and national.  

FALLS #4-6: These may look to be mere sports stories, but sport and entertainment comprise a big part of "culture" in America—a force more potent than politics.
#4 - USA loses golf's Ryder Cup in Chicago. (Tiger Woods. American Exceptionalism.)

#5 - NHL cancels hockey. (A Labor Union comprised of millionaires.)
#6 - Tim Tebow vanishes. (A successful Christian role-model hidden under a bushel.)

FALL #7: The November election. Unlike 2008, when conservatives just knew McCain would lose, we actually thought we'd win in 2012. This wasn't based just on hope for change—we actually believed that the Presidency is a performance business, that nobody had been returned to the Oval Office with unemployment above 7%, that You-Didn't-Build-That was an insult to America's can-do spirit, that a majority of Americans oppose Obamacare. These beliefs encouraged us, but weren't enough: we had published polls to signal that a center-right nation would change lanes and get off that dangerous left shoulder. Oops. what? How do we dust ourselves off this time?

Without missing a beat, beltway Republicans began telling us to be more like Democrats: come to peace with illegal immigration, embrace notion of the welfare state, abandon social/moral standards. But the Political Consultant-and-Commentariat Class are not highly-regarded by conservatives in the best of times...less so when the chips are down. No, we thoughtful conservatives (that ain't an oxymoron) held our peace. Even Rush Limbaugh has only in the past week begun to articulate what happened November 6th...and hasn't yet waded beyond his ankles into prescriptive waters.

And there's good reason to keep quiet. Conservatives misunderstood the American people. We thought we were winning, and we lost. We simply couldn't believe, with the direction of this government, enough people would vote Democrats back into power. So while a lame-duck Congress takes America over a fiscal cliff, while the worst President in American history plans his second inauguration and while the Middle East spins out of control, conservatives will retreat at Christmas. We will reflect, we will pray, we will study, we will hold our loved ones close. Then we'll pick ourselves up and get back into the arena.

Merry Christmas to you, and a happy new year!