Any advanced player with a penchant for jazz and looking for fresh festive fare this holiday season would do well to check out the newly published Christmas Classics, which appears as volume 61 in the Hal Leonard Jazz Piano Solos series and delivers 24 selections arranged by Brent Edstrom.
Since its recent arrival I have been playing my way through these tunes, and have been equally impressed by the variety on offer and by the consistent quality of Edstrom’s arrangements. Here’s my review…
24 Seasonal Selections
Hal Leonard’s Jazz Piano Series offers a substantial body of music by the greats of jazz, from Horace Silver to Pat Metheny and beyond, as well as jazz arrangements of great songs from the American Songbook, the Beatles, Elton John and the Disney studios.
Readers in the US can dip into these titles at will, although here in the UK not all are cleared for release. I understand that the previous two Christmas collections in the series are thus affected, so it’s wonderful to welcome this new one to these shores.
Christmas Classics includes smooth arrangements of the following enticing mix of traditional and contemporary titles:
- Breath Of Heaven (Mary’s Song)
- Mary, Did You Know?
- Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
- Please Come Home For Christmas
- The First Noel
- I Wonder as I Wander
- Little Saint Nick
- This Christmas
- Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming
- Once In Royal David’S City
- Sussex Carol
- Fairytale Of New York
- Christmas Is A-comin’ (May God Bless You)
- Do You Want to Build a Snowman?
- The Greatest Gift Of All
- Happy Xmas (war is over)
- It Must Have Been The Mistletoe (Our First Christmas)
- A Marshmallow World
- Grown-Up Christmas List
- Pretty Paper
- Shake Me I Rattle (Squeeze Me I Cry)
- Wonderful Christmastime
- You’re All I Want For Christmas
Edstrom’s arrangements are suitably devious, the well-known melodies dressed to thrill in scintillating jazz garb from easygoing swing to 5/4 cool and unseasonably (but very welcome) sunny Latin cocktail shades.
These are fully written-out scores, but also include jazz chord notation above the RH melody line, useful for those playing in a band, with others, or learning to use lead sheets.
Difficulty-wise, the arrangements would likely be challenging for an early advanced player but would be easily accessible by around UK Grade 8. Note however that hand stretches of 10th are commonplace here, often with little time to spread the notes without distorting the groove. Finger slides and stride leaps also feature heavily in some arrangements.
Having had my interest piqued but not seen previous titles in the series, I was eager to consider the quality of the book itself, which I am happy to say is superb.
The covers are tastefully presented on shiny card, and I hope that diligent teachers won’t be put off by the rather awkward-looking wrist position modelled in the stock photo decorating it (somebody buy that player an adjustable stool for Christmas!)
The 96 white pages within are mostly given over to the notation, without introductory text or other support. The notation is spaciously and well engraved, most pieces taking up 4 pages. No fingering is included.
Overall then, this is a smart book aimed at the enthusiastic player capable of getting straight down to playing the music within.
And there we have it! This book is an easy recommendation to any advanced player who has ever fancied playing popular Christmas music in an enjoyable lounge jazz style. I think that’s a lot of people, spicily catered for here, so this deserves to be hugely popular!
And if you happen to be playing background piano live in a public space or private function this Christmas, this book is the one you need to order, quickly!
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