Jazz It Up! Christmas

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Piano players at early advanced level enthusiastic for a more jazzy take on evergreen Christmas favourites have never been better served, with several choices among my recent reviews to choose from.

Alongside these, they will likely lap up Eric Baumgartner’s brilliant Jazz It Up! Christmas, now in its second edition, and offering twelve ingenious solo arrangements in a variety of accessible grooves.

Twelve, you say? Well yes: the first edition of the book appeared in 2000 and included six pieces; that number doubled to twelve with the publication of the second edition in 2020, the subject of this mini review…

The 12 Dazzles of Christmas…

Baumgartner will be known to some for his Jazz Piano Basics course, jazzy additions to the John Thompson piano series and many other collections from Willis Music and Hal Leonard.

Baumgartner’s unbeatable sense of style and pedagogic understanding equally combine to make this publication another top choice.

From boogie-tinged swing to Latin spice, taking in waltz and ballads along the way, every one of these dazzling arrangements proves totally irresistible, collectively adding up to one of the most charming and joyously festive collections I’ve yet discovered.

The twelve sparkling arrangements are of:

  • Angels We Have Heard on High
  • Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella
  • Coventry Carol
  • Deck the Hall
  • God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
  • Good King Wenceslas
  • Here We Come A-Caroling
  • Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
  • Jingle Bells
  • March (from The Nutcracker)
  • O Christmas Tree
  • Ukrainian Bell Carol

These serve as starting points for Baumgartner’s enjoyable romp through jazz piano stylings, the contrasts and range of music being a particular strength here. As he writes in his introduction,

“I wanted to capture the spirit and variety of the originals, so that the pieces form a cohesive musical programme. In fact, the titles have been carefully sequenced to contrast and complement one another, just as would be done when programming a live performance. But of course each performer has the freedom to approach the pieces in any sequence they desire!”

The arrangements themselves would suit players around UK Grade 7 level, and while they brilliantly showcase jazz musical language, they are fully presented as traditional scores suitable for any reading pianist.

The 48-page book offers clearly engraved and well-spaced notation, with helpful fingering throughout, the author noting,

“It is not essential for the player to have had previous jazz experience in order to learn and perform these pieces successfully; they are fully arranged. There are no chord symbols, or sections requiring improvisation. The experienced jazz player, however, is welcome to experiment with rhythmic and melodic variation or “open up” various sections for improvisation. As for the less experienced “jazzer”, this collection may serve as an introduction to the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic vocabulary of jazz, and hopefully spark a desire for more in-depth study.”

Closing Thoughts

In a very crowded market, here is another collection which stands tall as a winning festive choice.

Baumgartner’s writing is wonderfully pianistic, stylistically spot on, and whether played for background entertainment or performed as concert pieces, listeners will be as delighted to hear these arrangements as piano players are to practise and play them.

The presentation of the book itself, though not the most colourful, is effective and as classy as one expects from the Willis Music Company. In short, Jazz it Up! Christmas is a publication which is unlikely to disappoint.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.