While we celebrate a secular Christmas at our house, it is bound in tradition. As Tevye says, without tradition our lives are “as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” And tradition involves music. So welcome to the 2020 Gumbo YaYa Winter Holiday Music Show!
Smoky Greenwell kicks off the show with a rollicking instrumental version of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. ” Other seasonal standards follow such as “Santa Baby” (Lena Prima), “Jingle Bells” (Fats Domino), “O Tannebaum” (Ellis Marsalis), “Zat You Santa Claus” (Louis Armstrong), and “Santa, Let Me Call You a Cab” . . . Wait! What?
Well, I wouldn’t want the show to get bogged down in so many sentimental touchstones that it goes down like last year’s Christmas fruitcake. So I sprinkle in some fresher nuggets of holiday cheer including a few from A Very Threadhead Holiday.
In addition to Alex McMurray’s ballad of how to extricate a drunken Santa from your home, this show includes “Pimp My Sleigh” (Theryl DeClouet the “Houseman”), “Christmas Biya Mama (Andre Bouvier’s Royal Bohemians), “Christmas Like Ya Just Don’t Care” (Panorama Jazz Band), “Santa Won the Lottery” (Frankie Ford) and, of course since its a New Orleans music show, “12 Yats of Christmas” (Benny Grunch and the Bunch).
There’s some fine vocal performances including those by Debbie Davis, Sweet Cecilia, Aaron Neville and my favorite, the Zion Harmonizers doing “White Christmas.”
And for lagniappe, Kermit Ruffins, who you’ll hear early in the show doing “Crazy Cool Christmas,” closes the show with his real Christmas wish (it’s the same every year actually) – “A Saints Christmas” – the New Orleans Saints football team in the Super Bowl. As long as they don’t play like they did against the Chiefs this weekend, they just might make it.
First memory of snow in New Orleans melds with this year’s Holiday music show.
My earliest memories of Christmas are from New Orleans. (Psst. You can start the show and still read the rest of this post.)
My Dad unsnarling lines of C-9 colored bulbs for draping on our second story porch railing on our Nashville Avenue home in uptown New Orleans. The scotch pine tree decorated in the downstairs den. Radio announcements of sightings of Santa Claus and his reindeer flying over the Falstaff Beer sign. Last minute shopping at the purple glowing Katz & Besthoff. Cruising St. Charles to see the mansions and their holiday displays and lights. And the ever present wish for snow in a climate where 50 degrees Fahrenheit seems cold.
Nostalgia is as much a part of my Christmas as mistletoe and Amazon boxes. I suppose its a longing for that period of innocence when I believed possible a boisterous, jovial superhero could disperse presents to all the good children in the world.
This year’s holiday show includes a wistful set on snow in New Orleans, starting with the Radiators, particularly their keyboardist and songwriter Ed Volker, singing about their first experience with this rare occurrence in the subtropics. “Who can forget that feeling. . . the snow gently falling.” If you have lived in New Orleans when it snowed, it is not something you tend to forget.
For me, my first snow meant a rare sighting of my Dad during the daytime. My father grew up in New York City and Newark, got his doctorate in Cambridge at M.I.T. But he had lived in the south most of his professional life. As a Tulane administrator in the 60’s, my Dad was doing the Don Draper thing, working long hours in an office setting where smoking and drinking were the norm. But that afternoon when the snow fell, he came screaming home in our Rambler station wagon, the thin accumulated snow muffling the crunch of the oyster shells on our backyard driveway.
He brusquely told me to grab gloves and get in the car while he collected a few items including a shovel, carrot and old fishing hat. He drove us to Audubon Park — home of Monkey Hill referenced in Allen Toussaint’s song “The Day It Snows on Christmas.” There we attempted to create a snow man. It was a pitiful sculpture, melting pretty much as we were making it. He apologized for the quality of the snow. But you’ll have to excuse me if I get just a bit choked up thinking about my father standing with melted snow wicking up his nice trousers, full of good intentions, most likely carrying his own early snow memories and having just exerted himself more than he had since he hung those damn porch lights during the holidays. Writing this reminds me that part of why I do this show is because of him.
I wasn’t living in New Orleans when I started building Christmas memories like the one Aaron Neville sings about in “Such a Night.” Those involve my partner of over 40 years, who I share the life-changing adventure of moving, right after graduation, from the South to the Northwest and making our home cozy using cinder block shelves, reclaimed furniture and homemade tree ornaments. Yes, we reversed my Dad’s life direction moving to where the winter nights are long and cold, and snuggling feels so good.
John Boutte’s “Holding You This Christmas” and Marva Wright’s “Stocking Full of Love” drive that loving feeling home for me. That set finishes with the very special song by Kelcy Mae, written in the year that same sex marriages became the law of our country. However, her song is universal for any couple who has had to split their holiday time with extended family. Watching this song’s music video that includes crowd sourced marriage pictures from that year is a new holiday tradition for me.
Today’s show has a few traditional holiday songs done in classic New Orleans fashion and, as you might expect, some not-so traditional songs done in contemporary New Orleans fashion. I hope it holds your interest and perhaps triggers a memory or two. My best to you during this season of long winter nights. Hold someone you love close and keep the radio turned on. Cheers.
Click the arrow in the box to this week’s edited show started and then read about what you will hear
New Orleans vocalists have such a deep musician’s bench to pull from for their recordings that its no surprise they’re great to listen to. But there’s no question who the star is in the songs I played today. . .starting with “Sweet Home New Orleans” by Dr. John. It’s the voice!
Alexandra Scott follows with her haunting “Something Altogether New.” I played a rare major label song with Harry Connick Jr. doing “Wish I Were Him” and Antoine Diel does a duet with Arsene Delay singing “Bless You (For the Good That is in You).
Later sets include Marva Wright, Linnzi Zaorski, Lena Prima, Aaron Neville, Johnny Adams, Percy Mayfield, Ingrid Lucia, and Debbie Davis. Sarah Quintana, Miss Sophie Lee and Theryl Declouet (Houseman) keep the focus on the voice. Though in every case, there is excellent support.
I realize I could easily do another show of vocalists without repeating. Afterall, this show does not include Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe, Fats Domino, John Boutte to name a few. Instead, I finish twith a tribute to my alma mater, a trio of songs on Georgia to honor the University of Georgia marching band getting to perform in the Rose Bowl and now the NCAA championship. Go dawgs!
This is the first “festive” season for Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa so our collection of holiday music from New Orleans that I can play on the show is a bit limited. But the Internet is a vast resource of holiday cheer. So for this post, I’m sharing some of my favorite New Orleans holiday videos.
I can’t think of a better way to start then the dulcet tone of Aaron Neville doing “The Christmas Song.”
Okay, time to crank it up, here’s Bonerama doing “Merry Christmas Baby.”
What do you want from Santa? If you’re Kermit, you’d like your hometown football team, despite their 6-8 record, in the Superbowl in a “Saints Christmas.”
A quarter century ago, Benny Grunch and the Bunch did the “12 Yats of Christmas,” a humorous reference to a unique New Jersey-style accent in New Orleans made famous by the novel Confederacy of Dunces (also see my take on New Orleans speak). Some of the New Orleans locales are no longer, but the visuals and song are still very funny.
Regardless of the season, its not New Orleans unless you can do a little buck jumping in a second line. Take it away TBC Brass Band:
Paul Sanchez captures a snoutful of holiday spirit with “I Got Drunk this Christmas.”
I love the way New Orleans music can swing and soothe at the same time. Here’s Funky Butt Brass Band doing “Christmas Time in New Orleans.”
I’ll close this post out with Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, doing “O Holy Night.” May your holiday season be bright and happy. Thank you for reading and listening. Cheers.