If you haven’t yet heard of the musical theater writing team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, you’re gonna. Since coming to public attention on youtube with their song cycle Edges, these baby geniuses have shot to fame with their contributions to the TV series Glee and the movie La-la land, as well as several stage works including the poignant Dogfight (one of the most memorable nights I’ve ever had in the theater) and the widely acclaimed Dear Evan Hanson.
Early in their career the team created a musicalized stage version of the popular holiday movie A Christmas Story. This is a charming recasting of a perennial favorite and offers a welcome contrast to the typical slew of various Christmas Carols. Along with the marvelous orchestrations by Larry Blank, this album always impresses me by Pasek and Paul’s ability to draw such broad, charming capital from the somewhat slight, introspective story.
Missing from this recording is the big Act 2 showstopper “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”, which rightly received much acclaim in the press for both its rafter-rattling choreography and its tunefulness. This performance from that year’s Tony Awards features the original Broadway cast, including a passel of preternaturally talented baby hoofers.
Like premium hot chocolate, this show is tasty, rich and warming. Check it out via the image below:
UPDATE: After publishing last week’s post, I was made aware that Rick Gallagher has a brand new holiday album out this year, which I spent this past weekend getting to know. Like his existing two, “Christmas Tidings” has unfailingly put me in the spirit – and given the mood in the U.S. right now that’s no mean feat. The invention and diversity of the arrangements on this new album match those of the previous ones: a nod at “Poinciana” in “Do You Hear What I Hear”, the 5/4 waltz beat of “Angels We Have Heard On High”, a smile-inducing country twang in a couple of the numbers… It’s also great to hear material not usually included in the fairly limited tradition rep. Guaranteed to make you feel carefree for a while. Highly recommended. Check it out via the image below.
Although I’m not religiously observant, I always revel in the December holiday season as a time to celebrate community, generosity, joy. Holiday music of all kinds is a great love of mine, so I’ll be devoting my posts across December to it.
To kick it off I’m revisiting two albums I discovered last year by Pittsburgh-based jazz pianist Rick Gallagher. Both of these were an integral part of my 2015 holiday season: check them out via the images below and you’ll see why.
This is deep, trenchant playing across all moods. In particular, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” on Snowriding is one of the most sublime ballad performances I’ve ever heard. Like a top shelf cognac, this poignant track will erase your cares. But they’re all good.
Both these albums figure heavily in my holiday Spotify playlist, Yuletide Swing. It skews towards uptempo swing / bebop piano trio jazz, though there’s a few big band and other genre numbers in there (gotta have Guaraldi and Ella). It’s publicly available: I hope it gives your holiday some lift.