Merry Christmas once again from Listening Friday!

Well, we made it another year folks.  And with millions of pounds of rotten, squishy Jack-o-Lanterns clogging our landfills and garbage disposal's you know the smell of Christmas is in the air.

In the olden days, before Siri and calendars, ancient peoples of Earth would determine it was Christmas time by noticing the foliage changing, the air growing crisper, or the local adult-contemporary music station beginning to play Bing Crosby on repeat.  Fortunately in these enlightened times we don't need to depend on such simplistic rituals to observe the holidays.  Today, thanks to Al Gore and Leon Trotsky collaborating to bring us the wonderful interconnection of devices known simply as "the internet", we can remain aware of all things temporal with the simple click of a computer mouse.



This was brought to you by the same people who keep tabs on Fish at www.abevigoda.com

What a time to be alive!
In all seriousness though, the surest sign of the season for most of us remains the changing of Muzak programs in the supermarkets and K-Marts of the world to reflect the mentality that we are now counting down the days remaining to buy stuff we can't afford for people we often only see during this magical time of year when it is considered socially appropriate to both overeat fervently and drink one's own weight in eggnog. But I digress.  One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the music.  There are of course the classics, which we will attempt to visit over the next remaining Friday's before Christmas.  These are the hardened, battle-worn titans of the Christmastime aural field.  Names like Andy Williams, Celine Dion, and the Beach Boys carry a lot of water this time of year.  

But the lesser-known heroes of this day are of course the smooth-jazz remixes of those holiday favorites. Crafted meticulously, like the "radio-version" pop remixes of Disney melodies that inexplicably play following the credits of any given full-length feature animated film. These tunes possess the quality of being almost entirely not unlike an album that you would purchase as a Christmas gift for a friend that is more than an acquaintance, but not well-liked enough to take a long car trip with.  This is the sort of music the office suck-up plays at the company Christmas party from a Spotify playlist on his work computer to demonstrate his "sophisticated taste".  Not outrightly offensive, but majestically inappropriate in the fact that no one feels comfortable calling out the fact that it's awful in light of the fact that it's Christmas and drunkenly punching your fist through your co-worker's stereo is precisely the sort of behavior that earns one a lump of coal in their stocking.

So, in true Listening Friday fashion I will now present the farcical holiday kickoff, celebrating the 3rd year we've done this with a small, but nevertheless important announcement.  Any of you who have read this blog semi-regularly will have by now noticed that my consistency in bringing you a new piece of music on Friday's has been severely lacking in recent weeks (or months).  I offer no excuses, but I can explain that I have been finding it increasingly difficult to put myself in proper frame of mind to research and craft these entries.  It is a painstaking process I use, despite what may seem like nonsensical gibberish, I try to pride myself on getting my facts straight and presenting a coherent and useful snippet of prose that may occasionally cause you to snort milk out of your nose, which of course is fine and well until you come to the realization that you were drinking iced tea.  

So, the announcement.  I plan on writing entries leading up to Christmas (which just so happens to conveniently be a Friday this year) and then I will officially step back from writing for a yet to be determined interval.  This of course is contrary to the unofficial stepping back I've already been doing, the key difference being that this hiatus has now been heralded with the so-named announcement.

I have had this nagging feeling over the past few months that I have run into a quagmire of sorts in the structure and the content of the blog and while I know that many of you who will read this do appreciate what I write (and for that I am eternally grateful, beyond your capacity to fully realize), it has not necessarily garnered the readership where I feel it merits my full attention.  However, that is far from the primary reason I am choosing to go on break.  I also refuse to put out an inferior product, and for personal reasons I have not felt my normal level of motivation in generating content that I once found much easier.  Call it indigestion, solar flares, crippling depression, or lactose sensitivity, but writer's block has made this a bit too challenging for now.  I don't plan to permanently abandon this project, but I will be taking an indeterminate leave from it.  

But fear not!  Because for today and then the next five weeks we're counting down the Listening Fridays until Christmas!  And as is our custom, the first entry will continue to be a five-pack of sorts, and as teased in the beginning of this entry we will be exploring the most influential and dominating smooth-jazz renditions that ruined holiday classics from our respective childhoods.  

#5- Santa Claus is Coming to Town - John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie, arr. Oli Silk

Wikipedia defines "smooth jazz" as, "a genre of music that grew out of jazz and is influenced by rhythm and blues, funk, rock and roll, and pop music styles..."

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines "smooth jazz" as, "the third most heinous weapon of mass destruction ever conceived and tragically the most significant contribution the ape descendants of Earth have ever given the galaxy at large."

A fusion of jazz and hip-hop, smooth jazz takes two innocuous genres and, by cleverly putting them together inside a mixing console, creates something that uniquely sounds at home in both your allergist's waiting room as well as a pornographic film.  Our first example comes from artist, Oli Silk, which is unfortunately his actual name.  

Yeah, girl. It's a Roland.
The video is even more exciting because for a majority of the four minutes, nineteen second length you will be staring vacuously at two stuffed bears dressed like Mr. and Mrs. Claus as they kiss beneath an unseen, but ubiquitous bunch of mistletoe.  You may not survive this ordeal.

#4- Smooth Jazz Christmas Overture - Various, arr. Dave Koz and Friends

I think the most surprising thing about this track is that Dave Koz has friends.  The only thing more repulsive than creating smooth jazz is being the author of a website that writes about smooth jazz. This powerhouse chart covers a lot of territory in it's 8+ minute run time, starting with a silky rendition of Dean Martin's winter classic "Let it Go", it concludes with a nod to fellow smooth jazzer, Oli Silk with a Gospel-esque concoction of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" that will leave you wondering if the federal government should institute a background check and three day waiting period for drum machines and synthesizers.

This overture covers all bases and features far too many classics to name.  Incidentally, those of you with weaker constitutions and pain tolerances may wish to skip to the next entry because OSHA's recommended daily exposure level to smooth jazz will be exceeded somewhere in between "What Child is This?" and "Jingle Bells".  Personal protective equipment may prove ineffective in which case you may just want to throw your computer directly into the garbage at this time.

#3- This Christmas - Donny Hathaway, arr. Boney James (with Dee Harvey)

"This Christmas" was originally written by Donny Hathaway in 1970 to limited acclaim, but would rise to become "...the premiere holiday song written by an African American" according to jazz guitarist/bassist Phil Upchurch.  The tune was discovered again, some 12 years following Hathaway's death in 1979 and revived through many covers by powerhouse artists like Patti LaBelle, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and of course Boney James.

Go, go gadget OCTAVE KEY
At this point I feel it almost necessary to go full disclosure.  My brother played saxophone in his youth and I played trombone.  That's like a bear living with a much more effeminate, but altogether similarly disagreeable wolverine and as such my own personal bias towards Adolphe Sax and his bastardized collection of plumbing scraps is perhaps slightly coming to the surface of this entry- much in the same way a speeding garbage truck crashes through a brick wall.  I totally respect the work and effort these artists put into their craft and as a musician, I understand the heart-wrenching work it takes to get to the point where you can not only create a marketable album of music, but maintain the status of selling enough of it to make sense to create more of this music.  That much is indisputable.

However, as an American citizen with a computer, I would be failing my civic duty as a blogger should I not lay waste to the genre with unfounded derision and scathing reviews. So on the off-chance that any of these artists actually happen upon this website in a litigious mood I offer this olive branch-

Anyway, heeeeeeeeeere's Boney!

#2- White Christmas - Irving Berlin, performed by Jim Carrey

In the late days of the Cold War the United States was faced with the prospect of total annihilation of the planet through combined nuclear holocaust with the USSR.  As a means of staving off the end of days, the CIA worked with DARPA scientists and Hollywood producers to create cyborg actors that would easily win over the hearts and minds of the American citizenry with their charm on the big screen, but could also be completely controlled by government actors who fed information into their computerized brains.  The top-secret project created two automatons, the second of which would reach the White House as commander-in-chief and successfully bring an end to hostilities.

And his name is RONALD REAGAN!!!!
However, their first prototype proved somewhat unstable and prone to random outbursts of bits and pieces of its programming which consisted of several hundred algorithms designed to predict exactly what the prototypical potato-farmer in Peoria, IL would find funny enough to spit-take on his Ovaltine.  That of course was Jim Carrey.

Once the wall fell, the CIA program funding dried up and the scientists were ordered to terminate the unused Jim Carrey-bot, however they had grown extremely fond of him and the talking anus bit and devised a sinister plan to release him into the wild thus preventing the government agents from disassembling him in their secret lab. They reasoned, correctly, that if the American public were to be made aware of him, they too would fall in love with his crazy antics thus proving his worth to national security and defense as an American treasure.  They called in a favor to Ron Howard, and thus "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was born.

Our example from Mr. Carrey's extensive repertoire comes from a brief stint on the Tonight Show where he regales us with the Irving Berlin classic, "White Christmas".  Enjoy.

#1- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Hugh Martin, Ralph Blaine, perf. Kenny G

The original Gerber baby of Smooth Jazz himself, Kenny G was actually born on the distant planet Krypton and only immigrated to Earth after his world was doomed to destruction by a supernova. His parents, Marlon Brando and Sally Struthers, elected to save their only son by placing him in what was apparently the only available spaceship on the planet, which seems like a fairly large oversight for an advanced civilization capable of interstellar travel, but who are we simple monkeys to judge?

Anyway, they placed baby Kenny into the rocket and left him with a single soprano saxophone to remind him of his home-world.  Incidentally, as a result of intense gamma ray radiation near the equator of Krypton, all seagulls had mutated to produce a call that sounded suspiciously like George Michaels playing "Careless Whisper".  Of course, the Kryptonians had no way of knowing who George Michaels was nor why anyone would carelessly whisper in the first place and so they assumed that all sea gulls in all the deepest regions of space sang sultry love ballads about forbidden love.

It's just their cross to bear.
After winning a lawsuit against Barbara Streisand for intellectual property infringement of his trademark hairstyle, Kenny G went on to record 387 singles comprised entirely of the "Amen Break" and an ostrich playing the harmonica.  After winning more Grammy's than the Beatles, Oasis, and Jesus combined, he decided to fulfill his destiny and create the ultimate Christmas album.

Using a metaphysical time machine, he created a rift in space-time that allowed him to re-record the musical scores to every single Christmas movie every made, but the catch was they all would sound exactly like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".  As a result of the rift, an elderly Jimmy Stewart materializes in the middle of the theatre during the recording process only to be discovered by an upper-middle-class American family who then shower him with presents and adoration, reminding us that the real magic of Christmas is in responsible banking with your local credit union.

So that about does it for our Christmas collection this go around.  We'll have a more sobering example next week, with hopefully just as much fun.  

See you next Friday.