Count on Ella Fitzgerald to make a real, nourishing jazz record out of the moldiest of seasonal chestnuts. She enters "Jingle Bells" swinging over a fast walking bass, the "jingle" of piano chord triplets, and a nifty second-beat rim-shot "tock!" When Santa comes to town, he takes a sleigh ride on Ella’s melismatic "S-a-a-an-ta." In the medium-tempo "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," she interpolates a bluesy melody from "Tom Dooley" for the line "Hang your nose down, Rudi/Hang your nose and cry." Basie’s "Good Morning Blues" gets a soul-jazz Xmas treatment. And as usual, Ella resurrects long-forgotten introductory verses for her literate readings ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and Frank Loesser’s "What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?").
Even the Swingle Singers–type vocal choir and the occasional strings and lounge-jazz flute sections manage, for the most part, to transcend schlock. The only disappointment on this reissue from 1960 (with extra tracks, natch) is that the musicians on the superb Frank DeVol arrangements remain anonymous. Who takes that arcing, romantic trombone solo on "The Christmas Song"? Who’s that Sonny Rollins–quoting tenor-sax on "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"? And who plays the excellent vibes obbligati throughout? Oh, to be a Hollywood session man in the late ’50s!