Thursday, November 27, 2008

"The One Horse Open Sleigh" (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jingle Bells)

Why start this blog? Most likely because of the song originally known as "The One Horse Open Sleigh" published in 1857 and written by James Lord (!) Pierpont for Thanksgiving. What kid doesn't learn to love "Jingle Bells" (as it was re-titled and published in 1859) at a young age? I'm sure I was one of those kids to quickly discover the joys of singing the song and it's parodies - "Jingle Bells, Batman smells", anyone?

It's the one song in our repertoire that is guaranteed to get kids up to the mic to sing a verse and chorus.

As a "kindie" songwriter and performer I feel that Christmas music is closest to the Kindie music genre. First, let me give you my quick definition of Kindie music: Music that appeals to all ages with a primary focus on children too old for nursery rhymes but too young for "relationship" songs. Part of Christmas music's appeal is in it's positive message, celebration of innocence, and wonderment. Those qualities are also reflected in Kindie music with both genres have the ability to draw the young and old together.

My band, The Hipwaders, will soon be attempting to record a Christmas/Holiday album for release winter 2009. We plan to begin recording in January and I worry about being able to keep up the "Christmas spirit" when the idea of even listening to Christmas music after December 25th makes me ill. I thought perhaps if I'm forced to maintain focus on Christmas and as much "winter holiday" music & stuff on a regular basis I may be able to make it.

Therefore, if interested, keep checking this blog for our progress in this endeavor.

Now, back to "Jingle Bells". Here's a few of my favorite versions:

First recorded on an Edison Brown Wax Cylinder in 1898 by the Edison Male
Quartette. This version was performed as part of a comedy bit entitled "Sleigh

Sleigh Ride/Jingle Bells - Edison Male Quartette

Here, fleet-fingered Fats Waller performs his version entitled, "Swingin' Them
Jingle Bells" recorded in 1939. Note his uncanny knack for impersonating Jerry Lewis a decade anyone even knew who Jerry Lewis was:

"Swingin' Them Jingle Bells" - Fats Waller

Another favorite version of "Jingle Bells" is Ira Ironstrings' 1959 version that starts off as a Dixieland romp (a genre that generally annoys me after just a few minutes) then suddenly veers off into the swinging exotica realm with malleted percussion giving it a "zing zang" hipness one would would not expect. Even stranger is the fact that Ira Ironstrings was actually an alias for steel guitarist Alvino Rey who was the musical director of the the King Family Singers, a bland outfit that had a TV variety show in the 1960's that managed to be more "vanilla" than Lawrence Welk. The King Family made "Bobby & Sissy" seem more like "Sid & Nancy".
Ira/Alvino made cool-named records like, "Ira Ironstrings Plays for People with $3.98" and...wait for it..."Ira Ironstrings Plays with Matches". Brilliant.
So where did Ira/Alvino's hipness come from? Give this track a listen and you can hear that he learned well from his session work with the great Esquivel!:

Jingle Bells Stomp - Ira Ironstrings

Lastly, also from 1959, comes a version from one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums, The Three Suns "A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas". The Three Suns fall into the "lounge" category but offered much more weirdness. This version adds some zippy "Ren & Stimpy" guitar (that's the best way for me to describe it!) with some cool jazzy organ. Dig this:

Jingle Bells - The Three Suns

Now, step away from the screen and grab yourself a Turkey leg. Stay hip and remember, "It ain't cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving."


GBK Gwyneth said...

Hey Tito - Enjoyed reading your post and hearing about the new project. Hope we will catch you this year!

Ernie said...

Good luck with the new blog! That Ira Ironstrings has always been a favorite.