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The Gift of Music for the Holidays

January 26th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

I can’t walk by those CDs for sale in discount stores without looking for a treasure. This year my budget didn’t call for those silver-belled CDs that are hits this season particularly those by Josh Groban and Michael Bublé, although I have respect for both these singers and all the other artists that dish out Christmas music each year.
I have searched the likes of Big Lots!, Party Store and others and found scores of albums selling for under $5. I wondered if the CDs were any good. The artists may be unknown—and unlisted in most cases—but if you are a traditionalist and enjoy seasonal music as it used to sound, these CDs are of excellent digital quality and in the main quite good artistically. You can dream of a white Christmas on the cheap.
It seems a division of Sony Music, the Sony Music Special Products known as KRB Music Companies, gleans its catalogue for oldies but goodies, combining tracks in all sorts of ways. Other companies, such as Drew’s Famous, Holly Classics, Ross and Page Music find artists whose names are unknown but whose professional competence is beyond reproach distribute these CDs to these low cost racks. The quality of all the CDs is first-rate, even tracks of music recorded a half century ago.
At The Party Store in Pasadena I found “Christmas: Celebrate the Season with these Cocktail Classics”, a compilation of the seasons music by a terrific swing band and a vocalist whose voice changes even mid-song between Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and the Marilyn Monroe voice-over dubber (who in some instances was Marni Nixon of “King and I”, “West Side Story” and “My Fair Lady” fame) in quality. The company, Drew’s Famous is also known as TUTM (a cute acronym for Turn Up The Music) whose mission is to provide background music for your party so you don’t have to hire a DJ. For your Christmas party or gathering of friends and family, this CD will fill the hall with a sophisticated lounge feel.
A more sedate album at Big Lots! in Arcadia is “A Blessed Christmas” with flutist Holly Hansen and harpist Beth Mason. I was unable to track down these artists, but I think they are very good and will fit in nicely while you relax and gaze at your tree, or perhaps while resting in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve.
The best selection I found was at Big Lots! in Duarte where I picked up an album by the Harry Simeone Choral, the group that had a hit with “The Little Drummer Boy” in the late 1950s. Another is “Mantovani, Songs of Christmas”. Mantovani, whose full name was Annunzio Paolo Mantovani, (and pronounced MAN-to-vani) was born in Venice, Italy, in 1905. He came from a family of musicians—his father served as concertmaster of the La Scala Opera House orchestra under Arturo Toscanini—and he was a successful bandleader in clubs throughout London. A recording contract with Decca Records produced 50 albums of which 40 were top-40 hits of the day. As his soft-string sound which he termed “cascading strings” went out of style in the mid-1950s, the orchestra sank into obscurity only to have its strictly senior-citizen sound mocked by comedians. But, the musicality is there and its smoothness a joy to hear.
Better known names are found on the KRB Music CDs, but they are strictly for the nostalgia crowd. “Favorite Melodies of Christmas” offers Christmas music by Andre Previn, Peter Nero and Andre Kostalanetz and his Orchestra. “An Orchestral Christmas” has 10 different artists ranging from The Cleveland Orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to the Philadelphia (Orchestra) Brass section.
Finally, “Christmas Classics on Piano” is solo piano with an assortment of players but more than half the album features David Huntsinger. Huntsinger is a New England-based pianist and composer/arranger.
We hope you enjoy the season and partake in both live performance and recorded music as part of your family’s celebration. Merry Christmas.

-By Bill Peters

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