We asked NYJO staff, board, and musicians for their favourite seasonal music
In what is now a long-standing tradition, we have created a playlist with the favourite seasonal music of the extended NYJO family:
Here are this year’s 28 eclectic picks:
Carolyn Sampson & Joseph Middleton: ‘Peace on Earth’ from But I Like to Sing… (2023)
I heard this new recording of Errollyn Wallen’s carol ‘Peace on Earth’ for the first time the other day. I was walking through rainy Catford, but immediately felt I could have been walking through snowy Welsh fields on Christmas Eve, which is precisely what I intend to be doing on Christmas Eve. I love the stillness, light and hope in this performance.
Susie York Skinner, NYJO Chief Executive
Forrest Frank: ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ from A Merry Lofi Christmas (2023)
It’s a take on a classic but has more of a cozy, jazzy feel to it. It’s newly released but has become one of my festive favourites. I feel it’s important to share cause there’s nothing new under the sun, we’re just finding ways to reinvent what we already have and I feel this is a good example of that sentiment.
James Vickery: ‘Under the Mistletoe’ (2020)
I’ve had the chance to see him live and love how he’s a voice for UK R&B. He hasn’t pigeonholed himself at all and this song proves just that. Even though this may be seen as a typical Christmas love song, I feel that Vickery’s tone is so smooth and buttery that you get lost in this more sultry take on Christmas.
Kenyah Johnson, NYJO Assistant
Simon & Garfunkel: ‘A Hazy Shade of Winter’ from Bookends (1968)
One of the first S&G songs I was introduced to via my dad’s vinyl collection. There are times I’d pick the Bangles cover, but on most days, I gravitate to the original.
Julie Andrews: ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music (1965)
Growing up in a tropical part of the world, films were a window to all the quintessentially Christmassy things in the west. While Coltrane’s rendition would probably be more apt for a NYJO playlist, it’s this version from the soundtrack that I associate most with winter.
A.R. Rahman: ‘Dil Se Re’ from Dil Se (1998)
Even though it’s technically not a winter song, it’s the title track to a film set in the mountains. So, I tend to associate it with the cold, and like to think the bass line by Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt and iconic refrain composed by the maestro Rahman have a warming influence. Finally, it’s a story of love against a backdrop of violence – which seems apropos given what’s happening in the world.
Projjol Banerjea, NYJO Interim Chair of Trustees
Herbert Howells: ‘A Spotless Rose’
It has the most beautiful harmony – like jazz but with a crystalline quality that really matches the text. I love how the layers of both Christian and earlier worship traditions intertwine at this time of year: the Solstice and Christmas are such an evocative time for me and this music plus others like Britten’s ‘A Ceremony of Carols’ really reflect that.
Mark Armstrong, NYJO Head of Music
Ella Fitzgerald: ‘Good Morning Heartache’ from Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! (1961)
‘Good Morning, Heartache’ by Ella Fitzgerald reminds me of my old commute, waiting at Blackfriars on a cold evening with the lights of London as a backdrop. There is something quite magical about this tune which I find incredibly comforting – perfect for cold wintery evenings!
George Gatehouse, NYJO Artist Liaison
John Coltrane: ‘Alabama’ from Live At Birdland (1963)
Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’ was now recorded 60 years ago – written after the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing attack on civil rights campaigners, killing four black schoolgirls. It’s a eulogy and resistance in the same piece.
Nduduzo Makhathini: ‘Ntu’ from In The Spirit Of Ntu (2022)
Nduduzo Makhathini is the first South African to be signed to the Blue Note label. This is a contemporary response for me to Coltrane’s composition in the sense that it’s a full circle offer to the world from a democratic South Africa, based on contemporary jazz and wisdom of elders. The album has just won awards. For me it picks up a timelessness of jazz speaking to the different ages.
Tricia Sibbons, NYJO Trustee
Kokoroko: ‘Age of Ascent’ from Could We Be More (2022)
I’m not a winter person or a Christmas person, so I just want to be in the sun listening to Kokoroko, ignoring all of this hyper-materialistic nonsense!
Vikki Moorhouse, NYJO Head of Learning
Cameo: ‘Candy’ from Word Up (1986)
Because no matter when you hear it, you must dance to it…what better way to keep warm than by doing the Candy Slide!
Janet Campbell, NYJO Trustee
Sérgio Godinho: ‘Com Um Brilhozinho Nos Olhos’ from Canto Da Boca (1981)
While this isn’t a particularly Wintery song, Sérgio Godinho is a Portuguese national treasure and he always reminds me of home – which to me, is what this season is all about. Something about his honeyed-tone voice feels reassuring to me, as does the fact that I know Godinho’s music will, as always, be as big a part of my Christmas as the traditional codfish.
Mariana Curado, NYJO Communications Manager
Herbie Hancock & Corinne Bailey Rae: ‘River’ from River: The Joni Letters (2007)
I love the original Joni Mitchell version of this song – there’s something very peaceful and quiet that I love about Winter, especially when you take a step back from all the Christmas chaos that it can be so easy to get caught up in, and I’ve always felt this song just encapsulates that perfectly. I was talking to our brilliant NYJO Under 18s Ensemble leader Winston Clifford about how much I loved this song recently, and he told me that Herbie Hancock had a whole album called River: The Joni Letters which I’d never heard before! It’s so lovely when you discover a new album to get totally lost in, and this is probably my favourite track from it.
Beth Ismay, NYJO Learning Programmes Manager
Nina Simone: ‘Mood Indigo’ from Little Girl Blue (1959)
This is the opening track on Nina Simone’s debut album. It is (on the one hand) a swinging take on a classic Ellington/Bigard tune – and I am back in my swing era like nobody’s business. But it’s more than that: listen for her improvised Baroque counterpoint intro on the piano. What moves me most about Nina Simone is the way she takes music not constructed with Black experience in mind, and rearticulates it for new contexts. To my ears, this is one of those moments. This is a 24-year-old Black woman, excluded from classical music conservatory, improvising fugato over ‘Mood Indigo’, 41 seconds into her recording career. It’s as Hanif Abdurraqib says: “Nina Simone sang songs of protest even when she wasn’t singing songs of protest.”
Paul Brady: ‘Arthur McBride’ from Andy Irvine & Paul Brady (1976)
Not only would ‘Arthur McBride’ automatically get a look-in as my second-most listened-to song of 2023, this classic Irish anti-recruiting folk tune takes place by the seaside on Christmas morning. Therefore, if ‘The Fairytale of New York’ is a Christmas song, then this one is too. It also happens to be seriously charming – worth every shredded fingertip spent figuring out Brady’s fiddly guitar parts. I’ll keep waiting for an Irish folk tune set on the First Night of Hanukkah.
Liam Gesoff, NYJO Development & Communications Coordinator
Mimi & Richard Fariña: ‘Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’ from Memories (1968)
This is a poem by Richard Fariña that he set to the Irish air ‘My Lagan Love’. The tune is expansive and static and discusses our growing disconnect from nature, and its a tune I often come back to at this time of year, as the winds and the cold bite and we feel the changing of the seasons most intensely. I feel more connected to the natural world as the weather changes into something less comfortable reminding us that it wasn’t created for our comfort as we might like to believe.
Lydia Cochrane, NYJO Emerging Professional
Ron Carter, Hank Jones, Sadao Watanabe & Tony Williams: ‘Chelsea Bridge’ from Carnaval (1983)
This tune is associated with the wonderful Ben Webster but the version I particularly love is the version on the live 1978 LP, Carnaval – Ron Carter, Hank Jones, Sadao Watanabe, Tony Williams. The tune reminds me of late winter nights walking along the Thames after a long day, sometimes after a visit to the 606 Club. Despite the title, I generally think of Albert Bridge when I hear this tune but I’m sure no one is going to get too worried about that.
Paul Boniface, NYJO Interim Deputy Chair of Trustees
Nat King Cole: ‘The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)’ from The Nat King Cole Story (1961)
Good harmony and it gives a good all round Jazzy/Christmas feel. [Editorial comment: listen out for the ‘Jingle Bells’ quote in the guitar at the end!]
Liam, NYJO Under 18s musician
Luciano Pavarotti: ‘O Holy Night’ from O Holy Night (2005)
‘O Holy Night’ is special to me, because it speaks of the birth of the Saviour, Jesus. For me as a Christian, that is what the spirit of this festive holiday is really about – spreading God’s love!
Joash Scott, NYJO Assistant
Jens Kuross: ‘Cold Alaska’ (2023)
Adam Steffey: ‘Warm Kentucky Sunshine’ from One More For The Road (2009)
Ben Howard: ‘Days Of Lantana’ from Is It? (2023)
Miles Davis: ‘Nefertiti’ from Nefertiti (1968)
How could I only choose one? Jens Kuross because the attention to sonic detail is bafflingly beautiful… Adam Steffey because Adam and Alison have a vocal blend from heaven… Ben Howard because the lyrics are simultaneously vague and descriptive… and Miles Davis because the rhythm section is the main event, and that’s cool.
Ralph Porrett, NYJO Emerging Professional
Mingus Big Band: ‘Moanin” from Nostalgia in Times Square (1993)
The Mingus Big Band are the ultimate big band for me. They used to to come to London every November for a week – I’d get to see them every night. Aspirational for any jazz musician.
Simon Cooke, NYJO Trustee
Omara Portuondo: ‘¿Dónde Estabas Tú?’ from Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo (2000)
Excellent song, she’s a terrific Cuban singer and dancer. It’s very groovy, but I like it because I always listen to it around Christmas time: it feels kind of dark and brooding like the weather. It’s great and I implore all to check it out!
James Harms, NYJO Emerging Professional
The King’s Singers: ‘Veni, veni Emmanuel’ from Christmas (2006)
It is my favourite Christmas hymn. As an organist, it is extremely powerful and fun to play. The melody is from plainsong, and I like the way the metre is irregular.
Noah, NYJO Under 18s musician
Mariah Carey: ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ from Merry Christmas (1994)
It’s my favourite Christmas song because it’s very upbeat and happy. It’s also very celebrational.
Simi, NYJO Under 18s musician