Reviewed by Johan Palme on 20th December, 2020
The release is on a recently-launched budget label, whose lack of any clear direction meant that it would soon be wound up. It’s pressed on the declining 10-inch album format. Urbie Green, its talented but hardly radiant lead trombonist and nominal bandleader, had just begun to tentatively venture out into the possibility of releasing solo records, and started out releasing way too many of them, three during 1954 alone. No wonder this little unassuming record never became a hit. It was never designed to be one.
And yet, today, it’s supposedly the most expensive Christmas record available on the collector’s market. Anecdotally, it can fetch upwards of a thousand American dollars for a pristine copy, but even a cursory glance on Ebay will produce copies in the range of 150 dollars. Part of the reason for this, of course, is its rarity, its predestined nature as one of the record industry’s also-rans. But there’s thousands of albums that did just as badly, and do nothing more than litter the bargain bins of thrift stores, let alone go for a grand at auction.
The truth is, for all its lack of flair, Urbie Green’s A Cool Yuletide is a truly pioneering album. While slick, poppy jazz records of Christmas standards had been around for a while, and Christmas novelties were common, this is something different: A cutting-edge, tight Jazz unit straight off the New York jazz circuit, playing the absolutely latest sound. (“Cool” as a genre descriptor was only about than a year old.) That fully contemporary jazz musicians, several of them leading players in their field, would take Christmas music seriously is absolutely new, and it would take a good decade before the Ramseys, Dukes and Vinces of this world would take it another step forwards. As it is, this is a uniquely modern Christmas record for 1954, and one that is of fantastic quality as well.