Skip to main content

Swinging Christmas Music From Rebecca Kilgore And Pals

In time for the holidays, Fresh Air presents an in-studio concert. Singer Rebecca Kilgore, trombonist Dan Barrett and pianist Rossano Sportiello played at the NOLA studios in Manhattan.

47:20

Transcript

*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20101224
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Swinging Christmas Music From Rebecca Kilgore And Pals

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Christmas has generated more songs than any other holiday, and there's a
few songs many of us dread hearing over and over this time of year. So
we chose a couple of our favorites for the holiday concert you're about
to hear, and a few great obscure songs.

Our guest is singer Rebecca Kilgore. We like her so much, we've had her
perform several times on our program, including in our American Popular
Songs series. She particularly loves songs of the '30s and '40s. In a
recent article about her in the Wall Street Journal, Will Friedwald
wrote: Kilgore is the living embodiment of the hippest singers of the
Big Band Era, like Maxine Sullivan, Mildred Bailey and Helen Ward.

In addition to her solo albums, she records with the Rebecca Kilgore
Quartet, which was formerly known as BED. Joining her for this concert
is the quartet's trombonist, Dan Barrett. At the piano is Rossano
Sportiello, who was visiting from Italy when we recorded the concert in
2005.

Dan, Rossano, Becky, welcome, all of you, to FRESH AIR. Becky, you've
chosen some songs that I'm confident will be new - Christmas songs that
will be new to most of our listeners, even though they are very old
songs. But I'd like to start with a familiar one, one that happens to be
one of my favorites. Would you introduce it for us?

Ms. REBECCA KILGORE (Singer): Sure. It's also one of my favorites. It's
from a 1944 movie, "Meet Me in St. Louis." It was sung by Judy Garland,
and let's dedicate it to Hugh Martin. He co-wrote it with Ralph Blane.
It's so pretty. It's called "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

(Soundbite of song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) When the steeple bells sound their A, they don't
play it in tune. But the welkin will ring one day, and that day will be
soon.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light. Next
year, all our troubles will be out of sight. Have yourself a merry
little Christmas. Make the Yule-tide gay. Next year, all our troubles
will be miles away.

Once again, as in olden days, happy golden days of yore, faithful
friends who are dear to us will be near to us once more.

Someday soon, we all will be together, if the Fates allow. Until then,
we'll have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a merry little
Christmas now.

GROSS: Well, that's a beautiful rendition of that. Thank you, Becky.
Rossano Sportiello is at the piano, Dan Barrett on trombone. It's funny
how some of the most beautiful Christmas songs are the sad ones.

Ms. KILGORE: Yes, it is a sad song, but that's part of the bittersweet
pathos of the season, don't you think?

GROSS: Yeah, I guess. And in spite of the fact that there are so many
great, sad Christmas songs, the next song you're going to do is actually
a really cool novelty song. And I don't know anything about the song,
Becky. Tell us when it was written and what it is.

Ms. KILGORE: Well, it was written in 1958 by Jack Fox, and it was sung
by Louis Armstrong. And the cover of the sheet music has a picture of
Louis Armstrong dressed up like Santa Claus. It's a very funny little
song. It's called "'Zat You Santa Claus?"

(Soundbite of song, "'Zat You Santa Claus?")

Ms. KILGORE: A-one, two, one, two, three...

(Singing) Gifts I'm preparing for some Christmas sharing, but I pause
because hanging my stocking, I can hear a knocking. Is that you, Santa
Claus?

Sure it's dark out, ain't the slightest spark out, upon my clacking
jaws. Who's there? Who is it stopping for a visit? Is that you, Santa
Claus?

Are you bringing a present for me, something pleasantly pleasant for me?
Bet it's just what I've been waiting for. But would you mind slipping it
under the door?

Cold winds are howling. Could that be a growling? My legs feel like
straws. My, my, oh me my, kindly would you reply? Is that you, Santa
Claus?

Oh, there, Santa. You gave me a scare. Now stop teasing, 'cause I know
that you're there. We don't believe in no goblins today, but I can't
explain why I'm shaking this way.

Bet I can see 'ole Santa through the keyhole. I'll get to the cause. One
peek, I'll try there. Ooh, is that an eye there? Is that you, 'zat you,
'zat you, Santa Claus?

GROSS: That was really fun. That's Becky Kilgore singing, with Rossano
Sportiello at the piano, Dan Barrett on the trombone.

Becky, is Christmas a good time for a singer? Do you look forward to
having to sing all the Christmas songs?

Ms. KILGORE: Sure. You get to bring out your old friends from the
previous, last year, songs that you haven't had a chance to sing all
year, and people really resonate with them. So it's a lot of fun.

GROSS: I'd like to really just go around the room for a second and ask
you all to name a song that you really love from Christmas and a song
that you're really tired of or you think is really musically trite, and
you wish it would be put aside for a good many years.

Dan, you want to start?

Mr. DAN BARRETT (Trombonist): Well, I guess my favorite would be "O
Little Town of Bethlehem." I remember when I was first starting to play
trombone, and my friends and I would get together and play all of the
old traditional Christmas carols with a brass choir, walking around the
neighborhood. And that was a particular favorite of mine, "Little Town
of Bethlehem."

I'm not sure that I have any least favorites, because when Christmas
comes around, I kind of like all of the songs. I get sentimental. In
fact, I'm so sentimental, I even like the Chipmunks' song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Rossano, do you hear a lot of these songs in Italy?

Mr. ROSSANO SPORTIELLO (Pianist): Yes, but, you know, I'm sorry for
Rebecca, but I should say that my favorite Christmas song is just
"Jingle Bells," you know, because I'm a fan of Fats Waller, and he
recorded that, playing that stride, fantastic, you know.

GROSS: How true. How true.

Mr. SPORTIELLO: That's why.

GROSS: Becky, do you have a favorite song and one you'd like to see
retired?

Ms. KILGORE: I'm going to plead the fifth, because I think it's
incumbent upon the musician to make what they can out of a song. You
know, we've already done "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." I
think that's just about my favorite. But I'll just let the others fall
where they may.

GROSS: Okay. Well, I promised our listeners some songs that they
probably are not familiar with. So you've got another one, one that
Bessie Smith recorded.

Ms. KILGORE: Yes, in 1925, early Bessie Smith. It was, I guess, quite a
hit for her. It's called "At the Christmas Ball."

(Soundbite of song, "At the Christmas Ball")

Ms. KILGORE: One, two, a-one, two, three...

(Singing) Christmas comes but once a year, and to me it brings good
cheer and to everyone who likes wine and beer.

Happy New Year is after that. Happy I'll be. That is a fact. That is why
I like to hear folks who say that Christmas is here.

Christmas bells will ring real soon, even in the afternoon. You'll hear
those chime bells ring at the Christmas Ball. Everyone must watch their
step, or they will lose their rep. Everybody's full of pep at the
Christmas Ball.

Grab your partner, one and all. Keep on dancing 'round the hall. And
there's no one to fall, don't you dare to stall. If your partner don't
act fair, don't worry, there's some more over there taking a chance
everywhere at the Christmas Ball. Oh, yeah.

GROSS: That's a great song. Thanks for doing that. A song from, what,
1925?

Ms. KILGORE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: That was Becky Kilgore singing, with Dan Barrett on trombone and
Rossano Sportiello at the piano. And he's visiting New York from Italy,
where he lives.

We're going to take a break in this end-of-the-year concert, and then be
back with more songs. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our holiday concert with singer Rebecca
Kilgore, trombonist Dan Barrett and pianist Rossano Sportiello. In
addition to Christmas songs, we asked them to do some good winter songs,
starting with a kind of heartbreaking one.

Becky, you want to introduce it?

Ms. KILGORE: Yes. Well, in preparing for this show, I just was looking
through a book of Hoagy Carmichael songs, and I found this song in it.
"Winter Moon," it's called. Oh, how does this sound? So I played through
it and found that I had a recording of Hoagy Carmichael singing it. He
co-wrote it with Harold Adamson in 1957, a very haunting, as you say,
minor key, "Winter Moon."

(Soundbite of song, "Winter Moon")

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) Winter moon, up there alone in the sky. All I can
hear is the word goodbye. Winter moon, do you recall a night in June?
Where is love's magic? Where did it go? Has it gone like the summer wind
that we used to know?

Winter moon, up there alone in the sky. Are you as lonely tonight as I?
Winter moon.

GROSS: That was "Winter Moon," a song with music by Hoagy Carmichael.
That's Becky Kilgore singing, Rossano Sportiello at the piano and Dan
Barrett on trombone.

Becky, is that as hard to sing as it seems like it would be? It's a
haunting, and it sounds like a very difficult melody.

Ms. KILGORE: It is. And I listened intently to the way Hoagy Carmichael
sang it on his recording, and he kind of improvised and made it sound
conversational, almost. So I opted for that, but I don't know if I
succeeded. But it is a hard song.

GROSS: Oh, I love your version of it.

Ms. KILGORE: Thank you.

GROSS: And I don't know if this is the Hoagy Carmichael version you
know, but there's a terrific version on the album that Hoagy Carmichael
did with Art Pepper in the 1950s, and it's really fantastic. So I
certainly recommend that one to our listeners if they're looking for a
recording of it. Is that the one you heard?

Ms. KILGORE: Yes. I didn't know who the saxophone player was. Now that
you mention it, that's who it was. That's great.

GROSS: Well, we're going to go from a really heartbreaking Christmas
song to a just really delightful one, one that I think should be one of
the winter classics, along with "Let it Snow" and "Baby, it's Cold
Outside." And this is one written by your friend, Becky, and a great
friend of our show, too.

Ms. KILGORE: Sure, we've been on your show many times, Dave Frishberg.
He's a cohort from Portland, Oregon. And he wrote this song in 1994, and
it's exciting. I actually remember when he wrote it, and I love it very
much. It's called "Snowbound."

(Soundbite of song, "Snowbound")

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) The north winds blow. It's 12 below. Streets like
ice, ain't it nice to be snowbound? No place to go, hip-deep in snow.
We're all right, tucked in tight, 'cause we're snowbound.

Yes, we're snowbound. The bad news is the weatherman says more bad
weather. Snowbound, the good news is that here we are, socked in
together.

The corn is popped. The clock is stopped. What a storm, what a sight.
We'll keep warm through the night, 'cause we're snowbound.

Yes, we're snowbound. The bad news is the weatherman says more bad
weather. Snowbound, the good news is that here we are, socked in
together.

The corn is popped. The clock is stopped. Pass the wine. Light the fire.
Half past nine. Let's retire, 'cause we're snowbound, snowbound.
Snowbound, just us two. Snowbound, snowbound. Snowbound, me and you.

GROSS: A song written by Dave Frishberg and performed for us by singer
Rebecca Kilgore, trombonist Dan Barrett and pianist Rossano Sportiello.
This holiday concert was originally broadcast in 2005. We'll hear more
of it in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our holiday
concert with singer Rebecca Kilgore. Accompanying her is trombonist Dan
Barrett, who plays in the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, formerly known as
BED, and pianist Rossano Sportiello, who was visiting from Italy when we
recorded this concert in 2005.

Well, next song we're going to do, this is a really fun novelty jazz
song. Becky?

Ms. KILGORE: It's a great song and I'm very excited about doing it. It's
called "Santa Claus Blues." It's quite old. It's from 1924. And we
actually borrowed a portion of an arrangement by John Sheridan of this
song. It was recorded by a dear friend, a great vocalist, Banu Gibson.
Thank you, John and Banu, for allowing us to use this arrangement of
"Santa Claus Blues."

(Soundbite of song, "Santa Claus Blues")

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) The merry bells are ringing today but they don't
mean nothing to me. I hear the children singing today but I'm as blue as
I can be. Oh, Santa Claus forgot my address, that's one thing I can
plainly see. It may be Christmas to some folks, it's just December 25th
to me.

No money. No honey to buy a present for me. Nobody. No toddy to make
things pleasant for me. Last night my stocking I hung, just like when I
was young. But this morning there was vacancy. No mingling. No jingling
of coins. No picking, non-chicken, a pork chop tenderloin. And soon I'll
hear the Happy New Year chime, that just means that there's more hard
times. Bad luck, you're hard to lose. I've got the Santa Claus blues.

(Soundbite of Ms. Kilgore scatting)

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) And no mingling. No jingling of coins. And no
picking on chicken, a pork chop tenderloin. It seems to me that every
now and then the poorhouse pages me again. Bad luck, you're hard to
lose. I've got the Santa Claus blues.

GROSS: Well, Becky, I have to thank you for introducing us to that song
and for such a great performance of it. And that singer, Becky Kilgore,
Rossano Sportiello at the piano, Dan Barrett on trombone.

How about another winter song for our end of the year concert?

Ms. KILGORE: Well, this next one would fall into the more obscure
category and I was very happy to discover it. It's by Burt Bacharach and
Hal David. It's called "Winter Warm."

(Soundbite of song, "Winter Warm")

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) It's a snowy kind of blowy day, but your kisses
make December seem just like May. Here in your arms I'm winter warm.

All the birds are flying south in pairs. It may go to 12 below outside
but who cares. Here in your arms I'm winter warm. The night was made for
lovers to embrace, a time to dream and reminisce. And all the ambers in
the fireplace just glow each time we kiss.

Is it snow or white confetti in the sky? Strange but when you smile the
wintry winds softly sigh. Here in your arms I'm winter warm. Here in
your arms I'm winter warm.

GROSS: Well, thank you for finding a Bacharach-David song that who knew
they wrote. Beautiful song.

Ms. KILGORE: Glad you like it.

GROSS: Well, at this point in our end of the year concert I'd like you
to do a song that is really about not being able to be home for
Christmas, although it's called "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Would you
sing it for us, Becky?

Ms. KILGORE: I sure will. It's by Kim Gannon, Walter Kent and Buck Ram,
1943. "I'll Be Home for Christmas."

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Be Home for Christmas")

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) I am dreaming tonight of a place I love even more
than I usually do. And although I know it's a long road back, I promise
you, I'll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me. Please have snow
and mistletoe and presents on the tree. Christmas Eve will find me where
the love light gleams. I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

GROSS: Thank you for doing that song. A beautiful version of a beautiful
song.

We're going to take a break here and then we'll be back with more of our
end of the year concert featuring singer Rebecca Kilgore, trombonist Dan
Barrett, and at the piano, Rossano Sportiello.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're listening back to an end of the year holiday concert which
we first broadcast in 2005 with singer Rebecca Kilgore, trombonist Dan
Barrett, and pianist Rossano Sportiello. Since 2005 marked the
centennial of songwriter Harold Arlen's birth, we asked Becky to do a
couple of Arlen songs.

Becky, the first one you're going to do, it's a great rhythm song and
you're such a great rhythm singer, so I'm glad you chose this one. Why
do you love it?

Ms. KILGORE: I love it because it moves right along and it's peppy and
fun to sing. It's from Cotton Club Parade, 22nd edition. Ethel Waters
sang it in the original production. Ted Koehler wrote the words, Harold
Arlen the music, 1933. And by the way, that same review had "Stormy
Weather," another song that you're probably familiar with. But this is
"Happy As The Day Is Long."

(Soundbite of song, "Happy As The Day Is Long")

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) I've got my trousers pressed, shoes shined. I got
my coat and vest realigned take a look at my lapel, there's a flower,
can't you tell? I'm happy as the day is long.

I haven't got a dime to lend. I've got a lot of time to spend. Just a
pocket full of air, feeling like a millionaire, I'm happy as the day is
long. Now you're having your thing and I'm having my fun and we're
walking on air, gee, but I'm the lucky one.

I got my peace of mind, knock wood. I hear that love is blind. That's
good because the things I've ever never seem to worry me so I'm happy as
the day is long.

I've got my trousers pressed, shoes shined. I have my coat and vest
realigned take a look at my lapel, there's a flower, can't you tell? I'm
happy as the day is long.

I haven't got a dime to lend. I've got a lot of time to spend. Just a
pocket full of air, feeling like a millionaire, happy as the day is
long.

(Soundbite of Ms. Kilgore scatting)

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) I'm the lucky one. I got my peace of mind, knock
wood. I hear that love is blind. That's good because the things I've
ever never seem to worry me so I'm happy as the day is long. I'm happy
as the day is long.

GROSS: "Happy As The Day Is Long," sung by Rebecca Kilgore, a song by
Harold Arlen. And, of course, Harold Arlen wrote all the songs for "The
Wizard of Oz." He wrote "Stormy Weather." Becky, what are some of your
other favorite Arlen songs, ones that you won't be doing today?

Ms. KILGORE: It was too long a list. It was a hard assignment to pick
two Harold Arlen songs. You've got "Come Rain or Come Shine," you've got
"As Long I Live." The list was very long. So for the second selection I
chose a song from 1934. Again, words by Ted Koehler. And Dan discovered
a great arrangement that Benny Goodman used for this. So we were quite
taken by that. It's called "Let's Fall in Love."

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Fall in Love")

Ms. KILGORE: One, two, a one, two, three.

(Singing) I have a feeling. It's a feeling I'm concealing. I don't know
why. It's just a mental, incidental, sentimental alibi. But I adore you,
so strong for you. Why go on stalling, I am falling, love is calling -
why be shy?

Let's fall in love. Why shouldn't we fall in love? Our hearts are made
of it. Let's take a chance. Why be afraid of it? Let's close our eyes
and make our own paradise. Little we know of it, still we can try to
make a go of it.

We might have been meant for each other, to be or not to be, let our
hearts discover.

Let's fall in love. Why shouldn't we fall in love? Now is the time for
it, while we are young. Let's fall in love. We might have been meant for
each other, to be or not to be, let our hearts discover.

Let's fall in love. Why shouldn't we fall in love? Now is the time for
it, while we are young. Let's fall in love. Let's fall in love.

GROSS: "Let's Fall in Love," with music by Harold Arlen. And our
trombonist Dan Barrett switched to cornet on that one. Rossano
Sportiello is at the piano, and Rebecca Kilgore, our singer.

We have more of our end of the year concert after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're featuring an end of the year concert today with singer
Rebecca Kilgore, trombonist Dan Barrett and pianist Rossano Sportiello.
And I'd like to end the concert with a song about the very end of the
year. It's a song about New Year's Eve written by Frank Loesser.

Ms. KILGORE: Yes, 1947, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" The music
here says perform slowly and sentimentally.

(Soundbite of song, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve")

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) Maybe it's much too early in the game. Oh, but I
thought I'd ask you just the same. What are you doing New Year's, New
Year's Eve?

Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight. When it's exactly 12:00
that night. Welcoming in the New Year, New Year's Eve. Maybe I'm crazy
to suppose I'd ever be the one you chose out of a thousand invitations
you received. Oh, but in case I stand one little chance, here comes the
jackpot question in advance. What are you doing New Year's, New Year's
Eve?

Maybe I'm crazy to suppose I'd ever be the one you chose out of a
thousand invitations you received. Oh, but in case I stand one little
chance, here comes the jackpot question in advance. What are you doing
New Year's, New Year's Eve? What are you doing New Year's Eve?

GROSS: I want to thank you all for some beautiful and moving and
entertaining and fun songs. It's been a wonderful concert. And I want to
join you all in wishing everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New
Year.

Ms. KILGORE: Thanks, Terry. It was a pleasure.

Mr. BARRETT: Thank you, Terry.

Ms. SPORTIELLO: Thanks.

Our concert with singer Rebecca Kilgore, trombonist Dan Barrett and
pianist Rossano Sportiello was first broadcast in 2005.

Becky's latest album is called "Yes, Indeed." Our concert was produced
and edited by Ann Marie Baldonado. It was recorded at the Nola Studios
in New York by engineer Bill Moss. Our thanks to Jim Czak at Nola.

I'm Terry Gross. All of us at FRESH AIR wish you a Merry Christmas and
Happy Holidays.

We'll close with a track from the new album "Hurray for Christmas,"
featuring Becky's singing with John Sheridan's Dream Band.

(Soundbite of song, "Hurray for Christmas")

Ms. KILGORE: (Singing) Old Mr. Kringle is soon going to jingle the bells
that'll tingle all your troubles away. Everybody's waiting for the man
with the bag 'cause Christmas is coming again. He's got a sleigh full,
it's not going to stay full. He got stuff to drop at every stop on the
way. Everybody's waiting for the man with the bag 'cause Christmas is
coming again.

He'll be here with the answer to the prayers that you made through the
year. You'll get yours if you've done everything you should extra
special good. He'll make this December the one you'll remember, the best
and the merriest you ever did have. Everybody's waiting for the man with
the bag 'cause Christmas is here again.

Old Mr. Kringle is soon going to jingle. All the bells that'll tingle
all your troubles away. Everybody's waiting for the man with the bag
'cause Christmas is here again. He's got a sleigh full, and it's not
going to stay full. He got stuff to drop at every stop of the way.
Everybody's waiting for the man with the bag. Christmas is here again.

He'll be here with the answer to the prayers that you made through the
year. You'll get yours if you've done everything you should extra
special good. He'll make this December the one you'll remember, the best
and the merriest you ever did have. Everybody's waiting, they're all
congregating. Waiting for the man with the bag.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
132258169

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Nicole Kidman says being an indoor kid and a bookworm led her to acting

While her friends and family went to the Australian beaches, Kidman stayed indoors reading — and imaged herself as a character in the books. She says reading is what led her to acting. We talk with the Oscar-winning actor about ageism in Hollywood, singing in a cover band as a teenager, and playing Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos.

07:07

Jazz trio Artifacts gets to the point quickly, and sticks to it, on a new album

Flute player Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed all came up on Chicago's new jazz scene about 20 years ago. Now they revisit their roots on ... and then there's this.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue