Christmas Alphabet : C for Mary Chapin Carpenter, Benny Carter & John Clare

So this is Christmas.

Another year almost over.

A new one about to begin.

A chance to look back at all that you have done and the things you didn’t quite get round to doing.

A chance to look forward and plan for a brighter future.

I hope you and yours have fun.

Take the time to cherish the near and the dear ones and remember those far away in time and space.

Indulge the young and the old.

Be kind to yourself.

Merry Christmas!

The Immortal Jukebox once again celebrates the season with a Christmas Alphabet stuffed with musical and poetic delights.

Let’s begin with a tender meditation from Mary Chapin Carpenter.

‘Still, still, still’ is an Austrian Weihnachtslied a Christmas Carol and a lullaby.

The melody is a mid 19th Century folk tune from Salzburg.

The German Lyric has been attributed to Georg Gotsch.

Mary’s vocal and the arrangement beautifully capture the feeling of vigil, stillness and mystery as the drifting snow wraps us in peaceful sleep while the angels keep their watch.

Sleep, sleep, sleep.

Dream, dream, dream.

Still, still, still.

Still, still, still.

Still, still, still
One can hear the falling snow
For all is hushed
The world is sleeping
Holy Star its vigil keeping
Still, still, still
One can hear the falling snow

Sleep, sleep, sleep
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth
The night is peaceful all around you
Close your eyes
Let sleep surround you
Sleep, sleep, sleep
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth

Dream, dream, dream
Of the joyous day to come
While guardian angels without number
Watch you as you sweetly slumber
Dream, dream, dream

Of the joyous day to come

Our next selection features a giant of Jazz, Benny Carter, who effortlessly combined wit and elegance in his arrangements and Instrumental virtuosity.

Here he is from 1936 leading his Swinging Quintet with my all time favourite version of ‘Jingle Bells’.

Hop aboard the Sleigh!

Jingle Bells was recorded in London in 1936 with Benny on Clarinet and Alto Sax, Scotland’s Tommy McQuater was on Trumpet,  England’s Gerry Moore on Piano, Albert Harris on Guitar, Wally Morris on Bass and Al Graig on Drums.

Now a Poem from the great English Poet John Clare (1793-1864).

I discovered John Clare in my late teens and have been a fervent admirer of his work ever since.

His Poem, ‘Christmas Time’ is characteristically generous of heart and acutely observed.

Glad Christmas comes, and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now,
E’en want will dry its tears in mirth,
And crown him with a holly bough;
Though tramping ‘neath a winter sky,
O’er snowy paths and rimy stiles,
The housewife sets her spinning by
To bid him welcome with her smiles.

Each house is swept the day before,
 And windows stuck with evergreens,
The snow is besom’d from the door,
And comfort the crowns the cottage scenes.
Gilt holly, with its thorny pricks,
 And yew and box, with berries small,
These deck the unused candlesticks,
 And pictures hanging by the wall.

Neighbors resume their annual cheer,
 Wishing, with smiles and spirits high,
Glad Christmas and a happy year
 To every morning passer-by;
Milkmaids their Christmas journeys go,
 Accompanied with favour’d swain;
And children pace the crumpling snow,
 To taste their granny’s cake again.

The shepherd, now no more afraid,
Since custom doth the chance bestow,
Starts up to kiss the giggling maid
 Beneath the branch of mistletoe
That ‘neath each cottage beam is seen,
 With pearl-like berries shining gay;
The shadow still of what hath been,
 Which fashion yearly fades away.

The singing waits — a merry throng,
 At early morn, with simple skill,
Yet imitate the angel’s song
 And chaunt their Christmas ditty still;
And, ‘mid the storm that dies and swells
 By fits, in hummings softly steals
The music of the village bells,
 Ringing around their merry peals.

When this is past, a merry crew,
 Bedecked in masks and ribbons gay,
The Morris Dance, their sports renew,
 And act their winter evening play.
The clown turned king, for penny praise,
 Storms with the actor’s strut and swell,
And harlequin, a laugh to raise,
Wears his hunch-back and tinkling bell.

And oft for pence and spicy ale,
With winter nosegays pinned before,
The wassail-singer tells her tale,
 And drawls her Christmas carols o’er.
While ‘prentice boy, with ruddy face,
 And rime-bepowdered dancing locks,
From door to door, with happy face,
Runs round to claim his “Christmas-box.”

The block upon the fire is put,
To sanction custom’s old desires,
And many a fagot’s bands are cut
For the old farmer’s Christmas fires;
Where loud-tongued gladness joins the throng,
And Winter meets the warmth of May,
Till, feeling soon the heat too strong,
 He rubs his shins and draws away.

While snows the window-panes bedim,
 The fire curls up a sunny charm,
Where, creaming o’er the pitcher’s rim,
 The flowering ale is set to warm.
Mirth full of joy as summer bees
Sits there its pleasures to impart,
And children, ‘tween their parents’ knees,
 Sing scraps of carols off by heart.

And some, to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
 In fancy’s infant ecstacy;
Laughing, with superstitious love,
O’er visions wild that youth supplies,
Of people pulling geese above,
And keeping Christmas in the skies.

As though the homestead trees were drest,
In lieu of snow, with dancing leaves,
As though the sun-dried martin’s nest,
Instead of ic’cles hung the eves;
The children hail the happy day —
As if the snow were April’s grass,
And pleased, as ‘neath the warmth of May,
Sport o’er the water froze to glass.

Thou day of happy sound and mirth,
That long with childish memory stays,
How blest around the cottage hearth,
I met thee in my younger days,
Harping, with rapture’s dreaming joys,
 On presents which thy coming found,
The welcome sight of little toys,
 The Christmas gift of cousins round.

About the glowing hearth at night,
The harmless laugh and winter tale
Go round; while parting friends delight
To toast each other o’er their ale.
The cotter oft with quiet zeal
Will, musing, o’er his bible lean;
While, in the dark the lovers steal,
To kiss and toy behind the screen.

Old customs! Oh! I love the sound,
 However simple they may be;
Whate’er with time hath sanction found,
 Is welcome, and is dear to me,
Pride grows above simplicity,
And spurns them from her haughty mind;
And soon the poet’s song will be
The only refuge they can find.

Don’t hesitate to share The Christmas Alphabet as widely as possible – spread the Christmas Cheer!

Notes :

‘Still, still, still’ can be found on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s highly recommended CD, ‘Come Darkness, Come Light’.

My favourite Benny Carter compilation is a 4 CD set from Proper, ‘Music Master’.

‘John Clare : The Major Works’ from Oxford University Press is an excellent compendium of both his Poetry and his autobiographical writings.

‘John Clare : A Biography’ by Jonathan Bate from Picador is a superb critical study fully worthy of its subject.

Set Your Calendar now for December 7th and the next Christmas Alphabet Post – H for ….

50 thoughts on “Christmas Alphabet : C for Mary Chapin Carpenter, Benny Carter & John Clare

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