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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.

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