Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Jingle Bells - A Christmas Music Countdown

“Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh! Hey!”

* “Jingle Bells” was the first song broadcast from outer space. In a Christmas prank on Dec., 16, 1965, the Gemini 6 Astronauts Wally Shirra and Tom Stafford, sent this report to Mission Control: “We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit. I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit....” They then produced a smuggled harmonica and sleigh bells and broadcast a rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

I remember that Christmas flight and the astronauts’ report. “Can they really track Santa Claus,” I asked my mother. “Does he have a spacesuit on like the astronauts? Can the reindeer breathe in outer space? Do they have helmets, too? Can they tell where he is? Is he on his way to our house?!”

Santa Claus has been very good to me this year. He brought me all the bells and whistles I need to continue on as an almost-but-not-quite (thank goodness) professional musician. My sleigh bells arrived last week, along with the slapstick, and the orchestra bells arrived Monday, just in time for the concerts where we’ll be playing Sleigh Ride, Jingle Bells, and that perennial Christmas favorite, Christmas Festival.

The orchestra bells are just perfect. They’re from Yamaha. Yamaha is known for motorcycles but they originally started out making pianos, so they know their stuff when it comes to making keyboard instruments. These bells, though they were less pricey than some more expensive, professional orchestra bell sets, are made with tightly-bound steel (or so my mechanical friends, who were looking it over, tell me). Just the slightest touch brings out a beautiful ring. They’re very sensitive, dynamically. I don’t have to pound them with the mallet just to get a soft tone out of them. No wonder they sent me relatively soft (black head) mallets to test it out.

The whole thing only weighs about 19 pounds. They’re still heavy, but not as heavy as other orchestra bells I’ve played. The case is wooden, but it’s very slim. Other frames have been quite bulky. The keys aren’t screwed down on both ends, either. Only the top ends are bolted down to keep the bars in place. The bottom ends are loose, which allows the sound to ring free. I understand why they make student models that way (I’ve tried to teach other people to play the bells and they’d run out of the hall after hitting two notes).

But I wanted something better, after all these years. Santa heard me and made it possible to not only buy a set of orchestra bells, but triangles, sleigh bells, a slapstick, maracas, and whistles of various types (drum major, siren, train). Plus a mallet holder, a triangle holder, and a new gig bag to carry my mallet collection.

“Jingle Bells” is one of the best-known and widely sung winter songs in the world. Written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893), it was published in 1857 under the title "One Horse Open Sleigh.” Although it’s considered a classic Christmas song, supposedly was written about Thanksgiving.

Pierpont originally composed his most famous song in 1850 in Medford, Mass. A plaque commemorating the “birthplace” of “Jingle Bells” adorns the side of the former Simpson Tavern, (now 19 High Street in the center of Medford Square) where he composed it. According to the Medford Historical Society, the song was inspired by the town's popular sleigh races.

“Jingle Bells” was originally copyrighted with the name "One Horse Open Sleigh.” It was reprinted in 1859 with the revised title of “Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh.” The song was first recorded by the Edison Male Quartette in 1898 on an Edison cylinder as part of a Christmas medley entitled “Sleigh Ride Party." In 1902, the Hayden Quartet recorded “Jingle Bells.”

• 1935 - Benny Goodman and His Orchestra reached No. 18 on the charts with their recording of “Jingle Bells.”

• 1941 - Glenn Miller and His Orchestra with Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, Ernie Caceres and the Modernaires on vocals had a No. 5 hit with “Jingle Bells.”

• 1943 - Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters recorded a jazzed-up version of the classic. It reached No. 19 on the charts and sold over a million copies.

• 1951 - Les Paul had a No. 10 hit with a multi-tracked version on guitar.

• 1955 - Don Charles, from Copenhagen, Denmark, recorded a novelty version with dogs barking to the melody of “Jingle Bells.” The RCA recording sold a million copies.

• 1966 - Dean Martin recorded the song for “The Dean Martin Christmas Album.”

• 2006 - Kimberley Locke had a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart with a recording of “Jingle Bells.”

• 2008 - A recording by Tony Bennett appeared on a special edition of “A Swingin' Christmas” exclusive to the retailer Bloomingdales.

• Unknown date - A version credited simply to “St. Nick” called “Jingle Bells (Laughing All the Way)” features someone laughing the entire song.

“Jingle Bells” has been performed and recorded by Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole. A recording by Tony Bennett appeared on a special edition of A Swingin' Christmas (2008), exclusive to the retailer Bloomingdales.

“Jingle Bell Rock,” by Bobby Helms, pays homage to “Jingle Bells,” directly referencing the source song's lyrics, but with a different melody. Originally recorded and released by Helms in a rockabilly style, “Jingle Bell Rock” has itself since become a Christmas standard. “Jingle Bell Rock” was written by Joe Beal, a Massachusetts-born public relations man, and Jim Boothe (1917–1976), a Texas writer in the advertising business. One notable version of the song was recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets in 1968 for United Artists records. Intended for a seasonal single release, it was decided not to release the recording, and was lost for nearly 30 years until it was finally issued in the mid-1990s. A long line of artists has recorded the song since, everyone from Brenda Lee to kd Lang to Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem on an episode of The Muppet Show.

The Jingle Cats began their recording career in December 1991, when a precocious kitten named “Cheesepuff” wandered into a Hollywood studio recording booth and began meowing along with the song “Jingle Bells.” The studio engineer, Mike Spalla, recorded the meows and adjusted the timing to the music to make the first cat singing in recorded history. The song was sent to Kiss-FM in Los Angeles and POWER-106 where it was played on the air the next day, Christmas Day. The following year, the “Jingle Cats” cassette was presented at the KLOS Classic Rock Expo in Los Angeles. 1,000 cassettes were distributed by City Hall Records in San Rafael, California. KNBC (Channel 4 News) in Los Angeles broke the story on Dec. 10, 1992 and the Jingle Cats sold out in about one hour.

In 1993, the album “Meowy Christmas,” by the Jingle Cats, was released on CD and cassette selling over 100,000 copies in its first four weeks of release. “Meowy Christmas” reached No. 10 on Billboard's catalog chart in 1994. All the songs on the album were arranged and adapted by Mike Spalla.

1994's follow up album, “Here Comes Santa Claws,” co-released by BMG in Canada, capitalized on the success of “Meowy Christmas” to present an assortment of 20th century Christmas compositions including “The Christmas Song" and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", and naturally, "Here Comes Santa Claus". Here Comes Santa Claws also contained a rendition of Israel's National Anthem, “Hatikvah.”

The Jingle Dogs are a singing group that began as backup singers for the Jingle Cats. The Jingle Dogs broke away to form their own group, as they and the Jingle Cats were fighting like cats and dogs. Jingle Dogs album entitled "Christmas Unleashed" was released in 1995 and featured real dogs barking holiday classics. Jingle Dogs released a second album in 2009 entitled “Puppy Holidays.” The Jingle Dogs were not the first dog group to sing the song, however….. In 1955, Don Charles, from Copenhagen, Denmark, recorded a novelty version with dogs barking to the melody of “Jingle Bells,” which sold a million copies.  * Source: Wikipedia

Now that I’m all jingled out, I have to take my marching glockenspiel down to the basement and bring up my jingle bell wreaths.


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