There's a certain intensity of spirit in jazz and improvised music, to the point where it occasionally aligns with religious worship. You especially see it around Christmastime, when certain musicians who happen to be Christians purpose their craft in observance of the season.
Of course, sometimes jazz musicians just like playing familiar songs.
Here are five records, all from 2012, which run the gamut of Christmas jazz. From deep meditations on the holiday's narrative to more offbeat ways to get into the spirit, inventiveness isn't a scarce resource this winter.
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross. Ravi Shankar, who popularized the sitar and Indian music in America, died this week at the age of 92. He befriended the Beatles, gave George Harrison sitar lessons, and inspired Harrison to launch the first superstar benefit concert, 1971's the Concert for Bangladesh.
That's when Ravi Shankar, tuning up before his performance, responded to the polite but clueless support of the U.S. audience. His ad lib was good humored but pointed.
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. This week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its latest round of inductees, and among them is singer/songwriter Randy Newman. You have to have 25 years as an artist to qualify for the Hall of Fame, but Newman has clocked a lot more time than that.
On Friday night on PBS, Great Performances presents a documentary about the making of a Beatles TV special from 1967 — Magical Mystery Tour — then shows a restored version of that special. Magical Mystery Tour has the music from the U.S. album of the same name, but it's not the album. It's a musical comedy fantasy about the Beatles and a busload of tourists taking a trip to unknown destinations.