In 2005, Christie McCarthy was asked to contribute to the Ansel Adams Sound of Christmas compilation. She chose a slow, jazzy rendition of “A Few of My Favorite Things,” a crowd favorite.
Living in Berkeley at the time, she worked with East Bay recording engineer and producer Mark Lemaire, who assembled a group of impeccable jazz players to back her.
The session went so well, the two discussed making an entire album of jazz Christmas standards. The result, Winter, was recorded in just three days.
It’s an authentic piece of jazz, despite the fact that she had only occasionally dabbled in the genre, most notably with the Everyday Real track “Nothing Moves Me.” But it was something she always wanted to do, as her family always loved celebrating Christmas. A particular joy for them was the Christmas albums they’d put on year after year to get in the mood, and she wanted to make one.
“I grew up in a real close-knit family. We loved—and we still do—getting together around the holidays,” McCarthy says. “There were records that we listened to as the backdrop that would really enhance the experience of being together. I wanted to make an album to join the pantheon of my family’s Christmas music, and maybe make its way to other families’ gatherings.”
McCarthy, who moved to Santa Cruz in 2010, is hoping to make Christmas a little more festive for everyone this year. On October 25, she rereleased Winter, in celebration of its 15th anniversary. She feels this is the perfect year to listen to an album that makes families smile, whether they can get together in person or not.
“It seems like with Covid and the election, and just where we’re at this year—so divided—I wanted to put a little extra love behind it this year,” McCarthy says. “It’s been quite a year. There’s a lot of division. Not only division between people’s beliefs, but in their space too, right? It seemed like a time when something which was really focused on families … it just seemed like a good time to pivot and do the rerelease.”
The songs should all be familiar to most people. Back in 2005, when she was selecting tracks for the album, she thought about the kind of Christmas music she would want to hear during the holidays and chose accordingly.
“I chose songs that I liked to listen to, mostly secular, non-religious, in the vein of Peggy Lee, Jack Jones, Carmen McRae,” McCarthy says. “It came together organically. I’d always had this thought that I wanted to sing sultry jazz.”
Many of the songs are exactly how you remember them, but others are done differently. For instance, she does “Let It Snow,” typically an uptempo track, in a very slow and moody style.
Back when it was first released, Winter sold well. McCarthy drove to stores all over Marin, San Francisco and Oakland and physically sold copies. Not just at music stores, but any place that was selling gifts and Christmas items. She did several release shows, backed by a five-piece jazz ensemble.
“We put a lot of focus into it. It was really successful,” McCarthy says. “I hear from people every year saying that it’s part of their traditions now, which is really cool. My mom puts it on every year.”
In celebration of the rerelease, she plans to do one show this year at El Vaquero Winery on Saturday, Dec. 19. She’ll be backed by singer/guitarist Glenn MacPherson and will be performing a three-hour set of originals, covers, and holiday classics.
Dec. 19, 2pm, El Vaquero Winery, 2901 Freedom Blvd., Corralitos. Free. As of press time, the show was still on, but because of possible Covid-19 restrictions, we suggest checking its status at elvaquerowinery.com. Reservations are recommended. 831-607-8118.