Jordan Randall Smith has established himself as an exciting force in the Baltimore music scene. Smith, who comes to Baltimore via the Peabody Institute, is music director of the Best of Baltimore-winning chamber orchestra Symphony Number One (its third album More is available for pre-order here.) He’s also an expert playlist maker, and who better than a conductor to create a one-of-a-kind holiday soundtrack? We know you’ve had enough "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" and these holiday selections—in styles that include classical, jazz, and even hip hop—will put you in just the right holiday mood. Plus, they feature a cadre of Baltimore musicians and composers. Below, Smith takes us through his holiday playlist and the inspiration behind it.
Christopher Rouse, Karolju (Commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1991)
I’m a percussionist, and an adopted Baltimorean, which can mean only one thing: I’m a card-carrying member of the Christopher Rouse fan club. Rouse was born in Baltimore in the postwar heyday of 1949. His music is passionate and fierce, but can also be light-hearted and irresistible fun. This terrific yuletide album (pronounced carol-you) is pure joy, and I’ve included its first three tracks. The best part? All of the different languages spoken are just nonsense. They’re just making fun sounds that help contribute to the orchestra.
Piazzolla, “Winter,” from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
The music of Vivaldi has a forbidden love affair with an electric guitar-sounding violin in a steamy, Argentinian tango club in the dead of winter.
Anders Koppel, 9 Peanuts - No 2. Toy Soldiers
This cute little piece for marimba is performed by one of my favorite musicians, my former teacher, Brian Zator. I look forward to introducing all of you to Brian this spring when he makes his Baltimore debut.
Duke Ellington, “Sugar Rum Cherry”
Take Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, lose the ballet shoes, and head to the nightclub. Add a holiday cocktail and a saxophone section. Stir and serve. (With a cherry, naturally!)
Andrew Boss, Saxophone Concerto
Composer Andrew Boss, saxophonist Sean Meyers, and Symphony Number One put together a recording of Andrew’s Saxophone Concerto last year. (Full disclosure: I’m a little biased.) Putting together this recording was a treat, and December marks its one-year anniversary. I guess the holiday is bringing out my sentimental side, because I can’t help but feel nostalgic each time I hear it. Sean’s sultry sax sounds will permeate any gathering with just the right amount of joyeux noël.
Schoenberg, Weihnachtsmusik (Christmas Music)
Arnold Schoenberg was the original bad boy of 20th century music. This guy wrote some seriously freaky stuff. (Don’t believe me? Check here.) But the fact is, deep down, Schoenberg was a teddy bear. This piece is arranged for a small group of instruments and is based on the classic Christmas carol “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”
Pentatonix, “White Christmas”
I could go on about how Irving Berlin was one of the classic songwriters of the Great American Songbook, and about how classics like “White Christmas” cross the line between classical and popular music. But, the fact is, this track is just plain cool. I especially love all of the intricate bossa nova-inspired rhythms. Let it snow!
Wendel Patrick, “Let’s Ride”
The holidays get me thinking about sleigh rides, which, while they weren’t the inspiration for this track, still make me think of “Let’s Ride.” The vintage keyboard sounds alongside spicy drumbeats and clean electric guitars make this a perfect fit for our off-the-beaten-path sleigh ride. When you’re finished, check out some of Patrick’s other projects and collaborations, like the Baltimore Boom Bap Society and Bond St. District.
Ron Nelson, “Rocky Point Holiday”
This great band piece by Ron Nelson really captures the holiday spirit from the breathtaking opening gesture to the final fast-paced flourish, performed with polish by the Dallas Wind Symphony.
Puckett: Southern Comforts, “Ritual: Football and The Lord”
Holidays are a time for ritual, like watching the Ravens and connecting with faith traditions. Earlier this year, Symphony Number One performed a part of this great violin concerto by my friend, mentor, fellow-native-southerner, and all-around great composer Joel Puckett. Puckett is a Baltimore treasure and an internationally recognized composer that everyone in Charm City needs to know about. Charge up your next Ravens day with this great track, then jump over and check out his Soundcloud.
Beyoncé, “Ave Maria”
Last year, Ravens Kicker Justin Tucker joined Edward Polochick and the Concert Artists of Baltimore for a special performance of Schubert’s classic. In fact, you can go hear them joint forces again on December 15 at the Catholic Charities Christmas Festival. (More information here.) And it turns out, Tuck wasn’t the first to be inspired by Schubert; so was Beyoncé. She borrows a few chords from Schubert, but then she makes it her own in this stirring track from her 2008 release, I AM…SASHA FIERCE.
Baltimore Consort, “Ding Dong Merrily on High”
No holiday playlist would be complete without a good old-fashioned jam session. And we’re talking old. The Baltimore Consort put together an entire album of traditional Christmas music and this is one of my favorite tracks.
Nudie Suits, “House Cat” and “Laura Flynn”
Where else but Baltimore could you find such “gal power”? Ali Clendanial and Ruby Fulton take you on a unique journey through their dream loops landscape, with a vitality that have me dreaming of a winter wonderland.
Polyphonic Spree, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”
One of my favorite bands has to be the Polyphonic Spree. Front man Tim DeLaughter really puts on a show like no other and the music is truly original. They also did a great cover of John Lennon’s classic. Harps!
This listicle originally appeared in Baltimore Magazine