A good festive jazz number can be the perfect accompaniment to those favourite Christmas moments: decorating the tree, wrapping presents, or sharing a Christmas drink or meal with friends and family.

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And there are some absolutely classic Christmas jazz numbers out there. What's more, they've been covered by some iconic singers – from old-school jazz royalty such as Ella Fitzgerald to modern jazzers like Michael Bublé and Norah Jones. Here is a selection of our favourite Christmas jazz songs.

We've got plenty more Christmas music content for you to enjoy. For example, you can find the lyrics to your favourite Christmas carols here. We've also listed our favourite Christmas songs of all time, as well as the best Christmas songs for children.

And do take a look at our list of the best Christmas carols ever: did your own favourite make the list?

Best Christmas jazz songs

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

This festive classic has been around for longer than you might think. Written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' actually got its first recording as long ago as 1934, when banjoist Harry Reser and his band set down a version. This original recording became an instant 1930s hit: 500,000 copies of the sheet music were ordered, and more than 30,000 records sold within the first 24 hours.

Since then, 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' has been covered by a whole host of big names, including The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Bublé. The latter's 2011 album Christmas featured a big-band jazz version of the song alongside other seasonal hits.

Frosty the Snowman

This jolly festive favourite was originally penned by songwriters Walter Rollins and Steve Nelson in 1950. It has been covered many times, perhaps most famously by Ella Fitzgerald (one of the best jazz singers of all time) on her 1960 album Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas. The song's very first performer was Gene Autry, who had a hit with 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' the previous year and was looking for another festive chart-topper.

The song has a sweet and poignant storyline. Some children, playing in the snow, find a hat which they put on Frosty's head. The jolly snowman plays with the kids until the hot sun threatens to melt him. Saying goodbye to the children, Frosty promises that he'll be 'back again someday.' Awww.

White Christmas

A lot of these Christmas jazz classics were originally written in the 1940s, and ‘White Christmas’ belongs among these old-school classics. Originally written by Irving Berlin in 1942, 'White Christmas' is a perfect evocation of a traditional Christmas with its glistening treetops and sleigh bells ringing across the snow.

Add, to these beautiful images, the song's warm sentiments ('May your days be merry and bright/And may all your Christmases be white'), and you've got yourself an absolute classic feelgood festive number.

The public got its first hearing of 'White Christmas' in 1945, when Bing Crosby performed the song as part of his album Merry Christmas. Indeed, the song has become almost indelibly associated with Crosby: it's also one of the best-selling songs of all time, with over 50 million copies sold to date.

By the way, 'White Christmas' is also a nice one to play on the piano during the festive season. Indeed, it made our list of the best Christmas piano music.

Jingle Bells

OK, so 'Jingle Bells' also made our selection of the best Christmas songs of all time. But it earns its place in this list too, thanks to its iconic jazz-fuelled cover by Bing Crosby. A collaboration with The Andrews Sisters, Bing's 'Jingle Bells' found its way onto that same 1945 Merry Christmas album that also featured 'White Christmas' above.

Fun fact: ‘Jingle Bells’ was the first song to be broadcast from space. On 16 December 1965, this Christmas cracker was broadcast during NASA's Gemini 6A space flight.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

This beautiful, slightly slower Christmas number also has its origins in the 1940s, something of a golden age for classic jazz, with some of the best jazz singers of all time plying their trade during this time.

Unlike some others on our list, however, 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ was written originally for a film. That film was the uplifting musical Meet Me In St. Louis, which was a surefire entrant in our list of the best Christmas musicals. Indeed, it's probably a candidate for one of the best musical films of all time. The original film version was sung by Judy Garland: four years later, in 1948, Frank Sinatra released an equally memorable cover version.

Let It Snow

We really like the story behind ther writing of 'Let It Snow'. We're back in (of course) the 1940s, in sun-soaked Hollywood. Specifically, it's July 1945, there's a heatwave, and lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne are hankering after cooler weather. So, they write a song called 'Let It Snow'. Well, you would, wouldn't you?

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Famous versions of this song include the one by Michael Bolton, which featured in his 2007 jazz/swing album A Swinging Christmas. The song paints a lovely picture of cosy contentment indoors by the fire, while the snow falls outside.

Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer

A favourite with adults and kids alike (no surprise that it features on our favourite Christmas children's songs list), 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' has enjoyed many famous cover versions. Ella Fitzgerald’s version is perhaps the most famous version. The original version was released in 1949 and was based on a 1939 story bearing the same name. Bing Crosby and, er, Alvin and the Chipmunks are among the other musicians to have a go at 'Rudolph'.

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Not specifically a Christmas song, perhaps, but – just like 'Let It Snow' above – you can just feel the winter chill coming off the lyrics, and almost hear the crackling log fire inside.

Written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' was written for glitzy Hollywood parties in the 1940s, when big stars would often get up and perform to the A-list guests. The story goes that Loesser and his wife performed the song themselves at the end of one such party, as a signal to the guests that it was time to fetch their coats and head home.

This is another Ella Fitzgerald standard: she recorded a version in 1949, with backing from Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

Merry Christmas Baby

Another song that has its origins in the 1940s. 'Merry Christmas Baby' got its first recording courtesy of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, back in 1947.

Famous artists to cover the song since then have included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Otis Redding, Christina Aguilera – and Etta James, for her 1998 album 12 Songs of Christmas.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

This is an interesting entry as it's written in triple time (take a moment to read our article What is a time signature? if you need to...). First recorded in 1963 by Andy Williams, 'It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year' reminds us what a lovely, heartwarming season Christmas is, with its joyous reunions with friends and family.

Christmas Time Is Here

A lovely, slightly slower number, 'Christmas Time Is Here' was penned by songwriters Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson for the 1965 television special A Charlie Brown Christmas. The very first TV special to be spawned from the Peanuts comic strip, the film followed Charlie Brown's efforts to get into the festive spirit in his own particular way.

The song became a hit, and enjoyed numerous cover versions – including those by jazz guitarist Ron Escheté and singer Barry Manilow.

Wintertime

This one probably lies somewhere on the cusp between jazz and blues. It makes our list, though, because Norah Jones, who performs ‘Wintertime’, is something of a jazz superstar.

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With over 50 million records sold worldwide, Jones was named the top jazz artist of the 2000-2009 decade by US music and entertainment magazine Billboard. And her delicate, husky tones are heard to beautiful effect here, as she muses on the long, dark months of winter and how her love will help to see her through.

Authors

Steve Wright
Steve WrightMulti-Platform Content Producer, BBC Music Magazine

Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.