Last year, James Taylor released a Christmas album. There’s nothing earth-shatteringly amazing about an established recording artist releasing a Christmas album. It’s the sort of release that’s happened for as many years as there have been recording artists around to release them.
Now, my friends and colleagues know that I’m a big James Taylor fan. I love most of the songs he writes; I love most of the songs he records. He has a way about him that draws the listener into his world and that’s great.
But there are people I know who just can’t get past James Taylor’s voice. No matter how beautiful the music or the arrangement, it’s the delivery that robs them of the experience of the song. It happens. For me, the artist that’s most likely to put me in that position is Mozart. Yeah, I know … he’s not exactly a current composer, but that’s the music guy that blinds me (or rather, deafens me) to what others say is pure genius. He was, without a doubt, a genius. I just don’t like his music. James Taylor has that effect on a select few.
Imagine how pleased I was to come across one of the songs from that beautiful Christmas album that I knew my non-James Taylor friends would enjoy. The arrangement would allow them to experience the awesomeness of the song and its vocal architecture so they could understand why I felt last year’s Christmas album was incredible.
The arrangement recorded by James Taylor, and in this new video I found on YouTube, was by jazz giant, Dave Grusin.
The song was originally written by Michigan native, Alfred Burt. Between between 1942 and 1954, he wrote 15 Christmas carols. The tradition began with his father who was a pastor of an Episcopal church in Pontiac. Every year, beginning the Christmas of 1922, the pastor would send out Christmas cards with the words and music to a new original Christmas carol by the Reverend Burt. But in 1942, he asked his son to write that year’s Christmas carol.
From 1943 to 1946, Alfred Burt served in the U.S. Army, but that didn’t stop Christmas from coming. As the season approached each year, the Reverend Burt sent his son lyrics, and each year, Alfred would write the music and sent the completed carols back home in time to be sent out to family members and parishioners alike. The year after that was the last year Alfred and his father would continue the beloved and cherished tradition started so many years earlier. When his father passed away in 1948, Alfred decided to continue the tradition. By then, the Christmas card list had grown from 50 to 450 people, and each of those people looked forward to the yearly treat.
Alfred knew he wouldn’t make it through to Christmas 1954. He’d been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. But he couldn’t leave this world without first making sure that there’d be one more Christmas carol, and on February 5, 1954 he completed “The Star Carol.” The next day, the world mourned the loss of Alfred Burt.
The song “Some Children See Him” was written for Christmas 1951.
After his passing, the Burt Christmas tradition lay dormant for fifty years until his grand-niece, Abbie Betinis picked up where Alfred left off.
Still, of all the Burt Christmas carols written, this is the one that I love best.