The Yuletide season has a funny way of winding its way into the songbooks of cabaret artists. Although you may hear standards like “Silent Night” or “Jingle Bells” in a singer’s seasonal repertoire, you’re more likely to hear something you never thought of conjuring up sensations of snowfalls and Santa Claus.
That’s the experience of the jazz chanteuse Baby Jane Dexter. “I’ve liked singing ‘The Christmas Blues’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Baby.’ They’re lots of fun, and they aren’t religious,” Dexter says, “but mostly, among the songs I sing during the holidays, there are things that simply touch people in a very deep way.” For audiences, Dexter—who will be performing in Gotham at the Triad on December 7, and then at The Duplex on December 15—says the holiday mood can be met through singing “a song that feels like it’s a holiday song, whether it was intended that way or not.” To that end, one of her most joyful favorites is the Judy Garland classic “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.” “I sing it as a kind of swing number. And people love it. ‘Zing!’ may not be a holiday song, but when you sing it at the holiday time, it feels like a holiday song.”
Meanwhile, musical director David Lewis has guided many a diva through December festivities. Although, as a pianist, “Sleigh Ride” tops his “most requested list,” Lewis says his big holiday repeats with singers are “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” and Sunset Boulevard’s “The Perfect Year.”
MAC winner Jim Caruso—whose whimsical interpretive style could probably twist some tinsel and holly around any song ever written—says that, for him, there’s one song that stands out this time of the year, Kay Thompson’s “The Holiday Season.” “It was originally sung by Kay herself,” Caruso informs, “and it’s the most jolly Christmas ditty I can imagine. Hep before it was hip, she wrote kooky, scatty lyrics filled with nonsensical words and piles of pizzazz.” What makes the season so special for Caruso is Thompson’s mad joy for the season. “The concept of Christmas is not fundamentally a hipster topic, but when I sing the lyric, ‘It’s the holiday season, with a whoop de-doo and dickery-doc, don’t forget to hang up your sock,’ I feel like the snazziest guy in town.”
* Nellie’s Nasty Noel On December 1, to commemorate "International Day Without Art,” AIDS activist and former “Little House on the Prairie” child star Alison Arngrim will make a rare Big Apple appearance at FEZ (380 Lafayette Street). The petite blonde who finger-wagged her way through adolescence as the snotty townie gal Nellie Oleson will present an evening of storytelling and stand-up “to let you know what Christmas on the prairie was really like!” Tickets are $18; for information, call (212) 533-2680.