Let’s get one thing straight: I am not normally fond of Christmas songs in any shape or form, unless they happen to involve Donny Hathaway smashing out Jamerson-inspired lines with his left hand. Fortunately, ‘This Christmas’ features exactly that; happy (holi)days.
‘Tis The Season to be Soulful
Donny’s Christmas offering is (in my humble opinion) the most soulful song that any of us will play over the festive season. Opening with a unison fanfare figure that uses mixed meters to surprise the listener (and anyone sight reading the chart!), ‘This Christmas’ morphs into mid-tempo soul ballad with a similar feeling to Donny’s interpretation of Marvin Gaye‘s ‘What’s Going On’, which is transcribed here.
Initially, I was convinced that it was Willie Weeks providing the sublime bass lines on ‘This Christmas’, but it transpires that the low end comes courtesy of Mr. Hathaway’s left hand. As if his vocal, piano and orchestration abilities weren’t enough, Donny appears to be right at home playing authentic Jamerson-esque bass lines.
After matching the horns during the unison line, he provides a supportive, root-orientated part during the verse sections before stretching out into more melodic territory for the prechorus sections; the chromatic approach idea introduced in bar 17 is developed in subsequent repetitions, culminating in some extended lines over the D7-Gm7 changes in bars 37-38 and 57-58.
These two fills might require some positional planning, as they encompass a wide range of pitches across the fretboard – even though they’re played on a keyboard, they stil stay within the practical range of a standard tuned 4-string bass.
The chorus section features some ear-bending chord changes that might take repeated listens to become accustomed to; again, Donny develops his lines and increases the complexity of the part as the song develops.
There’s plenty of opportunity to practise both the unsion line and counting alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4 thanks to the extended outro section, which contains plenty of variations within the 3/4 to keep your eyes and fingers occupied.