Wilton Felder’s festive funk is coming to town: the holiday season seems to bring with it a mild sense of dread for bass players – suddenly, we’re required to dust off a large chunk of repertoire, such as the Jackson 5’s ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, that we haven’t played for an entire year.
To make matters worse, many of the Christmas classics that crop up on gigs tend to feature unusual chord sequences, unexpected twists and turns and unwelcome key changes. Then there’s also the fact that the majority of Christmas tunes that the general public wants to hear at a gig are just awful.
Thankfully, there are some noticeable exceptions that are a joy to play for bassists, and this one comes courtesy of a saxophone player.
Wilton’s Winter Wonderland
Wilton Felder is probably best known as the saxophonist in jazz-funk outfit The Crusaders (originally The Jazz Crusaders), but he began doubling on electric bass around 1968 and contributed a number of significant lines to our instrument’s history through his studio work on bass with The Jackson 5. That’s Wilton you’ve been copying on ‘I Want You Back’, ‘ABC’ and ‘The Love You Save’.
The Jackson 5’s 1970 Christmas Album features some funked-up takes on traditional Christmas tunes. ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ usually gets the jazz treatment in many cover versions, but here we’re treated to a soulful, Motown-infused arrangement: