Vinnie Zummo

A Retro Cool Bossa Nova Christmas with . . .

by Ben Varkentine


Sonic Christmas Decorations


innie Zummo is an extremely able guitarist. He works regularly as a session musician in New York and has released previous CDs including a collection of jazz for children and a couple of sets of drum loops for hip-hop artists. He has also done soundtrack work and spent five years touring and recording with Joe Jackson, which is where I first heard him.

Vinnie Zummo

A Retro Cool Bossa Nova Christmas with . . .


Zummo’s Retro Cool Bossa Nova Christmas is a jazzy-cool (as opposed to cool jazz), film music-esque set of traditional Christmas songs performed by multi-instrumentalist Zummo (primarily guitars, harmonica and accordion), with occasional wordless vocals by Zummo and his wife, Janice. Of the traditional numbers, “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Deck the Halls” come off the best. “Christmas Groove” a good-humored number featuring Zummo’s very Stevie Wonder-reminiscent harmonica, is the better of the two originals.

Is Retro Cool Bossa Nova Christmas going to last 50 years? I would tend to think not, but I don’t think it cares to. Zummo wanted to make a record, he told me, that sounded like “something Dean Martin would have thrown on the turntable while mixing martinis for Frank & the boys on a balmy December day in Hollywood, in about 1963.” Heavy on the light, in other words. The results are easy to appreciate but hard to concentrate on.

Now, you’ve heard me mention sonic wallpaper. Sonic wallpaper is music that is tastefully played, impeccable in all ways, but lacking in fire. The question before me right now: Is this always a pejorative? Vinnie Zummo makes a quietly persuasive argument for letting him put up my Christmas decorations this year.

I hear this recording as being in the tradition of lighthearted meditations on the holiday season ranging from Nat King Cole to Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas. Music to accompany holiday activities, whether it’s spending time with your family or spending time at the mall bookshop shopping for them (I mention a bookshop specifically—this sounds very much like the kind of music a Barnes and Noble plays in-store.)

Zummo’s solo on a live version of Jackson’s “Breaking Us In Two”, recorded on Joe Jackson Live 1980-1986 is one of the bright spots not only of that collection but of Jackson’s entire recorded output. If that is any indication, then Zummo seems to be inspired by playing live, and one thing I would have preferred here is a little more live feeling and a little less air-conditioned insularity. The drum-machine percussion in particular gets a little deadening. But on balance, the album is a fun and refreshing, if inconsequential, addition to the Christmas catalogue.

Note: This album doesn’t seem to be available through most of the bigger online music stores. However, it can be ordered by calling (212) 961-1713, e-mailing or at

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