By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 30, 2023 at 9:03 AM

Snuggle up with some holiday cheer as OnMilwaukee shares stories of everything merry and bright in the spirit of the season.

The OnMilwaukee Ho Ho Holiday Guide is brought to you by Educators Credit Union, Harley-Davidson Museum and MolsonCoors

Everyone's got a music lover on their holiday shopping list. Here's a selection of gems on CD and paper that they just might love.

Wes Montgomery / Wynton Kelly Trio – "Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings" (Resonance)


The 1965 "Smokin' at the Half Note" is acknowledged as one of the great guitar records of all time, despite the fact that only two-fifths of it was actually recorded at the NYC venue. Fortunately, a couple other sources recorded performances from guitarist Montgomery and pianist Kelly's run there that autumn and winter. Much of this two-disc set – which comes with a thick booklet packed with essays and photos – was captured for Alan Grant's jazz radio show and Grant's voice can be heard introducing the songs and interacting with the band, which I really love as it creates a great atmosphere and doesn't infringe upon the music. And the music is stellar. The tracks released in '65 captured a great musical conversation between these aces (as well as drummer Jimmy Cobb and a number of the best bassists in the game) but the recordings here show the late Montgomery – whose 100th birthday was earlier this year – stretching out and soloing at length, something previously issued records rarely did in a live setting. At a time when Verve was working to take Montgomery in a more pop direction, this set shows us he was at his best in a solid jazz setting.

Gram Parsons & The Fallen Angels – "The Last Roundup" (Amoeba)

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Released via Amoeba Records, one of the best record stores in the world – which also brings us the recurring "What's In My Bag" YouTube video series – and Parsons' daughter Polly, this previously unreleased live recording of (though they didn't call it that back then) pioneer Gram Parsons, was recorded a few months before he died in September 1973. If it's not enough to be transported to an intimate club date with Parsons in 1973 Philadelphia, Emmylou Harris is also all over the recording, which was rescued from a cassette recording of the show. Thankfully, the tape was made from the sound board, so the fidelity is definitely good enough to enjoy this moment in time. I'd have liked liner notes with a bit more detail on the show and its context, but that's a mere quibble when the music is so exciting to hear. Available on CD, but also on a double-LP vinyl version in gatefold sleeve (with a bonus poster) released for Black Friday Record Store Day.

Cal Tjader – "Catch the Groove" & Ahmad Jamal – "Emerald City Nights" (Deep Digs/Jazz Detective)

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This pair of disc sets (on vinyl for Record Store Day, but also CD and download) are the latest from Zev Feldman's archival Jazz Detective imprint and they contain unreleased music captured at Seattle's Penthouse jazz club  in the 1960s. The Tjader set, recorded from 1963 to '67, should have us reassessing this vibraphonist and reconsidering why he's not better remembered. With great sidemen like Monk Montgomery, Tjader's performance encompasses the Latin flavor that infused much of his music during this era, but not entirely. There are also readings of "Take The A Train" and other classics. The Jamal, meanwhile, is the the third and final release in a trio of collections recorded at the Penthouse, this one from 1966 to '68 with the pianist's trio, including bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Frank Gant. Both sets have booklets loaded with essays, info and photos and are quite nice. The music inside will have you wondering why its been unreleased for so long.

Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros – “Live at Acton Town Hall” (Dark Horse)


In 2002, the now-late Joe Strummer brought his band to London’s Acton Town Hall to perform at a benefit concert for striking firefighters and fortunately the show was recorded and is now released on CD, as well as on a double-LP. As the liner notes by one of the union leaders say, “Joe had sung to us out of solidarity, defiance and the need to fight, and Joe knew his place was right in the ranks of those willing to fight,” and Strummer and his band sound strong, performing a mix of tracks from Mescaleros records as well as by The Clash. But the real historical moment comes at the end, when Mick Jones joins Strummer onstage for the first time in decades to perform “Bankrobber,” “White Riot” and “London’s Burning.” A raw and beautiful document of that rock ‘n’ roll moment.


“Blood in the Tracks: The Minnesota Musicians Behind Dylan’s Masterpiece,” by Paul Metsa & Rick Shefchik (University of Minnesota Press)

There has been no shortage of ink spilled over the career, life and music of Bob Dylan, but what I really enjoyed about this book is that although it is obviously about Dylan and his classic LP, “Blood On the Tracks,” it’s really more about the Minneapolis musicians who recorded a number the tracks and were never really credited for their performances. It’s an interesting look at a previously unexplored-in-depth chapter of Dylan’s career and how this unexpected moment came to be. But, even more, it tells the story of some the kind of top-notch musical talent that exists all around us, but that often never gets any limelight or attention. It’s also just a darn interesting read.

“Goth: A History,” by Lol Tolhurst (Hachette)


The founding drummer of The Cure returns with a new book that follows his “Cured” memoir of a few years back and this one focuses on the somewhat ill-defined musical genre of the book’s title. Interestingly, the book starts with The Clash, who no one would define as “goth” in any way. However, Tolhurst makes a good point that punk swung open the doors for all kinds of genres and subgenres that followed. In discussing bands like the Cocteau Twins, The Birthday Party, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy and others, Tolhurst can’t help but inject some more memories into this history and in the end it feels more like another, albeit more focused, memoir than what one would define as “history.” But that’s OK, but most readers will take it up because of who Tolhurst is and his ability to offer insight from the inside of the world he’s capturing on the page.

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"Never Givin' Up: The Life and Music of Al Jarreau (Wisconsin Historical Society Press)

Right around the same time the Milwaukee Common Council voted to name a city park in honor of Brew City native, pop jazz singer Al Jarreau, this biography appeared from WHS Press.

The author is a music professor at Ripon College, the late Jarreau's alma mater, and is a sympathetic biographer, who has crafted an in-depth look at the life and career of a beloved Milwaukee-born performer.

It is, as fellow music author Bill Milkowski describes it, "his love letter to a Milwaukee legend."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.