Art Christmas

Born - Kingston, Ontario, CANADA.....December 22nd, 1905

Died - Blind River, Ontario, CANADA....September 24th, 1961

Dance Band and Jazz Musician

Art Christmas

 

For many years during the exciting dance band and jazz era of the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's, Art Christmas was often said to be Britain's leading saxophone player and multi-instrumentalist. In the 1930's and 1940's, young musicians in their teens and early twenties would follow Art all over Britain listening to him play and trying to copy his style, especially on alto saxophone.

Art Christmas, pre-1930

(Gene Miller Collection)

 

Boosey & Hawkes sponsored many clinics given by Art when he was with the Roy Fox band and during the early 1940's, when he was with the Jack Payne band, Boosey & Hawkes would supply all of Art's instruments for promotional value.

 

Boosey & Hawkes

(newspaper advertisement 1935)


The Beginning

For Art Christmas, his professional music career really started when he was 19 years old. He left Canada to play trumpet with the Dumbells Orchestra, touring all over the United States and then on to Britain.

Cast and Orchestra of show "Biff Bing Bang"

(Dumbells)

While in Britain, Art was given the opportunity to play trumpet with Paul Specht's Canadian Club Orchestra in 1926 and really never looked back. This band did some recordings for Columbia and was actually under the direction of Orville Johnson because at the time American musicians were not permitted to play in Britain and Paul Specht was from the United States.

The Melody Maker Magazine detailed this orchestra's strengths by saying: "A ten-piece combination, its members, who are all Canadians, between them account for thirty-five different instruments. There are three vocalists in the outfit. Art Christmas, the first trumpet, is also a red-hot 'dirt' sax player."


Still in Britain, Art went on to play with the New Prince's Toronto Band also in 1926. This band was the resident band at the New Prince's restaurant in Piccadilly.

Laurie Day..Art Christmas..Art Lousley..Art Calkin

Members of Prince's Toronto Orchestra of The New Prince's Restaurant in Piccadilly, London

The band was made up of fellow Canadians and was directed by Hal Swain. It was when Hal Swain left the band, that at Alfie Noakes' behest, Art joined and took Hal Swain's place. The band was about to embark on a continental tour but first took some time fulfilling a recording contract again for Columbia. The publication British Dance Bands On Record shows Art playing tenor sax but he doubled on alto sax and trumpet. This band had recorded about 50 titles since November, 1924, but just one more session took place on February 25th, 1926, while Art was with them. The band actually left for the continent in August 1926 and by now consisted of Dave Caplan(banjo), Les Allen(clarinet, tenor sax), Ken Kenney(drums), Art Lousley(trumpet), Jack Collins(trombone)John Whittaker(bass), Laurie Day(piano) and of course Art Christmas who played mostly alto sax but doubled on tenor sax, clarinet, trombone and trumpet.(This likely started Art thinking of trying to make a name for himself as a multi instrumentalist even as early as the 1920's).  

Eventually this band became known as "The Toronto Band from Canada, featuring Art Christmas" and from about the first week in September they played at the Faun des Westens in Berlin. During November they also appeared at The Scala Theatre, assisting the dance pair Annette Mills and Bobby, who were demonstrating the Charleston dance. While in Berlin, Germany, the band recorded about 56 titles for Deutsche Grammophon/Polydor. This band had a very strong jazz component thanks mainly to Art Christmas' style. The German discographer Horst Lange compared it to the California Ramblers in his "Jazz In Deutshland: die deutsche Jazz-Chronik", noting that Art Christmas and other members of the band were familiar with all styles and could play with this special 'American feeling' which pure European musicians and bands were lacking. One of this band's few surviving recordings "I'm Sitting On Top Of The World", is a vigorous effort in the "hot dance" genre and according to the book 'The Lost History Of Jazz In Canada by Mark Miller', ".......is distinguished by Art Christmas' alto saxophone solo." Horst Lange's book Discography Of German Dance Music shows the personnel of the band changing considerably, with only Art Christmas, Les Allen, Dave Caplan and Ken Kenney remaining from the band which left Britain. Art worked extensively in Britain and Europe during the late 1920's and led his own band in Budapest, Berlin and London. He was with the Savoy Orpheans for a brief time and then joined Billy Mason in 1930. Art played and recorded with Percival Mackey and Dave Frost during the latter half of 1931 and was now playing baritone sax as well as the other instruments with these groups.

The Toronto Band From Canada Featuring Art Christmas 1926

(Art is centre surrounded by the other members)

Toronto Band From Canada

Art's Big Break

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