Christmas figured prominently in the early career of Raymond Scott (the son of immigrant Jews). He wrote his first hit, “Christmas Night In Harlem,” in 1934 at age 25. During Xmas 1936, he debuted his soon-to-be world-famous band live on the Saturday Night Swing Club radio show. Two Christmases later, Paul Whiteman featured the Quintette, accompanied by PW’s huge orchestra, performing Scott compositions at Carnegie Hall as part of the long-running Experiments In Modern American Music series where Whiteman had debuted Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue in 1924.
“Christmas Night In Harlem” was recorded as an instrumental in 1939 by Scott’s Quintette. With lyrics by legendary Tin Pan Alley wordsmith Mitchell Parish, who co-wrote “Stardust,” “Deep Purple,” and another Yuletide standard, “Sleigh Ride,” the tune was covered by Perry Como, Benny Carter, Johnny Mercer, Banu Gibson, The Beau Hunks, Clarence Williams, Paul Whiteman, Maria Muldaur, and Jack Teagarden. A new CD, 100 CHRISTMAS
, presents Lester Lanin’s version alongside classics by Bing Crosby
, Willie Nelson, and Roy Orbison.
The most celebrated of all “Harlem” covers, however, is by Louis Armstrong, framed above alongside Scott during a 1938 CBS radio broadcast. Satchmo’s recording is perennially reissued on holiday collections, including WHAT A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS