jabw_vintage/report no. 24

Let Us Tell You About.....

Art Christmas, dance band musician of the 1920's - 1940's, multi-instrumentalist

this page first published by John Wright, 16 April 2002
last update 30 Sept 2007 vintage@jabw.demon.co.uk

I was recently contacted by Art Christmas Jnr, son of Art Christmas (1905-1961). The family have preserved many interesting photographs and clippings which help to tell the story of the Art Christmas musical career which started in Canada, continued in USA, England and Europe and returned to Canada.

Art Jnr. has done most of the research documented here, finding very informative sources at the National Archives in Ottawa.
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 sax player and multi-instrumentalist. Especially during the 30's and 40'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 the alto saxophone. Boosey & Hawkes sponsored clinics given by Art when he was with the Roy Fox band and during the 1940's, while he was with Jack Payne, Boosey & Hawkes supplied all of Art's instruments for promotional value.
For Art Christmas, his professional music career really started when he was 19 years old. He left Canada to play with the Dumbells Orchestra, touring all over the United States and then on to Britain. While in Britain, he 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 which, except for The Prisoner's Song, are hard to find. The band was actually under the direction of Orville Johnson.
Still in England, Art went on to join the New Prince's Toronto Band also in 1926, who were resident at the New Prince's restaurant in Piccadilly. This was a band made up of fellow Canadians and was directed by Hal Swain. It was when Hal Swain left because of some concerns regarding a continental tour that, at Alfie Noakes' behest, Art joined this group taking Swain's place on saxophone. The publication British Dance Bands On Record shows Art playing tenor sax but he may have doubled on alto sax as well as possibly trumpet. The band had recorded about 50 titles for Columbia since November 1924, but just one more session took place, 25 Feb 1926, while Art was a member.
The band that set off for the continent in August 1926 consisted of Dave Caplan (bj), Les Allen (cl-ts), Art Christmas (ts-as-t), Ken Kenney (dr), Art Lousley (t), Jack Collins (tb), John Whittaker (bb-sb) and Laurie Day (p). The band became Dave Caplan's Toronto Band from Canada, and from about the first week in September they played at the Faun des Westens in berlin. During November they also appeared at La Scala assisting the dance pair 'Annette Mills and Bobby' who were demonstrating the Charleston dance. The Toronto band recorded about 56 titles for Deutsche Grammophon/Polydor in Germany. Horst Lange's "Discography of German Dance Music", shows the personnel of the band changing considerably, with only Art Christmas, Les Allen, Dave Caplan and Ken Kenny remaining from the band which had left England.
Art worked extensively in Britain and Europe during the late 1920's and led his own band in Budapest and Berlin. 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 clarinet and baritone sax. His big break came when he joined Roy Fox in February 1933, staying with that band till 1938.
It was while he was with Roy Fox that Art Christmas started to make a huge name for himself around music circles in Britain. The Melody Maker has referred to Art Christmas as 'the most sought after musician in England" and Art became known as Britain's leading sax and multi-instrumentalist as he not only mainly played reed instruments but was often featured on trumpet, trombone, xylophone, drums, piano, and even bagpipes. The Melody Maker once said his 'alto sax playing is distinguished by a daringly virtuoso style and inventive technique that displays a harmonic and rhythmic sophistication well in advance of his time'. See the Roy Fox band page and the Slade cartoon.

Listen to the alto sax solo and clarinet solo from Bye Bye Blackbird recorded ~June 1938. I expect Art Christmas plays one or both solos, but probably Art plays the alto sax and Andy McDevitt the clarinet.

After Roy Fox was forced to disband due to health problems in 1938, Art worked with Arthur Rosebery from 1938 to 1939, Sid Millward's "Nitwits" and Joe Ferrie in 1939, before joining Jack Jackson (playing with his band on one recording session in November of that year). From 1940 until late 1946, Art played with his dear friend Jack Payne, probably a member of the band for most of that time and may have attended the recording sessions in 1945. Art jnr. adds: "I know dad was with Jack Payne's band for quite a few years, whether he was with him for the entire WWII period I can't say for sure but I think it would have been very close though. He was with him in 1940 I am positive, and still with him in 1944 for sure. I was born in October 18th 1944 and dad was playing in Glasgow that night with Jack Payne's band. He drove all night to London to see his new son, and the band evidently announced it at the gig in Glasgow that Art Christmas was a new father".
After Jack Payne turned impresario and launched a new variety show called For The Fun Of It he asked Art to join up with Donald Peers, Frankie Howerd and Max Bygraves along with many other entertainers. The photo, right, shows Art on clarinet, with wife Maisie playing in For The Fun Of It.

See the
Art Christmas Gallery

Thus Art's multi-instrumentalist stage act began and he opened at the Sheffield Empire in Sheffield for sixteen weeks, followed by a different major city every week. After this extensive run, Art led his own 'Foulharmonic Orchestra' until he bought a pub in Hackney and settled down to become an East End publican in London.
Art had been away from his mother and father for nearly 30 years and in the early 1950's his father died. Art was determined to see his mother again and in November of 1954 he finally moved back to Canada with his wife Maisie and son Arthur also known as Art, and who was to become an important musician too.

Art Christmas Snr. performed a great deal around Kingston, Toronto and other parts of Canada with his own band 'Art Christmas and the Squadronaires' from 1955 until 1958 when he decided to try his hand at teaching music at the high school level. He moved to Blind River, Ontario, again with his wife Maisie and young Art, and taught until his death in 1961. Through his playing and conducting over the years, Art influenced the lives of thousands of fans, listeners, friends and acquaintances. When he passed away, a part of our music scene died with him...Art was indeed a "consummate musician". He was 55 when he died of a massive heart attack in Blind River, Ontario, Canada.
Art Christmas jnr. became one of Canada's most influential and successful musicians, music educators and conductors. He himself came back to Britain as stage director and music director of his musical theatre group known as 'The Art Christmas Aggregation' for a perfomance tour in the summer of 1990.

We are indebted to Art jnr. for much of this report and for the wealth of images that have not been published before.
Text Copyright 2002 Art Christmas Jnr/John Wright
Images on this page are Copyright 2002 Art Christmas Jnr. Images should not be used without permission.

Sources:
Canadian National Archives Library - Ottawa, Canada
Who's Who of British Jazz - by John Chilton
The Lost History Of Jazz In Canada - by Mark Miller
Memory Lane No.45 - New Prince's article written by Vince Egan
British Dance Bands On Record - by Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes
Discography of German Dance Music - by Horst Lange
Max Bygraves, I Wanna Tell Ya A Story - by Max Bygraves

There is an active discussion group where you can talk about Art Christmas and other musicians of the 1920's-1940's:

Subscribe to British dance bands group

or check out the group site first at http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/british-dance-bands/


E-mail John Wright me if you want to contribute information or scanned photographs to this page

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