(Originally posted Dec. 3, 2005.)
To celebrate the holiday season this year, the Virtual Victrola will feature several Christmas favorites from the 78 rpm era. Today's post includes two records of perennial holiday favorites released in 1935. Victor's holiday record offered two of the biggest swing stars on its artist roster: Benny Goodman playing the classic Fletcher Henderson arrangement of "Jingle Bells" and Tommy Dorsey playing a brand-new holiday novelty, "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town." Brunswick records also released a recording of these two numbers the same year as played by the society bands of Ozzie Nelson ("Jingle Bells") and Joe Moss ("Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town"). These two records give us an interesting comparison of the "swing" and "sweet" sounds that were featured by the leading bands of the day. Incidentally, these two songs were probably the most-recorded holiday numbers during the Big Band Era.
Benny Goodman was still a relatively unknown Victor label artist when he cut this Fletcher Henderson arrangement of "Jingle Bells" in July 1935. Shortly after this session, his band embarked on a nation-wide tour that ended at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California, and ushered in the Swing Era. Bunny Berigan solos on trumpet, and Dick Clark solos on tenor sax, along with Benny's clarinet. After the Palomar, Benny Goodman became a sensation and Victor was eager to release this record, keeping it in print for several years until these two songs were remade by Glenn Miller and Alvino Rey in 1940.
Tommy Dorsey had just formed his own orchestra (after leaving the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra) when this recording of "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" was made. In fact, this September 1935 recording session was both his first session as a bandleader and his first session for Victor Records - a relationship that was to last for over a decade. The personnel on this recording is almost entirely made up of members of the Joe Haymes band (which Tommy lured away from Haymes a month earlier) including singer/trumpeter Cliff Weston. Edythe Wright is also heard on this record; her pleasant Southern inflection and alluring voice were heard with the Dorsey band for four more years.
Ozzie Nelson was a moderately successful dance band leader in the early and mid 1930's. His success was due in no small part to the attractive and pleasant girl singer in his band, Harriet Hilliard. Nelson and Hilliard were married shortly after this November 1934 recording of "Jingle Bells" was made. Ozzie and Harriet didn't become really famous until Ozzie became the musical director for Red Skelton's radio show. When Skelton was drafted in 1944, Ozzie took over Skelton's time slot with a variety program featuring music and comedy skits centered around Ozzie and Harriet's home life with their two sons, David and Ricky. When the show spun off on its own, the Nelson family became some of their generation's biggest radio and television stars.
The least-known of the bandleaders on these recordings is Joe Moss, and unfortunately little information exists about this orchestra. The singer on this 1935 recording of "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" is the prolific Dick Robertson, who made literally hundreds of records during the early 1930's. Incidentally, this record was also re-released on the Columbia label (which owned the discontinued Brunswick catalog) in 1940.