The poem “A visit from St Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore has become something of a staple in Western celebrations of Christmas. Originally published in 1823, the poem’s opening “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” can now be quoted by people around the globe.
What people may not know about this poem is that a recording of it exists by the legendary jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, in fact it was the very last commercial recording Armstrong ever made.
Recorded on February 26, 1971, using a reel-to-reel recorder in his Queens, New York residence, it coincided with one of the last moments in which the musician felt completely healthy over his last weeks.
Mere days after this recording, Armstrong embarked on a two-week performance stint at the Waldorf Astoria, a decision he would come to regret, as it led to two heart attacks, one occurring just two days after his final Waldorf show. On July 6, Armstrong peacefully passed away in his sleep, reportedly succumbing to heart failure.
This recording was nonetheless distributed during the holiday season by Lorillard, a cigarette manufacturer, who pressed it onto a million 45-rpm records as incentives for those purchasing a carton of cigarettes.
The charm of this recording lies in its revelation that Armstrong’s on-stage persona mirrored his natural disposition, brimming with sincerity and infectious delight. It stands as a poignant testament, described by one jazz aficionado as “one last gift” from Armstrong, despite its absence of musical notes – just his voice, warming the surrounding silence.
If you haven’t heard it before, we suggest you take a listen: