Reviewed by Johan Palme on 27th November, 2018
Is there any Christmas music that’s just for really rich people? Once, of course, the likes of Händel’s Messiah would be performed for royalty and the upper echelons of aristocracy. But even though today’s richest own a similarly enormous proportion of society’s total wealth as those in Händel’s time, you’d be much more hard pressed to name a musical style that truly belongs to only them. Certainly, they can book private concerts and have Mariah Carey serenade them at their feet, but almost any artist performing for the extremely wealthy will already be a star among commoners.
Well, perhaps not every artist. For a large part of the 20th century, Lester Lanin was a household name for the jetset, while being almost invisible as a recording artist. His band, with their trademark zany bucket hats, played the International Debutate Ball every year, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, the balls of kings and industrial titans. At his peak, twelve simultaneous touring bands bore his name, playing elite proms, parties and weddings around the world. And Lester Lanin certainly both played and recorded an album of Christmas music.
So what does his music sound like, that made him the toast of high society? It’s relentlessly, overwhelmingly happy. (Lester Lanin himself recognised this, saying he was in “the happiness business”.) Musically borne of the roaring 1920s, it’s as if the decade and its rousing ostentation never stopped for Lester Lanin, and the cheery pace on his Christmas album is relentless. Imagine an instrumental “I’ll be home for Christmas” at twice it’s usual speed, a breakneck 200 bpm prestissimo, with every wrinkle of wistfulness carefully ironed out, and you’re pretty much there.
That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. This full-on accordion-driven jazz-band zaniness is genius in its own way. A happy, care-free, moneyed way few of us will perhaps ever be part of.