The Christmas album veteran (he released five between 1968 and 2011) is about to celebrate his 93rd festive season
One of my favourite musical Christmas memories came when I was at a very low point in my life. It was Christmas morning. I had just gone through a divorce. I was separated from my children, all alone in a hotel, feeling low. In my room, I started to hear music and thought I had left the TV on, but I checked and it was off. It got louder, and I realised it was coming from the hallway, so I opened my door and there was a choir, singing On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever). Duke Ellington was doing one of his sacred concerts at the Presbyterian Church nearby, on Fifth Avenue, had heard I was down, and sent over his choir to cheer me up. It was the most beautiful gift I have ever received.
I grew up in the Depression, so the focus was more on family and being together than about gifts piled under the tree. Food was a big part too.
My [Italian-American] mother Anna made a world-class lasagne every Christmas, and my sister Mary made it after she passed away. On my 85th birthday, the recipe was recreated for 600 guests and it felt like my mom was part of the evening. I wish every day could be like the holiday season, where we express our appreciation for our family and friends.
I love the way the streets of Manhattan transform at Christmas, how all the shop windows set up their elaborate holiday scenes. I am a painter, too, and have done many winter scenes from my studio window while the snow is coming down. One of my favourites, of Radio City Music Hall in a snowstorm, I chose for my holiday card for the American Cancer Society this year. The money raised goes towards cancer research. I’ve been doing them for 25 years.
Why have I made so many Christmas albums? My premise as a performer has always been to make people feel good and holiday songs are like old friends: you may not have heard them in a while, but whenever you do they bring back good memories. They make you feel happy.