Download Instrumental “Harlem Nocturne” is one of the more famous saxophone instrumentals of the 20th century. It was written by American composer Earle Hagen, who was best known for writing the theme songs for television shows. His credentials include The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mod Squad, and That Girl. He co-wrote the theme to The Andy Griffith Show and was the guy who did the actual whistling. You remember that one, don’t you? I use “Andy” as the ringtone on my cell phone – that’s how old I am.
Anyway, the jazz standard “Harlem Nocturne” came about when Hagen was commissioned to write the theme music for Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. That particular TV series starred Darren McGavin as the gritty, hard-boiled detective who fought crime when he wasn’t “chasing skirts” (Stacy Keach later played the role). The setting was dark and brooding, which was a perfect pairing with the haunting sound of the saxophone melody introducing the show. It’s been recorded a thousand times, but by far the best is the version by Gato Barbieri – talk about haunting! There are also lyrics for this tune, so all you singers out there take notice. Use these backups, mute the sax track, and go for it.
My all-time favorite rendition of this song was by a great friend of mine named Arnie Kole. I first met Arnie in Ft. Lauderdale at a bank-opening celebration. A talent agency needed “greeters” who looked like certain celebrities. Arnie and I had been hired and just happened to get on the same elevator. It’s extremely rare for me to like anybody immediately, but Arnie was a different breed. I could tell he was playing Gabe Kaplan (Mr. Kotter) cause the resemblance was obvious. He asked me who I was supposed to be (not a good sign) and I said, “David Cassidy”. He looked at me for a long moment and finally said, “Okay”. It was just a few nights later that he walked into a Boca Raton club I was working, carrying a saxophone. He walked up to the piano, handed me some sheet music, and asked, “Can you play this, Mr. Cassidy?” (cute). Well, yeah… I mean you’re waving the music in my face. Long story short, he ended up onstage and blew us all away with “Harlem Nocturne”. From that moment on, we were comrades-in-arms.
Arnie and I got along so well because we were musicians, of course, but we also had the same philosophy of life. You know how they say good friends laugh and cry together, sharing the good times with the bad. Neither of us believed in the crying part. We could laugh our way through anything and found ways to make everything fun. Arnie and I went our separate ways several years ago, but still kept in touch. Sadly, I heard recently that he passed away and I will never completely get over his death. Life isn’t quite as much fun as it used to be. I’m crying now, ol’ buddy.