Monday, August 20, 2007

Disneyland After Dark

As promised, it's time to check out some of Pops on YouTube. Today, I've selected Armstrong's appearance in a "Disneyland After Dark" film from 1961. The appearance takes place on the Mark Twain riverboat and is notable for reuniting Armstrong with his Hot Five sessionmates Kid Ory and Johnny St. Cyr. Singer Monette Moore opened with a shouting version of "Kansas City" before Pops's sequence (Moore's performance is also available on YouTube). Here's Armstrong's scenes, spread across two parts:





Now some historical odds and ends and personal opinions. The other members of the band, in addition to Ory on trombone and St. Cyr on banjo, are Mike DeLay, trumpet, Paul Barnes, clarinet, Harvey Brooks, piano and Alton Redd, drums. A bass is definitely present in the mix but Jos Willems's Armstrong discography doesn't identify him. The film was shot on Mark Twain on September 30, 1961, just 11 days after Armstrong finished up recording Dave Brubeck's "Real Ambassadors" album. Quite a contrast, huh, recording Brubeck's original, challenging tunes one week, then having a Hot Five reunion just days later. It was nothing new for Pops as 1961 also featured the Duke Ellington sessions, a TV appearance on a show with Tony Bennett and Harpo Marx (!) and the usual nonstop touring with the All Stars.

While there's a bit of a staged feeling to the proceedings, there's also a natural vibe throughout, especially the reaction of the audience, obviously enjoying basking in the warmth of the great Satchmo. "Lazy River" is an inspired choice for the first selection. Armstrong performed it frequently in 61 and into early 62 but then it was retired. Thus, this is valuable for being one of the final recorded examples of Armstrong blowing the wonderful "Lazy River" solo he first wowed the world with on November 3, 1931. This recreation, 30 years later, follows the original pattern quite well, a pattern that had also carried over into the All Stars's live performances of "Lazy River." Armstrong sings it with plenty of feeling, barely hinting at the original melody (by New Orleans clarinetist Sidney Arodin, lyrics by Hoagy Carmichael), before he doubles the tempo for a half chorus of scatting that's swing personified (and it's nice to hear the crowd clapping on the right beat, something they couldn't do for Monette Moore just a few minutes earlier!). Armstrong even carries over the "Boy, am I riffin' this evenin'" aside from the 1931 record, a nice touch. Armstrong being given a horn is kind of hoaky, but I like the little wave of appreciation he gives to the other musicians as he walks up to the bandstand. Naturally, the centerpiece of the trumpet solo is that gigantic gliss, which he still pulls off here at 60 years of age, getting the appropriate applause for his effort. A wonderful performance all around.

Armstrong then happily greets pianist Harvey Brooks with Kid Ory kind of forcing a smile behind them. Ory would be 75 in December of 1961 and hadn't played with Armstrong since they appeared in the 1946 film "New Orleans." Armstrong seemed to have odd, somewhat strained relationships with other New Orleans musicians (see Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, Armstrong and Pops Foster, Armstrong and Edmond Hall, Armstrong and Zutty Singleton, etc.) and it's not impossible to sense a bit of strain between Armstrong and Ory. Ory gave Armstrong's career a huge boost when he hired the teenager to play lead trumpet in his band when Joe Oliver left New Orleans. Armstrong would later hire Ory to play on the Hot Five sessions but by the 30s, the younger man was an international star, while Ory had to temporarily retire to a chicken farm. Later, Armstrong gave Ory's record of "Creole Bo Bo" only two-and-a-half stars in a Leonard Feather Blindfold Test and famously refused to jam with Ory, Red Allen or any of the other special guests assembled for Armstrong's birthday celebration at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957. In the late 60s, Armstrong toured Hawaii with the All Stars. Clarinetist Joe Muranyi was in the group and remembered Ory, who retired to Hawaii, coming to hear the band. As he told me, "They were uncomfortable with each other."

And of course, there was "Muskrat Ramble." Recorded by the Hot Five in 1926, the composition was credited to Kid Ory. Of course, it became a traditional jazz standard and Ory definitely benefited from the royalties. It wasn't until a 1965 interview with Dan Morgenstern that Armstrong said, "I wrote 'Muskrat Ramble.' Ory named it, he gets the royalties. I don't talk about it.'" Thus, since he hadn't admitted it yet in 1961, one could only imagine what went through Armstrong's mind when he cheerily announced on the Mark Twain, "And you no one thing folks? Kid Ory wrote that tune!" Hmmmm...

Anyway, they play "Muskrat Ramble" and it's a spirited enough performance but it's amazing how different it feels from the way the All Stars played it at the time. First off, there's the banjo which immediately gives it an old-timey feeling. Now make no mistake, I love the banjo but it definitely makes the performance sound too much like a recreation rather than a current, swinging piece of music. Also, the unknown bassist insists on playing two-beat style, which completely clashes with the swinging, backbeat-driven drumming of Alton Redd. And of course, Ory's trombone style was as anachronistic as it comes. Armstrong's trumpet was timeless and he sticks to the set solo he had worked out over the years though dammit, there's a huge edit in the middle of the piece that makes it go from solos to midway through the rideout chorus. Armstrong sounds great and his little cadenza features some monumental high notes. Overall, it's a fun enough performance but I think it pales when compared to how the All Stars usually played it. To compare, here they are on a 1958 Timex jazz show:



Now, that's as swinging as it comes, even if it was taken a little faster than Armstrong usually played it because of TV time constraints. Anyway, I think it's key to understanding the music of Armstrong's All Stars that he never saw the group as a old-fashioned throwback kind of thing. The All Stars always swung and Armstrong always played in the present without feeling the need to always recreate the past.

Anyway, the Disneyland film ends with Armstrong and Monette Moore duetting on "Bourbon Street Parade," another suitably fun performance of a song Armstrong rarely played (he did record it with the Dukes of Dixieland). Armstrong's scatting obbligato around Moore is a gas. Armstrong leads a march around the room, doing the little sideways strut he did when he performed "Jubilee" in "Every Day's A Holiday" (Joe Muranyi titled a segment of his "Dippermouth Suite" "Satchmo's Strut" after this little step). Overall, it's a historical clip because of the Hot Five reunion and Armstrong plays and sings fantastically....but I'd still take the All Stars any day of the week!

1 comment:

John Wriggle said...

Brilliant! The sound is remarkably good, and they clearly put some effort into the editing (the boat is almost definitely not moving during the filming). Do you know of any other filmed performances of Ory doing Muskrat?

Of course, the real story here is the haircuts on the male audience members - I don't think they make razors that cut that short anymore.

JW