Monday, September 10, 2007

Yours And Mine

Recorded July 2, 1937
Track Time 2:43
Written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Shelton Hemphill, Henry “Red” Allen, Louis Bacon, trumpet; George Matthews, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Pete Clarke, Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, Albert Nicholas, tenor saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin
Originally released on Decca 1369
Currently available on CD: It’s on volume three (1936-1937) of the wonderful Ambassador series, the only way to hear Armstrong’s Decca complete big band recordings
Available on Itunes? Yes

All right, after a week where I had a birthday (number 27), my mom had a birthday, my wife started teaching high school chemistry, my wife broke down from teaching high school chemistry, my cat Django had to go to the vet and I beat my 12-year-old nephew in a game of wiffle ball, I am ready to resume the Armstrong blog. And with this track, we’re firmly back into Armstrong’s 1930s Decca recordings. Those records can be broken down into about a hundred categories: the big band, natch, small groups made out of the big band, small studio groups (including one with Bunny Berigan), Hawaiian groups, pairings with stars of the time such as Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers, a reunion with Sidney Bechet, a session of religious tunes where Armstrong is backed by a choir, recreations of Okeh classics such as “West End Blues” and “Mahogany Hall Stomp,” new trumpet showpieces such as “Swing That Music,”….should I keep going? “Yours and Mine” fits snugly into probably the most common category of the Decca days: Armstrong’s big band covering a pop tune of the day. In this case, it was a very good one written by well-known songwriting team of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. Freed would later go on to helm M-G-M’s musical department so it only made sense that most of the songs he wrote with Brown in the 30s originally were written for musicals. In the case of “Yours and Mine,” this one was comes from Broadway Melody of 1938 (released in 1937, of course), where it was sung by a young Judy Garland over the credits and reprised by Eleanor Powell later in the film.

The film was released on August 20, 1937 but jazz musicians were already tackling songs from the score in the spring of that year. Three versions of “Yours and Mine” stand out: a Teddy Wilson small group version for Brunswick from May 11, with Billie Holiday and Lester Young, a Victor record by Teddy Hill’s orchestra from May 17 and finally, the Armstrong Decca, recorded July 2. Looking over the personnel of the three sessions is like reading a listing of great jazz trumpeters: Buck Clayton on the Wilson date, Dizzy Gillespie and Shad Colllins on the Hill record and Armstrong and Henry “Red” Allen on Pops’s version. The Wilson version features a delightful easygoing tempo and the minute you hear Johnny Hodges playing the melody, you know you’re in good hands. Clayton only has 16 bars but plays wonderfully, showing off his Armstrong influence as he climbs to the upper register for his last four bars (I love how Wilson echoes one of Buck’s first phrases…what a quick mind). It’s not my favorite Holiday vocal, but I’ll eat up anything she sang during this period. Buster Bailey provides a nice obbligato but it’s tough to hear anyone else back Billie when you know Lester Young is sitting right there. Fortunately, Pres gets a solo at the end of the record and it’s truly a case of saving the best for last as he completely steals the record. As for Teddy Hill, I love his recordings and “Yours and Mine” came from a terrific session that also featured 19-year-old Dizzy Gillespie out-Roy-Eldridging (that can’t be in the dictionary) Roy Eldridge on “King Porter Stomp” as well as a classic “Blue Rhythm Fantasy” from the pen of Chappie Willet, who also arranged many of Armstrong’s Deccas (I’m still waiting for my good friend John Wriggle to begin a Chappie blog!). Sandwiched in between those two great performances, “Yours and Mine” doesn’t offer anything too special. The tempo’s fairly up but the arrangement is unimaginative, trumpeter Bill Dillard sings a harmless, bland vocal and the sectionwork sounds a little sloppy in the middle of the trumpet solo. Only that solo, by Shad Collins (I agree with Ira Gitler that it’s not Dizzy), saves the record as Collins, too, starts out in an Armstrong bag, pumping out the melody an octave higher than expected, though his attack comes straight from the Eldridge school, but without sounding like a pure Eldridge imitator, which is what Diz sounds like on “King Porter.”

Armstrong’s version of “Yours and Mine” came on an odd little three-tune session in July, the first song being “Public Melody Number One,” which Armstrong featured in the Paramount film Artists and Models. In the film, Armstrong sang it with Martha Raye in a scene cut from many southern states for supposed interracial innuendo. The Decca record is a favorite of mine as Armstrong’s half-sung, half-spoken vocal is a lot of fun and the Selmer is in fine fettle shooting out a string of high Bb’s during his solo, topped by a high C. And the closing trumpet cadenza is gorgeous until a little comic jive as the band shouts, :”Look out, Satch,” and Armstrong begins mumbling and muttering about making that last note (an aspect of Armstrong that Joe Carroll nailed on Dizzy’s later parody record, “Pops Confessin’”). A huge gliss follows with Armstrong landing on a fat high Eb. The session was off to a fine start.

Next came “Yours and Mine.” (Finally! It seems like I’ve written about everything except the song I started out to write about.) Tempo-wise, Armstrong’s version is in line with the Teddy Wilson record; nice and relaxed. After a short introduction, Armstrong begins a heartfelt vocal. Okay, tangent time: Armstrong’s voice is very gravelly on this session. Obviously, having a gravel voice is one of the things Armstrong is best known for and goodness knows, he never exactly sounded like Mel Torme (just listen to him shouting in the 1920s for ample proof of that). But in the early-30s, his voice softened into a pleasing tenor and on many of his Victor and early Deccas, there really isn’t a trace of gravel. His speaking voice (as on “I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music”) still has a sandpaper finish but on vocals such as “If We Never Meet Again” and “Ev’ntide,” it’s not the full-on raspy Satchmo most are familiar with. On the March 1937 session with Andy Iona and His Islanders, Armstrong’s tenor voice is still light and polite on “On A Little Bamboo Bridge” and on the first Mills Brothers session from April 7, Armstrong sings like an angel on “Darling Nelly Gray.” But on their second meeting from June 29, Armstrong sounds incredibly raspy on “The Old Folks At Home” and, as already mentioned, by the time of the “Yours and Mine” session three days later, Armstrong’s voice is still very rough. So who knows, maybe I’m being silly but it might be possible to pinpoint the moment Armstrong’s voice officially turned from a light tenor to a pit of gurgling gravel as the spring of 1937 (it’s revelations like this that make my wife contemplate my sanity).

Anyway, back to “Yours and Mine.” Want to have fun? Listen to Billie Holiday’s vocal, then immediately listen to Armstrong’s (or have one cued up on CD and one on an Ipod and alternate four-bar phrases). They don’t sing it exactly the same, but you can tell they’re coming from the same place. Each one rephrases the melody where they see fit and delights in falling a bit behind the beat (Armstrong puts a graphic pause between the “yours” and the “and mine” each time he sings the title phrase). Just take the opening line, “The stars that shine,” which is written as C-D-C-Eb, is transformed immediately by both Holiday and Armstrong. Holiday changes it to C-F-F-Eb while Armstrong, singing in a different key, stays on one pitch for the first four notes. I can continue comparing the two but it’s more effective to just listen and appreciate both efforts…and to understand why we celebrate the music of Holiday and Armstrong today and don’t know who Bill Dillard is anymore.

Disregarding Holiday, the Armstrong vocal is notable for showing off his range as he has to reach way down low a couple of times to hit a couple of low D’s. And the second half of Armstrong’s vocal is another master’s class in jazz singing. All he has to do is add two words (“oh” and “mama”) and the melody takes on a whole new feeling of swing—now why couldn’t Arthur Freed think of that?

After the vocal, the band modulates up to Eb for Armstrong’s entrance on trumpet, Paul Barbarin laying down a nice press roll to set up a feeling of great drama. Unlike the vocal, Armstrong plays a lot of the melody as written and also plays with an on-the-beat phrasing reminiscent of King Oliver. Barbarin plays a perfect fill to set up the next 16-bars and though Armstrong sounds like he slightly mispitches an Eb, he responds with a string of strong F’s. It’s an interesting solo for the lack of improvisation but it’s a clinic in phrasing. The highlight of the arrangement is a neat coda that allows Armstrong to gradually and dramatically to build to a closing high C, which just might be the prettiest sound I’ve ever heard a trumpet produce. Overall, “Yours and Mine” won’t go into the Armstrong pantheon as a classic of classics but I think it’s a charming rendition of a pretty good pop tune of the era and though he rarely leaves the melody, I never get tired of absorbing the genius of his phrasing, both vocally and on the horn.

Armstrong would record one more tune that day, a song he co-wrote with the great Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht, “Red Cap,” a subject for perhaps a future blog. Five days later, the big band returned to Decca’s New York studios to record five more songs including “Cuban Pete,” the subject of a previous blog entry, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” which featured a tour de force Chappie Willet arrangement and “Sun Showers,” another Freed-Brown tune written for but cut from Broadway Melody of 1938 (and another song Holiday also recorded that year). Interestingly, these two July sessions marked the only times Armstrong’s big band would record for Decca in 1937. Otherwise, Armstrong spent the rest of the year recording with either Andy Iona, the Mills Brothers or, on November 15, a small octet drawn from members of the big band. As I started this entry by saying, Armstrong’s Deccas featured much more than just a bunch of big band sessions. They contain some of Armstrong’s most varied recordings and I think all of them should be treasured—and if you don’t have the complete series on Gösta Hägglöf’s Ambassador label, shame on you! Now get over to Amazon or Gösta’s site ( and order them all! That’s all for now, though. I hope to have another entry lined up for a Wednesday or Thursday (and a spin of the Itunes shuffle makes it appear that it will be on King Oliver’s “Jazzin’ Babies Blues”) so unless my nephew challenges me to a wiffle ball rematch, I should be back soon. Til then!

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