I failed in my efforts to have a new blog entry for every day of this week, as I got too carried away in an entry for “Big Butter and Egg Man.” I should have that one wrapped up later tonight but in the meantime, I decided to give the Itunes shuffle a quick spin to see if something would come up that wouldn’t require a dissertation and lo and behold, it chose the “Five Pennies Saints.” This was a comedic version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” performed by Armstrong and Danny Kaye in the movie The Five Pennies. The movie, which was loosely (and I mean loosely) based on trumpeter Red Nichols’s life is a harmless bit of sentimental fluff, with some melodrama and music numbers thrown in for good measure, but all of Armstrong’s scenes are worth watching, even though the filmmakers had to do their part to pigeonhole Armstrong’s music into the Dixieland category, something he never did in interviews. As Kaye heads up to the bandstand in an earlier scene and asks for an arrangement, Armstrong replies, “Arrangement? Man, nobody writes down Dixieland. You just let it happen.” When Kaye pulls out an arrangement of his own, Armstrong looks at it with a confused look on his face, even holding it upside down at one point, making it look as if he was completely ignorant when it came to reading music. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth as Armstrong had been reading music since his days with Fate Marable’s riverboat band when he was still a teenager. Just a year before filming The Five Pennies, Armstrong recorded the Autobiography sessions for Decca which required him to read transcriptions of solos he had played 25-35 years earlier. When confronted with the transcriptions, Armstrong said, “Is that what I played? I don’t want people to think I can’t read.”
Nevertheless, Kaye and Armstrong’s version of the “Saints” fits both men like a glove. They actually had rehearsed it and performed it on a USO Christmas TV show before filming even started (I have never seen this USO show, but someone on eBay has been selling it for about two years). As you’ll see in this YouTube clip, Armstrong and Kaye had great chemistry and it’s hard not to get swept away when both men start scatting as if their lives depended on it. Here’s the “Five Pennies Saints”:
And for good measure, here’s another scene from The Five Pennies where Kaye sings the lovely “Lullaby in Ragtime” (Harry Nilsson later did a beautiful version of this, arranged by Gordon Jenkins) while Armstrong really emotes on a charming “Goodnight, Sleep Tight.”
Okay, that’s good for now. I’ll be back with “Butter and Egg Man” later tonight!