Friday, November 9, 2007

Armstrong Odds and Ends

Letters, I get letters…perhaps not sacks and sacks of letters, but enough to keep things interesting. Thus, for the weekend, I’d like to present something of an odds and ends column made up of bits of news about Louis Armstrong, bits of news about me and some of the interesting comments I receive in my e-mail inbox almost daily. Most of the comments have to do with my specific entries so I’ll take these one item at a time:

• In my “Pretty Little Missy” entry, I mention the unison riff played by the horns in the last chorus, right before Pops’s trumpet bridge. Thanks to trumpet man-extraordinaire Dave Whitney, I now know that that riff was copped from Ralph Flanagan’s “Hot Toddy,” which was originally recorded in 1953 so it must have been fairly fresh in Armstrong and Billy Kyle’s minds when they made the original record of “Missy” in 1955. Also, Dave was kind enough to share the clip of the All Stars performing “Pretty Little Missy” in the 1959 German film Auf Wiedersehen. The hideous editor obviously had no feel for music, chopping the performance down to about 90 seconds thanks to all sorts of abrupt jump cuts. Still, Pops wails and that’s all that matters!

• After my “Butter and Egg Man” entry, the great Armstrong collector from Sweden, Håkan Forsberg, made sure to point out Muggsy Spanier’s famous 1939 version of the tune, in which he copies Armstrong’s original 1926 solo note-for-note. I completely forgot to mention it in my original blog, but thanks to the Red Hot Jazz Archive, you can listen to it yourself by clicking here.

• Gösta Hägglöf is the oracle of Pops and the man behind the indiscernible Ambassador label as well as Storyville’s In Scandinavia set that I will never tire of discussing. After my “I Get Ideas” post, he wrote, “As I understand it, you really studied music, so perhaps you can tell me why the trumpet solo in I Get Ideas always make me think of Sunny Side of 1937. It's another tempo but still I feel there is a resemblance. Could you explain it?” I thought this was especially interesting so I decided to sit down at my piano and see if I can find any similarities. Well, both songs are in the key of C but more importantly, there’s some connections in the chord changes that I never thought of before. Here’s eight bars of each:

I Get Ideas:

C E7 / F / G7 /C G7

C Em / Dm G7/ Dm7 G7/ C

Sunny Side

C / E7 / F /Dm G7

Am / D7 / Dm G7 / C

As you can see, the key revolves around the first three chords, which are identical in both songs, even though the C and the E7 are used for different numbers of beats. Thus, presented with similar changes, Pops obviously had some similar ways of approaching them. Interestingly, on the 1937, “Sunny Side,” he plays what almost sounds like the title phrase at the end of his first eight bars. Thus, without anything being directly quoted in both solos, there are some similar note choices and even ideas, such as the ascending run that begins Pops’s second eight bars on “Sunny Side,” an idea he plays with higher notes on “I Get Ideas.” You can still watch the YouTube video of “I Get Ideas” in my blog entry on that song but if you’ve never heard the 1937 “Sunny Side,” click here.

• And speaking of Gösta, his new website is up and running and really should be checked out by all fans of Pops: On the site, you can read more about the wonderful Ambassador series, the only way to collect Armstrong’s complete big band output for Decca. It also includes a look at the Live at the Cotton Club disc on Ambassador which I feel to be the most important Armstrong release of the decade. And don’t forget to look up the recordings Gösta has produced featuring the marvelous trumpet player, Bent Persson. With Bent, Gösta has recreated Armstrong’s 50 Hot Choruses For Cornet on three terrific volumes and has also produced a new tribute to Pops that wonderfully recaptures those big band recordings of the late 20s and 1930s, For The Love of Satchmo. They can all be found under the “Kenneth Records” portion of the page.

• Finally, another ace trumpet man out of the Massachusetts area, Phil Person, sent me a link a YouTube video uploaded just yesterday by another one of my Internet Armstrong friends, Ingo Ruppert of Germany. The clip is from the 1959 German film Kisses In Der Nacht and features Armstrong and the All Stars performing the title track from that film. Filmed in glorious color, it features the edition of the band with Trummy Young, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Kyle, Mort Herbert and Danny Barcelona. In all, it lasts six minutes, features two different tempos and some wonderful trumpet playing by Pops. Sure, they turned the reverb up a little too much on the trumpet, but that doesn’t obscure the absolute wailing that goes on. In fact, it feels like a jam session after a while and it’s nice to hear Pops stretch out a bit. Pops looks like he’s having a ball and it’s always fun to hear him sing in a foreign language. Thus, courtesy of Ingo and caught immediately by Phil, here’s “Kisses In Der Nacht”:

• That takes care of the e-mail portion of this entry but never be afraid to write me at with some comments or questions or just leave a comment directly on the page.

• In Pops news, you might remember that a few months back I wrote about “Wolverine Blues” from Armstrong’s collaboration with the Dukes of Dixieland. At the end of the entry, I wrote about how it’s crime that the complete Dukes sessions aren’t on C.D. and that an outfit like Mosaic Records should take it on. Well, just last night, I went to, clicked on “Coming Soon” and read about an upcoming release on the “Essential Jazz Classics” label titled Louis Armstrong And The Dukes of Dixieland Complete! The description on the website says that it will include all of the master takes and all of the alternate takes released on Chiaroscuro LPs way back when. It’s going to be a three-disc set with a 16-page booklet. I don’t know anything else about it, including a United States release date, but after doing a little more searching, it appears the release is already available in the United Kingdom. Thus, until it comes to America, enjoy the cover art that I found on a British website currently selling it: Thus, when you couple this release with Fuel 2000’s Satchmo Plays King Oliver reissue, all of Armstrong’s Audio Fidelity recordings will be available on C.D. with the exception of alternates of “Panama Rag” and “Old Kentucky Home” from the Oliver album. I’m sure Mosaic could have done a beautiful job with this material but it didn’t sound like it was going to happen any time soon so I’m thrilled that the Essential Jazz Classics people (whoever you are) have finally stepped in to deliver this material on C.D.

• The TCB label has promised a new Armstrong release, Live in Zurich, Switzerland, 18.10.1949. However, after announcing it on their website,, last month, they haven’t mentioned it again since. I did a search for it on the Internet, though, and some European websites are listing it with a release date of November 12. Some websites (not TCB’s), even give this tracklist: When It’s Sleepy Time Down South. That’s A Plenty. Basin Street Blues. Royal Garden Blues. Struttin’ With Some Barbecue. Black And Blue. Velma’s Blues. Honeysuckle Rose. Fine And Dandy. Body And Soul. Back O’Town Blues. High Society. Do You Know What It Means. The Huckle-Buck. No American sites have any information on it yet, as most TCB releases take a few months to come to America, but until then, you can enjoy the humorous cover art:

• A quick plug for David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band which, as the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, performs at Birdland in New York City every Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 7:15. I attended their performance this past Wednesday with my nephew and, as always, was completely blown away by the spirit and swing of the band, which featured Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Vincent Gardner on trombone, Howard Alden on banjo, Rob Garcia on drums and naturally, leader Ostwald on tuba. The material ran the gamut from “Indiana,” “The Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” and “”Rockin’ Chair” to “I Double Dare You,” “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” and “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” the latter done with the verse a la Pops circa 1930. Every musician was wonderful and it was a joy to see the fun the band was having in trading each other’s phrases, developing spontaneous background riffs and inserting fun quotes such as Alden playing from Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” on “Indiana” and Kellso seemingly surprising himself with a quote from “Johnny’s Theme” on “Swing That Music.” Birdland should be applauded for keeping the band a weekly tradition for seven years now and Ostwald himself should be applauded for keeping the spirit of Pops alive week in and week out.

• And finally, news of a personal note. On November 8, I was invited to do an interview with the wonderful Doug Doyle on WBGO, the world’s premier jazz radio station. The subject matter was Pops, of course. I was brought in to talk about my research, the ongoing writing of my book, my strong feelings for Armstrong’s later work and even this blog. It was about 20 minutes in all and in the next couple of weeks, they’re going to edit it and air a shortened version live on the radio, which can be heard at I will post more information on the blog when I receive it. The good news, though, is that once it airs, WBGO will archive the entire 20-minute interview on their website, which I will link to the blog so anyone can listen to it whenever they’d wish (and I drop a lot of names in the course of the interview!). Until then, have a wonderful weekend and I’ll be back in a few days with a fresh entry on “Tenderly” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

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