Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded February 4, 1936
Track Time 2:55
Written by Irving Berlin
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Bunny Berigan, Bob Mayhew, trumpet; Al Philburn, trombone; Sid Trucker, alto saxophone, clarinet; Phil Waltzer, alto saxophone; Paul Ricci, tenor saxophone; Fulton McGrath, piano; Dave Barbour, guitar; Pete Peterson, bass; Stan King, drums
Originally released on Decca 698
Currently available on CD: Available on volume 2 of the Ambassador series. Check out www.classicjazz.se for more information.
Available on Itunes? Yes, on Rhythm Saved The World
Happy Easter! To celebrate, I’ve decided to resurrect the blog after another week-long absence. No, loyal readers, I’m not dead, though I’ll continue to apologize for the low amount of blogs I’ve turned in this month. First the computer debacle, then about a hundred gigs, then the process of my wife and I purchasing a new house with all the fun mortgage and real estate meetings that come with it and now, my wife’s recovery from wisdom tooth surgery, which has left her pretty beat up (and in no mood to see me leave her to write about Pops!). But today’s Easter and a woman has to get dressed and put on her makeup at some point so while she does that, that’ll give me a little time to sneak in an entry on the only song in the Pops discography that I could connect to today’s holiday, Irving Berlin’s “I’m Puttin’ All My Eggs In One Basket” (well, there’s also “Cotton Tail,” but I’ll save that for next year).
The song was written for the 1936 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film, Follow The Fleet. I love everything Astaire and Rogers did and if you’ve never seen their routine on this song, you’ve missed out...but not for long. Here ‘tis, courtesy of YouTube (and dig the dirty-sounding clarinet player around the 3:11 mark....shades of Edmond Hall):
Isn’t that a lot of fun? The song’s a winner, with a wonderful voice and Astaire sounds positively charming (though the song does test his range...he passes). Needless to say, various recorded versions began popping up in early 1936, including a typical swinging-like-mad recording by Stuff Smith, as well as a Chick Bullock version with a hot bridge by Bunny Berigan. But of course, our focus is on Pops and he had his turn on February 4, 1936.
This was something of an odd session for our hero. After his European sabbatical, Pops returned in 1935, now guided by Joe Glaser, and began making a series of recordings for Decca, fronting Luis Russell’s big band. His earliest Decca recordings are somewhat roughh-going for the Russell band, but Pops sounds fantastic and a lot of my favorites from this period come from those early 1935 sessions: “I’m In The Mood For Love,” “Was I To Blame For Falling In Love With You,” “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed,” “Thanks a Million,” “Shoe Shine Boy,” and others. But though the “I’m Puttin’ All My Eggs In One Basket” session was only Armstrong’s sixth for his new label, Decca already stripped him of the Russell band and instead hired a bunch of high quality studio musicians, including the famed Armstrong disciple Bunny Berigan.
Why would Decca do this so early? Goodness knows, Decca president Jack Kapp liked putting his artists in different settings and indeed, in the coming years Armstrong would record with Hawaiian musicians, with the Mills Brothers, with a choir, with small groups, etc. But I never fully understood the studio band sessions, of which there are a few. Perhaps Decca wanted to rush out a record of “Basket” and didn’t trust the sometimes shaky studio performance of the Russell band. But a later 1938 studio band session with some of the musicians turned out performances of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” songs that were in Armstrong’s live repertoire at the period. Thus, I have no concrete answer as to why the Russell band was asked to sit out some of these sessions, but to my ears, it’s a shame, because for all their occasional stiff performances and intonation troubles, they played with a better spirit and often used better arrangements than the studio groups.
But regardless, nobody’s listening to these recordings for Al Philburn’s trombone playing in the ensemble (my apologies to Mr. Philburn’s family). Pops is the main event and he always sounds good. You can listen to his lovely recording of “I’m Puttin’ All My Eggs In One Basket” by clicking here.
The record begins with one of Armstrong’s most relaxed opening cadenzas. This isn’t the in-your-face, daring “West End Blues” introduction; it’s amazing how much Armstrong matured in few short years after those groundbreaking 1928 recordings. It opens like he’s practicing, so relaxed and so in control of not just the notes he chooses to play but also where he chooses to play them. The rest of the record could be a polka; I’d buy it just for the opening, which really puts me in a content frame-of-mind. Armstrong then launches into the melody, another one that seems to have been written with him in mind, with all those repeated notes. The arrangement is kind of square but the very good rhythm section is solid, drummer Stan King offering some tasty cowbell accents during the A sections. Again, relaxation is the key and though I feel as if I’m overusing the word, I can’t think of a better one. Paul Ricci takes the bridge in a pretty straightforward fashion (I detect a tinge of Bud Freeman) before Pops reenters with a perfect little descending phrase. The notes just flow out of his horn, especially those quick descending swoons that sometimes get lost in the glare of the high notes.
Sid Trucker’s clarinet picks up the turnaround and the modulation into a key more suitable for Pops. As already stated, Berlin’s melody covers quite a range, but Pops is up for the challenge, hitting those deep low notes that sometimes sound like he’s duetting with himself. This is one of Armstrong’s most mellifluous vocals; you can hear him smiling throughout. There’s no scat interludes or anything except for a well-timed “honey” in the bridge but he sure sells the loving message of the song’s lyric.
Bunny’s trumpet is heard prominently in the modulation back to the original key for the final moments of blowing. The band gets a short turn in the spotlight, playing the stiff arrangement as well as it can be played (again, King sounds very fine on drums) but every time I get to this point of the record and I brace myself for some dramatic Armstrong, I’m always dismayed to look at the counter and see less than 40 seconds remaining! Forget the band, I want more Pops! Unfortunately, Armstrong gets to blow beautifully in his upper register for a grand total of eight bars before launching into a typical slow motion Decca ending, though this one resolves nicely as the band plays a minor chord before resolving to the final major chord under Armstrong’s crystalline final high concert Db. Thus, the 1936 “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket” has some winning moments--the opening cadenza, Pops’s melody statement, the sunny vocal--but overall, it’s not all that could have been because the arrangement is lame and there’s not enough of the Armstrong trumpet.
Armstrong would get one more crack at “I’m Puttin’ All My Eggs In One Basket” in 1957, but once again his trumpet would have to take a backseat. In fact, his trumpet never even left the car, as this session occurred on August 13, 1957, a particularly rough patch for Armstrong’s lip as he was performing with the All Stars by night and recording for Norman Granz by day, resulting in much pained beauty on Armstrong’s big band and orchestra sessions arranged by Russ Garcia, sessions I’ve written about a few times before. But the day before the first Garcia session, Armstrong completed the final session for his second album with Ella Fitzgerald. Their first Verve collaboration from 1956 was a success and doing it again in 1957 was a no-brainer. I absolutely love all the Armstrong and Fitzgerald albums. Some people just have it naturally built into their heads that whenever superstars meet up, whether on record, in films or in sports, the result rarely matches the hype. While this is sometimes the case, I think the Armstrong and Fitzgerald Verve dates are 100% wonderful. There’s such a loose atmosphere, the Oscar Peterson + drummer group gives swinging backing, the songs are top choice and you have two of the greatest jazz singers ever interpreting these timeless melodies and lyrics in their own genius ways. What more does one want?
Armstrong and Fitzgerald’s first two Verve albums could have almost been called Ella and Louis Sing the Fred Astaire Songbook, as they do so many songs introduced by the great hoofer. This final session featured no trumpet playing on any of the five songs recorded that day but even without the horn, I prefer this version of “Basket” to the 1936 one. You can decide for yourself by listening along:
Oscar Peterson’s introduction is customarily perfect, setting up Armstrong’s tender reading of the verse, which he never got to tackle in 1936. The verse is a killer and Armstrong sounds wonderful on it (listen to his reading of the word “many” and Peterson’s quick-on-his-feet answer). When they get to the chorus, the tempo picks up to a faster clip than the Decca record...my, how rhythm sections changed in the intervening two decades. One of my favorite sounds in the world is the Peterson trio chugging along with a drummer, in this case Louie Bellson, joining in on brushes. I couldn’t picture any better support for these artists. After Armstrong’s choruses, Ella takes it, singing the verse, too. The mood is so damn infectious and I cannot stop patting my foot. The arrangement is quite simple with Pops taking one, Ella taking the second and then both trading for the third and final chorus. Matters really take off when Bellson switches from brushes to sticks at the start of the third chorus, something he also did to great effect on Armstrong’s reading of “I Get a Kick Out of You,” recorded just 13 days earlier. At the bridge, Bellson begins clicking away on the rim of his snare, with guitarist Herb Ellis’s comping grows more riff-like, adding tremendous excitement to the proceedings. In the final eight bars, the two voices that couldn’t be any more different blend together in perfect harmony. Wonderfully happy, swinging, joyous music all around.
Well, the missus is dressed and the celebrations are about to begin in a matter of minutes so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead. Once again, have a happy Easter and I promise to be back again in the near future with more on the wonderful world of Pops.