Friday, May 30, 2008


Recorded October 9, 1967

Track Time 2:54

Written by John Kander and Fred Ebb
Recorded in New York City

Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Joe Muranyi, clarinet; Marty Napoleon, piano; Ernie Hayes, organ; Art Ryerson, banjo, guitar; Wally Richardson, guitar; Everett Barksdale, electric bass; Buddy Catlett, bass; Grady Tate, drums; Dick Jacobs, conductor

Originally released on Brunswick BL 754136

Currently available on CD: On The Best of Louis Armstrong
Available on Itunes? Yes, on the same

Instead of giving the ol' Itunes shuffle a spin, I was inspired for today's entry by a recently uploaded YouTube clip of Louis Armstrong performing "Willkommen" on The Hollywood Palace in January 1968.  The clip featured such a vibrant Satchmo and since it was made just a few months prior to the moving "When You Wish Upon A Star" that I discussed in my last outing, I figured to tackle this tune as well to demonstrate the Pops had a lot of vitality left in that magical  year of 1968.
Armstrong first encountered the tune at a Brunswick recording session from October 9, 1967.  This was a pretty bleak time for Louis Armstrong records as for every tune that broke through the mainstream, numerous copycats followed.  After the success of "Hello, Dolly," Armstrong sessions began featuring other showtunes and the conspicuous presence of a banjo, an instrument Armstrong hadn't recorded with since the late 1920s. After "What a Wonderful World," he began recording inspirational "message" songs for Brunswick such as the touching "You'll Never Walk Alone" and the dreadful "I Believe."  And after Armstrong's take on "Cabaret" became a staple of his live shows, it only made sense to feed Armstrong another song from Kander and Ebb's score to the Broadway musical of the same name.

Unfortunately, Armstrong's Brunswick records were overseen by a nice, but ultra-square arranger in Dick Jacobs (or Dick "Schmuck" Jacobs, as Joe Muranyi remembered him).  Jacobs might have come up with Sy Oliver but by the late 1960s, he only knew how to arrange schlocky pop without a trace of jazz in it...not exactly the ideal fit for the man who revolutionized jazz and popular music in the 1920s!  As for the song "Cabaret," Armstrong first tackled it for Columbia in 1966, backed with a tasteful arrangement consisting of light strings and the swinging sound of his All Stars.  The original recording is harmless, but the tune really didn't take off until Armstrong began performing it at a brighter tempo in 1967.  By the summer of '67, "Cabaret" was romping, often serving as the basis for some of Armstrong's finest blowing of that year.  In August 1967, Armstrong even got the chance to record it again, swinging it straightly with the All Stars for the ABC label, the same day he recorded the original "What a Wonderful World."
Thus, seeing the success of "Cabaret," Brunswick records had Armstrong record that play's opening number, "Willkomen."  The song was catchy but pretty gimmicky, consisting of lyrics that played with concept of welcoming someone in German, French and English.  Armstrong always had fun with foreign languages, singing in Hawaiian in the 1930s for Decca and recording in Italian in the 1960s.  So on paper, the combo worked:  another catchy song from "Cabaret," Armstrong having fun in different languages and good chord changes to improvise over.  What could go wrong?  Listen for yourself:

Yikes.  Jacobs augmented Armstrong's All Stars with Ernie Hayes on organ, Wally Richardson on guitar, Art Ryerson on banjo and guitar and Everett Barksdale on electric bass, while regular All Stars drummer Danny Barcelona was replaced by the versatile Grady Tate, who also backed Pops on the original "What a Wonderful World."  The combination of all the guitars and electric bass, the plunker-do two-beat corny rhythm, the circus-like organ stabs, the lame, bland mixed, it's the very definition of square and it's a shame that poor Pops had to be thrown in the middle of it.  But as always, Armstrong gives 100%, sounding happy as ever and really selling those foreign language passages.  After short spots for Tyree Glenn's trombone (Armstrong throws it to him with an off-mike “Take it!”) and Joe Muranyi's clarinet, Pops takes a trumpet solo, sounding a little weak but contributing some beautiful phrasing in his 15 bars (the longest solo he'd take on the resulting Brunswick LP).   It’s further proof that the mind was still sharp as a tack even when the sound wasn’t quite what it used to be. For example, listen to the break at the 1:15 mark and how he works over those descending glisses. Still a master right to the end…

When he's finished, the chorus takes over the melody, with Armstrong shouting the translations in between them.  Again, he sounds like he's having a ton fun and his spirit shines through.  I know I always smile as Pops confidently belts out those foreign phrases. Even during the extended ending, he must have been giving out some pretty big smiles because you can hear one of the female voices sounding extra-happy.  It occurs when the choir and Armstrong are supposed to take turns repeating the word “Cabaret,” but after the second one, Armstrong sings, “Cassoulet,” a tribute to the French sausage-and-bean-filled stew that Armstrong probably devoured on one of his European trips. As the band continues the corny vamp from the beginning of the record, Armstrong raps over it, first alerting us that “the joint is jumpin,” before saying a phrase that I never truly understood but one I hope one of you dear readers can help me with:  "Y’all better come in ya house, Spec.” Now I know that’s wrong, but whatever it is, it was definitely part of Pops’s language because he says almost the exact same thing on the original 1950 Decca studio recording of “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It.” I know I’ll feel like an idiot when it’s explained to me but please, if anyone knows exactly what it is, leave a comment or e-mail me at HYPERLINK "" Anyway, after this line, Armstrong’s mind wanders back to food as he utters with utmost satisfaction, “Cassoulet is jumping…yes it is…mm!”

Thus, the record has it’s strong points and Pops sounds like he had a ball, but that Jacobs arrangement is a drag. Fortunately, Pops knew he had something to dig into and he soon began featuring “Willkomen” on live television appearances. And this is where I come full circle to the YouTube video that launched this entry, Armstrong performing “Willkommen” on The Hollywood Palace on January 11, 1968. You’ll notice that the clip isn’t complete as it edits out Armstrong’s first vocal chorus and the trombone and clarinet solos. Thus, it begins directly with the main event, Armstrong’s horn, sounding much stronger than on the studio record. Then stay tuned for Armstrong’s delightful singing—I notice him looking to the side a lot, so perhaps there were cue cards or a teleprompter with the words. Nevertheless, he looks happy and healthy, retaining the “Cassoulet” at the end and even throwing in a cute, “Oui oui, mama” and ending on a high note. Enjoy!

Just two weeks later, Armstrong appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, reprising “Willkommen” with the Tonight Show Orchestra, who made the Jacobs arrangement much more palatable by using a big band setting instead of voices and electric bass. Pops’s trumpet sounds strong again as he repeats some of lines he played on the Hollywood Palace version. However, after this version, the song disappears from the Armstrong discography. “Willkommen” will never go down as one of Armstrong’s greatest performances and that Jacobs arrangement is a dog, but Pops seemed to love singing it and as that YouTube clip demonstrates, he played some pretty strong trumpet on the tune’s changes. It’s nothing for the time capsule, but it provides some laughs…and any chance to hear Pops croon the word “Cassoulet” is always a welcome occasion for me!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

When You Wish Upon A Star

Recorded May 16, 1968
Track Time 4:25
Written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington
Recorded in Hollywood
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Joe Muranyi, clarinet; Marty Napoleon, piano; Buddy Catlett, bass; Danny Barcelona, drums; with unknown studio orchestra and mixed choir
Originally released on Buena Vista STER-4044
Currently available on CD: On Disney Songs the Satchmo Way
Available on Itunes? Yes

Today’s entry is a special one for me as Louis Armstrong’s heartfelt rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star” probably rates in my top ten Armstrong performances of all time. There’s no trailblazing trumpet a la “Potato Head Blues,” he’s singing a Disney song and he gets a pretty square choir backing him up. But strip all of that away and all that’s left is pure heart.

Armstrong didn’t get around to recording the tune until 1968, though it was originally written in 1940 for the Disney film Pinocchio, where is was sung by Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards in the role of Jiminy Cricket. The song won the Academy Award for “Best Original Song” that year and went on to become a standard and the theme song for all of Walt Disney’s enterprises. The song would have been a natural fit for Armstrong even had recorded it anytime in the 1940s or 1950s, but waiting until 1968 only adds to the emotional wallop this performance packs. Armstrong tackled it on seemingly strange concept album, Disney Songs the Satchmo Way. At a glance, having the most important jazz musician ever sing kiddy ditties like “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” and “Heigh Ho,” complete with studio orchestra and mixed choir, might seem like another losing battle with commercialism, much like the Brunswick records Armstrong was making during the period. And just two weeks ago, one of my musical heroes, Marty Grosz, ranted to me at the Institute of Jazz Studies about the regrets of Armstrong’s later years. He saw the Armstrong of the 1950s and 1960s as a completely different being from the one of the 1920s and he never got over all the pop songs and stuff like “What a Wonderful World” that Armstrong was asked to record. In the middle of his diatribe, Grosz began doing a spot-on impersonation of Armstrong singing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” grimacing and waving his hand in disgust when he finished.

Because Grosz is one of my favorite musicians and people in the jazz world, I smiled politely and let him go off, though it’s precisely that attitude that I have been trying to fight against for years. Of course, if you’re looking for something specifically like “Potato Head Blues” in the 1950s or 1960s, you might be disappointed. But Louis Armstrong was Louis Armstrong and no matter what material he was forced to record, he made it his own. Thus, while some purists probably get indigestion, I have to say that the Disney outing is one of Armstrong’s finest albums of the 1960s.

The record was produced by Toots Camaratta, the man responsible for one of Armstrong’s greatest sessions, the 1953 Decca session with the studio group known as “The Commanders.” Camaratta, “another wonderful cat” in the words of Joe Muranyi, intelligently picked ten songs that suited Armstrong perfectly and handed arranging duties to Maxwell Davis, who kept things fun, yet interesting with no trace of the cloyingly stiff backgrounds of Dick Jacobs. In fact, the first session for the featured only the All Stars (plus Art Ryerson again on banjo), swinging hard on “Bout Time” and “Bare Necessities.” The former has a great trumpet solo and the latter would become a popular favorite in the band’s stage shows for the rest of the year with Armstrong even performing it on that year’s Academy Awards necessities. When the choir and orchestra were added a few months later, the results didn’t diminish but actually, in a few cases, improved. Of course, things get a little schlocky on “Heigh Ho” and “Whistle While You Work” but Armstrong makes one quickly forget everything else that’s going on with his infectious enthusiasm. Since he popularized scat singing in the 1920s, onomatopoeic titles like “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” are an unnaturally good fit. On the latter, Armstrong has a ball with the title phrase, rushing it with a laugh at the end of the first chorus and elongating it into the bubbling “Bibbidi-ah-bobbidi-ah-boo.” The Armstrong trumpet is unusually good form for such a late date; all of his solos surprise, both in terms of harmonic note choices and dexterity, sounding a thousand times better than he did on a March 28 episode of the Tonight Show where his chops sounded positively tired on “Cabaret” and “A Kiss To Build A Dream On.” He is also at his most rhythmically free on this album, with everything coming together on the nearly seven-minute “Chim Chim Cheree,” one of the album’s highlights.

If “Chim Chim-Cheree” isn’t the album’s highlight, it’s only because of the towering presence of “When You Wish Upon A Star.” A legitimately beautiful song, Armstrong gives one of his most touching performances on it. Davis’s arrangement is gorgeous and the choir sounds heavenly, though they’re placed enough in the background as to not distract from Armstrong’s primer in jazz singing. Please listen along and try not to be affected.

Gets me every time. Nearing the 67-year-old mark, Armstrong’s voice is slightly burnished than it was in previous years but again, it just adds to emotion of the performance. He doesn’t deviate much from the melody in his first vocal chorus, throwing in a bit of scat at the end of the bridge. You can hear him smiling throughout and when he sings, “Mama, when you wish upon a star,” it’s a toss-up about whether you want to laugh or cry.
Seconds later, he picks up the trumpet and it’s a no-decision: it’s crying time. He opens with simple quarter notes as the band slowly begins to swing with him. His first eight bars are low-key and mellow before he goes up high for his concluding eight. His tone gives me the chills. It’s still unlike anyone else’s, but like his voice, it’s slightly burnished. It sounds like a human voice. When I listen to him in the lower register, I know where Ruby Braff came from (and of course, Ruby would be the first to tell you!). It’s an astonishing solo, not for the pyrotechnics of something from his youth like “Swing That Music” but for the sheer passion and emotion that fills its every note. Armstrong’s music was always filled with passion and emotion, but it’s different on “When You Wish Upon a Star.” It’s a wise solo, filled with the sound of an old man summing up a lifetime of knowledge and experience in such a short space of time. His note choices are perfect and occasionally he tumbles into the lower register with the same freedom he brought to the jazz scene 40 years earlier. It’s the ultimate textbook example of using a short solo to tell an epic story. Gets me every time.

Armstrong reprises the vocal at the bridge, rasping out the first word, “fate,” before the strings and voices swell behind him, carrying him through another bridge-ending scat break (interesting side note: the song was introduced by Cliff Edwards, who is known to have done some pre-Louis scatting on records from the early 20s). Everything modulates for drama and Armstrong continues his master class in jazz vocalizing with the rhythm section swinging lightly before embarking on an extended ending. With the musicians holding an ominous minor chord, Armstrong sings the title phrase in a manner that 100% mimics his trumpet playing. He continues the horn-like phrasing for the rest of the cadenza, building up to the final line, “your dreams come true,” spicing it up with more scatting. It’s an exuberant ending and Armstrong’s slight shakiness on the final word, “true,” is completely covered by the arrangement. It’s the kind of ending that always leaves my mouth slightly open and sends my heart beating just a mite faster. It always overwhelms me every time, not only for the beauty of Armstrong’s performance, but also for the placement of it in his life. His chops were fading, his health was deteriorating, he was losing too much weight and too many friends and he was about to need over a year off because of various serious ailments. But he still managed to overcome it all and come up with a masterpiece filled with soul, optimism, heart and beauty.

Joe Muranyi has fond memories of listening to the playback of “When You Wish Upon a Star” with Armstrong and Camaratta. “Here comes Louis with a white handkerchief and he’s standing there,” Muranyi remembers. “Camaratta’s standing there, too. And he said, ‘You’ll be glad to hear it.’ I think I grabbed his hand or grabbed him around and said, ‘Pops, I think it’s wonderful. That’s the one.’ I don’t know that he said, ‘You think so?’ but that look he gave me [was] a very soulful look cause he liked it, too. A wonderful moment. Every time I hear that, I think of that.” By anyone’s standards, “When You Wish Upon a Star” must rate as a one of Armstrong’s most affecting recordings. Gets me every time…

Monday, May 26, 2008

Celebrate Memorial Day with Pops and "Bugle Call Rag"

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. I'm still going to have an entry on "When You Wish Upon a Star" ready for this week, but to help celebrate today's holiday, I thought it was an appropriate time to watch Pops in uniform absolutely tear up "Bugle Call Rag." This clip comes from the Colgate Comedy Hour from June 28, 1952. The episode was hosted by two of my heroes, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and featured an army setting to allow the boys the chance to trot out some of their old army routines from Buck Privates. Armstrong appeared in uniform to do a nice "Basin Street Blues" before turning in some scorching horn on "Bugle Call Rag," one of my favorite Armstrong television clips. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong

Frank Sinatra died ten years ago last week, an occasion that has been met with various Sinatra tributes, new CDs, DVD box sets, showings of his films on television and even the unveiling of a new stamp. Opinions on Sinatra are divided in the jazz world, but as the son of two 100% full-blown Italian-American parents, I can say that a love of Frank Sinatra was in my blood from birth. Sinatra was a great admirer of Pops and fortunately for music lovers everywhere, their paths crossed a couple of times over the years.

The first time was on a Jubilee radio broadcast from September 1945. Sinatra sang "Blue Skies" with Armstrong contributing a scorching half chorus of trumpet. Here's that recording:

The next time their paths crossed was on Sinatra's CBS television show from New Year's Day 1952. I own this episode on video (courtesy of the great Dave Whitney) and it's a fun one (the Three Stooges are the other guests and they're also heroes of mine....the combination of Sinatra, Armstrong and the Stooges, well, that's the stuff that dreams are made of!). On the show, Armstrong backed up Sinatra on "Lonesome Man Blues," while Pops got "Confessin'" to himself, a performance that can be found on the new Portrait Collection DVD. The "Confessin'" is a classic performance, with Pops on fire and Sinatra clearly is loving every minute of it. Unfortunately, neither performance is on YouTube, but if anyone has 'em and can upload 'em, that would be marvelous.

A couple of years later, Armstrong and Sinatra teamed up for a planned animated movie of Finian's Rainbow. The project was eventually abandoned, but before that happened, a lot of the soundtrack was recorded, included Armstrong and Sinatra's scat-filled duet on "Ad-Lib Blues." Sinatra rarely indulged in scatting, but for Pops, he gave it a whirl and sounds pretty good, though Pops outsouls him. Listen for yourself:

Armstrong and Sinatra's next film pairing actually saw the light of day and became quite a hit, though the film, High Society, didn't feature the two men together, instead focusing on Armstrong's more natural rapport with Bing Crosby. But the following year, in 1957, Armstrong, Sinatra and Crosby met up again for a special episode of The Edsel Show. On the show, Armstrong and Sinatra teamed up for a terrific version of "Birth of the Blues" that can be found YouTube. But why go to YouTube when you can just watch it right here? Here 'tis...

Armstrong opening trumpet notes always make me curious. He's clearly struggling but I don't think it's chops. Rather, he seems to be finding his way, perhaps trying to figure out the correct key or something. He was familiar with the song as he had already sung it twice on television, with Eddie Fisher in 1954 and with Gordon McRae in 1955. But once Pops finds his footing, he turns in a vintage 1925 obbligato, sticking to the low register for the most part and really playing some funky blues. When Pops enters with his vocal, Sinatra can't hide his joy. Sinatra might have been one of the biggest names in music at the time, if not THE biggest, but on this performance, he looks like he's honored to simply share the stage with Pops, who influenced him and every other singer of his generation. Pops really sells his vocal and wails on the trumpet during the extended ending, sounding positively angry in some of his phrases. Dig how Armstrong gets so into it, he starts bending his upper torso all the way to his left, doing his impression of a lowercase "r." It's a great televised moment in both men's careers.

At the end of the show, Armstrong led Sinatra, Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in a too short version of "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Pops's horn is very strong and he demonstrates some of the parade marching that served him so well as a teenager in New Orleans. Notice how his feet move exactly on the beat and he even does that little stooped over bend move that Joe Muranyi dubbed the "Satchmo Strut."

Two years later, in 1959, Armstrong and Sinatra appeared together on the Oldsmobile Show, once again with Bing, but footage from this show isn't available online. According to the discographies, Armstrong and Sinatra never appeared together after that but Sinatra had one final tribute in store for Armstrong. Armstrong's recording of "Hello, Dolly" hit number one on the charts in May 1964. On June 10 of that year, Sinatra recorded his own version of "Dolly" backed by the Count Basie Orchestra with arrangements by Quincy Jones. After singing it straight once, Sinatra sings a second chorus with special lyrics that pay tribute to Satch. Here they are:

Hello, Satch!
This is Francis, Louie, it's so nice to see you back where you belong
You're back on top, Louie, never stop, Louie
You're still singing, you're still swinging, you're still, going strong
You' get the room swaying when you start in playing
One of your great songs, or songs from way back when
Blow your horn Louie, sing up a great big storm, Louie
Promise you won't go away, promise you won't go away, promise you won't go away again!

After an Armstrong-inspired jammed interlude, Armstrong ends with a resounding, gravelly "Oh yeah!" It's such a beautiful tribute and I'd like to share it, so if you'd like to listen along, click here:

So that's that. Armstrong's been gone for 37 years and Frank's be silent for 10 but there I don't think there are many other artists whose music is as timeless as theirs. They sure didn't collaborate often but when they did, their mutual love for each other always shined through.

Note: I didn't post anything for a week because I wanted to let my dissertation on "The Saints" stew for a bit. Swedish Armstrong authority Håkan Forsberg wrote in to remind me of something "Saints" related that I missed and I'd like to share it here. In the book The World of Earl Hines, Armstrong's valet and Hines's manager, Charlie Carpenter, offers some invaluable stories. Carpenter was also a songwriter who co-wrote "You Can Depend On Me" and was in the studio when Armstrong mentioned him on the record of "Lonesome Road." Carpenter recounted the following story:
"Another day when I was there, he decided he was going to do 'When the Saints Go Marching In.' Now this was 1931, and he started out singing the words. Then he sat down on a table, his legs swinging, and played then of the most inventive choruses I ever heard in my life. 'How was that?' he asked the a. and r. man when he got through. 'Louis, I hate to say this, but I think you're a little ahead of your time with that song.' 'What do you mean? The Holy Rollers and everybody else do it in that tempo.' 'Yeah, Louis, but the masses are not too much aware of the Holy Rollers. I think they'd take my head off in New York if I sent this in.'"
And thus, the world was denied the chance to hear the 1931 Armstrong take a stab at "The Saints." It's a shame, but it's an important part of the tale of Pops and that song. Thanks again, Håkan!

Also, May 16 marked the 40th anniversary of Louis Armstrong's beautiful record of "When You Wish Upon a Star." I just wanted to call attention to it because it will be the subject of my next entry, hopefully to be published at the end of this week. Til then!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

70 Years of "When The Saints Go Marching In"

Recorded May 13, 1938
Track Time 2:44
Written by “Traditional”
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Shelton Hemphill, trumpet; J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Rupert Cole, Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, tenor saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin
Originally released on Decca 2230
Currently available on CD: It’s on volume four (1938) of the wonderful Ambassador series, as well as about a thousand other discs
Available on Itunes? Are you kidding?

70 years ago today, Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra walked into Decca’s New York studios to record a song Armstrong had played as a child. The song was “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” and that first Armstrong recording of the tune transformed the piece from a traditional gospel hymn to a jazz standard that has become an anthem of sorts in the United States, having been performed by everyone from B.B. King to Bruce Springsteen. Gospel groups have performed it, it’s been heard in films and television commercials, children are taught to sing it in elementary school and just about every New Orleans-related jazz band closes with it (even if they’re sick of it. As the old sign in Preservation Hall used to read: “$1 for standard requests, $2 for unusual requests and $5 for the Saints”).

Type the title of the song into a YouTube search and you’ll get 694 results to wade through. Type it into an Itunes search and be prepared to sift through 563 results, with versions by the likes of Elvis Presley, Trini Lopez, Yusef Lateef and Harry Belafonte (it’s also on a “Baby Einstein” compilation of music for, well, babies). lists 929 versions of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” but that website also lists additional versions with altered titles or recordings of it that are part of medleys, which drives the total to over 1,000 recorded versions.

And for better or for worse, it all began with Louis Armstrong’s record, 70 years ago.

I personally think it’s for the better because it led to so many great versions by Armstrong himself. When I type “Louis Armstrong Saints” into MY Itunes library, I get 47 results. Add in the versions I have on videos and DVD and the actual number is probably closer to 60. Now, before you frantically close this window and go back to checking your mail, don’t worry, I’m not going to discuss all 60 versions. But there are some greats ones out there, including a number on video, and I think the evolution of the performance in Armstrong’s repertoire over the course of his career is quite interesting. So stick with me as we celebrate the anniversary of this song with an interactive look at some of the great man’s finest versions. Even if my words put you to sleep, skip ‘em and stay for the music!

Obviously, I’ll start with that first recording, though of course, it was not Louis Armstrong’s first encounter with the song. On the original Decca record, the composer for the “Saints” was listed as “Traditional” and that’s how it’s listed on almost every succeeding version. However, after digging around the Internet, I discovered that a song titled “When the Saints Are Marching In” was published in 1896 with music by James Milton Black and lyrics by Katherine Purvis. However, this is not the one we all know and love. You can read more and even hear a sample of that song by clicking this

According to the always-reliable Wikipedia (sarcasm), other derivatives followed over the years, including “When the Saints March In For Crowning” (1908), “When All the Saints Come Marching In” (1923) and “When the Saints Go Marching Home” (1927), but I don’t know if any of these sounded like the traditional version or the Black and Purvis. The “Saints” we all know and love (loathe, for some) was officially included in Edward Boatner's 1927 book of hymns, Spirituals Triumphant - Old And New. However, a silly website I found has an article about how Virgil Stamps wrote the music and Luther Presley wrote the lyrics…in 1937! Presley was a noted gospel songwriter, but composing “The Saints” in 1937? Impossible!

Louis Armstrong himself talked about hearing the song frequently as a child, both as a sober hymn and as a joyous romp during the second line parades that gathered after a funeral. On the new Armstrong DVD The Portrait Collection, there’s footage of Armstrong on a talk show in 1961 talking about how he played the song as a kid in the Waif’s Home. So Armstrong was quite familiar with the tune, which was already being jammed by the New Orleans jazz musicians, but around the rest of the country, it was mainly known as a gospel tune. That’s how the Paramount Jubilee Singers performed the song when it made its recorded debut in November 1923 on a record. Titled “When All the Saints Go Marching In,” it sounded like this:

Five years later, in January 1928, Blind Willie Davis recorded “The Saints” accompanied solely by his bluesy guitar. He misses some of the changes but it’s a smokin’ performance and I never would have known about it without finding this on YouTube:

In 1930, “When the Saints Go Marching In” was included in the Broadway stage production of Green Pastures, as well as in the 1936 film version of that play. However, I haven’t found any other recordings of it before Armstrong’s and certainly nothing that resembles a jazz version.

Armstrong had recorded almost nothing but pop tunes since he signed with Decca in 1938, though occasionally he got to break out an instrumental classic like “Dippermouth Blues” or “Mahogany Hall Stomp,” while he also got to record the occasional original composition such as “Swing That Music” or “If We Never Meet Again.” But somewhere along the way, Armstrong must have remembered his days of listening and playing “The Saints” as a youngster and thought a good record could be made of a New Orleans-styled treatment of the tune. Armstrong’s pianist Luis Russell cooked up an arrangement and it recorded as the fourth and final tune of the May 13, 1938 session. Interestingly, the session featured a streamlined version of Armstrong’s big band, utilizing only one trumpet, one trombone and three reeds. Thus, without further ado, here’s that first recording of “When the Saints Go Marching In” (note: the Red Hot Jazz version is pitched low in the key of F#. Armstrong played it in G so here it is in the correct key courtesy of Gösta Hägglöf’s Ambassador series, with pitch correction by the fabulous trumpeter, Bent Persson).

I don’t care how sick some people might get of this song, I find the original record to be irresistible, right from the opening “chords” played by the brass and reeds. Paul Barbarin’s parade drumming sets the mood perfectly. In fact, this might be Barbarin’s finest record with Armstrong. I love Barbarin, but he was no Sid Catlett (who was?), the man who replaced him and who became Armtrong’s all-time favorite drummer. Catlett was a bit more “modern” in his approach, while Barbarin favored snare drum work and heavy backbeat cymbal splashes. But Barbarin was a New Orleans man and he always fit in beautifully with that Russell rhythm section of Russell, guitarist Lee Blair and bassist Pops Foster. Whenever Barbarin got to pull out his parade drumming tricks, stand back—“Jubilee” from January 12, 1938 is another classic uplifted by Barbarin’s drumming.

I think New Orleans drumming is an art form and anyone who says it was the boppers who freed up the drums in jazz has never listened to New Orleans jazz where it seems like those cats playing anything BUT straight time. Barbarin really boots along “The Saints” with his snare and those funky bass drum and tom-tom accents in between the choruses, a hallmark of New Orleans drumming.

But naturally, Armstrong is the main event. As the congregation of horns gives Armstrong his padding, the master steps up to the mike to deliver a sermon: “Sisters and brothers, this is Reverend Satchmo getting ready to beat out this mellow sermon for ya. My text this evening is ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.’ Here come Brother Hickenbottom down the aisle with his tram-bone. Blow it, boy…”

Armstrong had been parodying reverends since he was a teenager in New Orleans, creating a character that he would feature in live performance during his New York and Chicago days, as well as on records such as “Lonesome Road.” Of course, his announcement of “Brother Hickenbottom” is a reference to the band’s all-star trombonist, J.C. Higginbotham, who really “sings” the melody with his shouting reading of the “text,” getting cute responses from the high reeds and some somber moaning from the low ones. Russell arranged a neat little interlude to separate the music portion from the start of the vocal, four short bars that stick in the listener’s mind every time he or she listens to the recording (I love that patented late-30s emphasis on the fourth beat of the second bar, shades of Cab Calloway’s “Scrontch”).

Armstrong then delivers the vocal, a favorite of kids from 1 to 92 (or is that “The Christmas Song”?). He sounds joyous in his tenor register, getting echoing responses from the members of the band (as well as a female voice somewhat prominent in the mix). Barbarin lays down the parade beat as alto saxophonist Charlie Holmes takes a fairly bluesy solo, Armstrong telling him to “Blow it, Brother Holmes.” Another Barbarin drum fill leads to the second chorus of singing, featuring the same words as the first. The traditional spiritual featured many different verses but Armstrong was content to do only the first (in later versions he went as far as “When the Saints Go Marchin’ By,” but that was it, no stuff about sun’s refusing to shine or sister’s getting religion).

Before Armstrong’s even done with the vocal, the strutty, funky trombone of Higgy can already be heard in the distance. The song really takes off during Higginbotham’s solo, which is so note-perfect, part of me wonders if he “set” it in advance. Russell’s written figures for the reeds provide a nice counterpoint, while the rhythm section really drives everything along. Another reading of the Russell’s four-bar interlude sets up Pops’s trumpet, taking it out for two choruses. His first sticks pretty close to the melody, but the additional little notes and changes in phrasing carry the day (I dig the blues inflection on the first playing of the word “In” and those almost inconspicuous swoops and glides in his snake-like playing).

In pure New Orleans fashion, Armstrong doesn’t even finish the melody after the first chorus, instead holding a high tonic G to signal the beginning of the next chorus. He’s stays on the G before playing a run that works up to an F#, the major seventh and more or less a direct quote from Armstrong’s composition “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” (in future versions it would become more direct). Armstrong keeps up his variations before building up to an ending where he nails a high concert D. The band reprises the Russell “interlude” one last time and the record ends with a bang. Classic stuff.

When the record was released, Armstrong was met from resistance from at least one listener: his sister Beatrice, better known as “Mama Lucy.” As Gary Giddins reported this story in his book Satchmo, “Danny Barker remembers how Mama Lucy criticized her brother for tarting up a piece from the church. When Barker told Armstrong what she had said, he got angry and remarked that she didn’t see anything wrong with playing bingo in the church.” Such a great response…

So naturally, the song became a big hit and Louis Armstrong began featuring it every night, right? Not quite. The “Saints” revolution appears to have taken off a little slower than imagined. Wingy Manone recorded it in 1939 and was filmed performing it in 1943 with what was basically a copycat imitation of the Armstrong Decca record:

But that was five years after Armstrong’s recording. Hadn’t the “Saints” begun their march yet? Not quite. Revival hero Bunk Johnson didn’t get around to it until 1944 and there aren’t many other versions from the following couple of years. And what about old Pops? Well, Jos Willems has listened to and charted just about every surviving Armstrong session, broadcast and concert and he lists absolutely zero performances of “The Saints” between the 1938 original and 1946. And trust me, there are a lot of Armstrong broadcasts from those years, but Pops never pulled out “The Saints” a single time. Armstrong’s version led many New Orleans bands, both of the authentic and “revival” kind, to adopt “The Saints” as kind of a theme song, but Armstrong wasn’t playing with a New Orleans band and thus, the piece was kind of left on the back burner.

When it was time to revisit the song, it was for the motion picture New Orleans, a piece of Hollywood fluff that purported to tell the story of the origins of jazz in the titular city. It’s a mess of a movie but Pops lights up the screen and the music is often good. Three short takes of “The Saints” exist, all strictly instrumental and featuring Pops mainly playing the melody in a band that featured his former boss Kid Ory on trombone and future All Star Barney Bigard on clarinet. Armstrong sounds in wonderful form but the large group doesn’t exactly swing, instead marching along on top of heavy tuba beats. Armstrong sounds great riding over the ensemble, but otherwise, it’s kind of murky. Here’s the recording:

By April of 1947, New Orleans was getting ready to make its debut so Armstrong did a lot of promotion including an appearance on Rudi Blesh’s WOR radio show This is Jazz. The broadcast reunited Armstrong with many of his New Orleans cohorts, including clarinetist Albert Nicholas, bassist Pops Foster and drummer Baby Dodds. As I said, the song hadn’t exactly become a staple yet and Armstrong doesn’t seem to have played it much since the original recording nine years earlier. Thus, the arrangement follows that Decca record to a tee. Here ‘tis:

I love the tempo of this version and especially the drumming of Baby Dodds…oh, only if he could have sounded like that on the old King Oliver recordings. Trombonist Georg Brunis (aka George Brunies) makes his presence felt with his extroverted personality and fine, shouting trombone style. Armstrong’s two rideout choruses follow the pattern of the Decca, though this time, when he holds the G going into the second chorus, he uses it as a springboard to a very exciting B. Again, the performance lands on a high D, Armstrong sounding as strong as ever.

One month after the broadcast, Armstrong performed with a small group at Town Hall in New York City. The concert was such a success that Armstrong decided to break up the big band and begin touring with a sextet, the All Stars. Again, using Willems’s discography as a guide, it seems that “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” was an infrequent part of the repertoire in the earliest days of the band, having been played at a Carnegie Hall concert in November 1947 and at the Nice jazz festival in France in February 1948, the only two known versions of the tune in the first year of the band. But by September 1948, the All Stars had a new arrangement of the song, now played as part of a medley with “Shadrack.” After making the original Decca record of “The Saints”, Armstrong began infrequently tackling religious material and “Shadrack” was one of the first up, recorded with a choir on June 14, 1938, one month after “The Saints.” “Shadrack” was a popular recording for Armstrong so it made sense to combine the two.

“Shadrack” would open the medley and when it was over, a drum break would herald the beginning of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” performed faster than any of Armstrong’s previous versions. How fast? The original Decca record weighed in around 190 beats per minute while the live versions with the All Stars kicked off around 250. Armstrong would now play two choruses up front, sing one, then throw it to Barney Bigard, who usually began with a quote from “Pennsylvania 6-500.” Then Armstrong would sing another before Jack Teagarden’s trombone would take over. Then it was time for Pops, who, as always, led the two final rideout choruses, often changing his phrasing of the melody in the first chorus and always holding a note to lead into the second chorus. The second chorus would always begin with the exact phrase Armstrong played on the 1938 recording, though this time it would be played in tandem with Teagarden, while the “Barbecue” quote was more pronounced. And you guessed it, Armstrong would trade phrases with Teagarden until climbing up to that final high D.

The early All Stars versions of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” are all very exciting (especially the ones with Sid Catlett) but they’re all quite similar. In late 1950, Armstrong and the All Stars recorded a bunch of songs for use in the Mickey Rooney film, The Strip. For the soundtrack, the band recorded their medley of “Shadrack” and “The Saints” in beautiful sound. Here’s that track:

Unfortunately, when it came time to actually film the scene for The Strip, nearly five minutes of running time was a little too long. Thus, here is the medley as it appeared in the film, with a pretty complete “Shadrack” and a too short run-through of “The Saints,” with no vocal and only one trumpet outchorus. It’s not exactly a great film but it has a lot of music and a lot of priceless glimpses of the Armstrong-Teagarden-Earl Hines addition of the All Stars in prime form. Here ‘tis:

So that’s the story of “The Saints” in the early years of the All Stars. However, it was during those years when the popularity of the tune really began to take off in the jazz world. Sidney Bechet recorded it in 1949, Lu Watters waxed it in 1950 and many other versions began springing up. However, by the end of 1951, when personnel of the All Stars began changing, Armstrong momentarily let go of “The Saints.” Willems lists no versions of the song being performed live or on broadcasts between the summer of 1951 and the summer of 1953. Of course, Willems only had access to surviving broadcasts and concert tapes so the exact contents of every Armstrong live show will never be truly known. Besides, it is known that during Armstrong’s 1952 run at the Paramount Theater in New York, he closed each show with a Gordon Jenkins arrangement of “The Saints” for the All Stars and big band. According to a review of the period, “When the Jenkins band joined Louis in the final, ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,’ the house was in virtual bedlam. Jenkins seems to have such a good time up there, looking at Armstrong and Velma Middleton, he should pay to get in.”

In early 1953, when Armstrong embarked on an ill-conceived tour with Benny Goodman big band, those concerts also ended with Armstrong jamming “The Saints” with the orchestra. Goodman basically had a nervous breakdown on that tour and was soon replaced by Gene Krupa. Interestingly, a release titled “Where’s Benny?” features a set by the Krupa big band and concludes with Armstrong and the band doing “The Saints.” I haven’t ordered it yet, but I’m sure it’s something special.

By the end of 1953, Armstrong and the All Stars were back to regularly featuring the medley of “The Saints” and “Shadrack.” The band had a new trombonist in Trummy Young and his rowdy, robust concept of trombone playing added a new spark to the band. A broadcast from the Club Hangover in January 1954 showcases the power of this new edition of the All Stars on “The Saints,” whose tempo had now dropped back down to about 224 beats per minute. The Club Hangover broadcast is available on a Storyville C.D. is truly one of my favorites as it absolutely smokes. A big part of the smoking has to do with Young’s blasting trombone, which really spurs Armstrong to great heights. In fact, after so many years of taking two rideout choruses, Armstrong now began taking three, the rhythm team of bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Kenny John really spurring him on. The first chorus would consist of a mostly improvised reading of the melody while the second featured some call and response with Bigard and Young and a swinging descending eighth-note run. The last chorus was the set one he had been playing since 1938, but now the “Barbecue” quote stuck out and Young really came out like a piledriver, repeating notes like a rhythm-and-blues tenor saxophonist while Bigard would hold a high note. “The Saints” never sounded so good but as great as this version is, I’ve chosen right now to share another one from the same period, a ten-minute marathon from Armstrong’s May 8, 1954 afternoon concert at the University of North Carolina.

I blogged a complete review of this concert back in September 2007 but what I wrote about “The Saints” then still holds up today. Please listen along and prepare to be stunned:

Armstrong was in absolutely peak form on that 1954 show and he had just blown up a storm on the “New Orleans Function” and “Lazy River” preceding that track. Here’s what I wrote about it in September:

“If you think I’ve been enthusiastic up to this point, I don’t know how I’m going to convey the wild roller coaster ride that is a ten-minute medley of “Shadrack” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” After another long piano introduction (you can hear Armstrong make a reference to the Ink Spots), “Shadrack” begins with an absolutely infectious minor vamp (think “Hit the Road, Jack”) and it’s impossible to not get carried away by it. Unfortunately, by this point in the show, something went awry with the tape machine. All of a sudden, John’s drums sound louder and Pop’s voice sounds distant. After “Shadrack,” the band swings into the “Saints” and though it takes some effort to listen for it, what follows might be the most scorching, free-spirited playing of the entire All Stars period. It begins like every other version of the “Saints” and after solos by Bigard and Young, Armstrong leads the way with his set three-chorus rideout pattern, Bigard and Young with him all the way. Armstrong had worked on this routine for years and it works. The song ends on another huge high D and it’s over. The audience goes wild and Pops counts off the tempo for an encore, done at the same tempo. This encore was also pretty set and it, too, works as Pops blows another set of variations before ending on another high D. So far, so good but it’s not over yet. John takes a drum break and we’re off for a second encore, now at warp speed. Now’s where the improvisation begins as Armstrong first plays around with the melody then launches into a positively demonized second chorus, where he blows like it’s his last night on earth, hitting high G’s, smearing phrases, playing some very fleet-fingered ideas and showing complete command of the horn before pushing himself to play the melody a full octave higher than usual in the third chorus, nailing every note before ending on a sickening high E!

And he’s still not done.

He counts off one more time, and this time the band sounds like they didn’t even expect it. Shaw starts walking, John joins in but Pops is the only horn playing for a few seconds. Who needs anyone else when Armstrong is blowing with such fury? Armstrong now turns back the clock and it’s now 1932 again. He starts showing his endurance, hitting high G’s and holding them, the first one for five seconds before glissing to a higher B, the second one for four seconds, before another B and finally a third for three seconds before yet another gliss to yet another B. I’m glad I don’t play the trumpet because I would probably start crying and put my instrument up for sale after listening to this. Then once more, he plays the melody an octave higher, sounding a little shaky at first but almost immediately finding his footing, blasting it out with authority. Bedlam erupts and even Armstrong can’t help laughing his funny high-pitched laugh he only trotted out when he was especially titillated.”

So that’s what I wrote in 2007 though there’s a few items I could add. Armstrong now sang, “I would like to hit the number” instead of “I want to be in that number,” a humorous little touch. Also, Bigard’s “Pennsylvania 6-500” quote bit the dust, replaced by some exciting repeated high notes. I wrote that Armstrong’s first reprise was already kind of set but I think this is the first version in my collection with the encore, including the “National Emblem March” quote. It’s definitely the first I have with the speeded up encores and the playing of the melody an octave higher and it’s certainly not the last. I apologized for the somewhat shaky recording quality, especially the overbearing drums of Kenny John, but fortunately there are other similar versions that exist in better sound.

By 1955, John was gone, replaced by Barrett Deems and the “Shadrack/Saints” medley had become a popular set opener at live shows and on radio broadcasts such as one from the Basin Street club in New York City from around this time. In January 1955, the All Stars performed at the Crescendo Club in Hollywood, where their sets were recorded for Decca. Armstrong began the second set with the medley, which, with the encores, weighed in at seven minutes, too long for the original release. Thus, Decca lopped off “Shadrack,” thanks to some fancy editing in the announcement, and released what might be one of the most perfect versions of “The Saints” in the Armstrong discography. Nothing can match the raw excitement of the Carolina version but this one is the tightest; everything is set, Pops is flying and the sound quality is miles ahead of that from Carolina. Again, some kind person uploaded this performance onto YouTube so here is “The Saints,” 1955 vintage, taken right from original LP:

Hot stuff, huh? In between, Armstrong appeared on the CBS show You Are There, playing the role of King Oliver on the last night of Storyville. It’s one of the most ironic television moments of all time. Before this clip begins, Armstrong, as Oliver, delivers scripted lines about blacks and whites playing together. At the same time, the All Stars always featured an integrated line-up. However, the suits at CBS were still afraid of southern viewership not being able to handle seeing an integrated band…in September 1954! When they suggested Armstrong hire a black drummer, Armstrong refused, defending Deems as his drummer to the end. So what the final solution?


Yes, you read that right. Blackface. In 1954. To give the impression of an all-black band. Whose leader just spoke about the benefits of integrated music. It’s truly bizarre, but the music in this clip is stunning. Armstrong jams “The Saints,” first engaging in a “cutting contest” with white trumpeter Bobby Hackett, heard offscreen because, well, he was white and again, that was taboo! Hackett sounds really inspired and Pops comes up with a string of improvised ideas. But at the end, he plays the set All Stars ending, marching and playing like he’s a kid in New Orleans again. A wild clip:

By the mid-50s, “The Saints” was officially becoming an anthem in the traditional jazz world. For example, at a 1952 concert, clarinetist George Lewis played it as the fourth song of the first set. The crowd reaction was pure bedlam and just a few short years later, it was closing most Lewis concerts, becoming a standard closer for most New Orleans jazz bands until today. After the Crescendo Club album, Armstrong soon ditched “Shadrack” and began moving “The Saints” from being a set opener to being an evening closer.

By the end of 1955, clarinetist Edmond Hall joined the All Stars, beginning the prime period of the famed group. Numerous versions of “The Saints” exist from the Hall period and I have to share at least one of them. In early 1956, the All Stars embarked on a tour with Woody Herman’s Orchestra. Listening to the surviving recordings and reading the reviews from the tour, it seems like the All Stars played with an extra competitive edge. They often closed their sets with “The Saints,” joined by Herman’s group for some simple riffing. This version is from a one-nighter in Grand Rapids, Michigan and it’s a hot one with some new ideas in Armstrong’s rideout choruses and another crazy encore featuring Armstrong playing the melody an octave higher. Here goes:

Speaking of Herman, Armstrong and Herman met again on December 30, 1957 for the taping of the very first Timex All Star Jazz Show. The finale that year was a wild version of the “Saints” that began with Herman’s orchestra before Armstrong and the All Stars played the melody their way, joined by Jack Teagarden’s band, which could be called the All Stars’s farm team as it featured other members of the Armstrong circle including Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Marty Napoleon, Arvell Shaw and Cozy Cole. Then, without missing a beat, the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond plays a couple of choruses before Armstrong sings, backed by Steve Allen, June Christy, Herman, Teagarden and Trummy Young. Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole then engage in a drum battle before Armstrong leads the charge out. It’s a bit messy but the spectacle overshadows any of the hysterics of the playing. By my count, there are 33 musicians on the stage, many in the jazz hall of fame: Woody Herman, Bill Harris, Al Cohn, Paul Qunichette, Zoot Sims, Nat Pierce, Chjubby Jackson, Trummy Young, Edmond Hall, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Ventura, Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden…it’s mind-boggling. And for me, the wildest part is listening to all 33 guys blowing at once and through it all, hearing Pops’s sound still shine through. And because the director was probably signaling them to keep going until the credits finished rolling, Armstrong was forced to take more than his usual set three-chorus finish. In his third chorus, Armstrong takes the melody up an octave but the band keeps going, so Armstrong knocks himself out with one high D and E after another. He stays up there for three more choruses before we finally fade out. Well, enough blathering from me; enjoy this incredible moment:

Armstrong was clearly feeling his oats in the 1954-1959 years and 1958 features a bunch of great “Saints.” In fact, on May 13 of that year, the 20th anniversary of the original (and 50 years ago today), Armstrong played it at a concert in North Bay Ontario. Highlights from this concert were released on C.D. in 2006 to absolutely no fanfare but I’ve mentioned it here a dozen times because it’s one of the finest Armstrong discs I’ve ever heard. Pops is in absolutely peak form throughout and especially on “The Saints” where, instead of playing the set third chorus he had been playing for 20 years, he heads right on up to playing the melody an octave higher, with no encore or anything. Unfortunately, the performance is split up between two different tracks on the C.D. so I’m not going to include it here but please, please, please, order this incredible disc at and prepare to blown away by some ferocious playing by Armstrong and the rest of the band. Here’s the : link.

Shortly after the North Bay concert, Edmond Hall left the group. His replacement was Peanuts Hucko, whose first engagement with the band was at the Newport Jazz Festival that year. I’ve also written about this crime before and I might as well do it again. Columbia recorded Armstrong’s entire set that night and they’ve released a grand total of three tracks from it over the years, each in glorious sound and featuring Pops in glorious form. However, Sony has sat on those tapes for years now, though they’ve released every scrap of Miles Davis in their archives. This summer would mark the 50th anniversary of the concert and what would mark the occasion better than a deluxe issue of the event? Sadly, it looks like it’ll never happen. None of my European contingent of Armstrong nuts possesses a recording the concert and producer George Avakian, who recorded the show, has also had his request for a copy of the concert turned down by Sony itself! It’s an outright crime but hopefully someone from Europe can get into the Sony vaults and issue it when the copyright runs out after this year.

The only good news is Bert Stern filmed a lot of the festival for his film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Stern filmed some of Armstrong’s set including a brief, closing version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” Armstrong’s time obviously was drawing to a close to he eliminates all solos and such but my goodness, he plays with fury, again, like in North Bay, skipping the preliminaries, and going straight for playing the melody an octave higher. Stern’s photography is beautiful and the juxtaposed shots of Armstrong wailing really capture the intensity of the man. Here’s the clip:

So Pops was blowing his ass off in the summer of 1958, but he might have blown himself out a little bit as he sounds in less than 100% form at the Monterey Jazz Festival from October 3, 1958, and the subject on another one of my early blogs. Armstrong had a rough start that evening, even omitting his customary solo on “Indiana,” but he blew through the pain, eventually settling in a bit towards the end of the concert. However, by the end of the set, his lip was just about shot, as he doesn’t play his usual obbligatos on “St. Louis Blues” and “That’s My Desire.” He saves whatever he has in tank for the closing “Saints” and it’s clear that it hurts. In the opening choruses, he hits a few air notes and he really struggles with the “Here Comes the Bride” quote that bridges the first and second rideout choruses. All the fleet-fingered little phrases are gone but Pops manages to blow through the pain and still hits that high note at the end. Oh, the lengths he went to please his audiences and hit those high notes…

Now, before I march onward, we’ll take a breather. If you’ve been foolish enough to attempt to read this in one sitting, you’ve probably fallen asleep. So if you would like to grab a cold beverage, check your e-mail, call your mother, enjoy a sandwich, take some Swiss Kriss, whatever, go right ahead and knock yourself out. As a means of an intermission, I’ll keep things strictly chronological and throw out a YouTube clip of Armstrong and Danny Kaye doing “The Five Pennies Saints” for the film, The Five Pennies. This was another subject of an older blog entry but there’s really not too much to add. I think it’s a magical film moment and it was recorded in October 1958, right where we are in the narrative anyway. There’s no trumpet playing but the vocal routine is a gas. Enjoy!

Wasn’t that a “gassuh”? The ending, where both men scat their hearts out, gets me every time.

Okay, class—I mean, readers—let’s get back to the nitty gritty. When I left off, Pops was struggling with “The Saints” at the Monterey Jazz Festival. But don’t fret, my children…by the time of his mammoth 1959 tour of Europe, Armstrong was in fighting shape. “The Saints” continued to be a show closer, allowing Armstrong to introduce everyone in the band and though a million versions survive from this tour, there’s not one that’s a dud. If you didn’t notice it on the 1958 clip, the tempo of “The Saints” had now crept back up to 250 beats per minute. Armstrong now sang “I would like to hit the sweepstakes” instead of “hit the number,” a cute touch. New drummer Danny Barcelona now played some accents when Armstrong threw a few punches during the trombone solo. Also, listen for Young and Hucko’s furious riffing as Armstrong introduces the members of the band for their final bows—they’re smoking! Pops’s three choruses come off beautifully, though he doesn’t play the melody an octave higher (also, listen for Hucko doubling Young’s repeated notes). There are a few videos of “The Saints” from this 1959 tour floating around YouTube but I’ve decided to choose one from Stuttgart, Germany, February 15, 1959. This video has over 352,000 views as of this writing, testament to the continued popularity of Armstrong and “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.”

Of course, the 1959 tour is mostly remembered for Armstrong’s heart episode, which either almost killed him or was only a bad case of indigestion, depending on whom you believe. Armstrong clearly suffered some trauma and though he continued to blow beautifully for years to come, he now had to pace himself more. And here’s where the plot thickens, my friends. Because “The Saints” usually closed the evening, Armstrong sometimes no longer had the chops to make his climb to the top. This becomes apparent when watching a clip of the All Stars on the "Ed Sullivan Show" from September 20, 1959, just a few months after Armstrong recovered and began touring again. This is otherwise a fun version and I love the interplay between Pops and Danny Barcelona (“Hawaii Speaks!”) but Armstrong’s chops let him down in that climactic third chorus. Up to then, he sounds fine but his lips do seem to tire and it takes every ounce of willpower to make that high D. Here’s the footage:

He makes it but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t become any easier in the coming months. Just a few weeks later, Armstrong and the All Stars played an outdoor concert at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. This concert was never commercially issued but it survives in beautiful sound. Probably because it was an outdoor concert, Pops has some trouble with his chops, hitting a lot of air notes and struggling with his dexterity (you can hear him complain that “It’s cold” during “Tiger Rag”). Oddly enough, Armstrong’s highest notes come out clean as a bell but he struggles with the middle register (I’ll never understand the trumpet!). Both sets of the concert survive and both sets end with “The Saints.” And on both versions, Armstrong, knowing deep down that he’s probably not going to make it, omits his final three-chorus solo. The first time around, he introduces everyone, then throws it right into Barcelona’s feature on “Mop Mop,” which didn’t require an Armstrong solo. At the end of the second set, Armstrong takes “The Saints” at a slower tempo, getting the entire audience to sing and clap along. After the vocal, Armstrong picks up the chorus and plays one chorus, sounding fairly strong. But again, not wanting to chance it, he cuts it off abruptly and heads into the closing theme “Sleepy Time Down South.”

And that, sadly, was the end of Armstrong’s wondrous three-chorus rideout on “The Saints.” At the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, he segued into the “Star Spangled Banner” once he introduced the members of the band. At the Oregon State Fair in September 1960, the tempo slowed further while Young and clarinetist Barney Bigard tried out some new riffs during the introductions. But once the introductions are over, Armstrong throws it over to “Mop Mop” again, a tactic from the Keesler that would be repeated at an African concert in November 1960 and at a Swedish concert in early 1961.

So loyal readers, was this the sad fate of “The Saints” in Louis Armstrong’s repertoire? A few choruses up front, a vocal, then a short drum solo? Thankfully, no, as Pops wised up and probably noticed how much the audience loved singing the tune. So by at least a September 1961 engagement in Pennsylvania, Armstrong was playing two choruses up front, then leading a sing-a-long with the band members and the audience. Clarinet and trombone still took solos but now the tempo dropped dramatically to around 166 beats per minute, slower than any previous Armstrong version. In 1961, Jewel Brown became the group’s new vocalist and initially, she played a prominent role during “The Saints,” dancing, clapping and singing some remarkably high counterpoint notes. It’s impressive as far as singing goes, but it got in the way of the performance. By the middle of 1962, she toned it down to simply clapping and shouting encouragements.

But in April 1962, the All Stars were filmed doing “The Saints” for a Goodyear jazz short. Here, Brown really tries taking the spotlight, to the point where she seems to annoy Pops with her high notes towards the end. However, the real reason to celebrate this clip is Pops’s decision to take a couple of choruses in the middle. Pops is full of new ideas, including a quick “Dixie” quote and some scorching high notes in the second chorus. It represents the last great surviving solo Armstrong took on “The Saints.” Here it is, courtesy of a YouTube video that’s seen more than 200,000 hits:

As I said, that was a pretty padded version. Here are the All Stars in May 1962, just one month later, performing “The Saints” in Sweden, a good representation of how Armstrong approached the song in the 1960s:

Thus, that became the normal routine for “The Saints” from about 1961 to 1964: Pops plays two up front, sings, trombone and clarinet solo, the band is introduced and Pops encourages one last sing-a-long. It’s pretty good, but I always get annoyed at Billy Kyle’s overly-church-ified piano comping, playing static inversions on the first and third beats, which usually clashed with Danny Barcelona’s straight swinging drums.

In 1964, “Hello, Dolly” became all the rage, a bigger sensation than “The Saints.” Starting around 1965, “The Saints” was moved back to the first set closer, setting up intermission and that’s where it usually remained. If the All Stars did a one set show, then “The Saints” might still close it, but after the band introductions, Armstrong would head back to “Dolly” for one final chorus.

Yet Armstrong wasn’t ready to retire “The Saints” just yet. In April 1966, he recorded a version of it for Mercury, his first studio recording of the song since the 1938 original. It’s an okay record, but please don’t compare it to the original. Armstrong’s opening monologue is fun as he recounts seeing a bunch of “soul brothers” who wanted to sing and blow “The Saints.” Then Armstrong picks up his trumpet and plain and simple, sounds fairly weak. His tone is still there, if a bit dimmed and though his variations on the melody are somewhat beautiful in their subtle nature, the tower of the strength we were used to hearing in the 1940s and 1950s simply isn’t there. And this doesn’t mean he was dead; Armstrong still had some great blowing in front of him. But 1966 seems to be a rough year for Pops on record and from then on, the status of his chops could be erratic from night to night. And sadly, after that first, weakened chorus, Armstrong’s trumpet is silent for the rest of the record. He still had his voice and he puts on a good show introducing the members of the band, but it’s not quite the same. Here it is, again, on a YouTube video someone took of a record spinning for three minutes…

But as usual, don’t shed any tears for ol’ Pops yet. In 1968, Armstrong’s chops sounded quite strong again. On top of that, “The Saints” was sometimes moved to the closer status, now once again sporting a faster tempo. This is how it was played on a BBC television show in the summer of 1968 and I’d like to share that recording right now. Pops takes two up front and sounds better than he had in years, though he has to go low a few times where he once went high. Nevertheless, it’s a good one:

After illness forced him to miss more than a year of performing, Armstrong became a ubiquitous presence on television in 1970. In my collection, I have a great version of “The Saints” from the “Mike Douglas Show,” with Pops singing and leading a band that included Pete Fountain, Eddie Miller and Sammy Davis Jr. on drums! Zutty Singleton’s in the audience and everyone has a ball. Later that year, Armstrong sang it on the “Flip Wilson Show,” looking resplendent in a tuxedo and as happy as ever. In between, Armstrong recorded “Boy From New Orleans,” a new autobiographical tour of Armstrong’s life set to the familiar strains of “The Saints.” He would perform it on the “David Frost Show” in February 1971, just months before his passing.

But to close, I can’t think of a better clip to wrap everything up than this one: Louis Armstrong, taking “The Saints” back to church and back to New Orleans, where it all began for him. The occasion was a Newport Jazz Festival 70th birthday tribute to Armstrong. For the finale, Armstrong and gospel queen Mahalia Jackson duetted on “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” So there’s the church aspect for ya…but midway through, the Eureaka Brass Band of New Orleans comes marching out, filled with musicians Armstrong grew up listening to and playing with. They give “The Saints” the second line treatment Armstrong remembered hearing as a youngster. Pops marches around the stage like a kid again before stepping up to the microphone, clapping his hands and singing from the heart, ol’ Reverend Satchmo, still leading the congregation after all those years…

And that, my friends is that. I don’t know if I can possibly say anything more about Louis Armstrong’s long and fruitful association with “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” but I know I had a helluva lot of fun taking a tour of all these different versions. “The Saints” has become pretty beaten to death over the years, but any and all Armstrong versions still sound fresh as a daisy. As always, comments and e-mails are always welcome…any additions? Corrections? Questions? Answers? Feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line at Thanks for taking this tour with me, celebrating the 70th anniversary of when the head saint himself—Pops—first came marching in, taking the whole music world with him…

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I Laughed At Love

Louis Armstrong with Sy Oliver’s Orchestra
Recorded August 25, 1952
Track Time 2:56
Written by Benny Davis and Abner Silver
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Hymie Schertzer, Dick Jacobs, alto saxophone; Babe Fresk, Melvin Tax, tenor saxophone; Bill Holcombe, baritone saxophone; Billy Kyle, piano; Everett Barksdale, guitar; Joe Benjamin, bass; Bobby Donaldson, drums; Sy Oliver, arranger, conductor
Originally released on Decca 28394
Currently available on CD: Available on Satchmo Serenades
Available on Itunes? Yes, on the same set.

Ah, just what I needed. As I prepare for my dissertation on Louis Armstrong and “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” to be published on Tuesday, I wished for the ol’ Itunes shuffle to give me something nice and easy, a solid record that wouldn’t take eight pages to discuss. And with “I Laughed at Love,” my wish was answered.

With this recording, we’re firmly back in Armstrong’s early 1950’s “pop” period for Decca. Producer Milt Gabler gave Armstrong a steady diet of other people’s hits during this era, often changing the backing groups to give the sessions more variety. Armstrong recorded with Gordon Jenkins’s strings, with the All Stars and with studio big bands led by the likes of Benny Carter but arguably his finest Decca recordings were arranged by Sy Oliver for groups of various sizes. By the time of this recording, Armstrong and Oliver had made many records together, including hits like “I Get Ideas” and “La Vie En Rose.”

For this session, Oliver backed Armstrong with five reeds and a rhythm section. Notable personnel includes pianist Billy Kyle, who, one year later, would be an integral part of the All Stars; and alto saxophonist Dick Jacobs. Jacobs is better known as an arrange but he frequently teamed up with Oliver. In the late 60s, Jacobs oversaw a number of Armstrong sessions recorded for the Brunswick label, some of the sorriest arrangements Armstrong ever had to deal with (interestingly, guitarist Everett Barksdale is on many of those Jacobs sessions and he’s the guitarist right here on “I Laughed at Love”).

Fortunately, Jacobs sticks to just playing and not arranging and for that we can be thankful. As for the song itself, it was introduced by vocalist Sunny Gale on the RCA Victor label. Interestingly, I’m always fascinated by how Gabler knew not only what the other labels were recording, but also, what was going to be a hit. I’ve mentioned it before: when Armstrong recorded his “cover songs” for Decca, his recordings were usually made right before the original version hit the charts or at least around the same time. Sunny Gale’s “I Laughed at Love” debuted at #42 on the Cash Box charts on August 23 and two days later, Pops was putting his own stamp on the song. Gale’s record lingered on the charts until November, while Armstrong’s didn’t make a dent but listening over 50 years later, I think Armstrong’s holds up infinitely better. Listen for yourself:

Armstrong opens the record with the glorious sound of his open trumpet, backed by the creamy reeds and a strutting Oliver two-beat. You can tell that Armstrong’s in phenomenal shape but I do sense a little hesitation four seconds in as he approaches the high note on the second playing of the title phrase. It’s only a fraction of a section and of course, he hits hit. The reeds give him a pad to play a little break over, one that always reminds me of his scat singing. He sings the song prettily, especially when he’s in his tenor range, while Billy Kyle’s perfect accompaniment demonstrate why Armstrong knew where to turn when Marty Napoleon left in 1953. I like this vocal because if you listen carefully, the microphone picks up all of Armstrong’s little noises in between the phrases, whether a quiet hum or a cute little “Tch” before he sings “When people mention our affairs.” Halfway through the song, he delivers a scat break, sounding like he’s in a very good mood (you can hear his eyes roll on the last “zoot” syllable).

In the second half of the vocal, I really dig the “Mmm” he throws in before the words “goes by.” As the melody goes up for the last eight bars, Armstrong scats wonderfully. At the end of the chorus, he scats a typical descending phrase, which Kyle picks up and plays back without missing a beat. I’m sure it might have been worked out but regardless, it’s a highlight of the record.

Notice, I said “a highlight.” THE highlight is Pops’s mellifluous trumpet solo which begins with three quarter notes that simply swing and highlight his always spell-binding intonation. The rhythm section, which kept up a two-beat feel behind the vocal, now swings so lightly and politely, it sounds like they don’t want to disturb the neighbors (Kyle doubles up bassist Joe Benjamin’s descending line). The trumpet solo is a gem because Oliver sets it up to feature a couple of stirring breaks. The first one is the more exciting of the two, as Armstrong deftly swirls around an arpeggio, quickly taking it up high. The second one starts with a perfectly placed beat of space before Armstrong plays a quasi-military line that resolves with three more emphatic quarter notes, somewhat echoing his entrance. As the reeds come in and band swings happily, it sounds like it’s going to be a spot for the orchestra. But after sitting out a couple of seconds, Armstrong swoops in, riding over the ensemble like Superman over Metropolis, tossing off a carefree descending phrase that sounds effortless but is actually highly complex. Already in the upper register, he doesn’t take the easy way out when the written melody goes up higher, hitting some gorgeous, fat high concert C’s before taking yet another that is resolved by an almost humorous chord by Billy Kyle that sets up Armstrong’s vocal reprise. Phew, that’s a lot of writing, but it’s an exciting solo, the kind that makes you wonder what the critics were complaining about when they griped about the lack of “jazz” on these Decca sides.

Armstrong’s singing remains tender, but also swinging….dig those quick little “Mm’s” he throws in before he starts a new phrase. When the melody hits its climactic high note, Armstrong hits it, too, emphasizing it with some even more horn-like scatting (I love the notes he chooses to emphasize). He sounds as joyous as ever as he gets to the final phrase, the band swinging emphatically behind him. He repeats it one more time, swinging over stop-time chords before Oliver’s arrangement has the reeds play Pops’s patented ending phrase. Armstrong, still having a ball, ends the record by warning, “You gotta watch that love, yeah!” A lot of these Decca sides ended with Armstrong speaking or laughing some aside, much like an old Fats Waller record. “I Laughed at Love” has slipped under the radar over the years, but it’s a charming record with some powerhouse trumpet playing and an seemingly endless stream of scat singing. Who can ask for anything more?

Armstrong’s good mood more than carried over to the next song recorded that day, “It Takes Two To Tango,” which actually did dent the charts that October. But that’s another topic for another entry, my friends. For now, enjoy “I Laughed at Love,” a great record. As for me, it’s off to celebrate the wife’s birthday on Saturday, Mother’s Day on Sunday and the 70th anniversary of the “Saints” on Tuesday. See you then!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Doubt My Love?

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra

Recorded March 12, 1947

Track Time 3:21

Written by Louis Armstrong and Helen Mercer

Recorded in New York City

Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Ed Mullens, William “Chiefie” Scott, Thomas Grider, Robert Butler, trumpet; Russell “Big Chief Moore, James Whitney, Wadder Williams, Alton Moore, trombone; Arthur Dennis, Amos Gordon, alto saxophone; John Sparrow, Joe Garland, tenor saxophone; Ernest Thompson, baritone saxophone; Earl Mason, piano; Elmer Warner, guitar; Arvell Shaw, bass; James Harris, drums

Originally released on RCA Victor VPM 6044

Currently available on CD: Available on The Complete RCA Victor Recordings of Louis Armstrong.

Available on Itunes? Yes, on the same set.

Today’s entry must begin with another tip of the hat to the Swedish oracle of Pops, Gösta Hägglöf, for without his tireless work, we might not have ever gotten to hear this beautiful performance. It stems from Armstrong’s final big band session for Victor, the label he signed with in 1946. Armstrong had been recording with a big band almost exclusively for years, but as the music world changed, so did Armstrong’s orchestra. Where it once boasted three trumpets, three trombones and four reeds in 1937, it featured four trumpets, four trombones and five reeds in 1947. Stan Kenton became popular in the in-between years and if you were going to lead a hip big band in the mid-40s, it had to be loud and brassy. Because of this, many of Armstrong’s big band performances from this period leave me kind of cold. Naturally, Armstrong never disappoints, but the once “hip” arrangements now sound dated, while the band is simply ponderous on some of their other Victor sessions from this era.

However, Armstrong’s final session as a full-time big band leader featured some of his finest performances from this second go-around with Victor. Armstrong’s vocal positively swings on “I Believe” and his trumpet is scorching on the novelty blues tune, “You Don’t Learn That In School.” Today’s song, “Why Doubt My Love?” was the third tune recorded during this five-song session and it’s a treat in every way. First off, it’s a Louis Armstrong original, something that had become quite rare in 1946 (and except for a few collaborations with Billy Kyle and Marty Napoleon, just about extinct after that year). The melody is pure Armstrong and the lyrics, by a Helen Mercer (couldn’t find any more information on her) are very sweet. Please listen along and stay for the discussion.

The muted trumpet introduction sounds like something from one of the “sweet” bands that Armstrong might have loved, as the rhythm section, with Arvell Shaw, swings very lightly. It’s a perfect introduction for a soft dance number. Soon Pops enters, playing his own melody, embellishing the very notes he helped copyright. Part of the melody reminds me of “You’re Lucky To Me” but otherwise, the melancholy melody definitely sounds like something Armstrong would have written and not just attached his name to. It also reminds me a little bit of what was then called a “rhythm and blues” ballad, something like Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night” or “I Wonder,” a song Armstrong had covered beautifully for Decca in 1946.
Armstrong’s trumpet tone in the mid-to-late-40s was different than any other time in his career. Slightly burnished with an “orange” hue, as Ruby Braff might have described it, it falls somewhere between the bell-like clarity of the 1930s and the pulsating power of the 1950s. The repeated C’s he plays in the middle register to start the second eight bars is a very soulful touch and the descending phrase he plays immediately after is incredibly reminiscent of some of the “Love Scene” phrases he played on “Laughin’ Louie,” as discussed here last week. For another example of his tone, listen to those smears and rhythmically tricky asides. It’s not bop, but it’s not exactly “Dixieland” either; Pops always had big ears. Then, even though it’s only the second eight bars, Pops takes his own melody an octave up, playing a descending chromatic phrase that begins on a high Bb. He ends his introductory solo with a high Ab, holding it, as the band drops out, with absolutely masterful control of his vibrato.

Then it’s time for the vocal, which is charming, to say the least. Here’s my transcription:

Remember, the foist [first] time I held you close in my arms
Oh I knew, that I was yours, Why Doubt My Love
Mmmm, your lips, lingered long, sealing my love in a kiss
Mmmm, I knew, that I was doomed, Why Doubt My Love?
When I look into your eyes, I realize, that life could be, one ecstasy,
Mmmm, if I only knew you felt the same, dear.
Ohhh, please, let me know, if my heart is aching in vain,
Ohhh, because, I love you so, Why Doubt My Love?

It’s hard to believe this is the same singer who just lit “I Believe” afire earlier that day with his irresistibly bouncy vocal. Pops is very tender here—perhaps he was thinking of Lucille? Regardless, his vocal is the very definition of soul, as he digs into the blue notes of the melody, appropriately conveying his longing. Behind him, pianist Earl Mason plays some tasty “cocktail” runs and glisses, adding a further touch of elegance to the already elegant proceedings.

“Why Doubt My Love” is also another testament to Armstrong’s vocal range. On the titular word “Love,” Armstrong hits a low Bb, while the main motive of the bridge is a series of high Eb’s, almost an octave-and-a-half higher. That’s a span of 18 notes, which is pretty impressive for a guy who most people simply laugh off as the singer with just a “funny, gravelly voice.” In fact, the bridge of the tune is marvelous and it’s a shame we only get to hear it once. It makes a nice use of a repeated motif, it effectively has a major-to-minor chord change, features even more blue notes and a freakishly low Ab on the word “felt” that has to be the lowest note of Armstrong’s vocal range (adding that one in, that makes it an Ab to Eb range of 20 notes on the bridge alone!). The “felt” is almost funny because so much of the bridge is spent in the tenor range and then BOOM. It sounds like someone else ran in to just deliver that one word.

Armstrong sings the final eight bars from the heart, with no trace of scatting or joking, impressively holding the final word “love,” backed by simple inversions by pianist Mason. The band plays for a few bars with (I’m guessing) tenor saxophonist and music director Joe Garland getting a short, pretty spot (I hear a faint echo of Chu Berry in this tiny cameo) before Pops comes back to reprise the final line, rephrasing it differently and singing the title phrase an octave higher and on one pitch forfor dramatic effect. It’s a lovely record but when it’s over, I’m usually saddened there wasn’t a “Part 2” on the flip side. Oh, what Pops must have been able to do with that bridge…

Nevertheless, someone at Victor didn’t care for the record and it wasn’t issued at the time. Flash forward to 1965 when Gösta Hägglöf made his first trip to New York City. Always on the hunt for rare and unissued Pops, Gus, as we call him, made a tour of the record studios Pops recorded for, hoping to find some gems. At RCA, the well-known A&R man Brad McCuen helped Gus locate “Why Doubt My Love,” but, as Gus remembers it, McCuen, declared it “Ghastly” and complained that “everything went to pieces.” McCuen was the man responsible for many legendary sessions, including Ellington’s And His Mother Called Him Bill, but I have to doubt his hearing if he considered “Why Doubt My Love” to be ghastly!

Sadly, Louis Armstrong himself never lived to see this beautiful recording of his own composition get issued. Once he died, RCA finally dug it out and issued it on a two LP memorial album simply titled Louis Armstrong July 4, 1900-July 6, 1971. In the C.D. era, it was released on the Complete RCA Victor Recordings box set, as well as a compilation of love songs titled, Falling In Love With Louis Armstrong. However, after perusing the Internet, it looks like no one else has ever recorded this tune. So come on, fellow jazz musicians, get out that pen and music paper and start transcribing! “Why Doubt My Love” is truly a lovely song and as one of Armstrong’s last compositions, it should be better known.
Just a quick note: if you had been getting used to my snail’s pace of about one blog each week, you might want to see if you’ve missed anything lately because after getting through my crazy gig stretch, I’ve pumped out six new ones in less than two weeks. I hope to have one more ready by the end of the week, then a massive look at “When the Saints Go Marching In” next Tuesday. As for me, I’m going to Town Hall tonight in New York City to see the New Zealand folk-rock/comedy duo (there’s not much non-jazz/blues that I listen to but for the hilarious Conchords, I’d travel to the end of the Earth!). I’ve walked past Town Hall dozens of times but this will be my first time inside the great building when Pops’s career changed forever after one concert in May 1947. The Conchords are going to be wonderful but I have a feeling I’m going to look at that stage and try my damndest to picture Pops and Teagarden doing “Rockin’ Chair”!