Sunday, August 31, 2008

Celebrate Labor Day With A Little "Barbecue"

As promised, here's a video to pass some of the time in between barbecues on this Labor Day weekend. It's Louis Armstrong and the All Stars doing "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" for an Italian film, "Salute E Baci," also known as "La Route Du Bonheur," in October 1952. This is one of the silliest clips of the All Stars in action. Horribly overdubbed, the band seems to be having a good time with everything, mugging like crazy, fooling around and barely even trying to mimic the soundtrack recording. Ten years later, Arvell Shaw caught the film on television and remembered it well, saying, “Man, I tell you that scene where we were clowning around just broke me up. And I kept remembering how ‘Cactus’ (an unknown friend) drove that truck on the set and almost tore the whole set up, when he was so lit. Wild!”

So don't take it too seriously as the band, perhaps a little high on something, purposely hams it up with abandon. But close your eyes, if you must, and you'll hear some inspired playing, especially an Armstrong solo that's almost completely different from the "set" one he normally took on the tune, especially in the second half. The band is a transitional one with Marty Napoleon still on piano and the little known Bob McCracken on clarinet. Many writers have written about Barney Bigard being with the group from their inception until Edmond Hall replaced him in 1955, but it's not true. Bigard grew weary of the road in late 1952 and decided to sit out a long European tour. McCracken joined in the summer of 1952 and stayed until a refreshed Bigard came back in February 1953. Trummy Young is on trombone, having just joined the band the previous month, beginning a stay that lasted more than a decade. And Cozy Cole is still on drums, though both he and Napoleon would be gone within a year.

But enough from me, here's the clip!


That video is a ton of fun, but I need to take a serious second and send my concern and prayers to the great city of New Orleans, as well as the rest of the southeast costal states. Hurricane Gustav is closing in and I shudder to think about the possibility of another Katrina, especially after having just visited the beautiful city and having met so many wonderful people. Our thoughts and prayers are with you...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I Come From A Musical Family

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded April 28, 1936
Track Time 2:55
Written by Dave Franklin
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Leonard Davis, Gus Aiken, Louis Bacon, trumpets; Jimmy Archey, Snub Mosley, trombone; Henry Jones, Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, Greely Walton, tenor saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin, drums
Originally released on Decca 797
Currently available on CD: Available on volume 2 of the Ambassador series. Check out for more information.
Available on Itunes? Yes, on Rhythm Saved The World

It’s been a while since I’ve examined one of Armstrong’s Decca big band records from the 30s and I really wish I could have had a better tune to discuss, but the Itunes shuffle hath spoken. “I Come From A Musical Family” was done at Armstrong’s seventh Decca session, six of which featured his new backup band, Luis Russell and His Orchestra. The 1935 sessions featured some bona fide great tunes: “Solitude,” “Red Sails In The Sunset,” “”Thanks a Million,” “I’m in the Mood For Love,” “You Are My Lucky Star” and others. Armstrong’s trumpet was in sparkling form, his voice was in its tenor prime and his personality remained a force of nature, especially on silly tunes like “La Cucaracha” and “Old Man Mose.”

Seeing that Armstrong could work wonders with just about any tune, producers at Decca practically began closing their eyes and picking music for Armstrong to record, regardless of the tune’s merit. In his previous recording session, Armstrong recorded a standard, Irving Berlin’s “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket” (the subject of a blog of mine from March) as well as a lesser, but still fun, Kahn and Chaplin number, “Yes-Yes! My-My!”

But sometime after that session, Decca founder Jack Kapp must have lost a bet or something to composer Dave Franklin. Armstrong had already recorded one of Franklin’s best compositions, “I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music,” so Decca had Armstrong record two more in one day, “Somebody Stole My Break” and the subject of this entry, “I Come From A Musical Family.” Both have fun moments but are generally weak tunes about music. In doing some research, I haven’t found a single version of either one of these songs recorded by anyone else in the 1930s. Searching the ASCAP site for Franklin’s compositions, 164 titles came up. about 98% of which are unknown. Occasionally he hit the mark, as on “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” or “Anniversary Waltz” and he seems to have done some cartoon work for Warner Brothers, writing a song titled “Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2 Century.” But mostly, he seemed to write unknown tunes with corny titles like “Charley Bop” and “Doggone I’ve Done It.” I love “Gabriel” and “Dreamboat,” but the two songs recorded by Armstrong that April day in 1936 definitely are on the lesser end of Franklin’s compositional talents.

And yet, and yet...

I’ve been killing “I Come From a Musical Family” since yesterday but man, Pops sure treats it like it’s Gershwin. He invests so much personality into the silly lyrics and in the end, picks up his horn for one of his finest solos of the period. Listen along and then I’ll give it a short analysis:

I Come From A Musical Family

From the opening notes, you can tell that this is one of those early Decca, nondescript arrangements, either a stock or something done by Luis Russell. This is before Chappie Willet started writing for the band, contributing some terrific arrangements along the way (many to be heard on the Fleischmann's set). Pops's Foster's bass pops nicely in the beginning, as well as in his breaks. Armstrong's voice is in its smooth tenor prime and he earnestly introduces the members of his musical family, singing with authority in the second half of the chorus. HIs scat break is a highlight, stating with a "splee" syllable that always remind me of later bop singers. All the breaks are pretty good, with tenor saxophonist Bingie Madison showing off a bit, and the other trumpeter (either Leonard Davis or Louis Bacon) sounds very nice.

The vocal concludes around the 1:40 mark and after a modulation, the band takes over for eight bars until--finally--Pops picks up his horn and the whole record comes alive. It's a crappy tune, but Pops gives it the gold treatment, opening very relaxed before getting bluesy in the second eight bars. He eventually heads into the upper register, playing with great command horn, but you ain't heard nothin' yet because the bridge is right around the corner.

Franklin's major-to-minor changes are the bridge are fairly attractive and they coax some very dramatic playing from Pops's horn. The whole bridge is a marvel, with much of it being improvised in triplet feel, a favorite device of Pops. He ends the bridge up high and it makes one wonder if he's going to go back down for the last eight and simply play the melody or if he's going to climb even higher and knock our socks off...

It's 1936 Pops, so what do you think!?

Pops ends the bridge with a high concert G and A but after taking a second off, opens the last eight bars with a gliss to a high C, holding it for dramatic effect. It's the kind of moment that still has the power to surprise me; and even when I know it's coming, it raises the hairs on my neck and makes me smile. Having hit the climax, Pops settles back down (how many trumpet players hit their climax and keep blowing on way past the point of no return?) with some lyrical, lower playing, setting up a patented Decca ending...well, sort of. Usually, Pops went up high for his endings, but here, he goes low, getting a bizarre, spooky, almost hollow tone to his trumpet. It's a lovely ending following such a dramatic trumpet solo, all performed on a pretty terrible piece of music. Pops could do it all...and often did!

S'all for now. I'm going to go back and show a YouTube video this weekend so until then, have a happy Labor Day weekend, hopefully finding time to celebrate with your family...musical or otherwise.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven
Recorded September 6, 1946
Track Time 3:25
Written by Maceo Pinkard, Edna Alexander and Sidney D. Mitchell
Recorded in Los Angeles, CA
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Charlie Beal, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Red Callender, bass; Zutty Singlteon, drums
Originally released on Swing 251
Currently available on CD: It’s on Louis Armstrong: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings, as well as a few compilations (one named Sugar)
Available on Itunes? Yes

After yesterday’s entry dealing with Louis Armstrong introducing a new popular song at the time it was written, today’s opus will focus on Pops recording a song 20 years after it was originally introduced, yet still making the tune all his own. The song in question is “Sugar,”with music written by Maceo “Sweet Georgia Brown” Pinkard in 1926. The song was a hit almost immediately off the bat with versions pouring in from the likes of Ethel Waters, Paul Whiteman, Fats Waller (at the organ) and Fletcher Henderson. It was the kind of the tune that hard to botch; the melody was catchy with a great bridge and the words are unforgettable, playing on the notion of calling someone “Sugar” while also punnily referring to the actual sweet stuff with references to “confectionary” and “granulated.”

Perhaps my favorite early version is the 1927 McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans take on the tune, featuring the Austin High School Gang (with the likes of Gene Krupa, Jimmy McPartland, Frank Teschmaker, Bud Freeman and others) in full flight. The song became a started part of the Eddie Condon/Chicago Jazz school becoming the subject of many freewheeling instrumental performances. But vocalists dug the song, too, none more so than Lee Wiley, who practically owned the song. Somehow, though, with seemingly everyone in the jazz world tackling it at one time or another, Armstrong didn’t get around to it until 1946.

Armstrong recorded it while in Los Angeles, beginning the filming for the movie New Orleans. Armstrong had been playing with big bands steadily for over 20 years, but he found the time to make the occasional small group session, whether on a Decca date, the 1944 V-Disc gathering or the various, infrequent all star concerts, such as the one from the Metropolitan Opera House. New Orleans would find Armstrong surrounded by associates from his hometown including Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, Bud Scott, Mutt Carey and Zutty Singleton. The notion of Louis Armstrong playing the old hot jazz classics in a New Orleans small group format must have left some of the old-time jazz purists awake at night. To capitalize on the small group fever, the French jazz writer Charles Delaunay organized a session to be released on the Swing label. Delaunay asked the jazz critic Leonard Feather to help out with the date and Feather obliged, bringing along two original blues compositions, sitting in on piano for both performances.

Delaunay and Feather made an interesting team because they had recently become quite critical of traditional jazz, favoring the more modern sounds emanating from the bebop world. Delaunay engaged in some very public sniping with his former associate Hughes Panassie, while Feather tormented musicians who played in older styles to the point of actually engaging in fisticuffs with Muggsy Spanier. However, both men remained devoted to Armstrong throughout the unfortunate “jazz wars,” as evidenced by this Swing session.

The session paired Armstrong with six other musicians, four of which came from the set of New Orleans: Bigard, Beal, Callender and Singleton. The two different choices turned out to be brilliant choices: guitarist Allan Reuss gave an up-to-dat Freddie Green-feel to the rhythm section while Vic Dickenson, one of the greatest jazz trombonists, always enlivened any date he appeared on. Dickenson loved Armstrong and wanted to join the All Stars when Trummy Young left at the end of 1963, but Joe Glaser turned him down because of what he perceived to be Dickenson’s lack of personality. A regular pairing of Armstrong and Dickenson in the front line is the stuff that dreams are made of and the fact that it didn’t happen has to be one of the big regrets of Armstrong’s later years.

At least, though, we have the 1946 Swing session, which began with another old standard, “I Want a Little Girl.” “Sugar” was up next and you can listen to it by clicking here:

I like that record a lot. Pops sounds great and everyone sounds relaxed (though Bigard’s clarinet solo is a little too relaxed for my taste, kind of going nowhere). To me, this session has always sounded like a precursor to the All Stars; it maintains a traditional, New Orleans lineup, but is more swing-based than one might expect. There’s not much free-wheeling polyphone in the ensembles, as there would be on the “Dixieland Seven” date of one month later, with Ory replacing Dickenson. Just listen to Pops’s opening statement, which gets a descending harmonies played in tandem by Bigard and Dickenson, almost like an arrangement, which makes sense since both men had lots of big band experience. Only at the end does everyone blow for themselves, but even then, it’s not an old-fashioned New Orleans jam session.

The New Orleans revivalists so wanted Pops to go back to his roots but his 1940s small group sessions always felt more like small group swing sessions rather than Dixieland offerings. This must have rankled some purists, who also probably didn’t appreciate that these records were attributed to “Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven.” Armstrong had dug out the “Hot Seven” moniker for a couple of 1941 Decca dates and even those centered on swinging novelty tunes, most with group singalongs. Pops had no interest in playing like it was 1915 again and on these records, it showed.

Only the rhythm section kind of clashes on this date, including on “Sugar.” Red Callender and Allan Reuss were younger, big band musicians and they lock in tightly together, providing a very nice swing feel. However, Beal and Singleton were older and it shows. Beal continuously pounds out chords and occasionally dabbles in light stride while an almost inaudible Singleton sounds content to play brush strokes on every beat. The combination of all four musicians accenting all four beats at all times leads to a somewhat rigid, almost marching feeling to the rhythm section. By this point, Armstrong required more “modern” piano players (Billy Kyle and Marty Napoleon fit in much better with the All Stars than Joe Sullivan) and swinging drummers (even Danny Barcelona’s simple swing beat fit better than a faded Singleton tapping out stiff patterns on every beat). Louis Armstrong had moved on, something some New Orleans jazz enthusiasts still can’t deal with even today (as I learned during my trip to New Orleans).

But Pops is Pops and Dickenson is Dickenson and for those two men alone, “Sugar” is full of great moments. Armstrong’s vocal is a gem, changing the melodic pitches of the two nights that make up the title phrase and rearranging the tune’s rhythms as he goes along--dig the way he phrases the words “I made” before the bridge. His concluding trumpet solo is also solid, opening with the trademark Satchmo “calling card” phrase playing during a break before some very relaxed, flowing playing, free of any grandstanding. But, if I have to give an MVP award out for the record, I think I just might have to give it to Dickenson. His eight bars before the vocal perfectly set the mood while his 16-bar solo is so damn lyrical, it can get stuck in your head for days after listening to it. Seriously, just listen to it two or three times in a row and I guarantee you won’t forget any of Vic’s incredibly melodic ideas. What a player...

This session was eventually sold to Victor (not a stretch as it was recorded in Victor’s L.A. studios) and released in America on that label, though it was now credited to “Louis Armstrong and His Hot Six.” I love the entire session, but nothing exactly stuck to Armstrong’s repertoire. He never performed the other tunes ever again but he did take one more crack at “Sugar” on 1960 album with Bing Crosby.

I’ve blogged about the missed opportunities of Bing & Satchmo in my earlier blog on “Rocky Mountain Moon” so I won’t reprise that argument here. The album does have some misfires, but some songs do click and one them that is an undeniable highlight is the remake of “Sugar,” the first tune recorded at the album’s first date. Armstrong and Crosby were backed up by an excellent big band made up of some of California’s finest traditional jazz musicians with arrangements by Billy May and special lyrics written by Johnny Mercer. Mercer really had a field day with “Sugar,” getting downright scientific at many instances are there of Bing Crosby singing about a “Bunsen Burner”??? It’s a pretty fun five-minute ride so give it a listen by clicking here:

I like May’s brassy orchestration, especially the introduction, which really sets the relaxed mood of the performance. True enough, the tempo is slower than the 1946 version and it’s in a completely different key (Db, way off from the Ab of the earlier record). Bing starts off by singing an entire chorus by himself, in strong, full-throated 1960 form. I like his opening “Ahhh,” which reminds me of Pops, as does some of Bing’s subtle changes to the written melody. Pops peaks his head in during the bridge, contributing a soft, tasteful obbligato for eight bars.

After another repetition of the introduction, Pops steps up to the mike, singing the original lyrics while Crosby fills in the gaps with some “purely scientific” utterances, sounding like he’s studying for a junior year chemistry test (my wife, a high school chemistry and physics teacher, would appreciate Bing’s part).

The band vamps for a bit, allowing Pops to get his chops in his horn, before the highlight of the record: 24 bars of pure, unadulterated power blowing by Armstrong, in his late period prime. My, my, my, what strength he had, especially in the bridge, which, because of the different key, is much more dramatically played than it was in 1946. Those bluesy triplets at the end of the solo are particularly righteous.

Unfortunately, there’s one element that mars Pops’s solo: Bing keeps going with Mercer’s “funny” lyrics, going on about making flapjacks, marmalade and other silly nonsense. Couldn’t they have just given Pops a chance to solo by himself? He plays at full strength, almost like he’s not even aware Bing is still going. Thanks to stereo technology, you can listen to the performance and remove your left earphone, which will place Bing further in the background and allow Pops to take his rightful turn in the spotlight (of course, I know there are some Bing fans out there who probably hear this track and think, “Damn it, Armstrong, put down your horn so I can hear Bing sing!”).

Pops joins Bing for the last eight bars and the coda, getting some of Mercer’s lyrics for himself (including a “morning time, evening time” reference that seems to echo “Bess You Is My Woman Now” from Porgy and Bess). The ending is all happy-like and as it comes to an end, it’s fun to reflect on five solid minutes of 1960’s entertainment at its finest. Good stuff.

Tomorrow, I hope to be back with a short look at “I Come From a Musical Family.” I say a “short look” because, given the subject matter, there’s not much I can say about such a dog of a tune. Til then....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You're Driving Me Crazy

Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra
Recorded December 23, 1930
Track Time 3:11
Written by Walter Donaldson
Recorded in Los Angeles, CA
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; McClure Morris, Harold Scott, trumpet; Luther Craven, trombone; Les Hite, alto saxophone, conductor; Marvin Johnson, alto saxophone; Charlie Jones, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Henry Prince, piano; Bill Perkins, banjo; Joe Bailey, bass; Lionel Hampton, drums
Originally released on OKeh 41478
Currently available on CD: It’s on the recently reissued JSP two-disc set The Big Band Sides, 1930-1932. The alternate take in on an old Columbia disc Volume 7: You’re Driving Me Crazy.
Available on Itunes? Yes

The subject for today’s entry seems kind of appropriate since I’m sure I’ve driven some of my readers a little crazy by going nearly two weeks without a blog post. But that sermon on “Indiana” had a lot of meat in it and it really left me kind of spent, so I decided to let it linger a little while as I caught up on life. My agent called me two weeks ago and told me that an editor is finally very interested in my book on Armstrong’s later years. No deal has been made, but it’s the first blue cloud I’ve seen regarding the book in quite some time, so I’ve thrown myself back into that somewhat dormant project with gusto ever since I heard the news. Don’t start going to Amazon to pre-order copies, but if anything becomes official, I’ll announce it here.

I also had a quite a thrill last week when I participated in filming of a documentary about the life of Einar Swan, the composer of “When Your Lover Has Gone.” Swan was born in America but was of Finnish descent, something that raised the curiosity of Swedish jazz pianist Sven Bjerstedt. Sven, who also teaches at Lund University in Sweden, has been doing staggering research into Swan’s background for a few years, even writing a fascinating cover article for the January 2007 issue of “The Mississippi Rag.” Sven enlisted the help of Finland’s Benny Törnroos, an accomplished filmmaker and singer, to do a documentary not just on the life of Swan, but also the life of “When Your Lover Has Gone,” Swan’s one hit composition.

Last week, Sven, Benny and their assistant, Annika Brushane (a saxophonist with Finland’s “Ladies First” Big Band, playing everything from Glenn Miller to Gloria Gaynor - check ‘em out on YouTube!) visited New York City for a few days to do some filming, catching Vince Giordano at Sophia’s and even getting to interview Swan’s son Donald. I was honored when they contacted me to participate because of my marathon blog on “When Your Lover Has Gone” from earlier this year. We set it up to do my interview at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens. Naturally, I’ve been there many times but this time was different: because we were filming, we received permission to do some things that are not permitted on normal, everyday tours. The first part of the interview was done in the Armstrong’s living room, as Calvin Bailey’s famous Armstrong painting loomed over my shoulder:

But the biggest thrill of the day (and one of the biggest of my life) occurred during part two of the interview, when I was allowed to sit behind Pops’s desk in his den:

I wasn’t allowed to sit in Armstrong’s exact chair, as it’s understandably a historic artifact, but just being behind that desk, knowing the history of that room, was simply overwhelming. I’ve seen this photo of Louis and Lucille there a hundred times:

And now I was there, too, right smack dab in the middle of history:

The Louis Armstrong House Museum has become quite a tourist destination and it’s only going to get better when the new Visitor’s Center opens up across the street in 2010. If you’re heading to the City and you love Pops, do yourself a favor and make it to the Armstrong house...though be warned that you won’t be able to take flash photos, nor will you be able to sit behind Armstrong’s desk! Special thanks to Deslyn Dyer for making these dreams of mine come true, and for Sven, Benny and Annika for their generosity in letting me participate in their film. I don’t know if the film will ever come to America in some form, but it will be shown on Finnish television on December 29. I’ll post more details as I get them. Here’s one more photo of me and Sven outside the Armstrong House:

Now, before I dive into “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” one more quick bit of news: while in New Orleans, I mentioned that Michael Cogswell told me that the Historic Fleischmann’s Yeast set was finally available online here. Well, as of this week, it is now on Itunes and eMusic so for you MP3 aficionados out there, you may now commence downloading!

Now, onto the main event, “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” a Walter Donaldson composition from 1930 that has gone on to become an oft-recorded standard. Of course, Donaldson already had a bunch famous compositions to his credit: “Yes, Sir That’s My Baby,” “My Blue Heaven,” “Little White Lies,” “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” etc., so it should come as no surprise that “You’re Driving Me Crazy” is such a solid song, featuring a catchy melody, a terrific bridge, memorable words and suitable changes for improvising. A fine analysis of the song and Donaldson can be found by going to or by clicking here.

As Sandra Burlingame wrote in that online piece, the song was at first a hit for Guy Lombardo, with a vocal by Carmen Lombardo. Here it is:

Needless to say, it’s very much what you would expect: a crooning saxophone section plays the melody over a bouncy rhythmic feel (muted trumpets taking the bridge) before Guy’s brother, Carmen, does a bit of crooning himself. It’s pretty square from a jazz perspective but rhythmic bounce is suitable for dancing, the melody never leaves the foreground and the lyrics of the vocal are delivered earnestly by Carmen, utilizing clear diction. For a 1930 pop record, it’s pretty much everything one would expect...and everything the young Louis Armstrong loved to hear.

The fact that Armstrong loved Lombardo so much has sent jazz purists to consider suicide for decades, but he didn’t care what people like that thought. “They’re my inspirators,” he cheerily told Leonard Feather and anyone else who would listen. And when one sits down and really listens to those early Lombardo pop records, well, it’s almost exactly like listening to Armstrong’s big band OKeh records from the same period, give or take a musical genius. The swooning saxes, the two-beat rhythm, the pop songs; Armstrong ate the entire thing up, though he always made sure to “Satch-urate” the tunes with his mind-bending trumpet playing and enthusiastic vocalizing. I think if Armstrong could have physically fronted Lombardo’s band for his entire career, he would have been perfectly happy.

But when Armstrong recorded “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” he was fronting another band, that of alto saxophonist Les Hite’s. Armstrong waxed Donaldson’s tune during his lengthy California stay from July 1930 to June 1931. For more information how Armstrong got there, I’ll refer you to my June entry on “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy.”

Sloppy, lazy researchers usually condense Armstrong’s California story into something like this: Armstrong arrived at Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club and began fronting Les Hite’s big band, featuring Lawrence Brown and Lionel Hampton. The end.

As I wrote about in the “Ding Dong Daddy” entry, Brown and Hampton (on drums) were contracted to play with any band that entered Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Culver City. When Armstrong arrived, they were playing with trumpeter Leon Elkins’s band and that’s the group, not Hite’s, that backed Armstrong on his classic summer of 1930 records such as “I’m Confessin,’” “Ding Dong Daddy” and “If I Could Be With You.” According to the California trumpeter George Orendorff (as reported in Jos Willems’s “All of Me”), Elkins grew ill after the summer sessions and gave up the band. Saxophonist Leon Herriford turned down the opportunity to take it over and soon, the band presumably fell apart.

That’s when Sebastian approached Les Hite to bring his band in to back Armstrong. Hite agreed, keeping Brown and Hampton on as per their contracts with the Cotton Club. However, soon after, Brown left the band when he refused to take part in a rehearsal to be held on a holiday on which he had already had plans to see his parents (Brown remembered it as Easter, which would be impossible, given the known chronology of events). Willems writes that Brown was “known for being in and out of the band” but the fact remains that on the rest of Armstrong’s California big band sessions with Hite, Luther Craven, and not Brown, plays trombone. Thus, the whole “Armstrong recorded with Hite, featuring Brown and Hampton” nonsense is just that...nonsense.

With the Hite band aboard, Armstrong kept churning out the hits, making each and every pop tune he was given into a bona fide jazz classic. There are no duds in the bunch: “Body and Soul,” “Memories of You,” “You’re Lucky To Me,” “Sweethearts on Parade,” “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” “The Peanut Vendor, “Just a Gigolo” and “Shine.” Those are the tunes Armstrong recorded with Hite from October 1930 through March 1931 and each and every one became fodder for many timeless jazz recordings.

By the time Armstrong got around to “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” it had already been recorded by a number of different artists. As usual, this is the part in the show where, if you’re strictly here for Armstrong, you can scroll down a bit. But I like hearing these other versions because it gives the tune some context, making Armstrong’s version sound that much more different and exciting.

We’ve already heard the Lombardo hit version and now, thanks to YouTube and the Red Hot Jazz Archive, here are some others. First up, Josephine Baker, with Johnny Dunn on trumpet. The Red Hot Jazz Archive claims it’s from July 1930, but that cannot be right since Lombardo had the hit with it and he didn’t get around to it until November 11. Of course, perhaps Baker did get to it first and just didn’t score with it, but I cannot say for certain. Donaldson’s tune had a great verse and Baker sings it in the middle of the record, a common practice in those days. Baker changes up the melody the second time around, not exactly swinging, but sort of half-speaking it, leading to some nice results. You can listen to it by clicking here.

November 1930 was the month “You’re Driving Me Crazy” exploded. The day after Lombardo recorded it, the Varsity Eight (another name for the California Ramblers) did a jazz version of it while just five days later, the great black band, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, recorded it with a vocal by Dave Wilbon, scatting away like a madman. This is some real hot stuff...dig the reharmonized “minor” version of the tune in the second chorus!
McKinney's Cotton Pickers

Yeah, man! That’s a damn good record, probably the finest pre-Armstrong version. But goodness knows, there were others. Nick Lucas, an incredibly popular crooner/guitarist, also recorded it in November 1930, scoring a sizeable hit with it. Lucas’s high-pitched vocal style is somewhat unintentionally hilarious, but hey, it was 1930 and this stuff was IT before Pops and Bing took over:
Nick Lucas

Lucas’s website claims that he was an influence on Eddie Lang but to my ears, at least judging by his short solo on this record, the only similarities between the two begins with the fact that they were Italian and ends with the fact that they played guitar. Lucas plays the melody in single notes, sounding like he’s reading it off the page. Not my favorite version, but definitely one of the most popular.

Also, in November, Lee Morse took a stab at it with her “Bluegrass Boys.” She, too, opens with the verse and sings in a style that isn’t quite as dated as some of the other stuff I’ve discussed, but her ending yodel-ish figures are kind of silly, though I believe they were her calling card. Give it a listen:
Lee Morse

On to YouTube, which has a few other versions of the tune presumably from the same period. Here’s one credited to “Lloyd Keating & His Music,” but is actually Columbia’s house band, the Ben Selvin Orchestra, with luminaries such as Benny Goodman, Mannie Klein, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang and Arthur Schutt in the band (Goodman sounds pretty hot in his short spots). The vocal is by Harold “Scrappy” Lambert and overall, it’s a pretty infectious dance version, complete with a modulation in the last chorus(once again, with the verse placed after the vocal). And please pay attention to the held notes in the final bridge, as well as the ending, two aspects that would be reprised in Armstrong’s record

Soon enough, the tune began spreading around the world. Here’s a very good, peppy version from the British bandleader Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra:

Here’s a French version from Mistinguett, the Queen of the French Music Hall, singing first in French before she makes her way through a chorus in English, backed by a male chorus that sounds like a leftover from an early Fats Waller record:

While still in France, dig this hot version by Ray Ventura and Son Orchestre, a nice Whiteman-esque combination of symphonic strings and swinging jazz. This is the first version I’ve encountered without a vocal and again, it features many touches included on the Armstrong record:

So, those are some foreign versions of the tune, which was still exploding in America in December 1930. The New York Twelve, a pseudonym for Harry Reser and His Orchestra, recorded this version for the “Hit of Week” label (the name says it all). It’s a pretty creative arrangement, too, completely different from all the others:

Aw hell, while I’m overdosing on the tune, check it out in the 1931 Bimbo cartoon “Silly Scandals,” another opus from the Max Fleischer studios. Some hot jazz studio musicians take a crack at it early on (who’s on the xylophone?) before the main performance of the tune, done by none other than Mae Questel as Betty Boop, still clinging slightly to her early “dog” phase:

And finally (finally? cue the applause!), let’s spin one last version, this one done by Rudy Vallee, giving us one final glimpse into the popular music world of late 1930, beginning with the string-heavy reading of the melody right down to Vallee’s charming, polite rendering of the lyrics:

Now, hopefully you all got that last one deeply stuck in your head...well, not too deep or otherwise you’d be sleeping right now. But it was pretty, calming and peaceful. Now, without another word, here’s Armstrong’s:

The whole damn thing shouts, “Wake up!!!” It’s a helluva fun record. Lionel Hampton’s on drums and he swings his ass off. I love his opening two tom hits, setting up Pops’s entrance, playing the pretty minor-keyed verse. Hampton goes nuts on his drums, prompting Pops to stop the record and indulge in a little hokum with the young legend. One can easily imagine routines like this one being performed on the Cotton Club stage:

Armstrong: “Hey, hey, what’s the matter with you cats? Don’t y’all know y’all are driving me crazy?”
Hampton: (Stuttering) “Uh-uh-uh-uh, Pops, we-we-we just muh-muh-muggin’ lightly.”
Armstrong: (Stutters badly) “Wuh-wuh-wuh, you, just, uh....oh, man, you got me talkin’ all that chop suey-like. Listen, you cats are all crazy. Why don’t you get your hand out the man’s pocket? Look out there, Satchelmouth! Step on it, now, let’s get together, watch it, boys, watch it! Look out, we’re gone...ONE! TWO!”

It’s a short bit, but it’s pretty funny. Hampton used to get so worked up playing drums behind Pops, that he would stutter, “Wo-wo-wo-wo-one more!” This was something that Armstrong always got a kick out of, impersonating it on the 1957 “Stompin’ At The Savoy” with Ella, as well as a 1970 appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show,” giving Hampton credit each time. So that was probably the genesis of the stuttering bit and it really shows off Pops’s comedic chops. His timing, his delivery, everything just demonstrates his natural talents as a comedian. And look at all that slang! Cats, muggin’ lightly, chop suey, Satchelmouth, we’re gone....basically teaching aspiring jazz musicians all across the country how to speak like a proper jazzman. Armstrong called Earl Hines “Pops” on the 1928 “Monday Date” record, but I think this has to be one of the first times Armstrong was referred to as “Pops” on one of his records.

With the comedic portion of the program out of the way, Hampton once again hits his tom twice, summoning Armstrong and the band to once again play the verse, this time with tremendous energy and authority, Hampton really kicking things along with his never-ending creative fills. The band takes over for the second half of the verse, getting Armstrong’s approval: “That’s more like it,” he intones in a proud voice. “Thatta boy...lightly, lightly, lightly.”

The “lightly’s” set up Armstrong vocal, which is a gas. He starts off fairly straight, changing the melody here and there but really not adding many Armstrong-isms...until the bridge. And what a bridge! Donaldson wrote a great one that’s kind of a tongue twister when sung at this tempo. Here are his lyrics:

How true, were the friends who were near me, to cheer me, believe me, they knew
But you, were the one who would hurt me, desert me when I needed you.

Here’s Armstrong’s bridge:

Oh baby! When you tell me bee-gee boot, bobby-doot, bolly-doot, buzzy, boy!
Mah-dee-dint, bahji-dat, bos-deeba-des (unintelligble) lay-oh-oh-uh!

Talk about a tongue twister! Armstrong just plows through it, not even alluding to the original lyrics, scatting in three-note clusters, all on one pitch, swinging like crazy. Feeling the spirit, he totally obliterates Donaldson’s written melody in the last eight bars, changing the notes dramatically, inserting a great “oh baby” and practically shouting the title phrase with a potent combination of insanity, menace and frivolity. When Rudy Vallee and Nick Lucas sung about being driven crazy, they sounded like push-overs, weakly and politely telling their respective girls that they don’t much appreciate how they were deserted. There’s nothing weak about Armstrong; he sounds alternately mad as hell at his girl, yet he’s practically exuberant to be singing about it in such a swinging setting.

And speaking of swinging, listen to Armstrong during Hite’s alto break: “Swing, swing,” he insists, somewhat ominously. This is December 1930, folks. Duke Ellington didn’t tell folks that it don’t meant a thing without any swing (I cleaned it up) until February 2, 1932. And sure, there were a couple of tunes from the 20s with “Swing” in the title, such as Jelly Roll Morton’s “Georgia Swing.” But this has to be the first concrete example on records of someone telling a soloist to swing, using the word as we use it today. And naturally it’s Pops, who members of the Fletcher Henderson band said practically invented the word when he came to New York in 1924. Also, during the famous 1933 clip of Armstrong in Denmark, he introduces “Tiger Rag” as one of the good ol’ “swing numbers.” Historians date the beginning of the Swing Era to Goodman at the Palomar in 1935, but Armstrong was already living in his own Swing Era for years prior...

Back to the record. Hite’s full-chorus solo is one of the happiest examples on an Armstrong record of this period of someone other than Pops taking such a long solo. Usually, that’s a signal to go out for coffee or to visit the bathroom, but you have to stick around for Hite’s solo because of Armstrong (naturally). He’s on fire, shouting the song’s title phrase, scatting, yelling out a terrific accent during the bridge and dropping phrases like “Oh you dog” and “Yessir!” He’s having the time of his life and wants to show it. This stuff would become commonplace on Fats Waller records (and even on Sidney Bechet’s early Victor recordings), but this has to be another early example of a recording artist breaking down the studio walls and treating the session like a live performance. Listening to Armstrong’s whoops and hollers is so exciting...and he hasn’t even picked up the horn yet!

He does with a modulating ascending break taken from the stock arrangement that I mentioned on a few of the earlier performances. He’s relaxed at first, in no hurry even though he only has one chorus to tell his story. In the second bar, he lets loose with some variations, floating over the swinging rhythm section. In the bridge, he holds a couple of high notes, something else taken from the stock, before a passionate final eight bars, featuring a slithering gliss. The band plays the short extended ending from the stock arrangement but Hampton’s drums give it a slightly exotic flavor, perhaps warming up for the next tune to be recorded that day, “The Peanut Vendor.”

Armstrong’s trumpet playing on “You’re Driving Me Crazy” is excellent but it’s not exactly groundbreaking. Earlier in the session, he recorded another tune made popular by the Lombardos, “Sweethearts on Parade,” and on that one, he blew a solo for the ages. But “You’re Driving Me Crazy” is a great illustration of the Armstrong personality in 1930 and I’m sure that was just as important to him and to his public as were the records that mainly featured his horn. I mean, it’s all there: the scatting, the slang, the singing, the trumpet, the shouting, “cats,” “oh you dog,” “Satchelmouth,” “lightly lightly lightly,” you name it. It’s Louis Armstrong the entertainer in all his glory and that’s something that cannot be denied.

Fortunately for us, a second take of “You’re Driving Me Crazy” managed to slip through the cracks, originally issued in Argentina. Give it a listen:

As you can hear, it’s very similar to the issued take, though the band sounds a little shakier in the opening reading of the verse. Armstrong and Hampton’s routine is similar but has some new twists, namely Armstrong using “Gatemouth” instead of “Satchelmouth” and referring to Hampton as “Gate” (Hamp would known as “Gates” for the rest of his life). Armstrong’s vocal follows the same pattern as the original but there are some new twists in the rhythms of the scatted bridge. Also, Armstrong doesn’t exude the same level of abandon as on the issued take, though he still has a ball behind Hite’s solo, once again commanding him to “swing” before going off on some scat journeys. Hite gets raunchy at times, growling a bit, but he also hits one or two slightly off notes. Armstrong’s trumpet solo is another gem, with some different chromatic runs, but overall, if I had to guess, it sounds like the alternate take was done first as Armstrong is just a bit more subdued throughout. Regardless, both versions are a joy.

And that was that for Louis Armstrong and “You’re Driving Me Crazy.” He isn’t known to have performed it again after the original versions (though it very well might have been part of the Cotton Club act until he left in March). Armstrong never even tackled “Moten Swing,” a “You’re Driving Me Crazy” contrafact recorded by Bennie Moten in 1932 and a standard in its own right. But at least we have these two takes, capturing the effervescent young Pops in all his glory, unable to contain his infectious enthusiasm, swinging like mad throughout. Great stuff.

That’s all for today and tomorrow, I’ll be spending the day at the Institute of Jazz Studies. But don’t fret, I won’t disappear for two weeks again. I’ve already written my next entry on “Sugar,” which I’ll post on Thursday and I should have something on “I Come From A Musical Family” by Friday or Saturday.

Oh, and this just in...fellow Armstrong nut Al Pomerantz was part of the Satchmo Summerfest gang in New Orleans (and he even made it to Birdland a few weeks ago to catch David Ostwald) and he e -mailed me the following photo from the last morning in New Orleans. From left to right, you’ll see Jon Pult, the man behind all the festival’s seminars (and the man who gave me a shot), George Avakian, Dan Morgenstern, Jon’s wife Molly, yours truly and my wife Margaret, pregnant in the photo...though we didn’t know it yet! ‘Twas a dream....

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Recorded January 30, 1951 (and about a million other times)
Track Time 5:30 (other versions range from 3:50 to 5:48)
Written by Ballard MacDonald and James Hanley
Recorded in Pasadena, California (and everywhere else around the world)
Louis Armstrong, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Earl Hines, piano; Arvell Shaw, bass; Cozy Cole, drums (as well as versions with every succeeding edition of the All Stars)
Originally released on Decca DL 8041 (plus dozens of others, bootleg and legit)
Currently available on CD: The original “Indiana,” as well as an even better later version, can be found on The California Concerts. And if you’re looking for other versions, really, it shouldn’t be so hard!
Available on Itunes? Ditto.

“Ahhhhh, we’re going to jump the good ol’ good ones for you tonight, opening up with ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’....”

Well, I guess it had to happen sometime and it looks like that sometime is now. I can’t tell you how many times my Itunes shuffle has landed on “Indiana” but today’s the day I’ll attempt to scale Armstrong’s numerous versions of the tune, which might be like trying to scale Mount Everest. As I wrote the other day, I have 47 versions of “Indiana” in my Itunes. Jos Willems’s “All of Me” discography lists the song on 82 separate pages, with some of those pages containing multiple versions. The tune must have literally been performed by Armstrong thousands of times without a recording device present. It’s one of the most exciting tunes the All Stars ever performed. And it’s also one of the most maligned songs in the entire Armstrong repertoire.

Critics have been using “Indiana” as a springboard for years to launch a steady stream of attacks on Pops: he played the same songs every night, he played the same solos every night, he was too old-fashioned, he didn’t know how to improvise, etc. To some degrees, these statements have slight bits of truth in them, but in no way are they 100% accurate. And if you have a couple of dozen hours, let me take you through the history of Louis Armstrong and “Indiana” and perhaps when I’m finished, you’ll have a new appreciation for Armstrong’s invariable and invariably exciting opening number.

For once, I don’t think I need to go into any backstory. The tune was published in 1917, stealing a bit from “On the Banks of the Wabash” in the process, and was immediately seized by jazz musicians, especially after the Original Dixieland Jazz Band chose it for their first Columbia recording session. In the ensuing decades, everyone took a stab at it; even the more “modern” factions used its changes for tunes like “Donna Lee” and “Ice Freezes Red.” But Louis Armstrong had no prior flings with “Indiana” until an All Stars concert in Pasadena on January 30, 1951.

“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “I thought Louis Armstrong opened EVERY show in the history of the All Stars with ‘Indiana.’ What gives?” Well, imaginary reader, that’s just the first of many myths that have to either leave the scene or at least be seriously revised. There are countless surviving All Stars documents, including many broadcasts from the late 40s. There are zero versions of “Indiana” from before 1951. He didn’t play it at Town Hall, he didn’t play it at Symphony Hall, he didn’t play it in Europe nor at a Philadelphia nightclub. In my extensive research, I have come across many concert reviews and magazine articles and there are absolutely no mentions of “Indiana” until that 1951 live performance.

So what did Pops open up with? It always changed, but it was usually an instrumental like “King Porter Stomp,” “Panama,” “Royal Garden Blues,” “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” “Muskrat Ramble” or “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.” It didn’t matter what song it was, Pops just liked to open with something uptempo and instrumental, a vehicle to make sure the chops were in shape. At a Vancouver concert recorded just four days prior to the Pasadena outing, Armstrong opened with “Rose Room,” a tune that would go on to become a Barney Bigard clarinet feature.
So we’re already four years into the history of the All Stars and we haven’t come across any mentions of “Indiana.” But at Pasadena, Armstrong called it and an opener was born. Now, I highly doubt that Armstrong, knowing that Decca was recording this, would call a tune he had never played before for the first one of the evening, so he probably had played this at least a couple of times. But every time I listen to this first version, I’m always struck by the looseness of it all. Please give a listen:

Anybody who knows any later versions will immediately notice that the tempo is a little slower than it would become just a couple of years later. But here’s piece of evidence number one that this had to be one of the band’s first shots at the tune: Earl Hines’s piano intro. It’s kind of rambling and hesitant and he doesn’t even play the horns in. He only plays the first 16 bars, which sounds to my ears a little odd as the song’s built-in “C” section is a natural for a piano introduction. But then it’s Armstrong leading Teagarden and Bigard through two opening ensemble choruses. Armstrong once gave his improvising philosophy as follows: “The first chorus I play the melody. The second chorus I plays the melody round the melody, and the third chorus I routines.” Armstrong only plays two up front on “Indiana,” but I think playing “the melody round the melody” just about sums it up.

After solos from Hines and bassist Arvell Shaw, Armstrong enters with the very first “Indiana” solo he ever recorded. Armstrong always liked to follow bass solos, perhaps because the juxtaposition between the quiet bass and loud trumpet made for a more dramatic contrast. Regardless, here is just that first solo again:

It’s a damn good one. For those familiar with Armstrong’s later versions, please take note that almost none of what Armstrong played here would appear in his later, “set” solo, something I’m going to go into further detail about in just a few moments. I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the opening of the solo because Shaw’s not back in place yet, so the bottomless sound is pretty empty. Armstrong also slightly cracks two early notes but he soon settles in for a solo that practically defines relaxation. Rhythmically, he’s his usual free-floating self, though I like how he ends the first half with a Pops-ian “doddle-doddle-da-da” phrase. The only part Armstrong would retain for later versions are the triplets in the last eight bars, giving the solo a touch of a 3/4 feeling. Nice stuff.

Bigard’s up next and Pops immediately lays some background riffs on him. Piece of evidence number two that this is one of the first versions, if not the very first: Teagarden’s following him, but they’re by no means tight. Armstrong’s leading the way and Jack is doing his best to follow his lead. After Teagarden’s solo, Armstrong reenters for the final charge, giving Cozy Cole a neat eight-bar drum break. Teagarden and Bigard are very reticent in the background; great players but this is not my favorite version of the All Stars. Pops ends on a high one and sounds happy with the results. Decca must have been happy, too; on the original “Satchmo at Pasadena” album, they cut out five or six numbers performed, but they did include “Indiana.”

So, you’re guessing, “Indiana” became the standard opener, Pops played the same solo on it every night and there’s no reason to ever listen to another version, correct? WRONG-O! In fact, it’s not even for certain that “Indiana” became the immediate opener after the Pasadena concert. A return to Pasadena in December 1951 found “Royal Garden Blues” in the leadoff spot while a trip to Boise, Idaho in February 1952 began with “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.” But a May 13, 1952 concert in New Orleans found Armstrong opening up with “Indiana” and after that, there was almost no turning back. “Indiana” was IT and that’s a good thing.

But surely, Armstrong ceased improvising in his later years and started playing the same solos over and over, right? Damn you, rhetorical voice, you don’t know what you’re talking about! Here’s the New Orleans version, featuring an almost entirely new line-up: Bigard and Cole are still around but now Russ Phillips is on trombone, Marty Napoleon is on piano and Dale Jones plays bass.:

Marty Napoleon’s intro is right on the money, very swinging, though like Hines, he, too, chooses to play only the first 16 bars. From there, the routing is identical to the earlier version and would remain so until the end: two ensembles up front, one piano, one bass, one trumpet, one clarinet with riffs, one trombone and a closing ensemble with drum breaks. Because of the sameness of the routing, the rest of this blog is going to focus on the development of Armstrong’s solo.

Now this is where things get complicated. From the beginning of the All Stars, Louis Armstrong began coming under attack for what critics called “playing the same solos every night.” Again, there’s an element of truth to this, but it’s not completely accurate. The only way to combat hasty conclusions is to listen, listen, listen. And that’s what I’ve done since Armstrong’s music hit me right between the eyes 12 years ago. The great Gary Giddins once wrote about the repetition of tunes in the Armstrong discography, saying something to the effect that even it one could listen to every recording Louis Armstrong ever made, one might not necessarily want to. Well, I do! And in doing the listening, I can tell you honestly that yes, Louis Armstrong did have some “set” solos but that doesn’t mean he didn’t change them when he felt like it and it doesn’t mean that always played them exactly the same way.

Mezz Mezzrow once was asked about this and I’d like to echo his response: “People who say that don’t really listen. Sometimes the variations will be in the phrasing rather than the notes, but those solos are always changing, depending on the tempo, the atmosphere, or who’s playing with him at the time.” Amen, brother Mezz.

You see, tackling this issue leads to some very complicated thinking. It’s almost philosophical in a way: Louis Armstrong IS jazz. Without him, jazz would not have followed the same path. However, Louis Armstrong also worked on solos and often didn’t change them. Louis Armstrong didn’t freshly improvise every note he played every night. Thus, if Louis Armstrong is jazz, shouldn’t we accept jazz musicians who don’t freshly mint every note they play?

This is where it gets dicey, because jazz is always practically defined as “improvised music.” (Before I get carried away, please click the link to Michael Steinman’s “Jazz Lives” blog as he dealt with this issue wonderfully the other day.) If you’re not improvising, you’re not playing jazz, right? Isn’t that how it goes? You’re playing the same solos every night? Get out of here, stop wasting my time. This is a central line of thinking in jazz circles.

But with Louis Armstrong, things are different. People view him as an improvising genius in the 1920s who “changed” and began taking the easy way out, playing set solos in his later years. But what the hell do we know about Armstrong on a day-to-day basis in the 20s? He had features with Erskine Tate, songs like “Poor Little Rich Girl” that he played every night. He had features at Connie’s Inn, standing up to play “Ain’t Misbehavin’” every night. On some Fletcher Henderson alternate takes, you can barely hear him play a different note from his solos on the issued master. After decades of hailing “Cornet Chop Suey” as an improvised masterpiece, a Library of Congress deposit was found showing that Armstrong had written and copyrighted every note of that solo a few years before he even waxed it in the studio.

Of course, he improvised like a maniac on the Hot Fives and Sevens. But those were record dates, a slight diversion from Armstrong’s steady gigs. Sure, he improvised; he was creating some of those tunes on the spot. He also improvised like hell on his record dates in the 1950s and 1960s. That didn’t affect what he played on a nightly basis. And perhaps the same went for the dashing, heroic Louis Armstrong of the 1920s. Sure, when the musicians were in the house, he’d play 300 high C’s. And even in later years, he often came up with fresh ideas on tunes like “Royal Garden Blues” and “Muskrat Ramble,” so clearly he never lost the knack for improvising.

But listen to “Chinatown” in 1931, then listen to it in Stockholm in 1933 and on the Fleischmann’s Yeast broadcast from 1937. Do the same with “Tiger Rag.” Or the various “Dinah’s” from the 1930s. Sure, there are subtle differences, but those are show pieces and for the most part, they settled into pretty set patterns. He almost blew his lip out on the first “Swing That Music,” but on his second record of it, he had a new solo, one that he played live for years to come without much difference. And take “Sunny Side of the Street,” a tune that Taft Jordan recreated Louis Armstrong’s solo on ...years before Armstrong even had the chance to record it himself! Clearly, the pattern of Armstrong playing these set solos wasn’t something that happened only during the All Stars period.

But as Mezzrow said, there ARE differences in these versions, but sometimes they’re subtle, the kinds of things only nuts like me can discern. But just because Louis Armstrong did play these set solos, should we criticize him for it? Again, this can lead to some pretty fierce debating. As for me, I look at his contemporaries. I’d exclude Sidney Bechet, because Bechet was an improvising marvel until the day he died (though even he had pet phrases and routines on songs like “China Boy” and “St. Louis Blues”). Many trumpet players from Armstrong’s generation didn’t live as long as he did: King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Freddie Keppard, Tommy Ladnier, Mutt Carey, all dead before 1950. We know Oliver sure as hell minted that “Dippermouth Blues” solo to the point where every trumpet player today still plays it (I heard it twice in New Orleans last week). And of course, Oliver was Armstrong’s mentor so that must have had an effect. And take the trombonists: Big Jim Robinson, one of my heroes, seemingly had about six different solos. Ory, too, while a master at tailgating, didn’t exactly provide a wellspring of different ideas in his solos.

The entire history of early jazz is featured with great solos that became set parts of the tune. I’m thinking of George Brunies’s trombone solo on “Tin Roof Blues” or Bix’s “Singin’ The Blues” masterpiece, soon copied by the likes of Rex Stewart. Man, in the 1920s, if you had a great solo, it was something to be proud of. Play that damn thing every night! You worked on that solo, you came up with those variations, they sound great, now stick with it. That was the mentality for a long time, probably until, as Steinman pointed out, Lester Young came around and promised to not be a “repeater pencil,” whatever the hell a repeater pencil is (I’ve checked on eBay; they don’t exist).

(But even Pres played many similar versions of “Lester Leaps In” in the 1950s. And speaking of “Indiana,” that was one of the seeming dozen or so tunes that remained in his later repertoire and he always ended it with the same last eight bars or so on every live version I’ve ever heard him do.)

So Pops was of that mentality from the earlier generation: you work on your solo until you’re satisfied, then you stick with it. I always talk about my book here and trust me, I do find myself holding stuff back here because I want there to be some surprises in it when the day comes that it sees the light. Thus, I won’t share the entire quote because I need to save something, but trust me, I found an interview of Pops in the All Stars period talking about how he specifically tells the other musicians in the group to learn their solos and try to play them the same way night after night because he felt it made them better musicians.

Now wait a minute, wait a minute, waiting a minute!!! Louis Armstrong IS jazz. Yet, he’s telling his musicians to learn how to set their solos. This might make some people’s mind completely melt down but it’s true so you just have to learn to deal with it. And how do you do that? The best way I know of is to always keep in mind something Joe Muranyi told me: Louis Armstrong is a great composer. Yes, he’s the greatest trumpeter, greatest singer, greatest entertainer, greatest personality that jazz has ever seen (arguable, but really, what did you expect me to say?). But do not ever underestimate his ability as a composer.

And I don’t just mean writing tunes like “Some Day You’ll Be Sorry.” I’m talking about those incredible, mind-blowing solos. It’s so easy to roll your eyes and say, “Oh dear, another version of ‘Indiana’ with that same damn set solo. Ho hum.” But it’s entirely different to think about Louis’s thought process, knowing how hard he worked on those solos. Think about it: the man was a nut about tape recording. And what did he tape record? His own concerts. Every night. When the show was over and the revelers disappeared, Pops would go to his room and listen to that evening’s concert. Surviving members of the All Stars have told me that they would sneak away at night and ask the hotel for a different room on another floor because Pops would play his own stuff so loud! He’d listen to his own solos. See what he could keep and what he could change. He’d listen to the reactions his jokes got or the kind of receptions certain songs received. He studied every concert like an individual jewel yet so many people continue to write-off the entire All Stars period as if he was going through the motions, a commercial entertainer content to play it safe with the same songs and solos night and after night. It’s not fair.

So with the diatribe now over, let me get back to the topic at hand and demonstrate some of my beliefs the only way I know how: with cold, hard audio facts. We’re going to examine the process that Louis Armstrong took in the 1950s to “set” his “Indiana” solo. We’ve already heard the 1951 solo and we might as well hear it again:

Now, here’s the May 1952 New Orleans solo:

Again, the epitome of relaxation, but it shares almost nothing in common with the January 1951 solo. Though the genesis of the set solo can be heard in bars 20-23. Armstrong also clearly likes the “When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash” melody in the last eight bars as he almost always plays it straight. He comes out of it with a nice gliss downward, which also would crop up. Finally, the very singable phrase that Armstrong plays in the last two bars obviously struck a chord with him. The wheels were turning...

So now let’s flash forward to October 1952 for a solo from a concert in Sweden:

Again, almost a completely new solo, complete with a “My Sweetie Went Away” quote borrowed from Lester Young’s “Sometimes I’m Happy” solo. Again, bars 20-24 are the same, as is the melody playing of the “Wabash” line, though this time it’s broken up by an earlier gliss. But now, the singable phrase that I said struck a chord with Pops is gone. Instead, he goes back to the triplets of the 1951 solo and hammers them home for four full bars, ending with a giant gliss.

By the summer of 1953, Armstrong was starting to turn up the heat on “Indiana,” with the tempo rising several degrees on this and subsequent performances. At an undisclosed location in that summer, the All Stars played a concert that featured Pops in absolutely peak form. However, on “Indiana,” he’s almost too excited and overblows a little bit:

He now officially has an entrance, perhaps feeling a little more comfortable diving right in at this tempo, leaving some of the relaxation of the earlier attempts behind. He sounds strong as hell but it sounds like he runs out of ideas at the halfway point a bit, reverting to some quarter notes. Also, the smoothing out process of the second half of the solo has begun. It’s a little shaky and he misses a note here and there, but he has almost set the back end of the solo. Notice the mixture of elements from the earlier versions: the “Wabash” melody, the gliss, the triplets and the perfectly concluding singable phrase.

But now he needed something for the first half and that could take some work. This next solo, from Japan on New Year’s Eve 1953 is unlike any other “Indiana” that I’ve ever heard:

He really charges out of the gate on that one. And what rhythm! The triplets, the fleet-phrases, the dramatic glisses, he’s all over the place and the result is thrilling. The second half of the solo is more improved than the previous example, with a killer chromatic run (you can hear bassist Milt Hinton yell, “Go Pops!”). He’s getting there...

Five months later, in May 1954, Armstrong played it an afternoon concert at the University of North Carolina. This concert, which I’ve blogged about in the past, features a heroically strong Armstrong but on “Indiana” he runs into a little trouble. Again, it’s at the halfway point as you’ll hear him attempt this long winding phrase that almost sounds like a quote but he gets tangled up for a half-second and has to resolve it with three quick quarter notes. After a moment to pause, he plays the second half beautifully, sounding stronger every time:

Also, you can hear the faster repeated triplets in the beginning of that solo, something that Armstrong clearly liked to play on the tune. Next, a version from Basin Street East in New York City in August 1954:

As you can hear, it’s very similar to the North Carolina one but now Armstrong plays that complicated phrase without any problem, resolving it with a bluesy little flick of the valves, followed by some of those quicker triplets.

So though Pops ironed out that wrinkle, clearly, after some late-night listening in his hotel room he realized that that pattern of thinking wasn’t working out. He then begun blowing with hellish fury during those second eight bars. Here’s an example from New Year’s Eve 1954:

I love how he just steamrolls everything with that gigantic gliss up to a freakish high Eb. Arvell Shaw yells “Go, go” and Pops does. The high note is exciting but once up there, it’s a little bit of an awkward ride back down to terra firma. Nevertheless, remember Mezzrow’s words when listening to the second half. Just when we thought we had a set second half, he clearly changes some of the phrasing. Interesting...

Weeks later, in January 1955, Armstrong recorded another live version for Decca, this time from the Crescendo Club. Again, in the problematic second eight bars, Pops uses brute force, alternating high C’s and Db’s before skipping downward right into a daring chromatic turn of a phrase that always takes me by surprise. In fact, even before that Pops plays some new ideas. This might be one of the very hottest “Indiana” solos Pops ever took:

By the summer of 1955, Pops had it worked out. In those second eight bars, instead of a gliss to an impossible high note or alternating high notes of the Crescendo Club version, Armstrong now played a completely logical phrase building up to two high Db’s and a C. He then worked his way back down with those quick, repeated, almost ragtime-esque three-note phrase, as he had been fooling with for a while. I’m sorry for the poor sound but here it is:

In October of that year, Armstrong and the All Stars embarked on a long tour of Europe. He was now relying on the solo I just sampled, the one from that summer with the fast, repeated three-note phrase. For example, here it is in Sweden, October 1955:

So is that it, the set solo? Not quite! In December 1955, Armstrong took part in an after hours half-studio, kind-of-live session at an Italian movie theater. Many of the tracks would be doctored and used on Columbia’s classic “Ambassador Satch” album. What did Pops open up with? “Indiana,” of course! This version wasn’t released until a Book-of-the-Month LP in the 80s but it has a great solo. Notice, the tumbling triplets in the second eight are gone, replaced by a somewhat hesitant allusion to “I Cover the Waterfront.” This is a hot one:

And notice--Mezz again--Pops changes up some of the phrasing at the halfway point, sounding more insistent and as always, keeping it fresh. When I was first getting into the All Stars, I began thinking that Pops played the same solos every time out, too. Then I started humming along and damn it if every time, he always gave me the slip, whether with his phrasing, a different rhythm or a completely new improvised line.

Pops, the pioneer of quoting, must have liked the “I Cover the Waterfront” reference, though he went back to the bubbling three-note phrase for other versions recorded in December 1955 and January 1956. But by March 1956, the “Waterfront” quote was in place and Pops finally had a set solo:

So think about it. “Indiana” didn’t enter the All Stars’s book until 1951, year four of their existence. Pops didn’t have a concrete set solo on it until 1956. That’s the ninth year of the All Stars! He spent FIVE YEARS tinkering with that thing, only to have people write it off today, “Oh, he always played the same solos.” That, my friends, is a masterpiece of composition. Listen to that solo again. Really study it. It’s a perfect solo. If I was to play a trumpet solo on “Indiana,” I would want it to be that one. When Hal Leonard printed a book of Armstrong trumpet transcriptions a few years ago, they included one of “Indiana.” They had a thousand to choose from but they chose one from Chicago, June 1, 1956 featuring my favorite front line with Armstrong, clarinetist Edmond Hall and trombonist Trummy Young. Let’s leave the solos for a bit and listen to the whole romping number:

Incredibly exciting stuff. And listen to how much Pops plays on the tune: it’s an eight-chorus song and Pops plays on five, leading two in the front, taking his own solo, setting riffs behind Hall and coming back for the rideout. He’s all over the damn thing. But it’s great solo, isn’t it? I just love when he refers to the original melody in the last eight bars, then hits that bluesy-as-hell concert B-natural and turns it into a falling gliss, sliding to a lower G. He’s in complete command: the high notes are popping, he’s very flexible, his rhythm is exemplary (dig the repeated Ab’s in bars 5 and 6, each one landing in between the beats), he’s just in great form. Even the contrast between a grandiose phrase like the build-up to the high Db’s in the eighth bar is immediately resolved by Armstrong happily skipping back downward with some swinging quarter-notes. There’s a lot of meat in a solo that so many people have taken for granted for so long.

It’s interesting because that Chicago version was performed at quite a time in Armstrong’s life. His popularity was hitting new highs: touring Europe as “Ambassador Satch,” being profiled by Edward R. Murrow, scoring a hit record with “Mack the Knife,” conquering Africa, etc. He was arguably more popular than ever before. Yet with that came the most scathing reviews of his career. 1956 is one of Armstrong’s greatest years as a player but man, you don’t want to read the reviews. Armstrong was no being called an “Uncle Tom” in places like Metronome magazine, “Down Beat” gave his set at the Newport Jazz Festival a scathing notice, John S. Wilson claimed the All Stars were more vaudeville than me, it got ugly. But I listen to that “Indiana” and can’t help but feeling pity for those critics and for anyone else who didn’t get riled up by such a wonderful group.

So now that we’ve reached the set solo, you might think it’s time for me to pack it in, but of course, I can’t do that yet. There’s some other versions I’d like to share (if you’re still with me) beginning with Armstrong’s only full-on studio version of the tune. It’s August 1957 and Armstrong was doing a date backed by the Oscar Peterson Trio and Louie Bellson on drums as part of the second album of duets with Ella Fitzgerald. Producer Norman Granz needed a balance and obviously the musicians wanted to warm up. Pops called “Indiana” and he was off, sounding hesitant in spots (this was a warm-up after all) but uncorking a lot of new ideas before finally settling into the set solo at the end. Here ‘tis:

One year later, Armstrong performed “Indiana” at the Monterey Jazz Festival, as issued on C.D. in 2007. Here’s this solo:

Wait, where’s the solo? Exactly. This is a red flag, my friends. Whenever you find a version of “Indiana” that goes from bass solo to clarinet solo, that only means one thing: Pops’s chops were down and he needed to pick his spots. Thus, there are multiple “Indianas” where Armstrong plays the ensemble choruses but has to bypass his solo spot because of chop troubles. It wasn’t easy being Louis Armstrong, that’s for sure...

But please don’t think Pops was a finished man in 1958. His European tour of 1959 was filled with wondrous moments and many great versions of “Indiana.” Let’s break it up a bit with a video, Pops and the All Stars (Trummy, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Kyle, Mort Herbert and Danny Barcelona) doing “Indiana” in Amsterdam, February 7, 1959:

Armstrong sounds great, he’s having fun (listen to him singing behind the clarinet solo) and the solo is crackling with a new gliss in the second eight bars and some different phrasing in the second half. However, did you notice what happens after the solo? Along with Trummy Young, Armstrong plays the first few notes he had use to back up the clarinet solo since that first 1951 version. However, he then stops and he and Trummy begin laughing and slapping five like it’s a kind of inside joke. Honestly, I think Pops was getting to the point in his life (nearing 60) when he started to need small breaks. He played so much horn on that 1959 tour, he gave himself a heart attack (literally, in Spoleto, Italy) so it’s not like his ability was diminishing. I just think he needed rest where he could, thus, the backing riffs on “Indiana” were officially gone (they also disappeared on “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” at this time, but they reappeared on that one in the early 60s).

[Addition: Dave Whitney wrote in to tell me that he thinks he read somewhere that the riffs were cut out because Peanuts Hucko didn't like them behind his solos. I have no concrete proof but this makes perfect sense since they were eliminated on both "Indiana" and "Barbecue" at the same time.]

As the 1960s dawned, Pops was still an incredible force, though slowly but surely, he was beginning to lose a little flexibility in his horn playing. Those delightful little fleet-fingered phrase became somewhat harder to execute as he began the next decade of his punishing career. Amazingly, at the same time, his tone actually appeared to get larger. I have dubbed this phenomenon “Cootie Williams Syndrome” (this not an actual medical condition) as it reminds me of the great Ellington trumpet player who often sounded like he was playing in slow motion in the 1960s, yet had a pure sound that could move mountains. Though “Indiana” had some tricky moments, Pops managed to keep much of his set material in place except for one spot: the always singable closing phrase of his solo, one that he had toyed with since 1952 and had kept playing since mid-1953. Now, he needed a new way to close the solo, often trying out different things. For example, in July 1960, Armstrong sounded like Hercules during some concerts in Highland Park, Illinois, outside of Chicago. Because of the location, Armstrong decided to conclude his solo with a three-note phrase that’s reminiscent of the standard “Chicago” before embarking on a huge gliss(he also quoted this at the June 1956 Chicago concert during “Ko Ko Mo”):

That same month, Armstrong reached all the way back to that Stockholm 1952 solo, ending with a series of slow triplets before another powerhouse gliss:

Video time! Pops continued experimenting with the end of “Indiana” throughout 1961 and 1962. Here’s a full version from Sweden in 1962. Notice, he ends with some neat falling glisses:

On the same tour, Armstrong seemed to have a remedy: end the solo with some fierce high notes and a gliss. Here’s an example from the Newport Jazz Festival in 1962:

Of course, some nights were a struggle for Pops. At a Paris concert in 1962, Pops’s chops obviously had a rough time getting warmed up. But then again, that’s the point of opening with something familiar like “Indiana,” right? Listen to him heroically push his way through this solo, playing through the pain, and ending with one of the most suspenseful glisses he ever took. Does he make it!? Find out:

He made it! Phew...

Unfortunately, I’ve never heard an “Indiana” from 1963 and the only ones I have from January 1964 to January 1965 are television appearances where his solo was cut. But in March 1965, Armstrong embarked on a historic tour of Europe, conquering the Iron Curtain a bit by playing places like Prague and East Berlin, garnering some incredible ovations. He responded by doing some of the best blowing of his later years. Seriously, if you ever see a C.D. with stuff from this tour, grab it, because you won’t believe the form Armstrong was in.

Now keep in mind, by this point, “Hello, Dolly” put Armstrong back on top of the world. This gave jazz critics a whole new line of jive to complain about: Armstrong’s new fans were coming to see some old buffoon sing a showtune and had no idea that he was such a great trumpet player. Well, pretend you know nothing about Armstrong other than he’s a funny old cat you saw singing “Hello, Dolly” on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” So you get tickets to see him play and after a gentle “Sleepy Time Down South,” he plays “Indiana” and takes a solo like this one, taken from an East Berlin concert in March 1965:

I don’t know about you, but I would think that was a pretty damn good trumpet player up onstage, banging out those high C’s and glissing like that at the end! And really, that was what Louis Armstrong was all about: pleasing the public, knowing that every time he played a one-nighter, he wanted to give that audience his best, knowing it was comprised of many people who had never seen him before. So sure, the jazz critics could complain about the same songs and the same solos but if I was going to see him live for the first time, I’m sure the effect would have been electric. Hell, it still is for me and I know what’s coming half the time!

I know I’ve taken up entirely too much time but there’s not far to go. I don’t own any “Indianas” from 1966 and by 1967, he was beginning to cut his solo out for good. Joe Muranyi joined the band in the summer of 1967 and he told me that Pops rarely played the solo and that one time he did and faltered badly. Again, Armstrong was still playing well but now the effects of age and decades of fierce blowing were taking its toll: the solo on “Indiana,” handcrafted over a period of five years in the 1950s, would have to be retired.

But he continued opening with the tune, still blowing two choruses up front and leading the charge during the rideout. He even had a nifty new quote: “Sidewalks of New York.” So let’s listen to the last recorded example of Louis Armstrong playing trumpet on Indiana, from England in July 1968:

He still sounds pretty good, right? He’s not Superman anymore but he’s still a pretty good lead trumpet player from New Orleans. Though notice how often he plays little runs to keep his chops up: there’s a note during the piano intro and he noodles behind both the clarinet and trombone solos, always testing his chops at every chance. But he still can play that thing, holding the high Ab at the end, glissing up to a C for good measure.

And that’s all I’ve got. I know it was exhaustive but if it makes you, dear reader, approach “Indiana” with a different mindset, I’ve done my job. I’ll let this one linger for the weekend and will come up with something new--and shorter--next week. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Moonlight In Vermont

Ella and Louis
Recorded August 16, 1956
Track Time 3:43
Written by Karl Suessdorf and John Blackburn
Recorded in Los Angeles, California
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Ella Fitzgerald, vocal; Oscar Peterson, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Buddy Rich, drums
Originally released on Verve 2V6-8811
Currently available on CD: Available on Ella and Louis, which has been reissued around 700 times by the Verve/Universal people.
Available on Itunes? Yes

For the majority of these blog posts, I begin by doing what I usually lovingly refer to as "spinning the ol' Itunes shuffle." But, dear reader, perhaps you wonder how often I am 100% honest and do write about the first thing that comes up. The truth is, I'm pretty honest but let's face it, Louis Armstrong recorded many songs dozens of times (when you factor in the live records) and if I don't have the time, I'll just keep hitting the "shuffle" button until I get a song that Pops recorded only once or twice. Of course, when the spirit hits me or if it's a special occasion, I'll divide and conquer all the recordings of an Armstrong number in my collection for the purpose of a usually dissertation-length blog.

Well, today, I'm indeed divided, but I haven't been conquered yet. My shuffle landed on "Indiana." Yes, "(Back Home Again In) Indiana." Pops's opener from 1951 to 1968. And how many version are contained in my Itunes? 47. Now, if you think I'm going to sit here and analyze 47 versions of "Indiana," you're nuts.


Yes, there's always a but. The thing is, I love "Indiana." I've never gotten sick of it. What I have gotten sick of, is the myth that Louis Armstrong consistently played the same solos every night in his later years and never improvised. Balderdash! You see, to understand Louis Armstrong, you have to realize that in addition to being a jazz genius, the man was a great composer. And he worked on his solos, listening to them every damn night and day on his tape recorder, tinkering with them until he reached a solo he was 100% proud of. At that point, it would become "set" and usually didn't change much after that. But sometimes, the ride up to that point could be pretty thrilling, especially in the case of "Indiana," which took FIVE years before Pops settled on something that resembled a set solo.

These days, my Mac is treating me well and I'm learning how to do more editing-type stuff with it. So stay tuned as I'll take you on a journey through "Indiana" later this week.

"But Rick," you're saying, "Why all this talk about 'Indiana' in a blog about 'Moonlight in Vermont'?" No, I did not get my states confused. You see, this "Indiana" business is going to take some time but I don't have enough time to contribute one of my usual diatribes. However, doing my morning blog stroll (is that a term?), I noticed that Marc Myers at devoted his entry today on "Moonlight in Vermont." Marc did a fine job in outlining the tune's history as well as the unique composition of the lyrics (nothing rhymes and they're written in haiku form). So please go to Marc's site to read the backstory, as well as a list of his favorite versions of "Moonlight."

Pops encountered the Vermont moon on only one occasion and he had a helluva accomplice: Ella Fitzgerald. The tune was recorded during the session for their first Norman Granz Verve album, one of my favorite albums of any kind by anyone. This is a timely entry since I announced that my wife and I are expecting and the kid is going to either be named Louis or Ella and also because the song was recorded 52 years ago this week, on August 16, 1956.

In fact, EVERYTHING on that first album was recorded 52 years ago this week. What troopers. Granz rarely had time to capture Pops for days on end, so he had to cram as much as he could into short periods of time. The night before, on August 15, Armstrong and Fitzgerald warmed up by singing two duets at a Granz-produced JATP-style concert at the Hollywood Bowl (Verve/Universal should be ashamed for not issuing the complete concert on C.D., though Bob Porter has told me that he has tried to get them to do it for 25 years with no luck).

The next day, Armstrong, Fitzgerald, the Oscar Peterson Trio and Buddy Rich gathered in Granz's Los Angeles studio and when they left that evening, 11 tunes were in the can, suitable for issue. Looking in the Jos Willems discography, it's intersting to notice the take numbers: eight takes of "Isn't This a Lovely Day," five takes of "Tenderly," ten takes of "Under a Blanket of Blue," six takes of "A Foggy Day"...this session must have went on for hours. Clearly, Granz felt rushed at the end as the final two tunes, "The Nearness of You" and "Can't We Be Friends" were recorded in one and two takes, respectively (they're also my two favorite tracks on the album, which could also mean that everyone was supremely warmed up).

On an album with no duds, certain songs are still bound to fade into the background and for me, that usually happens with "Moonlight in Vermont." Listening to the original album as released, it starts with the perfect opener, a bouncy "Can't We Be Friends," before a long, gorgeous, slow reading of "Isn't It a Lovely Day," one of my favorites. But then "Moonlight" follows at almost the exact same tempo, it's much shorter and Pops barely sings on it. Thus, that's when my mind usually starts thinking about whether or not the Yankees are going to make the playoffs. But I don't want to slight the performance as it's quite beautiful. Listen for yourself:

Beautiful stuff, right from the Peterson piano intro. Oscar's the kind of guy who inspires fierce debate in the jazz world. As a pianist, I happen to love him but I especially love his accompaniment. He's very sensitive, yet melodic; I can't tell you how many times a soloist AND Peterson's backing both get stuck in my head equally. Ella's in prime voice here and Oscar couldn't be any more sensitive...listen to his "falling" piano as Ella sings about "falling leaves." Ellis's guitar is also very sensitive and Ella's former husband, Ray Brown, is a master at ballad tempos. Unfortunately, Pops doesn't get to sing one word of the first chorus, which is a shame. Perhaps he had trouble with it...the issued take is number seven. Or perhaps Granz just wanted to hear Ella sing it.

Regardless, Armstrong gets his time in the spotlight with a very pretty half chorus of trumpet playing. As I've written about time and again, Armstrong's playing on the Granz sessions is some of his most human because he was never fully at rest and his usually slightly worn-down chops forced him to head in some different directions than he was used to when he was playing at full power. The Peterson's (and Rich's sublime brushes) give him appropriate support and Pops responds. He sounds slightly fragile in the beginning, but it adds to the mood. Still Superman at heart, he plays the whole solo and octave higher than one might expect it. His descending little skitters in between the snatches of melody perfectly captures the mood of the lyrics, especially the aforementioned reference to "falling leaves."

Ella returns at the bridge, but what's the ominous growl behind her voice? Is a grizzly bear in the studio about to eat her? Nope, it's just Pops, moaning low to himself, but nevertheless getting picked up by the studio microphone. He's preparing to deliver his contribution to the vocal, singing the last half of the bridge, which was tailor-made for him, with its use of repeated notes. Ella takes it from there but Pops returns at the very end for one last pretty reading of the titular phrase. Very nice stuff.

So that's that for our scenic tour of "Moonlight in Vermont." Thanks again to Marc Myers for inadvertently giving me the idea (and by the way, Marc's "JazzWax" blog can now be found in my snazzy new lineup of links...moving up in the world, huh?). Next time out, things will get slightly rowdier as we wind up "(Back Home Again In) Indiana." Til then...