Saturday, August 9, 2008

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans (Plus More News)

Louis Armstrong and His Dixieland Seven
Recorded October 17, 1946
Track Time 3:01
Written by Eddie DeLange and Louis Alter
Recorded in Los Angeles
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Kid Ory, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Charlie Beal, piano; Bud Scott, guitar; Red Callender, bass; Minor Hall, drums
Originally released on Victor 20-2087
Currently available on CD: Too many version to list here, but the original Victor one can be heard on the Complete RCA Victor Recordings set
Available on Itunes? Ditto

Finally, we arrive at a good old-fashioned music analysis entry...well, we will in a minute. Arrival time has been delayed for a little bit of news ("Here's Trummy Young with some news," as Pops would say in concert). First off, one more personal touch (I know, I know, I should just rename this thing "The Wonderful World of Ricky RiccardI"). I've made many mentions of my lovely wife Margaret on this blog before and I just want to take this time to announce to the world that on Thursday afternoon, we found out that Margaret is pregnant! So yes, ol' Ricko here is going to be a father...just call me Papa Dip! In New Orleans, a lot of people asked if we had kids, allowing me to trot out Pops's famous reply to the Pope: "No, Daddy, but we're still wailing!" Well, it looks like I only got to use that line for a week as we're officially expecting. And--no joke--I already have the wife's permission on the names: if it's a boy, it'll be Louis Daniel (my father's name is Daniel) and if it's a girl, it'll be Ella. Ella and Louis. If we have a third kid, it'll be named, "Produced By Norman Granz."

So that's one reason why this posting has been slightly delayed. Another has to do with the wonderful time I had at Birdland in New York on Wednesday night, catching David Ostwald's legendary Louis Armstrong Centennial Band. The band included Ostwald's tuba, Vincent Gardner on trombone, Jack Stuckey on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Ahud Asherie on piano and Kevin Dorn, all incredibly great musicians (Dorn's drums have to be the most "authentic" sounding 1930s-styled drums I have ever heard in a live setting). But the star of the show, direct from Japan by way of New Orleans, was Yoshio Toyama. What a marvel he is. In addition to perfectly capturing Pops's tone, he also absorbed Armstrong's incredible rhythmic sense. Toyama played a lot of Armstrong's solos note-for-note but even when he improvised, which was frequently, he often floated around the bar lines like the Pops of 1931. Here's one of my new favorite pictures, clowning around with David and Yoshio when the set was over:

I brought my nephew Tyler, who just turned 15 and he had a great big mothery ball, as Sinatra might say. And speaking of Sinatra, we were privileged to sit with Michael Johnston and his lovely girlfriend Joan. Michael writes the wonderful Sinatra Club blog and he wrote a very nice blog about his night at Birdland, which you can check out by going to In addition to Yoshio and David, the New Orleans Satchmo Summerfest was also represented by Armstrong superfan Al Pomerantz and the legend himself, George Avakian. Also, Helen Merrill was there...what a crowd! So as I've said time and again, this band has held down this gig for nine years, often playing for peanuts (not literally, but it wouldn't surprise me) and for a $10 music charge, it's the best deal New York has to offer. I'll be visiting more often in the near future and will make my announcements here as I go along.

But now, it's back to the music and I think I selected a very appropriate track to come back with: "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans." The answer of course, for me, is, yes, I miss it each night and day. The song comes from the soundtrack of the film New Orleans, filmed in 1946 and released in 1947. Though a pretty lousy motion picture, New Orleans became the linchpin for some very important moments in Louis Armstrong's life. It led to his recording again with small bands on the Swing and Victor labels. It gave him his first duets with Billie Holiday. It allowed him to ditch the big band temporarily and go back to playing many New Orleans classic jazz tunes. It paved the way for the eventual termination of the big band the germination of the All Stars. And finally, it gave Armstrong "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans," a beautiful song that he delighted in performing for years to come.

The song, which is a very good one, was written by two well established songwriters. Eddie DeLange turned in some of the Great American Songbook's finest lyrics: "Solitude," "Moonglow," "Darn That Dream," "Lost April" and one of my favorite Fats Waler performances, "I Wish I Were Twins." Louis Alter wrote the music and he, too, had a couple of good ol' good ones on his resume, including "My Kinda Love," "A Melody from the Sky" and "You Turned the Tables on Me." Together, DeLange and Alter wrote the original songs for the soundtrack to New Orleans and though all the songs are fine, "DYKWIMTMNO" (that's a helluva abbreviation!) is the only one to have life after the film was made. Oddly enough, two websites claim Marilyn Maxwell performed this song on an Abbott and Costello radio 1944. I have no proof of that but I suppose it might have been composed earlier and trotted back out for this film (a la "Kiss to Build a Dream On") but I've never read that anywhere else.

Though the song became indelibly associated with Pops, it was originally introduced in the film by Billie Holiday, given the humiliating role of a servant who apparently composes the tune tune while dusting. Here's the original performance from the film (just look at those white people in wonder, watching proudly and silently thinking of how they're going to steal this primitive music for themselves!):

Interestingly enough, Holiday never made a studio record of the tune. But just weeks after the soundtrack was recorded, on October 16, Victor asked Armstrong to sing it on a small band date recorded in California. A month prior, Armstrong made a wonderful small group session with other members from the film, along with ringers like Vic Dickenson. Though recorded in Victor's LA studios, that session was originally released on the French Swing label, before Victor released their own versions. That session always reminds me of glimpse into the future of what the All Stars would sound like. The October session was a little more old-fashioned, relying on authentic New Orleans musicians like Kid Ory and Minor Hall and a sound that Armstrong had largely abandoned in the 1920s. Nevertheless, the session had its moments, highlighted by the first tune recorded that day and the subject of this blog. Give a listen:

Charlie Beal's piano perfectly sets up Armstrong's heartfelt vocal with Ory and clarinetist Barney Bigard providing a running commentary underneath. Armstrong's love for his hometown knew no bounds, so one can only imagine what ran through his mind each time he performed the tune. With half the record left, Armstrong picks up his horn and plays beautifully, though he sticks very close to the melody...and it's a good one. Bigard takes the bridge and you can hear Pops start playing a backing line that Ory doesn't exactly pick up on. It would become tighter in later All Stars performances. Then it's back to Pops in the lead with Ory crooning beside him. The melody was tailor-made for Pops, leading up to the big high note towards the end. Everything bounces along to the finish line, making for a very pretty, happy version of the tune...but not quite as good as what it would turn into.

In February 1947, Armstrong had another career defining moment when he played a concert at Carnegie Hall, splitting duties with a small group led by Edmond Hall and his usual big band. The big band portion of the evening featured Billie Holiday reprising her vocal from the film and it's lovely, but the next day, all anyone could talk about was Armstrong's performance with the small group. The writing was on the wall; the big band days were coming to an end.

On April 26, 1947, Armstrong made two radio show appearances, performing "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" with different small groups on each show. The film New Orleans was set to open in June so Pops was making the rounds performing the tune and giving the film some publicity. Each version is very different and I think both are worth listening to. The first comes from a "Saturday Night Swing Show" and features Pops backed by his favorite drummer, Sid Catlett, who gets a special shout-out from emcee Art Ford. The tempo is slower than on the Victor record, allowing Pops to reflect a little better, backed all the way by some very nice playing by pianist Nicky Tagg. Now Armstrong takes a few more chances in his solo, not content to play strict melody and he even takes the bridge, something he rarely did. Interestingly, he doesn't go for the high note in the last chorus on the record, but it all adds to the quiet mood of the performance, which still ends in tempo. Here it is:

That same day, Armstrong took part in an episode of Rudi Blesh's "This Is Jazz" show, featuring a band that included Wild Bill Davison on cornet, George Brunies on trombone, Albert Nicholas on clarinet, Art Hodes on piano, Danny Barker on guitar, Pops Foster on bass and Baby Dodds on drums. Armstrong tells Blesh that the film was having its official premiere in New Orleans that evening, so it was appropriate to do "Do You Know What It Means," which Pops refers to as the movie's "theme song." One has to remember that the record had only been out for a few months and the film wasn't even released yet, so these musicians were obviously following a lead sheet or it was carefully rehearsed because the tune was definitely not a standard yet by anyone's standard (hmm, that sounds like one too many standards). Hodes takes a beautiful introduction before Pops sings it, getting improvised backing from the other horns. Danny Barker plays a guitar interlude to allow Pops to get his chops in his horn before Pops leads the way out, playing almost the same solo he played on the "Saturday Night Swing Club" version, but now aided by the other horns in a typical New Orleans jammed ensemble. Armstrong also continues to play the lovely bridge and this time hits the high note in the last chorus. However, he still ends in tempo...what does that mean, you ask? You'll know it in a few minutes. Enjoy the This is Jazz version for the time being:

Less than a month later, Armstrong's life officially changed once and for all after an incredibly well-received small group performance at New York's Town Hall. After jamming on the good ol' good ones all night, Armstrong trotted out "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" once again. This tune really must have had special attraction for pianists. Each version we've listened to has started with lovely, yet different, piano introductions. Pianist Dick Cary, one of my favorites, really knocks me out with his backing of Pops on the Town Hall version. One thing to listen for: after the vocal, while Pops is still taking getting applause, you can hear trombonist Jack Teagarden begin to solo. However, perhaps because of time or because he didn't hear him, Pops immediately takes over for another passionate reading of the tune, the horns giving him padded backings and not the kind of jammed ensemble style heard on the "This is Jazz" broadcast. For those keeping score at home, Pops is still taking the bridge and still ending in tempo. Here 'tis:

One month later, with the writing on the wall, Pops did another small band concert at New York's Winter Garden Theater. The occasion was a special one: the New York premiere of the film New Orleans. This version has some notable differences: after an introduction by Fred Robbins, the band plays a short snippet of the melody by Jack Teagarden's trombone before Bobby Hackett's cornet, Peanuts Hucko's clarinet and Ernie Caceres's baritone saxophone join in. After another special vocal, Teagarden finally gets to take the solo he was deprived of at Town Hall. He takes a typically gorgeous half-chorus before Armstrong enters to play the bridge and take it out (still ending in tempo!). Here's the audio for this great version:

Two months later, the All Stars were born. Naturally, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" became a regular part of the repertoire but now Pops shared it with Teagarden, both vocally and instrumentally. There are many similar versions from this period so I'll pick just one, from Zurich in 1949 to demonstrate how the song sounded in the early days of the All Stars. The love between Armstrong and Teagarden simply radiates and their harmonizing on the vocal at the end is a very nice moment. "Pretty, pretty," Armstrong says as the vocal ends and it truly is. Teagarden's solo is a marvel and remained fairly set during his period with the All Stars. Interestingly, instead of returning on the bridge, as he did at the Winter Garden, Pops now wants his entire chorus back. Thus, Earl "Fatha" Hines takes a short interlude before Pops returns from square one. I don't care for Cozy Cole's slightly heavy bass drum work but otherwise, everything is lovely. Notice now, that like the original recording, Bigard takes the bridge but Armstrong and Teagarden play the original backing Armstrong played on the 1946 record, the one Ory couldn't get. Armstrong soars up to the high note but now--FINALLY--the ending isn't in tempo. I don't know why it took so long for Pops to realize it but the song just had the natural kind of ending that was tailor-made for one of Pops's patented slow, dramatic, drawn-out endings a la his Decca days. Here's this terrific version from 1949:

After Teagarden left, "DYKWIMTMNO" seems to have left with him. The Jos Willems "All of Me" discography doesn't list any other versions until one from a Chicago concert in 1956. This was the very first version I ever heard of the tune and it will always be my favorite. Part of me feels like the All Stars must have still played it because it's very tight and Armstrong and Trummy Young nail the backing part behind clarinetist Edmond Hall's final bridge. But regardless, this is a very special version because it begins with a full instrumental chorus by the front line. It's so pretty and everyone sounds like their reading each other's minds. Then Pops sings a chorus, infusing it with just as much love as the very first recording. Instead of passing it off for a trombone solo, Billy Kyle plays a rocking piano interlude, allowing Pops to yell a bit and receive his applause, a technique also used on "The Gypsy" during this period. Then it's Pops's horn, playing pretty much the same solo he played in the late 40s, just as beautiful as ever, with Hall taking the bridge, as already mentioned. The slowed down, dramatic ending works and never fails to move me. Again, this is my favorite:

"Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" continued to fade out of the All Stars's repertoire as the 1950s moved on, though Pops would play it when requested, as he did during two 1959 shows, the first of which, in a medley with "Black and Blue" from a Stockholm concert, is on volume four of Storyville's indispensable In Scandinavia series. It follows the 1956 version, with the band taking an instrumental chorus up front and is available on Itunes. Check it out!

In the late 1960s, Joe Muranyi brought the piece back into the All Stars's band book by featuring himself on it, but otherwise, I have no other versions of Pops doing the tune in 1960s. By that point, other New Orleans bands began performing it and today, a search for the song on Itunes returns over 200 different versions. After Katrina, the song took on an entirely different meaning. I remember being insanely touched when John Brunious used it to somberly close a Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert I attended in 2006, transforming the audience, which had just marched and danced around the theater and sang along with "The Saints," into a sobbing heap. Even on YouTube, people have made homemade videos of pictures from Katrina backed with the sounds of Armstrong's voice singing this tune. Chilling stuff.

But for me, after last week, the song has entirely different meaning now, as well. The music, the people, the food, the look, the whole damn atmosphere was unlike anything else I've ever experienced. I'll be counting the days til next year when myself, Margaret and little Louis (or Ella!) can make the return trip! Do I know what it means to miss New Orleans? Damn straight, I know....


LoSnaso said...

Dear Ricky,
I hope you'll get my comment even if it's related to a so old post.
DYNWIMTMNO is one of my favorites songs from Satch,even if I'm Italian and (sigh ) I've never been in New Orlens.
But I had only listened to the first version, so thank you once again for this precious blog!
I had tried to get the movie "New Orleans" but it seems to be impossible here in Italy. Do you know if there is a way for buying it?

Thank you in advance,

chg said...

I don't know the air date, but I know for a fact Marilyn Maxwell performed the song on the Abbot & Costello radio show. It was the "Who's on First?" episode, and I had a recording of that show when I was a kid. I must have heard her sing it twenty times, and came here on a search for Marilyn Maxwell's version of the song.