Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded December 18, 1939
Track Time 2:35
Written by Traditional
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Bernard Flood, Shelton Hemphill, Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Wilbur De Paris, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Rupert Col, Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Joe Garland, Bingie Madison, tenor saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Sid Catlett, drums
Originally released on Decca 3011
Currently available on CD: Volume six of the indispensable Ambassador series
Available on Itunes? Yes, on Inspirational Louis Armstrong
A reader with the screen name “Copen” requested Armstrong’s version of ‘Bye and Bye” from his first session with the Dukes of Dixieland in 1959. I’ve decided to do him one better and discuss Armstrong’s four studio recordings of the tune in short amount of time I have before the polls close and I become glued to the election coverage (I promise not to turn this into a political form but I voted for the guy who coincidentally shares Pops’s birthday!).
As for the tune, it’s an old gospel favorite, though don’t confuse it with “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” an altogether different tune, though one that’s often favored by bands with the regular “Bye and Bye” in their repertoire. And while we’re at it, don’t confuse it with the pop song of the exact same name as recorded by Armstrong with Fletcher Henderson in 1924, a gaffe that can be found in Satchmo: A Louis Armstrong Encyclopedia for one.
Armstrong recorded “Bye and Bye” a year after his big band treatment of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” New Orleans music had fallen on hard times but Armstrong got the ball rolling with his classic reading of “The Saints.” Soon enough, Bunk Johnson was found, given a new set of choppers and presto, a New Orleans Revival was born (reborn?). Still, some New Orleans enthusiasts cast Armstrong as a hero while others viewed him as the devil for maintaining a big swing band for such a long period of time.
Armstrong didn’t care as he was perfectly happy fronting Luis Russell’s swinging group. Still, his heart always remained in his hometown so it was no surprise when he reached way back to his youth to record numbers such as “The Saints” and “Bye and Bye.”
The first recording that I have found of “Bye and Bye” seems to have been done by the Reverend Edward W. Clayborn in the late 1920s. It’s a pretty jaunty version, featuring the Reverend’s rough and ready vocals and guitar playing. Give it a listen:
So “Bye and Bye” always had a joyous feel to it, something that Pops amplified tremendously in his swinging big band version. I’m assuming that most readers are familiar with Armstrong’s 1938 Decca version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” which I blogged about in graphic detail in May, but even if you’re not, take it from me that the original Armstrong “Bye and Bye” borrows greatly from that record. Give it a listen and stay for the discussion:
Bye and Bye
Big Sid Catlett’s drums open the proceedings, an apt touch as he’s one of the stars of the record. After the short intro, Pops bursts forth with the melody in what can almost be described as an arranged New Orleans ensemble. The other trumpets sit out, leaving Pops with the lead, while the trombones and reeds play written responses to the melody, as if played spontaneously in a polyphonic front line.
A saxophone break leads to Armstrong’s happy vocal. There’s no monologue from “Reverend Satchelmouth” this time, but like “The Saints,” Armstrong uses the close of his vocal choruses to introduce solos from a couple of the band’s members, once again starting with the always exciting J. C. Higginbotham. Higgy starts off fairly relaxed but he gets in a few shouts in the second half before a wonderful ascending scat break propels Armstrong into his second helping, now with “glee club” backing. This time Armstrong passes the ball to Catlett for a too-short outing (the record’s only 2:35, give the man a full chorus!).
But then it’s over to Pops, always the main event. Notice after his quick call to arms, he practically plays the same ascending phrase he had just scatted seconds earlier. He tells a wonderful story, starting out with more melody, slightly rephrased. The turnaround is slightly awkward as Armstrong plays a neat pair of matching phrases implying chord changes that the band doesn’t exactly play. Nonetheless, he steams ahead gallantly, even throwing in a touch of “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” an integral part of his “Saints” solo.
Feeling his oats, Armstrong holds a high concert Ab, the New Orleans way of signaling the start of the climactic last chorus. Armstrong’s rideout is a beautiful example of the man’s rhythmic mastery at fast tempos, sounding so relaxed, yet playing those high notes with so much power. He works over a slow-motion three-note motif that always reminds me of “The Entertainer” while Catlett piles on his favorite backbeats underneath. Armstrong builds up beautifully to the final high Eb, ending another test of endurance with a passing grade.
Gunther Schuller hates the record (calling it a “grandstanding travesty on ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”) but he seems to be a minority. Much like “The Saints,” Armstrong had introduced a new tune to be blown apart by more traditional minded bands as it became a staple in bands led by the likes of George Lewis and Eddie Condon.
However, Armstrong doesn’t seem to have played or broadcast it again until the same April 13, 1954 Decca session that “Spooks!” comes from. I know I just told this story in my last entry but I can’t resist again, especially when one listens to “Bye and Bye” from this session. Here’s the date’s producer, Milt Gabler:
"I remember a session in ’54 with Gordon Jenkins, a normal call to do four songs with orchestra and chorus in three hours at our Pythian Temple studio in New York. Everyone was on time except no Louis Armstrong. Louis had never been late before, so we rehearsed the orchestra and chorus. We rehearsed all of the songs, and still no Louis. I called Joe Glaser, and he was out. Two and a half hours late and straight from the dentist, Louis comes to the studio, full of remorse and with jaws full of Novocain. He could hardly talk. I asked him if he could work the next day, but Pops had other commitments. I told Gordon to start running the songs down with Louis. Maybe his jaws would loosen up."
With that in mind, I won’t say any more until you’ve finished listening to this version of “Bye and Bye”:
I’d say his jaws loosened up! Jesus, that introductory cadenza is positively mind-blowing, harkening back to the the old days in the 1920s. Jenkins knew his Pops and knew how to frame him and you can’t as for anything better than the opening 27 seconds. That closing gliss is superhuman. The band swings out a chorus before modulating for Armstrong’s vocal. He sings two, modulating for a second chorus of special lyrics by Jenkins:
Yes, Bye and Bye, yes, on that judgement day
We’ll meet our friends, our boys that moved away
All those fine musicians, mm, jumping on the cloud
We will all be united, Bye and Bye.
After such a swinging chorus about dead jazz musicians, Jenkins’s squeaky-clean choir swoops in and mentions some of them by name:
Cause Bix is up there! And Bunny’s up there! And Jack Jenney is living up there!
Fats is up there! Big Sid is up there! King’s Oliver’s living up there!
But Louie’s down here! Yes, Louie’s down here! And we’re lucky he’s living down here!
Louie never, never, Louie never stops, get a load of Pops!
Now the other day, I referred to the above choruses as “gruesome.” I can’t deny that I’ve always felt the winsome nature of the choir coupled with the death roll call of the lyrics to be kind of an odd mix. But last week I was given something Louis Armstrong did in 1956. The Voice of America asked Armstrong to play disc jockey for five hours, picking the records as he chose and speaking about them as he went along. It’s a fascinating document and some of Armstrong’s comments will definitely land in my book. The fourth hour is devoted to Armstrong’s favorite records by other musicians. After playing tunes by Bunk and King Oliver, Bix and Bing, Ella and Bechet, Dizzy and Duke, Armstrong decides to close the hour with this rendition of “Bye and Bye.” Here’s his introduction:
“Now here’s a record that will always stick by me. It’s ‘Bye and Bye’ that mentions a lot of the real star musicians that has cut out, but still never forgotten. The tune is ‘Bye and Bye’ and I played it with Gordon Jenkins and his fine orchestra.”
So clearly Armstrong was proud of the record and especially the listing of dead jazz musicians, all of whom he was close to. So now I look at those choruses a little differently but my opinion of Armstrong’s closing trumpet choruses is unchanged: this is mind-blowing stuff.
Harry Jaeger’s drums set Armstrong up perfectly (I like the sound of his ride cymbal) before Pops takes off on a solo that, I think, dwarfs the original, which, as already stated, was pretty impressive itself. Armstrong only plays two choruses instead of three but what he plays is astounding. He forgoes a melody chorus and starts improvising with great authority in the first chorus before the old standby of playing the melody an octave higher than written in the second chorus, touching a freakish high concert E for a second towards the end. For a record done 15 years after the original, it’s quite a testament to the strength of Armstrong’s chops in the 50s (the Voice of America interviews also find Armstrong coming right out and say that he felt he was blowing better in the mid-50s than ever before and that he grew frustrated with people who came up to him to talk about the old days when he “was really blowing”).
The choir and strings come in for a few seconds, sounding like someone flipped a radio dial to another station. Pops sings the last line before a signature Jenkins touch: having the trumpet section conclude the record with a closing cadenza made up of nothing but Pops-isms. A nice touch.
As great as the Jenkins record is, Armstrong still never made “Bye and Bye” part of his regular repertoire though he still wasn’t done with recording it in the studio. Five years later, Armstrong returned from his heart attack in Spoleto, Italy by recording an album with the Dukes of Dixieland in early August 1959. Though only about six weeks after the near fatal incident, Armstrong proved he hadn’t lost anything by contributing some sterling blowing to the Dukes date (he sounded even better on their 1960 sequel). “Bye and Bye” was left off the original record but was eventually released on a Chiaroscuro LP of alternate and unissued takes from the session (it’s since been on about a thousand Armstrong bootlegs). Here’s “Bye and Bye”:
Armstrong used the 1939 version as a template in that he started off with one chorus pure melody playing before singing. After a fun vocal, Armstrong began introducing the Dukes individually. Frank Assunto’s trumpet, Fred Assunto’s trombone and Jerry Fuller’s clarinet respond with fine solos but the highlight is Armstrong’s vocal introductions, obviously coming off the top of his head. Also, he refers to Jerry Fuller as “Freddy,” perhaps causing the slightly agitated state of Fuller’s solo and also perhaps the reason why it was left off the original album.
Like the Decca, Norman Hawley’s drums set up the rideout chorus and though it’s exciting, it’s a little sloppy. “Bye and Bye” was the next to last tune recorded during the three days of sessions and I think Pops’s chops might have been beat a bit (a vocal-only version of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” followed and that was that). The band sounds like they’re ready to swing one more chorus and I’m sure it would have been a hot one, but Pops goes up high and signals for the abrupt ending. Nevertheless, it’s still a fun record.
We now flash forward five more years to November 1964 (Armstrong only recorded “Bye and Bye” in years that ended in 9 or 4!). “Hello, Dolly” propelled Armstrong to the top of the music world and now he was once again in the recording studio, this time waxing tunes for Mercury. Armstrong’s Mercury sides are almost completely unknown; some are best left that way, but he still had some surprises left and some are genuinely great records, such as “So Long Dearie,” “Pretty Little Missy” and “Short But Sweet.”
Because of the success of “Dolly,” every Mercury side aped that record’s formula, which is why you’ll hear the banjo of Walter Raim in the mix. Otherwise it’s the All Stars, an underrated version with Russell “Big Chief” Moore on trombone, Eddie Shu on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass and Danny Barcelona on drums. This will be a pleasant surprise for those who haven’t heard it as Armstrong plays twice as much trumpet as he did on the Dukes recording. Here it is:
Yeah, man! I keep forgetting how good that record is. Barcelona’s cymbals set up the ensemble with Pops taking lead for two, count ‘em, two go-arounds, sticking pretty close to the melody in both but sounding rather strong. Shu takes a good clarinet solo before Armstrong sings one (nice harmonies by the horns), before Big Chief takes over as Higgy did 25 years earlier. Armstrong rephrases the melody a bit in his second chorus, swinging nicely before taking a second to put his chops in his horn. Feeling good, he embarks on two ensemble choruses, improvising a lot. He’s not quite as fluid as he once was, but the power is right there, as evidenced in the gliss in the second chorus, the patented held “shake” on the high notes and the repeated high C’s at the end.
And that was it regarding Armstrong and “Bye and Bye,” though it did manage to make one more cameo in Armstrong’s later years. Around 1967, Armstrong really began editing his work on the horn. Where he once went WAY up, he now had to keep it under control a little bit. On “Ole Miss” he usually blew like a freak in the rideout chorus but since that was no longer an option, he found his way around it by using the opportunity to quote “Bye and Bye” literally. Dig this version from Juan-Les Pines, July 1967:
And that’s that for “Bye and Bye.” The polls are almost closed and results should be trickling in soon so I’m off to wave “Bye and Bye” to our outgoing president! Til next time...