I don't know how I missed it. With an unusual amount of free time last week, I polished off five blogs in five days and edited the hell out of my book but somehow missed that January 7 was the 50 year anniversary of the fourth Timex All Star Jazz Show. Ah, the late 50s...when CBS practically couldn't stop showing live jazz in prime time, with the timeless Sound of Jazz in 1957 followed by four, count 'em, four Timex all-star shows between December 1957 and January 1959. (Now the only jazz to be found on CBS is a poster advertising Chick Webb's band found on a wall in Charlie Sheen's sitcom Two-and-a-Half Men.)
Pops was a mainstay of the Timex shows, starring in every one, capturing the trumpeter during a peak period of the All Stars. He blew "Mahogany Hall Stomp" and "Lazy River" on the first one, as well as recreating his classic duet with Jack Teagarden on "Rockin' Chair." The second show might be my personal favorite with mind-blowing versions of "Muskrat Ramble" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street" as well as some scorching trading on "Jeepers Creepers" (which I might share later this week in a "Jeepers" wrap-up). And Gong Show fans take notice, the finale featured Armstrong backing the vocals of Jaye P. Morgan on "St. Louis Blues." (Any Odd Couple fans out there? No, she did not sing "Happy and Peppy and Burstin' with Love.")
However, Armstrong's third Timex appearance was an erratic one. Armstrong's chops were pretty beat up in the fall of 1958 and almost all surviving concerts and recordings find him struggling a bit. He really had trouble on the Timex show, giving his all on "South Rampart Street Parade" with a Bob Crosby all-star group but you can tell it hurts. But just two months later, Armstrong's chops were in spectacular shape as he was about to embark on a marathon European tour that I will also be devoting multiple entries to in the coming months. But before Armstrong could depart, he took a starring role in the fourth and final Timex show, this one hosted by the Great One, Jackie Gleason.
Fortunately, almost all of Armstrong's clips are available on YouTube so we'll take 'em one by one. Armstrong opened the show with Gleason by doing "Now You Has Jazz" from High Society before tearing into a hot "Tiger Rag." However, the only YouTube video with this footage begins with one of the tunes from the previous Timex show, "I Love Jazz." Armstrong had just recorded the tune for Decca the previous month and he clearly doesn't remember all the words, which is pretty funny. He sounds pretty good on the trumpet but notice the lack of high notes. Armstrong knew the chops were going to respond up there so he steers clear. But now, listen to him wailing on "Tiger Rag" and you can see that any chops troubles are gone. He indulges in some clowning with Trummy Young but don't let it distract you from those high notes! No need to introduce the band as Pops does on the honors on "Now You Has Jazz." Enjoy:
But Armstrong's next appearance one of the most historic moments of jazz on television: the only known example of Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie playing together. They chose the number "Umbrella Man" which wasn't exactly a somber ballad in Dizzy's boook. I don't think there's any need to go through the Armstrong vs. Bop history (after a week of editing my book, I'm kind of sick of it, but trust me, it's all there!) but it's no secret that Armstrong had no love of bebop, often making headlines with his attacks on the new music in the late 40s and early 50s. However, in all those attacks, he always managed to exclude Dizzy. And though Dizzy, a master showman, was uncomfortable about Armstrong's "plantation character," he often complimented his playing ("Didn't he play wonderfully," he exclaimed to Down Beat after seeing Armstrong at Carnegie Hall in early 1947). And in my research for the book, I found a nugget in the archives of the Chicago Defender, "London Nixes 'Diz' and Satchmo Match," a short blurb from May 12, 1951 about a planned concert that was supposed to take place featuring both men. However, union troubles prevented it from happening at the time, a real shame.
Instead of sharing the stage, the two took turns kidding each other on record, with Gillespie's "Pops' Confessin'" parody recorded in 1952 and Armstrong bop-tweaking "Whiffenpoof Song" following in 1954. By 1956, both men were becoming known as jazz ambassadors for their work overseas and they continued to compliment each other in the press. Armstrong knew how well Gillespie was doing on his trips, saying, "And Dizzy (Gillespie) seems to be doing all right; they liked him over in Pakistan and those other places he took his band.” And in 1958, Gillespie joked about Eisenhower's Secretary of State, saying, "T]hat John Foster Dulles, they should fire him. Even Louis Armstrong or I could do a better job.” So there was some mutual love going on when the two decided to make their one and only appearance together on the Timex show. (Quick unreleated piece of noninformation: Gillespie died on January 6, 1993, almost 34 years to day after this performance.)
You'll see "Umbrella Man" begin with Dizzy's usual routine, complete with pianist Junior Mance's humorous umbrella selling. But all of a sudden, Pops appears out of nowhere and it's on. I adore their shared chorus, Gillespie taking the lead and Armstrong creating a note-perfect second part, using all his lessons from the King Oliver days as a second trumpeter. Then the two trade, each man in his prime and demonstrating what made them each a genius. Gillespie's speed is dazzling while Armstrong's power, swing and melodic sense is all his (and as Dan Morgenstern likes to point out, it sounds like Armstrong's playing a different instrument, his sound is so much bigger).
They could have quit right there but the vocal duet is the cherry on top, Dizzy inadvertently spitting in Armstrong's face for a second, causing Pops to retort, "Your parasol is juicy, boy!" before getting in a plug for Swiss Kriss. There's more joy in this clip be humanly calculated. It used to be my final clip of the year when I taught jazz history at Rutgers and it always left my students with a smile on their face. Here it is courtesy of YouTube (almost 500,000 views!):
The Armstrong-Gillespie duet is the highlight of the show but Armstrong wasn't quite done, returning once more with the All Stars, augmented by Bobby Hackett's trumpet and Gene Krupa's drums for a romp on "Ole Miss" with an interpolation of "Old Fashioned Love," vocal by Barbara Dane. Hackett's solo is wonderful and it's great see film of Pops's patented two rideout choruses (dig Krupa's crooked cymbal, too!):
The show ended with a jam session on "Perdido" with a lineup that looks like jazz heaven. If you watch it with the sound off, it's something to truly behold: Armstrong, the entire Ellington Orchestra, Dizzy's group, Roy Eldridge, Vic Dickenson, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Krupa....I mean, come on, there's never been anything like it. Unfortunately, it goes on a little too long and Roy Eldridge, one of my heroes, and some of Ellington's men (Cat Anderson, I'm looking at you) decide to show-off their range, hitting nothing but ear-splitting high notes that get irritating after a while. The whole thing threatens to fall apart more than once but somehow it stays afloat. And though it all, Armstrong's sound cuts through the clatter, especially during the few bridges he gets by himself. Again, it's only available on YouTube (as "C Jam Blues" no less) in a medley with, you guessed it, "Umbrella Man." So enjoy, Louis and Dizzy one more time before the commotion!