Saturday, February 7, 2009

50 Years Of The All Stars in Amsterdam

My long, weekend posts usually bomb just for that very reason: they're too long, with too much music and it's the weekend and no one wants to be bothered sifting through 30 minutes of music when there are places to go and people to see. Nonetheless, I feel like it's my duty to Pops to keep celebrating these anniversaries as they pass and today's another one worth celebrating as far as I'm concerned. We're going back to that mammoth 1959 tour of Europe I wrote about in mid-January. I gave the background to the tour in that posting, as well as a discussion of Armstrong's typical concert repertoire during the period and a ton of music samples from his first show in Sweden. If you missed it, click here to catch up.

Of course, background information isn't 100% necessary unless you're a freak like me. In a nutshell, the All Stars--with Pops, trombonist Trummy Young, clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, pianist Billy Kyle, bassist Mort Herbert and drummer Danny Barcelona--embarked on a tour of Europe in January 1959 that would not end until June of that year. The group rarely had a day off and often did two sold-out shows a day. Pops showed remarkable endurance during the tour, never coasting or appearing tired, and always he blew in tremendous form (see my blog about the "Tiger Rag to End All Tiger Rags" from a couple of weeks ago, perhaps the highlight for me of the 1959 tour).

After the Scandinavian wing of the tour, the All Stars found themselves in the famous Amsterdam concert hall, the Concertgebouw, where they played to an intensely enthusiastic, "in-the-round" crowd. The great Jos Willems was kind enough to share the surviving audio of this concert with me and I'm going to play some samples later in the entry, but what really makes me salivate is the video.

That's right. You heard me. The All Stars's concert was filmed for, I'm guessing, Netherlands television. I found this
entry on the Library of Congress website, in David Meeker's Jazz and Blues filmography. That's the kind of stuff that makes me sweat, being a long-time Armstrong film collector. What's crazier is that some European television show in the not too distant past showed two complete songs from the Concertgebouw concert and those performances are now on YouTube. Thus, the whole concert must be in a vault somewhere in Europe and if anyone out there knows a collector from the Netherlands that might be willing to share it or make a trade, write me right away at! I did contact one collector in Switzerland who seemingly had everything but he only had the two performances on YouTube.

But both performances are wonderful to see so enough of my selfish want-list and let's get on with the Amsterdam show! Here's the wonderful opening, featuring the All Stars running down the aisle onto the stage the way a boxer walks through the crowd into the ring for a championship fight. After a little tuning up, they're off with "When It's Sleepy Time Down South":

Isn't that wonderful? I really like the camera shots, much more intimate than some of the other, more statically-shot concert performances of the same period. And did you notice the little color logo at the start that identified the tune? More proof that this was broadcast by the Dutch sometime in the days of color television...let's get some more of it!

Naturally, after "Sleepy Time," it was time for "Indiana." This is a wonderful version primarily because it's a video; you can listen to Pops play the tune 20 times a day but there's replacement for actually seeing it. And as I alluded to in the past, Peanuts Hucko apparently didn't care for background riffs so watch for Pops and Trummy to begin playing their old riff behind Peanuts then abruptly stop and start laughing, probably a little inside joke (and listen for Pops singing "Back home again" during Hucko's solo). The audience is obviously having a ball and so is Pops. A great performance:

Alas, that's all the video I have from this concert but there is some audio to share. It's not worth sharing all of it since much of it is similar to what was played at the Swedish concert I blogged about last month. As I discussed then, most of Pops's 1959 European shows featured a similar pattern:

First Set
*Pops would feature himself on five in a row: "Sleepy Time," "Indiana," "Basin Street Blues," "Tiger Rag" and "Now You Has Jazz," the latter with a shared vocal with Trummy Young
*To pace himself, he'd call Billy Kyle out for two features, the first usually not needing the trumpet. In Amsterdam, he played "Girl of My Dreams" and "Sweet Georgia Brown."
*Then it would be time for Peanuts Hucko to play two, usually "Autumn Leaves" (no Pops) and a barn-burner such as "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise" (a lot of Pops)
*After the features, Pops would step back into the spotlight and do something like "I Get Ideas"
*Mort Herbert would then do two features, both featuring Louis, who would usually play the melody on Herbert's first and sing "Old Man River" for Herbert's second outing
*Then Pops would excite the crowd with "Mack the Knife" and calm them down with his medley of "Tenderly" and "You'll Never Walk Alone"
*Wanting to excite them again, Pops would close the set with a Danny Barcelona drum feature on "Stompin' At The Savoy"

Second Set
*These would be much short but were usually very heavy on Pops. He'd open with an instrumental "Sleepy Time" before playing a hot instrumental, usually "Struttin' With Some Barbecue"
*Then it would be time for either requests or just something different. On the 1959 tour, this slot was occupied by "C'est Si Bon," "Faithful Hussar," "Muskrat Ramble," "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and others. In Amsterdam it was "La Vie En Rose."
*Velma Middleton would follow with a long version of "St. Louis Blues" and "Ko Ko Mo," both featuring Pops
*"When The Saints Go Marchin' In" would always close the show on a high note

So that was the 1959 tour in a nutshell. Like I said, I'm not going to share all the audio because I don't think anyone will listen to it all. But some stuff must be shared, including another "Tiger Rag To End All Tiger Rags." If you read my blog on that insane nine-and-a-half "Tiger Rag" from Copenhagen in January 1959, you know what Pops was capable of on this tune when he was sufficiently inspired and when the audience was sufficiently crazy. The All Stars almost always played one encore on the tune, but when things were extra crazy, Pops would call more. In Amsterdam, it was only one more, but it's a "gassuh." First, after the standard first encore, you'll hear the rhythm section play a cute "Good evening friends" line, a not-so-subtle way of of saying that the hilarity of the tune, which would end with Armstrong and Trummy Young chasing each other around the stage while playing, was over. Kyle then goes into the standard arpeggio for the next tune, "Now You Has Jazz," but as we heard in Copenhagen, Pops had the final decision on what to do next and what he did was call a second encore!

It's an incredible one, opening with his favored "Gypsy Love Song" quote but it's another quote that really knocks me out every time I hear it: on the break, he somehow inserts the 1924 pop song "When You Wore A Tulip (And I Wore A Big Red Rose)." (Thanks to my two New England trumpeting friends, Dave Whitney and Al Basile, for setting me straight...I have a few George Lewis versions of the tune and I've even played it myself once at a nursing home gig so I knew it was familiar but for some reason I couldn't place it...thanks!) From there, he skyrockets right up to high Eb's, hitting one after another like he was 30 years old again before ending on a sky-high concert F! Ridiculous playing. Enjoy the whole thing here:

That was about a six-minute romp. For those who know the routine by heart and just want to hear the second encore, I made an edited version that begins with the trumpet playing during the first encore, continues through the "Good evening friends" bit and carries into the full second encore. Dig it!

After "Now You Has Jazz" it was time for Billy Kyle. I didn't share any of Kyle's features in my Sweden 1959 blog, but I'm going to share both of them here today. First came "Girl of My Dreams," one of my favorite Kyle outings, one that he played into the 1960s. There's no Armstrong but it demonstrates what a swinging pianist Kyle was and also how good the All Stars's rhythm section was (listen to the momentum shift midway through and try not to pat your feet):

Next, though, came a real treat and something of an anomaly. When clarinetist Edmond Hall joined the group, he brought "Sweet Georgia Brown" as a feature. However, on the 1959, Kyle took a couple of stabs at, using Hall's arrangement, complete with breaks, as the framework for his solo. Kyle sounds like a monster on this cut and Pops also sounds great in leading the ensemble, complete with encore. Dig this rarity:

Peanuts Hucko was next and after a pretty "Autumn Leaves," he tore through "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise." I blogged about this track in full back in October but it's worth another listen because Peanuts sounds great but Pops just doesn't quit. Even in the encore, he ends with another freakish high concert F...on a sideman feature!

All great stuff but at this point I'm going to leave the first set. Pops did a beautiful "I Get Ideas" but I'm going to revisit that song again next weekend. Then Mort Herbert did two feature, the highlight being "Old Man River" which I shared in the Sweden blog. I also shared "Mack the Knife" and the "Tenderly/You'll Never Walk Alone" medley there and I'm also saving Danny Barcelona's "Stompin' At The Savoy" for next week. So that takes us through the first set but I must share the entire, shorter second set. After the instrumental "Sleepy Time" it was time for a great "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." Pops had finished making his film with Nina and Fredrick so "Barbecue" went back to being an instrumental romp (though again, the old riffs behind Hucko's clarinet solo are gone and again, Pops and Trummy allude to it by playing the start of it and disappearing!).

Next, a favorite of everyone's, "La Vie En Rose." This might have been a request and perhaps Pops hadn't played it in a little while because he fudges the lyrics at one point. But you cannot top the intensity of the trumpet playing at the end, which can bring tears from my eyes:

Then it was time for Velma. As I wrote in the Sweden blog, that version of "St. Louis Blues" was a little too slow and began with some major confusion. This time, the tempo is perfect and the whole band contributes mightily to the rocking groove. Always a killer:

Next came "Ko Ko Mo," which Pops always loved to improvise on during his opening trumpet solo, often coming up with different quotes on a nightly basis. Here, he starts with Dvorak's "Going Home" before turning it into a bluesy creation all his own (I know, I know, "Ko Ko Mo" is crying out for an extended blog treatment just to analyze those opening trumpet solos). Here 'tis:

With the audience having a ball and Pops putting on a riotously good show, it was time to end it with the ultimate crowd-pleaser, "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." I really don't have to share this one because I included in the Sweden blog and am showing a video of it next week. But people love it so if you want to hear how the show ended, give it a listen:

And that was the end of another wonderful evening with the All Stars. I wish the concert was commercially available on CD so the whole world could listen to it and enjoy it but hopefully these audio samples will due until the real thing comes along...and especially until a video comes along! But speaking of videos, I'm going to end with one more. The same week, the All Stars appeared in Den Haag and were captured by newsreel cameras. The resulting newsreel is on YouTube and it kills me because it features live sound! Thus, again, perhaps in some Netherlands archive, the entire concert in beautiful quality and audio quality survives. But for now, enjoy this two-minute medley of "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," "St. Louis Blues" and "La Vie En Rose," capturing the soul-shaking concluding trumpet solo on that final number:

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