Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Recorded May 16, 1968
Track Time 2:08
Written by Al Hoffman, Mack David and Jerry Livingston
Recorded in Hollywood
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Joe Muranyi, clarinet; Marty Napoleon, piano; Buddy Catlett, bass; Danny Barcelona, drums; with unknown studio orchestra and mixed choir
Originally released on Buena Vista STER-4044
Currently available on CD: On Disney Songs the Satchmo Way
Available on Itunes? Yes

Today’s entry comes courtesy of a spin of the Itunes shuffle and is related to a story I told on this blog last May. Armstrong tackled this song on Disney Songs the Satchmo Way and even I’ll admit that at a glance, having the most important jazz musician ever sing kiddy ditties like “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” and “Heigh Ho,” complete with studio orchestra and mixed choir, might seem like another losing battle with commercialism, much like the Brunswick records Armstrong was making during the period. Last year, one of my musical heroes, Marty Grosz, ranted to me at the Institute of Jazz Studies about his regrets about Armstrong’s later years. He saw the Armstrong of the 1950s and 1960s as a completely different being from the one of the 1920s and he never got over all the pop songs and stuff like “What a Wonderful World” that Armstrong was asked to record. In the middle of his diatribe, Grosz began doing a spot-on impersonation of Armstrong singing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” grimacing and waving his hand in disgust when he finished.

Because Grosz is one of my favorite musicians and people in the jazz world, I smiled politely and let him go off, though it’s precisely that attitude that I have been trying to fight against for years. Of course, if you’re looking for something specifically like “Potato Head Blues” in the 1950s or 1960s, you might be disappointed. But Louis Armstrong was Louis Armstrong and no matter what material he was forced to record, he made it his own. Thus, while some purists probably get indigestion, I have to say that the Disney outing is one of Armstrong’s finest albums of the 1960s.

I related the above story in my entry for “When You Wish Upon A Star,” a recording that can make me cry after hearing a few seconds of Pops’s trumpet entrance. There’s so much soul and so much reflection in that solo, it’s really something to marvel at. Joe Muranyi has fond memories of listening to the playback of “When You Wish Upon a Star” with Armstrong and the session’s arranger, Tutti Camaratta. “Here comes Louis with a white handkerchief and he’s standing there,” Muranyi remembers. “Camaratta’s standing there, too. And he said, ‘You’ll be glad to hear it.’ I think I grabbed his hand or grabbed him around and said, ‘Pops, I think it’s wonderful. That’s the one.’ I don’t know that he said, ‘You think so?’ but that look he gave me [was] a very soulful look cause he liked it, too. A wonderful moment. Every time I hear that, I think of that.”

So after such a beautiful moment, it was time to tackle something a little more light-hearted. The session ended with two songs that were tailor-made for Armstrong because, without Pops’s popularizing of scat singing, they might not have ever even been written: “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Today, I’m just going to focus on the former, but both tunes are a lot of fun and feature surprising trumpet outings for such a late date. Armstrong’s chops began gradually deteriorating around 1966, resulting in less blowing in live performances and some sadly erratic moments captured in live settings and on records from the period.

But in 1968, Armstrong’s chops had a very good year. He turned back the clock at the San Remo Song Festival in Italy in February and sounded very good during an extended stay in England that summer. In between came the Disney sessions and beautiful “I Will Wait For You” recorded for Brunswick. His health couldn’t have been in too great a shape and sure enough, by September, various serious ailments put Armstrong out of commission for a year. But he went out with a bang with his blowing in 1968.

“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” from Cinderalla, is only 128 seconds long, but it’s fun from note one...well, the choir is a little corny, but if you listen past them, you’ll hear Pops playing along with their introduction. Before I get carried away, give it a listen:

The gibberish nature of the lyrics is perfect for Armstrong who was a just plain natural singer, whether singing in German (as we heard on Monday), Italian, Hawaiian or his own language of scat. He rattles off the lyrics with a smile on his face, perhaps thinking of some of the children in Corona neighborhood. He sticks close to the written melody, though the “Yes” before the bridge is pure Pops (and the “Yeah” response from the choir fits nicely). But after the bridge, Pops begins taking chances, singing the title phrase once with a sly winking voice before humorously rushing it at the end of the chorus.

But stand back for the trumpet solo. As usual, it’s 1968 and Armstrong’s almost dead for heaven’s sake, so don’t hold him up to “Weather Bird” standards. But he sounds pretty strong, telling a melodic story and swinging throughout. Only his first note has a little static to it but from there, his tone is remarkably full for such a late stage; he didn’t spend as much time in the upper register in his later years, but he never lost his golden tone. He also never lost his sense of rhythm as he alternately makes quarter notes swing but he definitely exhibits some of his patented floating feel in the middle of the solo, complete with a short, falling gliss that shows he’s still in command of his instrument. And his ending is as righteous as it gets, as he turns back to 1936 and his “Skeleton in the Closet” solo for a string of repeated F’s topped by a higher Ab. Great stuff.

For the vocal reprise, he returns to the bridge sounding happier than ever, having more fun with the title phrase, this time uttered on a break. And he completely changes the melody, hitting a pretty neat ninth (a concert D) on the C chord with the word “boo.” Still having a ball, Armstrong gets positively preachy (in a good way) during the last eight bars. Listen carefully for the subtle “Tch” in Armstrong’s voice, setting up the gleeful, “Now you put them together, Gate, and what have you got? Bibbidi-ah-bobbidi-boo.” A righteous “yes” of satisfaction from Pops allows the choir to reprise their introduction before one final statement from Pops, repeating the “Bibbidi’s” before a dazzling, chromatically ascending that echoes the ending to 1957’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” heard right here on this blog just last week.

So let the jazz purists frown at what they perceive as the sad ending of Louis Armstrong, singing kids songs. He sure as hell doesn’t sound sad to me and that trumpet solo is the truth, my friends. I just listened to a Louis Armstrong record with a great trumpet spot, a delightfully swinging vocal and some fun scat singing and I can’t stop smiling. So really, does it matter if it comes from 1928 or 1968? It’s all Pops and it’s all great.


Michael Steinman said...

Thanks for the recent plug, Ricky. And I remember getting some of the Disney 45s (promotional ones) circa 1969 or so for winning a radio station contest. Some of the material was thin and it took all of Pops' ingenuity to rescue it, but this -- and CHIM CHIM CHEREE and STAR (the latter especially) are masterpieces. Marty just didn't recognize that the Disney songs were not any different from HOBO, YOU CAN'T RIDE THIS TRAIN or CUBAN PETE. Cheers and keep on reminding us of such things!

Lars-Erick Forsgren said...

Yes, go on remind us.
I have this Disney-LP, and there are some very good music.

Whatever tunes Louis used, he made them to gold.