Recorded October 14, 1957
Track Time 4:21
Written by Cole Porter
Recorded in Los Angeles
Louis Armstrong, vocal; Oscar Peterson, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Louie Bellson, drums
Originally released on Verve
Currently available on CD: Ella and Louis Again and Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson
Available on Itunes? Yes
Drummer Louie Bellson passed away over the weekend and that breaks my heart. For one, he was a favorite drummer of mine; I'd hate to count how many recordings I have with Bellson on them. But on a personal note, I now have to live with the fact that I never got to interview him for my Armstrong book to get his recollections of the dates he played with Pops in 1957 for Norman Granz. While I'll kick myself over this til the end of time, it won't ever dampen my admiration for Bellson's tasteful playing on these sessions.
Pops first recorded for Granz in the summer of 1956, making the first Ella and Louis album with Ella Fitzgerald, the Oscar Peterson trio and Buddy Rich. The album proved to be a big success so the cast reassembled the following summer for a longer, double-LP set with Bellson filling in for Rich. Two months later, Granz let Armstrong run loose with the Peterson rhythm section and Bellson for Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson, one of my favorite works of Armstrong's later years. The rhythm section and the choice of material challenged Armstrong throughout all these dates and Pops passed with flying colors.
Because the rhythm section played such a background role on all these dates, it's hard to find any Bellson showcases to spotlight today. The closest would probably be the warm-up run-through on "Indiana" from August 1, 1957. For the second pairing with Fitzgerald, both Ella and Louis were allowed to do a few solo numbers of their own. Armstrong recorded his that day but, as usual, chose to warm-up on "Indiana." The session tapes rolled and captured a pretty free-wheeling performance. The August dates for Granz are infamous because Pops played long gigs at night in Las Vegas and recorded during the daytime, so his chops weren't always in 100% form. He sounds a little hesitant at first on "Indiana" but he plays a lot of new ideas, before getting off his "set" solo towards the end. But there's a lot of talking and happy swinging (Pops even plays on his mouthpiece alone at one point). Bellson really drives the group well and Pops sounds quite happy. I know I've covered it in the past but it's worth another listen:
But when I heard the news that Bellson died, I immediately thought of his tasteful, yet driving drumming on "I Get A Kick Out Of You," recorded the same day as that "Indiana" warm-up. This has long been one of my all-time favorite Armstrong performances, though he doesn't play a note of trumpet on it. This is Pops the singer at his very best and more proof that if his lips fell apart in 1934, he still could have had a helluva career as a stand-alone singer (though thank God that never happened!).
There's not much I can say about the song "I Get A Kick Out Of You." It's a Cole Porter doozy, introduced by Ethel Merman in 1934 and covered by almost anyone with a voice and a standards mentality. The session tapes don't exist for this date, alas, but the Verve "Tape Legend" reports that the group gave "I Get A Kick Out Of You" a grand total of 13 takes. Of those 13, 10 were false starts and three were complete alternatives. After three false starts, Pops finally made it through the fourth take but after a few more false starts, he required a little rehearsal after take six. After straightening everything out, he finally hit a home run on the eighth take. Like I said, they continued making attempts until another complete alternative take was made on the thirteenth attempt, but it would have been tough to top the efforts of take eight. (Granz didn't believe in splicing or anything so either he liked a full take or he chucked it).
So without further ado, here's "I Get A Kick Out Of You":
Yeah, man. Peterson beautifully ushers in Pops's reading of the verse and he gives him sympathetic support throughout (I understand criticism of Peterson's excessive virtuosity as a soloist--though I don't quite agree--but I don't know how anyone could not love his accompaniments). Pops gets to show off his impressive range during the verse; listen to the way he sings the words "case" and "ennui." And I love the little vibrato on his voice on "totally cold," followed by a trademark "yeah." On the final "face" you can hear Pops start smiling; it's time to swing.
The Petersons launch into a simple two-beat vamp, Pops sets himself up with a perfectly placed "Yes" and we're off. The all meet on the downbeat and begin swinging at one of the most perfect medium tempos I've ever head. Bellson's brush patters are a little fatter during the two-beat vamp but man, when he locks in with Ray Brown's bass and Herb Ellis's guitar, it's as tight as it gets. I have a weakness for that brushes-on-the-snare sound (though I can't get my own drummers--I rotate two--in my own little trio to play like that!) and Bellson proves his mastery of it throughout the track, offering perfect little accents wherever they fit but without ever getting in the way.
But dig Pops. Porter's first line is as good as they come but Armstrong thinks it needs an extra syllable. So he sings, "I get no kick a-from champagne." "A-from" might not make grammatical sense but it works! Then there's the great "babes" peppered throughout and the almost Bing-like scatting after the first A section (after the second A section, that scat is pure Pops!). Peterson's a monster throughout, riffing like a big band during the "cocaine" verse and filling up spaces with beautifully conceived ideas such as the dizzying upward run in the bridge. Pops keeps pretty close to the melody throughout the chorus, but he's clearly digging the tempo and the quarter-notes of the bridge, swinging on the beat like he was playing his trumpet. And again, the range, digging deep for "flying too high" and going way up for "gal in the sky," hitting everything perfectly.
It's a great chorus, but stand back for take-off at the three-minute mark. Without missing a beat (literally), Bellson switches to sticks, Ellis's Texas guitar begins barking and the whole rhythm section turns the intensity level into overdrive. Armstrong goes back to the bridge and now he's letting it all out. Listen to the way he holds the words in the phrase "see you standing there before me." He holds each one a second longer than you'd expect. He's in his own rhythmic word, again, just as if he's playing the trumpet, and the result is scintillating. As he heads to the finish of the bridge, he throws in another syllable with "you obviously uh-don't adore me" and it works yet again.
But still stand back because now we're really swinging into the final A section. Pops's righteous "Mama" is a clarion call to forget all your problems, forget anything that ails you and come along for this delightfully swinging trip. If you're thinking of something else or not patting your foot, check your pulse. This is the happiest feeling on the planet (and it's legal!). Armstrong now rephrases where he sees fit while Bellson digs down with rim-of-the-snare-drum backbeats (a favorite technique of later Armstrong drummer Danny Barcelona), turning in a perfect fill after the "on a plane" line. Peterson's still riffing and Pops's is positively smoking. Going into the end, you know Pops is going to repeat the title phrase three times--you have to love the "Mama, I get a boot" line--before going into something clearly not in Porter's original lyrics: a scat, "I Get A Kick--boappa dot dot dot dah You!" Brilliance all around.
So it might not be a typically magnificent, five-minute Bellson drum solo but the sway he drives the Peterson trio and Pops on that track is pretty magnificent in itself. Rest in Peace, Louie...