Friday, February 6, 2009

The Three Little Bears

Those tuning in for today's scheduled posting on "Little Joe" will have to wait a few days longer as a better idea struck me this morning and I decided to put that one on the back burner until next week. My good friend Michael Steinman at the required-reading Jazz Lives blog has dedicated some of his recent postings to the Eddie Condon Floor Show, a landmark early presentation of pure unfiltered jazz on television. Alas, no footage exists from these shows but plenty of audio has leaked out over the decades. For the history of the show, as well as some beautiful memories and pictures, dig Michaels' work NOW.

In his last posting on the Condon series, Michael mentioned one of the highlights of the Condon show, Louis Armstrong's reading of "The Three Little Bears." Yep, you heard that right. On August 27, 1949, Pops took part in Condon's one-year anniversary show, which also featured the likes of Hot Lips Page, Sidney Bechet and Billie Holiday (now can you see why people have been lamenting the lack of footage from this program???). Armstrong brought Earl Hines and Jack Teagarden from his All Stars and sat in with a typical Condon super-group featuring the likes of Pee Wee Russell, Cutty Cutshall, Joe Bushkin, Jack Lesberg and George Wettling. Teagarden took the lead on "We Called It Music," a song tied in with the title of Condon's seminal autobiography, while Pops got to do a beautiful "Someday You'll Be Sorry" backed by Helen Cherell and the Swan-Tones. A closing jam session on "Chinatown" is also hotter than hot. I'd like to share all the Pops audio from this broadcast and perhaps I will someday real soon but for now, I don't want to detract from the unquestionable highlight: "The Three Little Bears."

I have no idea whose idea it was but give that man (or woman) a medal. Instead of just having Pops pick up a storybook and read it, someone wrote an elaborate retelling of the story for Pops to read, complete with humorous updated references to things such as a "junior atomic gun!" For dramatic effect, Pops gets a soap-opera-esque organ to back him while The Swan-Tones also make their presence felt with some sweet harmonizing.

But really, it's the Louis Armstrong Show from start to finish. Every single element of Armstrong's personality is in full force here. His acting skills are beautifully on display in his reading of the text but even croons a new, loving melody at one point, foreshadowing the career boost he was about to receive the following month when he recorded "Blueberry Hill" for Decca. And he also plays, gingerly finding an obbligato to the Swan-Tones in the beginning, perhaps a little unfamiliar with the melody. But by the end, he plays a wonderfully melodic solos...a whole different kind of storytelling, but it's just as effective.

So sit back and relax for 12-plus minutes and enjoy Louis Armstrong, King of Everything, lending his born charm and musical genius to something as seemingly silly as "The Three Little Bears." And enjoy this beautiful photo (copyright Genevieve Naylor/CORBIS) of Pops as he appeared on camera that day, storybook in hand, black-rimmed glasses on his nose, a group of children at his feet and the world's biggest smile on his face. It's such a touching photo:

And now, here's the audio, something I truly hope will be a favorite of my daughter in the future. Enjoy!


Michael Steinman said...

What a beautiful post -- and the closing photo is something that an enterprising marketer with taste (they do exist) should put on a coffee mug, perhaps, so that we could look at it every morning and feel joyously uplifted. And Ella will be a swinging child with a big heart: it's bound to be in her genes!

P.S. I hope the second photo will be in your upcoming book . . . ! Cheers and thanks, Michael

Uwe Zänisch said...

Another "Floor Show" clip from
September 3, 1949, New York, NY:

Louis Armstrong talks about "Heebie Jeebies" with Eddie Condon

Have fun !