Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded March 5, 1929
Track Time 3:25
Written by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet; J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Albert Nicholas, clarinet; Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Teddy Hill, tenor saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Eddie Condon, banjo; Lonnie Johnson, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin, drums
Originally released on Okeh 8703
Currently available on CD: Both the JSP and Sony Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven boxes have it but it’s also on a bunch of compilations
Available on Itunes? Yes
Continuing on with the events of March 5, 1929, 80 years ago this week, we come to the second jewel record in that day’s trifecta of greatness, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Anyone who has wasted time on this blog knows that when I get to popular standards Armstrong recorded in the late 20s/early 30s, I like giving the history of the song to show how others were performing it and then compare it to the way Pops handled it. I also like to give the history of the song in question.
But “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” is a monster song and I think I’d be breaking blog records for length if I really got too in-depth on the background of this number, especially since I want to dig into five or six different Armstrong versions. Thus, I’m going to kindly send you over to the wonderful resource that is JazzStandards.com and I want you to read what trumpet player Chris Tyle (and a reader of this blog) has to say about the the tune. Chris has the very interesting chart information from Joel Whitburn’s research and he even gets into the background of who really wrote the song. Did Fats Waller and Andy Razaf write it and sell it to Fields and McHugh? There’s a strong possibility. But here’s the link to the Jazz Standards article. But be sure to come back when you’re done reading it because on that site, one things usually leads to another and the next thing you know, you’ll know the interesting histories behind dozens of standards...and you will not have eaten for three days (been there). Dig it...
To give the Cliffs Notes version, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby,” was originally written as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Lindy” for the great aviator, Charles Lindburgh. With “baby” replacing “Lindy,” the tune became a central part of the Lew Leslie’s all-black, smash hit show, Blackbirds of 1928, where it was performed by Aida Ward and Willard McClean, as well as Adelaide Hall. I could not find any reference to Hall recording the song at the time of the show’s popularity, but her most famous seems to be this one, recorded in 1938 and backed by Fats Waller’s organ:
As you can hear on that version, Hall performed it at a very slow tempo, full of a yearning quality that makes it sound like her lover is leaving her, and she’s pleading her case about the exact amount of love she can offer (the second chorus, where she drags Fats in, is a lot of fun). I’m guessing this is how she must have performed it in Blackbirds but I have no proof. But when one looks at some of the 1928 recordings of the tune, thanks to the Red Hot Jazz Archive, it’s interesting to see the different treatments the song garnered. (If you’re here for Pops, and that’s quite understandable, feel free to skip the following!)
For example, Johnny Hamp’s Kentucky Serenaders gave it a peppy treatment on May 17, 1928, complete with verse and 1920s vocal by a singer who sounds like he has a stuffy nose. Check it out by clicking here.
On the other side of the spectrum, just nine days later, Martha Copeland gave the verse a sad, lowdown treatment before picking up the tempo for the chorus and even throwing a solo to the great jazz trumpeter, Bubber Miley. Click here to listen (though be warned, there’s a terrible skip, even though it’s a computer transfer).
For an instrumental take, here’s a hot one by Red Nichols from May 31, 1928 with a great solo by Miff Mole. Here’s the link.
Annette Hanshaw followed Martha Copeland’s lead with a slow verse and peppy chorus on this version from July 1928.
Naturally, Paul Whiteman couldn’t resist giving it the symphonic jazz treatment (the introduction would be good for a game of “Name That Tune”). I can’t even keep track of the tempo changes over the course of this four-and-a-half minute version. Jack Fulton takes the effeminate vocal, all the rage of the 1920s (keep this one in mind for when we get to Pops). Bix Beiderbecke is wasted but Frank Trumbauer gets a few bars. To listen to the whole opus, click here.
Finally, in November, a black band got around to recording it when Duke Ellington recorded a relaxed, yet hot version for Victor with vocals by an out-of-place Irving Mills and everyone’s favorite growling blues singer, Baby Cox. If you can listen past Mill, there’s some great trumpet playing by Freddy Jenkins (Arthur Whetsel takes the opening solo). And stand back for a storming Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton and even a lead by Johnny Hodges in the steaming, riff-filled outchorus. Here’s the
Unfortunately, some of the really popular versions, such as those by Seger Ellis and Gene Austin, have managed to elude the online world. However, the supposed number one recording of the tune was recorded by the great Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards in 1928 and someone had the heart to make a YouTube video off of the 78. So here’s how most of America probably knew the tune in that year:
Notice the slower tempo? Keep that in mind, my friends...
Okay, on to Louis Armstrong (and welcome back to those who went out for a soda during the history lesson). Obviously, Armstrong’s most famous version of the tune was the one done on March 5 with Luis Russell, but Armstrong originally encountered it on December 11, 1928. It was done during Armstrong’s last great burst of Chicago recordings with Earl “Fatha” Hines, a session featuring the vocals of the painfully dated
Lillie Delk Christian, a vocalist whose voice and approach have become so dated, she has actually become somewhat charming. Following Edwards’s lead, Christian performs it at a relaxed tempo. She’s backed by Armstrong’s Hot Four, made up of Pops, Hines, the clarinet of Jimmy Noone and Mancy Carr’s guitar, which lends a loose, swinging feel to the rhythm section. You can listen to it here:
Christian can sure sound grating, but I like how the two horns never stop playing throughout the entire record. They never overpower her, though (unfortunately). Even in the instrumental interlude, everyone is relaxed and subdued, but Pops gets a little doubled-timed run in without really giving away his identity. It’s a very pretty record and Armstrong must have taken a liking to the tune, as he soon began performing it live.
Thus, when he arrived in New York for his one-off session and performance with Luis Russell’s orchestra, discussed in my “Knockin’ a Jug” entry. It’s not clear if Armstrong or his producer at OKeh, Tommy Rockwell, made the demand to record “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” which would become the first showtune Armstrong ever recorded. What is certain is that Pops played it the night before with the Russell band during his engagement at the Savoy Ballroom. And why did he play it? Because his old mentor Joe “King” Oliver was in the house.
Oliver had fallen on hard times since taking his band to New York City in 1927. Teeth problems made it tremendously difficult for him to play the trumpet and most of his group’s personnel abandoned him to join Luis Russell’s new group. Armstrong hadn’t seen his idol since the two of them played in Chicago in the mid-20s (not together, though apparently they did jam together sometimes). But here’s Pops in 1956, telling the story of this evening:
Isn’t that touching? So Oliver was in the house and Pops must have played his guts out. Was Oliver at the after-hours party, too, the one that spawned “Knockin’ A Jug”? I suppose it’s possible. But whatever the case the next day, after “Knockin’ A Jug” was recorded and everyone took the rest of the morning off, Armstrong returned to the studio and recorded the tune he had just played as a message to Oliver. It would be the first of many showtunes and pop songs in Armstrong’s discography.
As already mentioned in my previous entry, Armstrong was joined by Luis Russell’s orchestra full of New Orleans homeboys. According to Eddie Condon, Eddie Lang was supposed to play on the Russell session, originally scheduled for the morning. When the Russell session was pushed to the afternoon, Lang stayed on to record his part for “Knockin’ A Jug.” But when it was finally time to record Armstrong and Russell, Lang must not have been able to make it. Thus, OKeh sent out for Lang’s frequent recording partner, Lonnie Johnson. Johnson’s one of my all-time favorite and I have a bunch of his CDs of 1920s, 1940s and 1960s material (he seemed to do his most lasting work in even decades). In addition to being a guitar virtuoso, Johnson was a good man for the job because a) he also hailed from New Orleans and b) he had already recorded with Armstrong’s Hot Five back in 1927.
Also, Eddie Condon passed out from too much drinking in the morning, so he didn’t get to make his mark on “Knockin’ A Jug,” though he did get co-composer credits. However, he must have awakened by the afternoon and Pops, probably thankful that Condon organized the morning session, allowed Eddie to sit in with the Russell band, as well. Condon later downplayed his role on the Russell session, saying, “They let me sit in the corner and hold my banjo.” As we’ll here in a matter of minutes, Condon did more than just that.
So with the band assembled and a loose arrangement on hand, the band gave it a whirl. Their first attempt has some great moments but was ultimately rejected by Rockwell and the powers that be at OKeh. Somehow, a copy showed up years later that sounded like it had been buried until a bed of rocks for a few decades, but it’s still a discovery worth rejoicing over. Thus, this isn’t quite the main event, but here is take one, horrible sound and all:
Now I realize that was very difficult to listen to and some readers might have given it a few seconds, then moved on. Therefore, I don’t want to waste ten paragraphs on a cruddy sounding alternate take. I will discuss the alternate but only after listening to and discussing the master. So without further ado, here’s the master take of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” recorded 80 years ago today:
The first thing many people like to make a fuss about is the tempo. Almost all of the versions I played earlier had a bounce to their step. But Pops undeniably gave “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” a ballad treatment. It might seem different on the face of it, but in the end, facts don’t lie. And after running a metronome (yes, I’m that psychotic), this version of the tune is almost identical to both the Lillie Delk Christian AND the Cliff Edwards versions. And remember, Edwards had a huge hit with his rendition so it’s not like performing it at this tempo was completely unheard of. I just think Pops’s version sounds more like a ballad because of the weepy wall of saxophones and the two-beat sawing of Pops Foster’s bass.
About that saxophone section. Reminds one of Guy Lombardo, doesn’t it? That should come as no surprise to the Armstrong cognescenti as Armstrong would tell anyone who would listen about his love affair with Lombardo’s music. It was especially fresh at the time of this March 1929 date as Armstrong and drummer Zutty Singleton visited Lombardo’s band live at the Granada Cafe the previous September. Pops must have loved the way that band played the melody and he must have especially loved the sound of the saxophone section, qualities that soon began cropping up on Armstrong records (he also must have loved their songs, including “Sweethearts on Parade,” which he recorded with Lillie Delk Christian on the same date he first took a stab at “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and would record his own timeless recording of within two years).
So both takes start out by having the saxophones play the melody completely straight while Pops, using a straight mute, plays lead, making variations on the melody as he goes on, another technique that would soon become a hallmark on Armstrong’s future recordings. Midway through, Armstrong passes the ball to trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, who sounds much more assured on the master take, where his 16 bars are something of a classic.
So far, so good, but it’s the vocal that serious pushed this record into the pantheon. Armstrong had been singing since he was a youth in New Orleans and he made his mark on many Hot Five and Hot Seven records with his humorous singing, raspy voice, shouting style and popular scatting. By by the end of 1928, a new maturity was creeping into Armstrong’s style. During the numerous Chicago sessions, Armstrong began singing more and joking around less. He still swung like mad, but now he delivered thoughtful vocals on tunes such as “Save It, Pretty Mama” and “St. James Infirmary.” On “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” Armstrong’s new, more sober approach, reached its high point to that date.
I’ve edited out the vocals of both takes in case you really want to hear the differences, of which there are many. Like his concluding trumpet solo, Armstrong approached his vocals on both takes from a similar mindset but offered plenty of different ideas on each. Here’s the vocal on the first, unissued take:
And now the master vocal:
Armstrong begins both takes with the exact same transformation of the title phrase. Instead of patters of three descending notes, Armstrong sings “I can’t give you” entirely all on one pitch. But from there, he heads off into different, fascinating directions. On the unissued take, he immediately departs from the written word and begins playing around with the word “love” whereas on the master, he stays calmer and actually makes it through the first line without scatting. For the next four bars, Armstrong maintains a passionate, almost breathless, yearning tone to the lyrics on both takes, quite a different avenue from the man we heard singing and laughing on “That’s When I’ll Come Back To You,” which I blogged about last weekend.
Armstrong also fills in the space the same way on both takes after the line “you’re sure to find,” coming up with a descending scat that sounds like, “Boddle-a-boddle-a-boddle-a-boh.” But then check out the way Armstrong approaches the line, “all the things that you have cried for.” On the unissued take, he emphasizes each word harshly, but with a swinging edge. On the master, he voice, for intents and purposes becomes his horn; just listen to the high notes his voice hits for “all the thats that you,” putting a little vibrato on “you” so it’s eerily similar to a trumpet note. Feeling good, Armstrong discards the lyrics and just scats something much more swinging but nonsensical. Works either way...
For the start of the next 16-bars, Armstrong adopted a little stop-time action, giving more urgency to his reading of the lyrics. Just listen to the way he’s singing, then think about the written melody. Or listen to Jack Fulton with Paul Whiteman. Really, are we on the same planet anymore? Armstrong goes up for the word “swell” but then scats a very cool obbligato, different on each take. And you can practically drive a truck between the space Armstrong leaves between “diamond bracelets” and “Woolworth doesn’t sell,” which, again, has nothing to do with how Fields and McHugh (or Waller and Razaf) wrote the tune.
And I love what he does with the “til that lucky” day refrain. He sticks almost entirely to Eb’s on both takes, using a couple of C’s as jump-off parts for some supremely swinging, hornlike lines. For the final “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” Armstrong sings it almost entirely in high notes, still thinking like a trumpeter (or vice versa) but on the alternate, he resolves to the tonic, Ab, while on the master, he almost bizarrely drops almost an octave to a really low Eb. Genius in every way.
Louis Armstrong had done a lot of great singing on records up to this point but it’s this vocal that showed the music world what could be done with the written word. Talk about making the song your own! The words are obviously somewhat important as Armstrong delivers them with such earnestness, it’s like he’s making a final case about the authenticity of his love. But every time he gets too serious, he abandons the words and goes for himself, creating an incredibly complex, swinging atmosphere not present in the original song. I mean, at some points, the lyrics mean nothing. Instead of “happiness, and I guess,” on the master he sings, “happiness, and I greh.” I don’t even know the hell that means, but he made me believe it!
(Before I get to the trumpet solo, did you hear Eddie Condon? His banjo provides a subtle Latin tinge to the vocal, underpinning it the entire way. Thus, he definitely did more than just hold his banjo in the corner that day.)
Up to this point, it’s been vocal, vocal, vocal. And what a vocal! A wail of a vocal, a hell of an outing, genius of all genius singers. And then the guys steps back from the microphone, picks up a trumpet and plays one of the greatest solos you’ll ever hear! My argument, you’re honor, that no other musical genius could ever do exactly what Pops did. Revolutionary singing. Revolutionary trumpet playing. He’ll cut you one way or the other every time.
So let’s listen to these solos, which, like the vocals, have some similarities but really are almost completely different. Again, we’ll start with the alternate take:
And the master:
I mean really, have you ever heard so many ideas come from one horn in such a short period of time? This is the young, swashbuckling Armstrong and his virtuosity never fails to astound on these solos (and again, the reeds don’t quit playing the melody, good for demonstrating how much Armstrong deconstructed it with his soloing). He opens both with a similar idea, then goes in completely different directions. The alternate is the rougher of the two. There are some notes that sound a tad overbaked but hell, give the man credit for trying. He’s a little more “sane” on the master, using space like a champ. Notice the descending phrase he plays in the 12th bar of each solo is almost the same “bottle-a-bottle-a-bottle” phrase he scatted in the exact same spot of the vocal, phrased with a slightly different rhythmic emphasis but stemming from the same idea.
He also takes stunning breaks on both takes, pulling out all sorts of rapid-finger, floating phrases from out of his “West End Blues” playbook. I give the edge to the break on the master take for starting with that piercing high Bb. Like the vocal, Armstrong starts the second half of his solo with a stop-time passage, really generating some serious heat
though of few of the notes are a teency bit off pitch. Both takes also follow a similar pattern in the final eight bars (the “until that lucky day” part). Like the vocal, it’s primarily based on high Eb’s, though this time Armstrong uses them as springboards to even high Ab’s. Here, though, the way he gets out of it is more conservative on the alternate. What he plays on the master is simply a masterpiece, one of my all-time favorite bits of Armstrong improvisation because what he plays is so damn complex, yet logical at the same time. It’s the mixture of double-timed flurries with simpler, pounded-home repeated notes that kills me every time. I searched for words to describe it but in the end, I’ve just decided to edit it out so everyone can marvel at it:
Then it’s time for the ending, which unfortunately is the weakest part of the record. Armstrong tries a bit of chromatic business, starting with a concert Ab and working up to a freakishly high Eb. It was a good idea on paper but, for all of his genius, Armstrong wasn’t quite ready for these kind of endings just yet. His tone gets unusually small and shrill, he mispitches a note or two and on the unissued take, barely makes the final Eb with a tiny peep of a note. On the famed master, I don’t even think he hits it at all, instead landing in some sort of gray area between a D and an Eb. But we can’t penalize Pops for that because of what just transpired. That vocal and that solo are simply unforgettable.
The music world agreed. In ensuing years, the song became a favorite of trumpeters such as Cootie Williams, who took a few stabs at it, and vocalists such as Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters (the latter replicated every nuance of Armstrong’s vocal). I’d imagine it was a favorite of Pops’s, too, but alas, there are no surviving recordings of him performing it in the early 1930s. He did do it on an October 1937 episode of the “Saturday Night Swing Club” with Bob Crosby’s orchestra, but I have never heard this version.
But on June 24, 1938, Armstrong finally made another recording of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” this time for Decca. It was one of those odd Decca sessions where the label decided to replace Armstrong’s usual big band (which was now Luis Russell’s, to complete the full circle) with a small studio group made up of two trumpets, one trombone, one clarinet and a four-piece rhythm section, all the musicians almost completely unknown except for guitarist Dave Barbour and drummer Sid Weiss. To my ears, the arrangements were terrible for this sessions, very uninspired and delivered in lackluster fashion. Only Pops thrives, as he was still singing and playing in peak form.
Armstrong’s star was never bigger than at this point and Decca knew that the trumpeter’s OKeh recordings were classics of classics. Thus, they occasionally began sprinkling in remakes in 1937 and 1938 but doing sessions of them in 1939. For the June date, Armstrong remade “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Both versions pale besides the originals but still have their moments, courtesy of Pops.
Why remake “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” at this point? The song never really went out of fashion in the ten years since it was introduced. In fact, it was prominently featured in the screwball comedy classic Bringing Up Baby, released in February 1938. So Pops decided to take another stab at it with a slight brighter feel. Here’s how it turned out:
Notice, I said slightly brighter feel. The 1938 rhythm section keeps the forward motion going so it doesn’t quite feel like a ballad anymore, but it’s only about 120 beats per minute, up from the 108 of the original 1929 version.
After the introduction, Pops sings, still maintaing a sober profile complete with slight hesitations in his delivery, but much of the vocal athleticism is gone. It’s still a great vocal, but those looking for the free-wheeling scatting and scant attention to the lyrics of the OKeh might as well go back to that one. But remember, Pops was in a different place in 1938. He was a star, Joe Glaser was managing him and Decca’s studios had signs posted about the importance of the melody. Also, he matured quite a bit in that decade. I’m not saying Armstrong’s creativity was dampened! Oh please, no, then I’d be like all the rest of the critics! In fact, I think Armstrong became a better singer with each passing decade. He could still scat like a demon and many Deccas featured that aspect of his singing, but not “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”
(Oh, and I take back that “swinging like 1938” remark. Upon further listening, the rhythm section plays with a stiffer two-beat feel behind the vocal than the Russell band’s!)
Interestingly, Armstrong sings the remake in F, as opposed to Ab. However, a somewhat sloppily played line by the band gets us back into to Ab. After 16 fairly sorry bars Pops finally enters...help is on the way! He’s very, very relaxed on this solo and the band finally swings a bit behind him, drummer Weiss giving him a cymbal backbeat, one of Armstrong’s favorite devices. Armstrong’s entrance is note-perfect, but then immediately relaxes (is that a quote from “If This Isn’t Love,” a tune Fats Waller recorded?). This is a more mature Armstrong; that, coupled with blowing his chops out in the early 30s kind of killed off the great velocity that marked his 1920s playing. However, with more maturity came a greater sense of storytelling while, if anything, his unique sense of time and rhythm grew more lucid. Thus, he floats through this solo nicely, though he improvises an idea at the halfway mark that made an impression on him, as we’ll see in a bit. Here’s the idea:
It’s a good one and keep it in mind for when we get to the 1940s. Armstrong continues at his relaxed pace until he finally turns it up a few notches in the last eight bars, hitting some nice concert Ab’s. He even gets a little break, backed only by Weiss’s cymbals, and it’s a pretty good one, though nothing spectacular, in keeping with the mellow mood of the piece. A good record, but definitely not a classic of classics.
Again, versions of this tune disappear in the immediate years after 1938. But in 1943, with Joe Garland now serving as the band’s music director, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” came back in a big way. Garland gave the tune some guts, as opposed to the Decca version. The tempo went up and featured some of Armstrong’s brightest trumpet playing and singing of the period. All of a sudden, it seemed that every time Armstrong appeared on a radio broadcast, he was performing the song. Now, if you’ve made it this far, I commend you and can only tell you that I’m not going to share all five or so versions I have from the war years. But naturally, I have to share some, even if I promise not to go into graphic detail...I promise!
To prove it, how about a video? In April 1943, Armstrong performed the number while acting as a bartender in the Columbia film Jam Session. By this point, the band had been playing Garland’s new arrangement on the radio, which usually featured a pretty fast tempo. However, someone in Hollywood thought it would sound better at a slower tempo. So what you’ll hear is the Garland arrangement played slower than usual through the vocal (Pops is great as the bartender, especially how he looks at the one woman’s ring!). But as soon as he picks up the trumpet (every good bar has a strategically placed Selmer), the tempo jumps up to where Armstrong usually played it in this period. Here’s the clip:
Pops is swinging on that one! By this point, Armstrong had played “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” long enough to have a somewhat set solo. And what a solo it is! I love the pacing of his entrance, one note at a time, just enough to get everyone’s attention. Unlike the mellow Decca record, Pops blows his ass off here. Did you hear the “Decca lick” I excerpted earlier crop up at the start of the second half of his solo? It’s now much better placed as Pops has had a few years to become comfortable with it.
But just listen to that horn work in the last eight bars of his solo. The rapid runs are gone, replaced by brute power and astonishing high notes. Remember the trouble he had hitting that high concert Eb? Well, he now hits it flush on the nose...then quickly glisses up to a high F! Pops, getting better with age...
Joe Garland then solos on tenor followed by a clarinet solo. I always thought Prince Robinson took the clarinet solo on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” but it looks like this player picks up the clarinet after playing an alto, so it might be Rupert Cole. But after the band swings out for a while, an effervescent Pops closes it out, complete with an extended ending that always makes me smile. A great clip.
Pops became so identified with the song that in January 1944, it was his first big feature number at the Esquire Jazz Concert at the Metropolitan Opera House. Pops suffered from kidney stones that night so it wasn’t not at A+ night for him. But don’t think that he stunk or anything...I’d still give him a solid A-minus! This version should be of interest because you’ll hear the Esquire all star band basically playing Garland’s arrangement. And who is in the band? Jack Teagarden on trombone, Roy Eldridge on second trumpet, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Colean Hawkins on tenor saxophone, Art Tatum on piano, Al Casey on guitar, Oscar Pettiford on bass and Sid Catlett on drums. Ho hum, right?
Humorously, Pops gets off on the wrong foot by either singing into the wrong microphone or singing into one that wasn’t turned on. Regardless, all the Opera House patrons could see was a beaming Satchmo singing his heart out...and no words coming out! When Pops realized his problem, he laughed and cued the band to start over. The audience laughs (though listen for the one unfortunate lunkhead offer a derogatory “Come on, boy, come on”) and Pops manages to sing into the proper mike the second time around, winning applause for his efforts. Before I go too far, here’s this truly all-star version:
Once situated, Armstrong’s vocal is a joy but listen to that trumpet entrance. It’s the same one he played in Jam Session but now he’s joined by Big Sid Catlett, pushing all the right buttons and complimenting his every move with absolutely perfect accents. Unfortunately, a slight edit results in the elimination of a few bars, but it’s back in time to hear Pops shooting out the lights in his second eight bars, Catlett with him every step of the way. As Pops gathers steam, anyone who knows and loves the Armstrong-Catlett partnership should know what’s coming up next: backbeats, backbeats, backbeats. I love ‘em, and Pops responds, though he seemingly knows he’s not going to make that high concert Eb, so he sticks to hitting some C’s instead. Ho hum again, right?
Armstrong’s then followed by an absolutely roaring Coleman Hawkins and Barney Bigard. But does anyone else hear a heated Roy Eldridge jump in? Right after Hawkins, Eldridge hits a quick flurry of notes but it’s Bigard’s turn, so Roy goes back to riffing. Roy told anyone within earshot that he wanted to battle Pops that night but the ill Armstrong didn’t take up the challenge. Roy sounded like he was ready for round one here, but it wasn’t to be.
Before moving on, one more quick big band version. Now I’m aware I’m aiming for the nuts out there so this will be the link that maybe, I don’t know, four people will click on. But hang in there, because the 1956 remake has to be heard to be believed! But I wanted to end the big band examination of this tune with one more version, from Armstrong’s famed Carnegie Hall concert of February 8, 1947. This was the famous concert where Armstrong played half the night with Edmond Hall’s sextet and half the night with his big band. The Hall portion of the program won raves, adding more writing to the wall that Pops needed to ditch the big band. But that’s not to say that the second half was a waste of time. Sid Catlett returned as an added attraction to play drums with the large group...which was larger than ever thanks to the mid-to-late-40s vogue for loud, brassy big bands. What I love about this version is Pops improvises a lot (the “Decca lick” is gone, his tone is huge and again, Catlett’s the ideal partner-in-crime. Also, it’s interesting to note the R&B tinge to the saxophonists, who get pretty down and dirty. Pops was just following the trends, and to my ears, sounds great on this track. But this was to be one of the final triumphs of his big band. Give it a listen if you have time:
A few months later, on May 17, 1947, Armstrong did a small group concert with a number of top jazzmen at New York’s Town Hall. Armstrong revisited many numbers he made during the Okeh days and rarely sounded better. The audience and the critics went ecstatic and just weeks later, Armstrong broke up the big band and formed the small group he would lead until the day he died, the All Stars. One of the songs revisited that night was “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Here’s how it came out:
Armstrong still gave it an uptempo treatment, playing an ensemble chorus of melody backed by Jack Teagarden’s trombone, Bobby Hackett’s second trumpet and Peanuts Hucko’s clarinet. After a happy vocal, Armstrong throws it over to Dick Cary for a piano solo (listen to the guys laughing and talking during the solo; clearly, this was a fun night for all involved). Listen carefully as Pops says, “Let’s knock it out,” his battle cry to his fellow musicians to play one more supercharged ensemble chorus. Well, it resembles an ensemble chorus but it’s really the Louis Armstrong Show (once again with special guest star Big Sid Catlett). This time, Armstrong opens with the “Decca lick’ before playing some new ideas and some old ones. They all work, that’s for sure, especially the insane gliss up to a the high Eb (there’s that note again) at the halfway point. Once up there, Armstrong sticks to upper portions of the upper register for some fierce blowing to conclude this smoking hot version.
Somehow, for a song so associated with him, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” never became a standard part of the All Stars’s book. He did perform it on television a couple of times but nothing else matters except for the version he made of it for Decca’s Autobiography project. It was the third tune recorded at the album’s first session, made on December 11, 1956, and one of the greatest sessions of Armstrong’s entire career.
Like my “Knockin’ A Jug” entry, you’re about to see a bit of a repeat in my thinking. Remember how crazy I was about the 1929 OKeh version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”? Well, I meant every word of it, just as I did when I went nuts for the original “Knockin’ A Jug.” But once again, for all my enthusiasm, awe and wonderment....I prefer the Autobiography version.
If you’re still looking for the waterfalls of scat singing and the ridiculous the trumpet-playing velocity of 1929, you’ll be disappointed. But I think Pops sings it better in 1956 and (blasphemy!) he plays it better, too. But don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourself:
I’m almost in tears over here. Where to begin? Well, first there’s the tempo. NOW we’re in ballad territory as this record is a full minute longer than the original. Pops again takes a half-chorus with a mute but now there’s an added bonus: a dynamite break that ends with--you guessed it--the 1938 “Decca lick.” An incredibly solemn Trummy Young caresses the melody as Brother Higginbotham did in 1929, taking a pretty great break himself.
Then there’s the vocal, which perfectly recaptures the mood of the original. Pops sings the hell out of it, keeping whole lines on one pitch, throwing in some scatting and rephrasing wherever fit (listen to how he sings “dream awhile,” then goes way up for “scheme” and way down for the next “awhile”). He still thrives on the stop-time second half opening and he phrases the last eight bars much as he did in 1929, relying on those repeated Eb’s. He even ends on the low Eb, as he did on the master take. But there’s more warmth, more emotion, to my ears, stuff he learned from years of singing these kinds of songs (remember, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” was the first showtune he every sang on a record). Hell, he spent the previous summer singing standards with Ella Fitzgerald for Norman Granz so you KNOW he was a better pure. singer of these songs in his later years.
But we haven’t even gotten to the trumpet solo yet (the short tenor saxophone solo is by the great Lucky Thompson). This track was arranged by Sy Oliver, who transcribed all of Armstrong’s original solos for the project in case Armstrong really wanted to recreate them in note-for-note fashion. But Oliver was smart enough to write “Go For Yourself” on all the arrangements. On this one, Pops sure did. Here’s the solo
His opening phrase is similar to how he began his solo on the unissued take in 1929, but after that, it’s Louis Armstrong, 1956 edition, and he’s something to marvel at. Just listen to that tone. And that rhythm. The velocity isn’t the same, but there’s enough fleet-fingered phrases to make the listener keep shaking his or her head. And that range. Jesus, within the first eight bars, he’s already hitting a breathtaking high Bb. In the next eight bars, he starts with a series of high Ab’s. He opens the break with the most crystal-clear, fat high Bb I’ve ever heard. And we’re only halfway there.
For the break, he follows the pattern of the original and while he can’t match the speed, his sound is twice as big on the 1956 version. The same goes for the stop-time portion. He continues getting stronger as he goes long, pulverizing a three-note motive into the ground, repeating it over and over as the sense of urgency grows. For the final eight bars, where he took off on that mesmerizing flight I excerpted earlier, Pops come up with something simpler but no less challenging as he pumps out a series of pulsating high Ab’s.
But what about the chromatic ending? That was the only part of the record to somewhat defeat the young Armstrong in 1929. But in 1956, there’s no such problems. In fact, the climb is a bit slower, allowing Armstrong to hold each not for a second longer. And when he finally gets to that Eb (top F on the trumpet), instead of barely squeaking it out, Armstrong hits it and HOLDS it! In this excerpt, I’ve edited the endings of the two 1929 takes and the 1956 remake together:
Stunning, isn’t it? During my first Armstrong lecture at the Institute of Jazz Studies, I made a passionate case for the importance of Armstrong’s later recordings. Among my many examples, I compared the two “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” solos and especially focused on the endings. Esteemed trumpeter Randy Sandke was in the crowd and at that point, he raised his hand and said that in his mind, as a trumpeter, Louis Armstrong was a better technical trumpeter in 1956 than he was in 1929. He had a bigger sound, a greater range and he knew how to do more subtle things with it (and some not-so-subtle things, as well). Now that’s a mighty serious comment, but I’ve never picked up a trumpet and Randy’s one of the best technical trumpeters I’ve ever heard so take it from someone who knows.
“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” still didn’t become one of the All Stars’s regular features in the years after the 1956 remake. In 1960, though, it made a brief appearance as vocalist Velma Middleton’s exit music. She’d come out for a few numbers and as she took her bows, the band would play a bright chorus of the song. However, it would only last a chorus and then Pops would announce his next number. It was a sweet choice for a song for Velma but sadly it didn’t last long as Middleton died in February 1961, not too long after the band started playing it.
But Pops had one more run-in with the song that’s worth examining. I’ve written about the 1962 German “Satchmo Story” before and I want to quickly mention it again. This was a two-part television show shot in a studio with no audience that more or less served as a filmed version of the Autobiography. A German disc jockey told stories about Armstrong’s life and Pops and the All Stars responded by playing different tunes from throughout the trumpeter’s career. Unlike the Autobiography, the special didn’t have a lot of preparation. Armstrong was 60 and hadn’t played a lot of these number in years. But he delivered some of his finest performances of the 60s, playing beautiful farewell performances of some of his best-loved tunes like “You Rascal You” and “Dippermouth Blues.”
For “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” the All Stars picked a relaxed medium tempo, reminiscent of the 1938 Decca. Unfortunately, embedding is disabled on YouTube so all I can do is provide the URL address and urge you to go watch it right now because it’s such a beautiful clip. Here’s the address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvKEzc3JXo4
And for those who just want to hear it, I transferred the audio to my Itunes a long time ago so here’s the audio:
Isn’t that lovely? That opening ensemble could not be any more relaxed. It’s nice to hear Pops take a full chorus lead instead of handing it over to the trombone. Then he sings, walking up a bit to hit his mark. I love this vocal, especially the emphasis he puts on the word “Gee.” With time for only one chorus, Armstrong picks up his trumpet and walks back to his original spot, starting to play in mid-stride. It’s such a pretty 16 bars, more subdued than a lot of what we’ve heard but it’s still full of creativity. His upper register sounds beautiful for a 60-year-old man, and after handing the ball to Trummy Young for a swinging eight bars, Armstrong plays a few bars then hits a remarkable gliss up to another one of those crazy Eb’s. After a Danny Barcelona drum break, Armstrong plays a simple tag with some not-so-simple high C’s. He’s at the peak of his game and he knows it, as does Trummy Young who immediately gives Armstrong an emphatic five for support.
And that would be that for “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and Louis Armstrong (though he did sing an uptempo version on the Mike Douglas Show in 1964). The song obviously fit him like a glove and every time he played it, he made magic. I know this is part two of the March 5, 1929 trifecta with a look at “Mahogany Hall Stomp” still to come. But with your kind permission, I’m going to hold that one off until Monday or Tuesday next week. This entry had over 20 music examples, two videos and 7,600 words...I highly doubt anyone is going to digest it today and start demanding more tomorrow (and if this doesn’t get me recognized by Jazz.com, nothing will!). So I’m going to go back to working on the book and listening to the many versions of “Mahogany Hall” in my collection and I’ll come up with something good next week, though I might post one of my all-time favorite Armstrong videos this weekend as it finally arrived on YouTube. Which one? Stay tuned...