Friday, March 27, 2009

Mahogany Hall Stomp - Part 3

The third and final look at Louis Armstrong’s history with “Mahogany Hall Stomp” will focus on the All Stars years. When the All Stars made their debut in August 1947, they played a lot of clubs such as Billy Berg’s in Los Angeles and the Rag Doll in Chicago, playing multiple sets each night. But by the fall, they began a concert tour, playing premium venues and offering two long sets each night. In these early days, the pacing of these shows did not differ too much and everything usually fell into a pretty similar routine. Thus, in the set lists from the first months of the All Stars, you’ll find “Mahogany Hall Stomp” always located in the same place: first song of the second set, right after a brief instrumental version of the theme, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.”

Armstrong liked to open his second sets with something hard-charging (later years saw “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” “New Orleans Function” and others take the spot) and “Mahogany Hall Stomp” fit the bill. I’m going to start with an ultra-rare, unreleased version from a Carnegie Hall concert, November 15, 1947. The band features Jack Teagarden on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Dick Cary on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass and the great Sid Catlett on drums. Originally, when I conceived of this post, I thought only version from this period would suffice but people are crazy over Catlett, so I’ll share a few. Here’s the Carnegie Hall version, at a slightly slower tempo than usual, more in tune with the original 1929 version:



That’s a great one. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear all sorts of conversation and encouragement going on, which shows how loose and friendly the band was, treating Carnegie Hall’s hallowed stage as if it was just another nightclub. The band already set on a routine: the usual opening strain and blues chorus, then solos by trombone, piano, bass, Armstrong and clarinet before the rideout choruses. Pops liked to use the technique of soloing after the bass player’s turn because it provided a great change of dynamics (he also did it on “Indiana” and “Barbecue”). Armstrong relies on his 1929 solo, though the muted days are gone. Someone (possibly Sid) moans their approval as Armstrong’s solo unfurls and his held note is met with cries of “Hold it!”

I love hearing things take shape and a good example of that can be found in Armstrong’s third chorus, the ascending riff. The first time he plays it, Jack Teagarden plays a quiet low note. The second time, Barney Bigard plays a brief upward swoop but Teagarden stays silent. By the third time, they each play their part and it kind of locks in. Pay attention as this will become much tighter in the next few samples. Then Barney solos, still with plenty of energy (he wasn’t bored yet) but he receives no backing riffs, something that would also change. Pops again resorts back to the original version for some of his rideout playing, climaxed by a huge concert Eb in the last chorus. A great version.

Two weeks later, on November 30, 1947, the All Stars played a famous concert at Symphony Hall, famous because Decca released most of it on a double-LP set in 1950. Two weeks might not seem like a lot of time but everything’s tightened up a bit, starting with the tempo, which is now faster. Give it a listen:



Sid Catlett’s also a little more animated on the Symphony Hall version (dig him behind Cary’s piano solo). In fact, everyone sounds a little more super -charged. Catlett’s with Armstrong all the way during his solo and Barney and Teagarden have worked on their response to Armstrong’s riff and they sound a little tighter. Also, Bigard has some riffs to work with courtesy of Mssrs. Armstrong and Teagarden in his second chorus. A classic version.

I can keep going and going but instead I’ll offer just a solo as a change of pace. “Mahogany Hall” was even tighter by the time the All Stars hit Europe in 1948, Earl Hines now on piano. On March 2, they played Paris, a delightful concert that really should have been issued on C.D. by now. Unfortunately, my copy is pitched a little high (The blues in E? What is this a rock group?) but it’s worth sharing the solo because it really captures Catlett’s cymbal sound wonderfully:



Now let’s flash to March 1949, one of Catlett’s last dates with the band, the Hollywood Empire in Los Angeles. This is one of my favorite versions of the tune because the routine is polished to perfection. Everything, the riffs, the drum hits, Barney and Tea’s little background, is perfectly in place yet everything sounds spontaneous. And in one case, it truly is spontaneous: Armstrong plays a completely different solo! Here’s the full recording:



And for those with little time to spare, here’s the solo:



In my first lecture at the Institute of Jazz Studies, I used this solo to demonstrate Pops’s ability to improvise and change it up a bit when he felt like it. Here’s a solo that was so famous most trumpet players--including himself--couldn’t play “Mahogany Hall Stomp” without quoting that 1929 outing in note-for-note fashion. But here’s Pops himself, using the original as a point of departure before creating something very fresh. He doesn’t even hold the Bb, instead coming up with some beautiful new lines. He almost sounds like he doesn’t even want to play the ascending riff as he rephrases it a bit the first time but realizing Jack and Barney are ready with their responses, he plays it as usual, ending the solo with a giant gliss.

Another “Mahogany Hall Stomp” exists from the summer of 1949 but I’m not going to share it because the sound quality is kind of cruddy. However, according to Jos Willems’s Armstrong discography, there are no surviving performances of the tune until 1956! Now, does that mean that Armstrong never performed it live? Of course not. In fact, one of his live performances caused such a sensation, it inserted “Mahogany Hall Stomp” back into regular rotation.

The version in question came from Armstrong’s May 1956 tour of London with the All Stars, now featuring Trummy Young on trombone, Edmond Hall on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano, Jack Lesberg on bass and Barrett Deems on drums, my favorite version (and Dizzy Gillespie’s, as I pointed out on Monday). At Empress Hall, Armstrong knew that 25-year-old Princess Margaret was in attendance and decided to play one for her, consequently making headlines. “Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong broke all rules of theatrical protocol before Princess Margaret tonight. And the princess apparently loved it,” Eddy Gilmore wrote in an Associated Press story picked up in many newspapers around the world. “‘We’ve got one of our special fans in the house,’ growled the gravel-voiced American trumpeter, ‘and we’re really gonna lay this one on for the princess.’ A gasp went over the huge audience in Empress Hall. Professional performers are not supposed to refer to members of the royal family when playing before them. ‘Yes, sir’ said Satchmo, as the princess grinned and hugged her knees, ‘we gonna blow ‘em down with one of those old good ones from New Orleans—“Mahogany Hall Stomp.”’ The princess applauded with marked enthusiasm.”

It made for a great story and all of a sudden, it seemed that no show was complete without “Mahogany Hall Stomp.” Armstrong tour was filmed by Edward R. Murrow for the film Satchmo the Great. Armstrong’s producer at Columbia, George Avakian, wanted to do a soundtrack for the album, too. The Princess Margaret story had to be included in both. So before Armstrong’s July 14, 1956 concert at Lewisohn Stadium, Avakian recorded a bunch of tunes during an All Stars rehearsal. He later added applause and some of them made the final cut on the soundtrack. One was this exciting version of “Mahogany Hall Stomp”:


I love those early editions of the All Stars but when you listen to these versions back to back, this version really trumped them in terms of pure power and excitement (I love Deems but can you imagine if Catlett lived long enough to play with this edition?).

The solo order is almost exactly as it was in the late 40s but now Pops had the entire solo to himself, not getting any comments from Young and Hall, though Kyle plays some neat riffs under the held note. Hall gets his riffs but now is followed by Trummy Young’s roaring trombone, Deems ratcheting up the volume on his drumming as the tune gathers more and more steam. Very hot stuff.

In December, Armstrong remade “Mahogany Hall Stomp” for his Autobiography project on Decca. Sy Oliver wrote a nondescript arrangement with the additional reeds more or less just providing padding for what was the standard All Stars version. Here ‘tis:



The big differences in this version include the solo order (Edmond Hall now goes first and Trummy immediately follows the trumpet solo), there’s no bass solo (sorry Squire Gersh) and Armstrong’s held note gets a brand new riff. Also, as I’ve pointed out in past entries, The Barrett Deems Drum Machine 2000 (patent pending) never stops playing on the closed hi-hat, an order that must have been dictated to him by producer Milt Gabler since he sure as hell didn’t play like that normally. Never mind that though, as the stuff going on in the front line is ridiculously exciting (and I like the new riff Oliver throws in in the outchorus).

But to conclude this long look at “Mahogany Hall Stomp,” I have to end with perhaps my all-time very favorite version. If you only have time to listen to one of these music samples, make it this one:



Newport 1957 became a famous gig in the annals of Armstrong as it was the one when George Wein notified Armstrong backstage that Pops was to sit in with a bunch of different musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald, meaning Velma Middleton wouldn’t be needed. Armstrong didn’t like anyone messing with his show and when he saw Velma crying, he unleashed his wrath explosively. He went on with his All Stars and did his show, including Velma, refusing to sit in with anybody else.

Onstage, Armstrong didn’t show his anger. He put on his usual wonderful show and perhaps took out some of his rage in this absolutely stomping version of “Mahogany Hall Stomp.” The piece now mirrored the Autobiography as Pops got a riff under his held-note, but now bassist Squire Gersh got to solo. Deems is finally himself, bashing the hell out of his drums for all their worth. It’s a romping performance, capturing this edition of the All Stars at their peak but stay tuned for the surprise encore. Armstrong calls for one more and the ensemble takes two more choruses that are just plain remarkable with Trummy Young blowing his horn to bits and Armstrong snorting out some swinging blues on his horn. Incredible!

The All Stars continued to play “Mahogany Hall Stomp” frequently in 1957 (it even replaced “Indiana” as the opener once) and even played it during the first Timex television jazz showcase in December. And then it disappeared, at least according to the discography. There are literally no more surviving versions after 1957 except for one from 1962 on the German television show I’ve written about The Satchmo Story, where Pops revisited some of his early triumphs. An edited version was broadcast in Germany in the 90s and that’s been passed around by collectors with some performances ending up on YouTube. But “Mahogany Hall” didn’t make the cut so it’s still languishing somewhere in a German television vault...release it!

And that’s that for “Mahogany Hall Stomp.” Somehow I cranked out five more posts this week, topping the 200th post mark, which I’m proud of. But I may be a father as soon as next week so I can’t promise this kind of activity for a while. But I have some older entries I want to update with some sound samples so look forward to those in the near future. Have a great weekend!