Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Will Wait For You Revisited

Recorded March 26, 1968
Track time 3:17
Written by Michael Legrand (English Lyrics by Norman Gimbel)
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Jimmy Nottingham, trumpet; Tyree Glenn, trombone, Joe Muranyi, clarinet; Marty Napoleon, piano; Everett Barksdale, guitar; Art Ryerson, banjo; Buddy Catlett, bass; Danny Barcelona, drums; with unknown mixed choir, Dick Jacobs, conductor
Originally Released on the Brunswick LP "I Will Wait For You" (Brunswick BL 754136)
Currently on CD: "The Best of Louis Armstrong," a foreign cheapie from German that's almost impossible to find but it IS on Itunes.
Available on Itunes? Yes, on "The Best of Louis Armstrong Volume 1" (Details later)

Yesterday was the 45th anniversary of "I Will Wait for You," one of my all-time favorite Armstrong records. I missed the anniversary date but it's worth celebrating any day of the year. Here's an old post I wrote about it...Enjoy!

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Hooray for the Itunes shuffle for picking this gem! After "Hello, Dolly," Armstrong and the All Stars continued touring at a frentic pace, with Armstrong and the guys in the band putting on a helluva show night after night. Unfortunately, record companies didn't know what to do with Armstrong after the success of "Dolly" so they began making soundalike records, right down to plugging a banjo into the All Stars. Armstrong's Mercury recordings are a mixed bag and his forgotten Brunswick 45s range from the ridiculous (a cover of the Lovin' Spoonfull's "Daydream") to the sublime (a rare, latter-day original co-composed with Marty Napoleon, "Louie's Dream"). In August 1967, Armstrong recorded Bob Theile's "What a Wonderful World" and though it wasn't much of a hit at the time (at least in the U.S.), at least it presented an alternative to the "Dolly" sound (though Armstrong had sung ballads over orchestras with strings and a choir years earlier...Gordon Jenkins, anyone?).

In October 1967, Brunswick hired arranger Dick Jacobs to arrange an album of movie songs for Armstrong to record. Armstrong's health declined in early 1967 and his trumpet playing, though still there, was becoming less and less a part of the show. On the entire Jacobs-arranged album, Armstrong plays a total of 40 bars of trumpet. His voice is in fine form but he's constantly tripped up by poor material and hideous arrangements such as "The Happy Time," perhaps the worst record of Armstrong's career mainly due to the disgustingly sweet choir that makes the listener want to blow up his or her listening device within the first six seconds. Jacobs had no feel for this music and by augmenting the All Stars with a banjo, guitar AND Everett Barksdale's weirdly popping electric bass guitar, he managed to overcrowd the rhythm section to the point where all they could do was plod and bounce in an incessant two-beat. When I asked Joe Muranyi about Jacobs, he summed him up in one word: "Schmuck."

The bulk of the Brunswick album was recorded in late 1967 but needed three more tracks to complete it, Armstrong reentered the studio on March 26, 1968. 1968 was the last great year Armstrong, at least until September when he fell ill and had to shut it down for 1969. Waiting for him was Michael Legrand's "I Will Wait For You," taken from the acclaimed 1964 French musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Armstrong's performance is an example of good triumphing over evil. Try as he might to cover up Armstrong's genius with a cloying choir, annoying electric bass and a soul-destroying two-beat, Jacobs can't keep Armstrong down on "I Will Wait For You," undeniably a highlight of Armstrong’s twilight period. Here's the audio:


The stirring opening trumpet cadenza over minor chords is a throwback to his younger days. The opening phrase is one of his favorites, lifted verbatim from the way he used to close Arvell Shaw's bass feature with the All Stars, "Russian Lullaby" (it's also faintly alluded to in his break on Jewel Brown's feature "Jerry" in the 1962 Goodyear film). The descending run that follows is very characteristic and the whole thing is played with that kind of free-floating rhythm that had been his hallmark since his youth. The vocal is a gas, if you permit me to fall into 1957 lingo for a minute. He sounds like he's having a ball, even giving the choir an enthusiastic, "Yeah!" when they enter and shit all over the bridge. But after a modulation, Armstrong reenters with some of the most joyous, infectious singing of career and yes, I know that is saying a LOT. Here's the way he sings the first two lines after the bridge:

If it takes forever, MAMA, I will wait for you..hehehe, YEAH
For a thousand summers, BABY, I will wait for you...ohhhhhhh yeah

At the end, he creates a vocal cadenza to match the opening trumpet statement, repeating the word "sharing" four times and when he comes to the final words, "your love," he substitues a slightly different two-word phrase: "hot mama!" I don't have my copy of Satchmo nearby but I know Gary Giddins pointed out that it's the only version of "I Will Wait For You" where you know what the singer has in mind when the girl he's waiting for finally returns! And for good measure, Armstrong scats one of his favorite minor-key phrase to close the record, the same one he ends his duet with Ella on "Summertime."

Listening to the vocal, replete with added “babe’s” and “mama’s” is further proof that his singing remained unchanged since the 1920s and in fact, was actually better in his later period. And again, the opening trumpet cadenza harkens back to his youth. A big part of my research is my steadfast determination to destroy the popular idea that there were two Armstrongs: the young artist and the later entertainer (1929 onward). Now is not the time to go into details (I left my soapbox in the trunk of my car), but the truth is Armstrong always managed to combine art and entertainment (slight pause while some readers clutch their chest at the mere thought) as he always mugged onstage, winning rave reviews for it in Chicago newspaper reviews of the mid-20s. And for every "West End Blues," there's a "Big Fat Ma and Skinny Pa." And even when Okeh started giving him pop songs in the 20s and when Decca started giving him film songs in the 30s, it was no different than hiring him to dress up "I Will Wait For You" and "Talk To The Animals" in 1968. I urge you to spend the three minutes and listen to the above link of "I Will Wait For You." Try to get past the choir, the rhythmic clunk and the lame arrangement and listen to Armstrong himself. Listen to the trumpet, listen to the vocal and try to tell me that's not the same soul as the 1928 edition. Sure, his chops weren't what they used to be but it's the same musical spirit that pervaded his entire career. There was only one Louis Armstrong and thank God for that.

(Note on the Itunes source: you can find "I Will Wait For You" on Itunes on an album simply titled "The Best of Louis Armstrong Vol. 1." It's a reissue of a three-disc German release that I paid heavy money for a while back and can't be found on CD in America. All three volumes are available on Itunes and can be spotted by the vertical orange title on the left side and a black-and-white photo of Armstrong on the right. Here's the really weird part: all the tracks on the album are credited to Arthur Johnston (?) but they're all Armstrong, trust me! Volumes 1 and 2 contain Armstrong's entire Mercury output and the complete I Will Wait For You Brunswick LP. And though it's not marked that way, Volume 3 has the ultra-rare alternate take of "Wrap Your Trouble In Dreams" from 1931. Enjoy!)

2 comments:

Scott Merrell said...

Thanks for this information on the Brunswick album being available on I-tunes!

LOUIS said...

I saw Michel Legrand in concert some 3 years ago. In spite of his age, he was still playing and singing fine, in his sweet way.
I guess he must know Louis's version of his song, but I am not sure he recognized it, as his own original version was far milder.
Although being in his late sixties at the time of this recording, Louis still had red and hot blood running through his veins...