Thursday, April 16, 2009

Onkel Satchmo's Lullaby

Ah, parenthood. Baby Ella continues to make me happier and happier with each passing day...except for the hours between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. where she conveniently forgets how to sleep. Delirium usually sets in as Margaret and I take turns rocking her, feeding her and doing everything in our power to put her to sleep and allow us to get some rest--any rest--before the sun comes up and she has two zombies for parents.

While rocking her one night, my wife told me to sing to her. I didn't know what to do (should I scat "Heebie Jeebies") so the word "lullaby" rolled around in my brain. And all of a sudden, I remembered "Onkel Satchmo's Lullaby" with its very pretty melodic hook. I gave it a whirl and, though it didn't have any immediate effect on the baby, it did give me an idea for a short blog posting.

50 years ago, on May 20, 1959--a month before the Spoleto, Italy heart attack, Louis Armstrong appeared in a German film, La Paloma. He had been on a marathon tour with the All Stars since January, appearing in numerous films along the way. Armstrong's mystical appearance in La Paloma was saved for the end, when he magically appeared onstage to play and sing "Onkel Satchmo's Lullaby," soon joined by Gabriele Clonisch. In the late 50s, Germany saw a boom in popular, young, recording artists, a fad that even got mentioned in the December 9, 1958 issue of Time magazine. I quote: "Most ardent believer is a brash, well-formed 15-year-old Berlin schoolgirl named Cornelia Froboess—known only as Conny—who has sold 1,450,000 records on the Electrola label this year, earned royalties of $60,000 (of which her father-manager doles out pocket money at the rate of 26¢ a month). Sighing with all the delicate modulation of a stricken heifer, she belts out Tin Pan Alley tunes and ersatz German approximations with equal gusto. Conny just finished her first movie, commands a following of 56 adoring fan clubs with about 10,000 members. She travels about Germany with a retinue that includes a tutor and a private secretary."

"In Conny's wake, a flock of single-named moppets have assaulted the recording studios. Among them: twelve-year-old Gabriele (Clonisch), whose Schokoladeneis (Chocolate Ice Cream) has already sold 250,000 copies, although she started singing into her businessman-father's dictating machine only a few months ago; and nine-year-old Brigitte (Reisberger), who has a big hit called Lieber Pappi, Mach Mai Sonntag (Dear Daddy, Take a Day Off)."

So Clonisch was a big, 12-year-old star at the time, big enough to share the screen with Pops. It's a supremely sweet piece of footage, as Armstrong rarely appeared more endearing (and that's saying a LOT). The song is quite pretty, too. Here's a recording of it in very nice quality:



But thanks to YouTube, here's the original clip:


Isn't that beautiful? Six years later, the All Stars embarked on a historic tour of Europe, cracking the Iron Curtain a bit in playing places like Prague and East Berlin. On March 25, the All Stars took part in a TV appearance in Hoechst, Germany, best known for a clip of Armstrong doing "Hello, Dolly" backed by Max Greger's big band. Unfortunately, the early part of the show, featuring the All Stars, doesn't survive as I've never heard or seen anything from it. But right before "Dolly," Armstrong introduced young Hansi Jochmann to do, you guessed it, a live version of "Onkel Satchmo's Lullaby." I Googled Jochmann and found an impressive website, with decades of credits as an accomplished actress on German stage, screen and television (she's the German voice of Jodie Foster in almost all of her movies!).

Pops obviously hadn't played or probably even thought of the song since the original movie but they obviously had a rehearsal, as the All Stars sound good. Also, Pops seems to look offstage a bit here and there, making me think that there might have been a cue card or two to refresh his memory. Unfortunately, there's no trumpet playing but Pops's warmth is better than the most expensive heating blanket you can buy. Dig it:


And that's that for "Onkel Satchmo's Lullaby." It's Ella's bedtime and I'll try giving it a whirl again. Even if it doesn't work now, I'm sure little Ella is going to get to know her "Uncle Satchmo" quite well in the years to come! Have a great weekend!

Loo-ra-loo-ra-loo.....loo-ra-loo-ra-li....

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