Monday, May 18, 2009

Chloe (Song of the Swamp)

Louis Armstrong and Gordon Jenkins and His Orchestra
Recorded September 22, 1952
Track Time 3:06
Written by Neil Moret and Gus Kahn
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Bob McCracken, clarinet; Milt Yanker, alto saxophone; Stitz Feguson, tenor saxophone; George Berg, Romeo Penque, flute; Marty Napoleon, piano; Art Ryersno, guitar; Arvell Shaw, bass; Cozy Cole, drums; Unknown strings, Choir, vocal; Gordon Jenkins, arranger, conductor
Originally released on Decca 28524
Currently available on CD: Yes on Satchmo in Style
Available on Itunes? Yes

Ah, the sound of Louis Armstrong and Gordon Jenkins. Many hardened jazz people have had some problems with the "commercial" nature of this collaboration (Down Beat gave a compilation of the material two stars way back in the 50s), but honestly, I've never met an Armstrong nut who didn't have a soft spot for them (of the top of my head, I can recall Joe Muranyi, Marty Napoleon, Michael Steinman, Dave Whitney and many more Armstrong aficionados who have professed their love of these sessions to me).

In my upcoming book on Armstrong's later years, I discuss Armstrong and Jenkins's working relationship in good detail so I'll save some of the anecdotes for the day when it sees the light. Suffice to say, Jenkins worshipped Armstrong to an almost scary degree. He cried almost anytime he was near Pops, including in the recording studio, which says a lot since the same thing didn't seem to happen when Jenkins worked with Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland and other big names of the 40s and 50s.

The pairing of Jenkins and Armstrong hit a home run their first time out with the coupling of "That Lucky Old Sun" and "Blueberry Hill" in 1949. The following year, Jenkins pretty much owned the music world; at one point that year, Jenkins had a hand in the majority of the top ten records in the country. His signature, sentimental string sound and his unique use of voices made the Jenkins sound something very easy to spot. Decca wanted Armstrong to have hit records, so the pairing made complete and total sense in the early 50s. The placement of Armstrong in the middle of Jenkins's lush settings was akin to placing meatball on a velvet pillow but it worked.

Today's entry is from Armstrong and Jenkins's fourth session together, done on September 22, 1952. It was an interesting time for the All Stars as Trummy Young had recently joined, beginning his 11-year-run with the group. Also, Barney Bigard left for about six months and was replaced by Bob McCracken. The rhythm section consisted of Marty Napoleon, Cozy Cole and Arvell Shaw, the latter also having recently rejoined the band. All of them, minus Young, took part in the session, as they were augmented by a few reeds, the guitar of Art Ryerson (a staple of many of Armstrong's 1960s post-"Hello, Dolly" studio sessions) plus Jenkins's strings and voices.

The session was done two days after a month-long run at New York's Paramount Theater that featured both Jenkins's orchestra and the All Stars. Each show closed with both groups combining for "When the Saints Go Marching In," usually leaving Jenkins shaking backstage, crying from excitement (too bad a bootleg hasn't been discovered of that performance). Thus, everyone was very comfortable and very familiar with each other when it came time for the session. The day began with two Christmas songs, "Winter Wonderland" and "White Christmas," which I have written about it in my annual Christmas posting. But then it was time for Jenkins to trot out arrangements of two older tunes, "Chloe" and "Listen to the Mockingbird." Both are a lot of fun but for today's purposes, we're going to focus on "Chloe."
The song "Chloe" had been around since the 1930s and fans of classic jazz probably have some vivid aural memories associated with the song: Red Allen swinging it at an uptempo clip, Benny Goodman swinging through a Fletcher Henderson arrangement of the tune, the unforgettable sound of Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton's truly swamp-like trombone on Duke Ellington's version, etc. Before I even got into jazz, I loved Spike Jones's hilarious parody of it, complete with tuned cowbells taking the melody. But for Armstrong, Jenkins slowed the tempo dramatically, added some of his characteristically humorous touches and even let Pops's trumpet get in some scorching work. Let's listen to "Chloe."


The song "Chloe" comes in two parts. The verse consists of a minor-keyed run followed by the call of "Chloe," while the main strain is notable for its lovely chord changes. Armstrong's unaccompanied trumpet is pretty dazzling during the verse. He gets four chances to work-over the melody in his own fashion, taking more chances with each outing before his dramatic final break. The choir sets up Armstrong's beautiful vocal entrance, his voice containing a hint of scratchiness on the word "Through." The rhythm section swings lightly while Armstrong gets backed by either strings or voices. He doesn't deviate from the melody much or throw in any of his trademark asides or scat passages but he sings the hell out of it, especially in the dramatic final section, going up high to hit the climactic word "ain'" and going way back down for the final word "are." Armstrong's vocal range was showed off terrifically throughout the date (dig "White Christmas") and "Chloe" is no exception.

After a chorus, the impish Jenkins couldn't resist going for a laugh with a cute bit that finds the choir intoning "Louie, Louie" instead of "Chloe." Pops plays along and it's all in good fun. But after the short bit comes my favorite moment of the track, Armstrong swinging way in getting back to singing the final line. As writtne, it's simply, "Love is calling me/I've got to go where you are." But for the ending, Armstrong adds an entire new phrase, "I believe that I hear love calling me/ I've got to go where you are." The line swings like mad, almost all on a single pitch and he hits the downbeat--boom--perfectly with the word "I," pausing for a second after singing it. He practically defines swing with his reading of it and it even inspires the rhythm section to kick it up a few notches to close out the record. And what a close! Just listen to Pops hold that final note. The man was a master singer--"singing was my first hustle" he would proudly told people and with Jenkins, he recorded some of the finest vocals of his career.

"Chloe" isn't really a spectacular record and it doesn't contain anything earth-shattering but it radiates tremendous warmth while those opening trumpet calls generate remarkable heat. A record that never fails to make me smile. And isn't that what Louis Armstrong is all about?

3 comments:

Michael Steinman said...

As I don't have to remind you, Ricky, the feeling that Louis generates is always earth-shaking. A wonderful post about a touching record -- and my 10" Decca lp of the sessions with Jenkins is a prized possession, about fifty-plus years old and unaging. Cheers and thanks from a fellow Louisian, Michael

bernard said...

Please tell me..........
Did Louis ever record Gordon
Jenkins' beautiful and moving song,
"Goodbye"?
I suppose that there might only be
a remote possibility. If so, I
would LOVE to find it.
Thank you!
Bernard Lee

Ricky Riccardi said...

Hi Bernard! Sadly, Pops never got the chance to record Jenkins's "Goodbye." That would have been a helluva record but it was probably deemed too serious for Armstrong at the time. Most of the Jenkins records featured some lighthearted moments...and there's nothing lighthearted about "Goodbye"! Thanks for writing,

Ricky