Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded December 8, 1932
Track Time 3:01
Written by Dorothy Dick, Harry Link and Fats Waller
Recorded in Camden, NJ
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Louis Bacon, Louis Hunt, Billy Hicks, trumpet; Charlie Greene, trombone; Pete Clarke, clarinet, alto saxophone; Edgar Sampson, alto saxophone; Elmer Williams, tenor saxophone; Don Kirkpatrick, piano; John Trueheart, guitar; Elmer James, tuba; Chick Webb, drums
Originally released on Victor 24204
Currently available on CD: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (as well as a number of RCA compilations)
Available on Itunes? Yes
I've been mainly doing "Revisit" posts on my earliest ones, the ones without any music samples, but today I'm making an exception. I wrote about "I Hate to Leave You Now" almost a year ago, complete with music samples, but at the time, I mistakenly wrote about Armstrong using a straight mute on the tune. My trumpet-playing pal Dave Whitney was the first to tell me that I might have been wrong about that but now I have a detailed explanation I want to share from a German trumpet player, Herbert Christ. Herbert is an Armstrong authority and the last time I saw Joe Muranyi, Joe couldn't stop raving about Herbert's playing. Anyway, I think Herbert solved the case of the mystery mute, which I'll get to below. For now, let's begin at the beginning....
After being stuck in the 60s for my last few entries, it was nice to see the ol’ Itunes shuffle deposit me back to 1932, one of my personal favorite Armstrong periods. Today’s selection, “I Hate to Leave You Know” was from Armstrong’s first session for Victor, beginning a five-month stretch of recording that I’ve always considered to be the finest recorded evidence of Pops in his prime as a trumpet player. Some of the songs are dogs, some of the arrangements are sad and some of the section playing is woeful…but on track after track, Pops flies around his horn like Superman, totally in command and able to pull off any and every idea that came to mind, whether double-timed pre-bop runs like his 1920s self, or grandiose, operatic high notes, foreshadowing the player he was emerging into.
Armstrong’s first session for Victor didn’t feature his usual working band (the Zilner Randolph band), but rather that of drummer Chick Webb’s. Armstrong had recently returned from a tour of Europe and was now fronting Webb’s band for a short run of the revue, “Connie’s Hot Chocolates of 1932.” Webb and Armstrong seemingly got along well and Pops would later tell stories about Webb enthusiastically asking Armstrong to always play “Them There Eyes” for him. Armstrong also would go on to mention Webb almost every time one of his later drummers would get set to solo on Webb’s old anthem, “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” The Webb band also featured old friend Charlie Green, a trombonist who went back with Louis to his days with Fletcher Henderson, and Louis Bacon, a trumpeter who would join Armstrong’s big band just a few short years later.
This session took place in Victor’s famous church studio in Camden, NJ, a studio that was home for some of the finest jazz recordings made of that or any other era, including works by Bennie Moten, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller. The clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow was on hand for this session—he was Armstrong’s personal marijuana dealer, of course—and he remembered Armstrong looking around saying, “This is funny, ain’t it, Mezza, jammin’ in an ole church.” Mezzrow answered, “Where else should Gabriel Blow?”
Mezzrow remembered the session in great detail for his autobiography, Really the Blues. “He had a terrible sore lip,” Mezzrow wrote of Armstrong, “in addition to being dogtired, and that day he had played five shows and made two broadcasts….I didn’t see how poor old Pops was going to blow note one.” Indeed, the session began at 1:30 in the morning and certain precautions were made to make things easier on Armstrong. “They wouldn’t let Chick Webb use his bass drum on this date, mainly because Louis’ lip was in such bad shape and without the bass he wouldn’t be pushed so hard,” Mezzrow recalled.
Armstrong’s delicate lip held up and soon enough, he was soaring on “That’s My Home” and “Hobo You Can’t Ride This Train,” two tracks that came off so wonderfully, they were created for Armstrong’s Autobiography project 25 years later. Two takes survive of each of those numbers, each featuring different, strong solos by Armstrong, who might have been butchering his lip, but was still managing to make some pretty incredible sounds. But how long could he keep going?
“I Hate To Leave You Now” was the third tune up and it must have been a special choice for Armstrong since it was written by his good buddy, Fats Waller (though interestingly, as Dan Morgenstern pointed out in his liner notes to the Complete RCA recordings set, it was never registered for copyright until 1957 and as far as I can tell, has only been recorded by one other person, Hal Smith, in 1999). Feel free to listen along:
The Webb band takes a four-bar introduction and it’s clear by just those four bars that the Swing Era hadn’t quite begun—the tuba already sounds out-of-date and Webb’s static brush hit on the snare drum on each beat of the bar doesn’t even hint at his potential as a drummer (he must have missed his bass drum). So when did the Swing Era begin, you ask? Interestingly enough, just five days after this session, Bennie Moten’s band headed into these same Camden studios, and the fury and swing of that landmark session, which featured the likes of Count Basie, Hot Lips Page and Ben Webster, is THE moment the Swing Era came alive for this writer.
But even though the orchestration doesn’t exactly swing like Moten, no one could exactly swing like Armstrong, who makes the listener completely forget about the surroundings as soon as he picks up his muted trumpet. Here, I originally wrote, "Armstrong plays the melody with a straight mute, the only kind in his bag as it least changed the pure tone of his trumpet." But now I'm going to let my pal Herbert Christ take over:
"Louis used in those days beside his straight mute a mute which is used mainly for mexican or latin tunes. With a double bottom and hole in front to produce a different flavor. Black artificial leather covered. I have one of it and I am using it. I hear it on Home, On treasure Island, Love you funny thing, All of me. You can see those mutes clearly on a photo of his first Big Band of 1930 to 1932. I found one actually at ebay.com. They will send you the link. Also before he switched on trumpet from Conn to Selmer balanced. The horn he used till the end of his life. I try out the Conn model with great fun. This horn has the possibility to switch from Bb to A-key. This mechanic is installed at the first tuning slide of the Conn horn."
Sure enough, here's a link to a now-expired eBay auction for such a mute. Click here to see it. Fascinating stuff for us trumpet-freaks. But enough technical details, let's get back to the music...
That Armstrong’s chops were dying down is no surprise when you hear the little cracked note in the very first bar. However, he recovers and manages to caress the very pretty melody beautifully. This has to be one of my favorite muted Armstrong moments. His sound combined with the sound of that Camden church results in a positively heavenly experience. He’s ultra-relaxed, keeping his improvisation to a minimum, just singing the melody. Gorgeous stuff.
After a modulation by pianist Don Kirkpatrick, Armstrong takes the vocal in his charming tenor of the period:
Oh, the evening was splendid, while dancing with you,
Why can’t we extend it, an hour or two?
I’m sorry it ended, baby, but I Hate to Leave You Now.
Oh, my arms were around you, they held you tight,
Longed to surround you, the rest of my night.
But I’m glad I found you baby, but I Hate to Leave You Now-ow.
Oh dear your eyes are divine, when you look into mine,
There’s something that I want to see,
Oh, your love is hidden there, for somebody to share, babe,
It’s really meant for me. And dear!
You kiss me good night (ha ha), at your front door,
Before you dismiss me, just kiss me once more,
And tell me you miss me, I hate to lose you now.
Divine. Simply divine. He sounds so damned happy, how can you help but smile? A highlight for me is the way he enters the bridge: “Oh dear your eyes,” each a quarter note, landing on the first beat of the bridge with the word “eyes,” phrase much like his trumpet playing. He nearly explodes with the soulful, “And dear,” which carries into the cute little laugh during the last A section. Armstrong even screws up the last line, singing “I hate to lose you now,” but the message still works and what preceded it is so good, it doesn’t matter. Throughout the vocal the rhythm section relaxes a bit, with Webb’s brushes nicely prodding matters along.
Another Kirkpatrick interlude sets up Armstrong’s delicious entrance, playing five repeated C’s not on the beat but rather between each quarter-note, creating tension that resolves with the leap up to a high G. After this adventurous beginning, Armstrong calms down, probably not wanting to blow his chops out. He almost does that at the 2:44 mark as he plays a phrase that sounds like it’s going to go somewhere, but he just disappears for a few beats (you can hear the another trumpeter carrying on the melody in the background). When he gets his footing, he plays two quick F’s before a gigantic gliss to a high A, showing off a little power. He reminds me of a boxer in round 12; perhaps a little out-of-gas, but with enough smarts and pure power to flurry when it counts.
After the high A, Armstrong retreats back to the lower register for some lovely little phrases, before heralding the next A section with another high A. Summoning up everything he has left, Armstrong continues by playing the melody in the upper register, an octave higher than written, pulling it off though one split-second note is cracked at the 2:59 mark. With the end of the fight looming, Armstrong pours it on, emptying the tank with a series of bone-chilling high A’s before resolving to a high C at the bell. Winner and still champeen….
The originally issued take of “I Hate to Leave You Now” is a gem, for the muted beginning, delightful vocal, and powerful conclusion. But Armstrong wasn’t done yet. Victor’s A&R man, Eli Oberstein, recorded two takes of all four numbers recorded that day, which has led to a total of eight surviving takes from that December session. The alternate of “I Hate to Leave You Now” is marked –2, which usually signifies the second take but sometimes the numbering systems on those older jazz dates could be a little funny (a common problem: tracks marked –1 could either mean take 1 or the producer’s first choice for issue).
Regardless, here is the alternate take of “I Hate to Leave You Now”:
Once Armstrong opens with the mute, but he takes more liberties with the melody, almost from the very beginning. In some ways, I like the creativity of this take more than the issue, especially the relaxation of that simple descending motif 30 seconds in. His lip sounds stronger because he doesn’t spend too much time in the upper ranks of his horn. The vocal is similar to the first take, though I like the “Yes, Mm” after the first eight bars. In fact, after listening carefully again, I’m simply amazed by how many tiny changes Armstrong makes when he sings the song again. So if you don’t mind indulging me, here’s my transcription of the vocal on take 2. Compare it to the one from take 1 and you’ll see all the little differences that mean so much.
The evening was splendid, while dancing with you
Can’t we extend it, an hour or two?
I’m sorry it ended, baby, I Hate to Leave You Now. Yes, Mmmm…
My arms were around you, they held you tight
They longed to surround you, the rest-a-my night,
I’m glad that I found you baby, Mama, I Hate to Leave You Now.
Oh dear your eyes divine—yeah!—when they look into mine,
There’s something that I see,
Oh the love’s hidden there, somebody to share,
Is really meant for me. Mmmmm, dear!
You kiss me goodnight, at your door,
Before you dismiss me, kiss me one more,
Tell me you miss me, I Hate to Leave You Now.
Looking at some of those lines, they don’t even read like proper English. But Pops is feeling it and if a word or two is dropped, who cares, it’s all for the greater good (i.e. swing). Besides, he even gets the title right the last time through on this take!
So far, so good, but how are those chops holding up? He decides to eliminate all pleasantries, opting to dive right in with a gliss to a high G, holding it for two bars. It’s a mighty impressive way to begin the solo, but then he disappears for the next two bars. Clearly, he might have extended himself a little too much right off the bat, but there was no quit in Pops. He comes storming back with a typically Pops-ian phrase off a Dm chord, F to the low D to the high A. He repeats it, but misses the second note, causing him to abandon the three-note motif and instead focus on those fat high A’s again. Like the other take, he begins playing the melody an octave higher but again, peters out for a few beats. Is Pops on the ropes or is he playing possum? He answers that question with another stunning high A. His ending is sloppier rhythmically on this take than the perfect swing of the issue take, but he still manages to work over those A’s until the final high C. Overall, I think I might have to give take 2 the edge for the muted trumpet solo, but take 1 has the better final trumpet solo. And both vocals are so good, it’s a draw. Thus, Oberstein really couldn’t make a wrong decision, which is probably why the alternate was also issued during the 78 era by Victor and according to Morgenstern, became more common than the originally selected master!
That concludes this look at “I Hate to Leave You Now” but it didn’t conclude Armstrong’s day at that early morning session. He still had to get through two takes of a “You Rascal You” rip-off titled “You’ll Wish You’d Never Been Born.” On both takes, Armstrong sounds like the tank is empty but he continues to fight to end, turning in beautiful cadenzas on both. If listened to on a proper sound system, those unaccompanied opening solos sound like Armstrong’s in the same room. That song is also notable for being perhaps the first recorded example of Armstrong blowing his trumpet behind other soloists in order to keep his chops up before taking his own solo.
But that’s a story for another day. The only sad parting note concerning “I Hate to Leave You Now” revolves around something George Avakian told me. While preparing Armstrong’s 1955 Columbia album, Satch Plays Fats, Avakian and Armstrong selected 11 songs to record. Unfortunately, Avakian caught Armstrong a particularly grueling time (when wasn’t it grueling for Pops?) and Armstrong and the All Stars didn’t have time to go over some of the material, so two songs got the ax before the band even got to the studio: “Willow Tree” and—you guessed it—“I Hate to Leave You Now.” Oh, to think of the later Pops with the All Stars tackling that song, why, it might have rivaled that album’s classic version of “Blue Turning Grey Over You.” Oh well, it’s no use living a life of regret when we have two perfectly great takes from 1932 to choose from now, is it? S’all for now!