Louis Armstrong and The All Stars
Recorded November 1965
Track Time 3:11
Written by Benjamin and John Spikes
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Buster Bailey, clarinet; Billy Kyle, piano; Buddy Catlett, bass; Danny Barceona, drums
Originally released on Reprise R 6180
Currently available on CD:No
Available on Itunes? No
Last week, David Ostwald's Louis Armstrong Centennial Band celebrated their ninth year at Birdland in New York City. Our friend Michael Steinman was not only in attendance but he brought along his camera crew and documented the evening on his "Jazz Lives" blog, complete with video clips (clickhere to dig it). Anyway, David and the gang played "Someday, Sweetheart," which Michael wasn't sure if Louis ever recorded. It turns out that Pops did wax it in 1965 but it's a recording that has never been issued on CD or MP3 so this is the only place in town you'll hear it today, folks.
But first, a quick bit of history. I think of "Someday, Sweetheart" as one of the great early jazz standards. Jelly Roll Morton claimed to have written it but it was claimed by the Spikes Brothers when it was published by Melrose (I'm sure Jelly Roll was okay with that!). Nevertheless, Jelly Roll recorded a memorable version (complete with strings), as did King Oliver (with the tuba playing the melody). Glancing through my Itunes, it seems like almost everyone took a stab at it; I have versions by Mildred Bailey, Benny Goodman, Red Allen, Jimmy Rushing, Kid Ory, Paul Barbarin, George Lewis, Lena Horne and more. Thus, it's a little odd that Pops never waxed a version of the tune in its heyday...or did he??? (Cue dramatic duh-duh-DUH music).
In 1927, Louis Armstrong took part in his "50 Hot Choruses" experiment. For the full story on that project, check out my blog from March on the subject by clicking here. In a nutshell, Armstrong, backed by pianist Elmer Schoebel, recorded solos and breaks on over 50 songs of the period. We're talking about, prime 1927 Armstrong here. The results were transcribed and a book of transcriptions was published...then the original recorded cylinders were lost or destroyed and no musical archeologist, not even Indiana Jones, has been able to turn up this holy grail for jazz fans.
But thank God for our dear, departed friend Gösta Hägglöf and the famed Swedish trumpeter Bent Persson. Beginning in the 1970s, Gus and Bent teamed up to recreate the original transcribed solos. Instead of just having Bent play them backed by a piano, as they were originally done, the two dreamed up the idea to place each song in one of the many settings Armstrong found himself playing in during the 20s: small bands, large groups, duets with pianos, Hot Seven lineups, and more. The project took years to complete but was eventually released on three CDs on Gus's Kenneth label. Since Gus passed away in March, his labels have been a bit in limbo but I've been assured by his brother that his material will indeed be available again. Stay tuned...
Anyway, that's a very long way of saying that Louis Armstrong recorded "Someday Sweetheart" as part of the 50 Hot Choruses project. Bent and a group of Swedish musicians gave it a pretty full treatment when they recorded it in 1991, starting with the final four bars (a la Jelly), featuring a reed duet, the trombone playing the verse and even a charming, period-flavored vocal by drummer Christer Ekhe. It's a wonderfully authentic performance but it all builds up to the final chorus, where the entire 32 bars of trumpet Bent plays are as Pops played them in 1927. It's some great stuff, with the adventurous flurries of notes we associate with Pops's 1920s playing, a stoic bridge, complete with break, and a an almost-stuttering sense of rhythm that is ridiculously tricky (part of me thinks Bent is one of the few to be able to pull it off). And the final phrase would crop up a few years later on Armstrong's OKeh version of "Little Joe," which I have also blogged about in the recent past. Anyway, the whole performance is a lot of fun, but that concluding trumpet solo is a gassuh. Here's the audio:
But though Armstrong performed it for Melrose, there are no records of him playing it again until 1965 when he appeared in the film A Man Called Adam. The film starred Sammy Davis Jr. as a troubled jazz trumpet player that cannot overcome the numerous cliches hurled at him by half-hearted screenwriters and ultimately succumbs in the end. Still, Armstrong has a nice dramatic part in it as an old-fashioned trumpet player, Willie "Sweet Daddy" Ferguson. It's the kind of film that shows what Armstrong could have done if given parts with a little more dramatic meat on them, but alas, it wasn't to be and really A Man Called Adam is all we have. And since the film isn't especially good it hasn't even appeared on DVD (or YouTube for that matter).
In the film, Armstrong and his All Stars at the time perform "Someday Sweetheart" and "Back O'Town Blues," Armstrong sounding quite wonderful on both pieces. 1965 is pretty much the final year of pure, no-frills trumpet playing in Armstrong's career. During a European tour of the first part of that year, Armstrong's trumpet playing was simply stunning. However, he had a dental procedure that forced him to take some time off and he never seems to have regained full 100% status after that. He still blew some great stuff during the rest of 1965 but by 1966, the chops began growing more and more erratic.
Anyway, he was having a good day when he cut the soundtrack recordings for A Man Called Adam. I'm guessing Armstrong was given "Someday Sweetheart" to do because his character was supposed to be so old-fashioned. Speaking of which, on the recording, you'll hear regular All Stars Buddy Catlett on bass and Danny Barcelona on drums. But in the film, the much older John Brown plays bass and Jo Jones is on drums. I asked Danny about it and he said, "Then they told me, 'Well, Danny, you and Buddy Catlett won’t be in the movie cause we got to get, got to have guys in the movie, got to be like over 60 years old.' I said, 'Okay.'"
So enough of the preamble, here's "Someday Sweetheart," as recorded for A Man Called Adam in November 1965:
Isn't that a good one? The trumpet sounds very strong during the opening full chorus and Pops sings it like he had been doing it for decades (backed nicely by Tyree Glenn's muted trombone). The rhythm section is really locked into a nice, lightly swinging groove, a perfect tempo. After the vocal, Glenn, clarinetist Bailey and Pops himself take eight bars each, Armstrong getting nice harmonies from the other horns behind him (Benny Carter did the music for the film so I wonder if he helped shape this performance). The final righteous and Armstrong even sings a nice high note to end the performance.
That's pretty much all that has to be said for "Someday Sweetheart." It's a shame that Armstrong didn't perform it more often but I'm very happy with that 1965 version and those 1927 breaks...though if only he recorded it in full in '27. Wow. Oh well, that's jazz history for you, full of what-ifs. I'm going to quit now and wish everyone a happy weekend and hopefully I'll be back with more good old good ones next week.