Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hustlin' And Bustlin' For Baby

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded January 26, 1933
Track Time 3:11
Written by Harry Woods
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Ellis Whitlock, Zilner Randolph, trumpet; Keg Johnson, trombone; Scoville Browne, George Oldham, alto saxophone, clarinet; Budd Johnson, tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Mike McKendrick, guitar; Bill Oldham, tuba; Yank Porter, drums
Originally released on Victor 24233
Currently available on CD: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (as well as a number of RCA compilations)
Available on Itunes? Yes

The Itunes shuffle knows about my fixation on Armstrong’s big band recordings from 1932 and 1933 so here we are again, discussing another one of those classics. “Hustlin’ and Bustlin’ for Baby” was the third tune recorded at a legendary session from January 26, 1933, the first two not exactly being slouches: “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.” If you’ve never heard those tracks, seek them now and be prepared to have your mind blown (both have been blogged about yours truly, if that helps).

“Hustlin’ and Bustlin’ for Baby” was written by Harry Woods, a songwriter and pianist responsible for a score of standards, including “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along,” “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and more. “Hustlin’ and Bustlin’” is primarily remembered for Armstrong’s recording of it and as far as I can tell, the only other musician to feature it in the decades after was the great Ruby Braff. But in early 1933, the song’s publishers tried giving it a push, resulting in a brief flurry of activity for the song. Honestly, Armstrong was up first but because I like comparing his treatments of songs to what else was out there at the time, I’m going to save his for last.

If you like hot, New York-based jazz of the early 30s, you’re going to love this one. It’s the Adrian Rollini Orchestra doing the tune for Decca on February 14, 1933. In addition to Rollini’s bass saxophone, goofus, vibraphone and xylophone (the man was a monster), the song also features the cream of the New York jazz scene of the period: Manny Klein on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto saxophone, Arthur Rollini on tenor saxophone, Joe Venuti on violin, Charlie Magnante on accordion, Fulton McGrath on piano, Art Miller on bass and an unknown guitarist and drummer. Dick Robertson, an inoffensive pop singer of the day handles the vocal. For those accustomed to the relaxed pace of Armstrong’s record, the peppy tempo might come as a surprise, but I think it’s a fun, creatively arranged records (an xylophone and accordion passage!)

The song also travelled to London around this time, recorded by British bandleader Billy Cotton on March 11, 1933 with a vocal by Sam Browne. It’s more of a straight, dance band arrangement than Rollini’s hotter version, but that doesn’t make it any less important. This was popular music of 1933, folks, and I think we should take it ALL in. Besides, the violin playing at the end of the record is pretty hot, isn’t it? Here ‘tis:

So that’s how the popular music world pretty much treated “Hustlin’ and Bustlin’ for Baby” when the song was published in 1933. Fine records, but both are little known. But now, let’s give a listen to Pops’s definitive treatment of the tune. Seriously, it only takes a few seconds to understand that though this was recorded at the same exact time as what we’ve just heard, Louis Armstrong was living in a different universe:

The record begins with the band taking an unaccompanied introduction, sounding perhaps a tad bit shaky, but no reason to start complaining. I’ve always found Armstrong’s entrance to be almost comical as he plays just two, hurried notes as part of the pick-up to his opening phrase, announcing to the listeners, “I’m here!” Then he begins playing the melody and, at the more leisurely tempo, it sounds like a completely different song. It’s actually a lovely tune but all of its charm was sacrificed for speed on the other versions I discussed. Here, Armstrong is at his most relaxed though the immense passion he infuses the melody cannot be sufficiently measured. It’s clear he loved the tune, plain and simple.

After eight straight bars, Armstrong begins varying the way he plays the melody, reimagining the tune’s natural ascending arc with a series of two-note descending phrases that gradually, through slight of hand, also manage to rise while falling. Armstrong does crack a high note at around the :30 second mark, a tell-tale sign that he had already beaten his chops to death on the first two flawless performances recorded that day. I’ve written much about these Victor sessions and must repeat my thesis again: Armstrong’s trumpet playing was arguably in peak form during these sessions, his style caught somewhere between the daring, flowing runs of his youth and the grander, more operatic style of his later years. However, his chops were also beginning to seriously fail him and at times, the pain and strain of his performing life occasionally crept into his playing, sometimes adding a frail, human quality to some superhuman moments.

After a great bridge (he seems to float to the clouds in his closing phrase), Armstrong hands it over to the reeds to finish the chorus, the rhythm section (featuring a young Teddy Wilson on piano) swinging nicely. Then it’s vocal time, Armstrong announcing his entrance with a long “Ohhhh.” Just as he clearly dug the melody by the way he approached it on his horn, he also clearly had affection for the lyrics. He seemed to relish tunes about working hard for money, something he had done his entire life (“That Lucky Old Sun” and “Hello Brother” also come to mind). The vocal is typically effervescent for the period, with Pops’s enthusiasm infiltrating every syllable of Woods’s lyric. Mike McKendrick’s guitar is a nice touch, too. Listen to how McKendrick almost plays the melody straight; then simultaneously listen to Pops’s rephrasing of it, which doesn’t exactly fit the way it was originally composed. Finally, at the conclusion of the chorus, Pops bursts forth with a dazzling scat passage that even he seems to approve of. Are you having any fun yet? God knows Pops is!

The band plays eight more bars (you can hear Armstrong faintly yelling in the back) before Pops picks up his horn for the climactic trumpet solo. It’s a doozy, opening with Armstrong rising and falling almost in perfect symmetry. He more or less floats through the bridge with the greatest of ease before he turns on the heat towards the finish, the band surging with him. Armstrong climaxes with a high Bb before finishing up with a patented slow cadenza. A beautiful record.

Armstrong’s recording of “Hustlin’ and Bustlin’ for Baby” had an almost immediate impact upon release. Need proof? Here, on March 8, 1933, just six weeks after Armstrong recorded his version, is a cover done by the Washboard Rhythm Kings. Playing trumpet and singing is the wonderful Taft Jordan, one of Armstrong’s most devoted disciples. The record is done slightly faster than Armstrong’s but Jordan’s opening muted trumpet solo is right out of Armstrong’s playbook from the period. Jordan’s vocal is a 100% Armstrong imitation and though he doesn’t solo any more, I feel his opening solo and that vocal clearly mark the record as a tribute to Armstrong. Give it a listen:

Pretty cool, eh? Anyway, that would have been the end of the story a few years ago...until last year’s glorious issue of Armstrong’s Fleischmann’s Yeast broadcasts of 1937, the most significant Armstrong discovery in years (decades, perhaps). I wrote a small thesis on this material when it was originally released by the Jazz Heritage Society. You can read it by clicking here. Now, when I originally wrote that blog, you could only order the set by becoming a member of he Musical Heritage Society. I complained that it was unfair to Armstrong that such a historic release would only be available to members of a club and that it should have the proper exposure given to historic discoveries by the likes of Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk.

Fortunately, the Jazz Heritage Society people agreed and late last year, it was finally offered to the general public. Jeff Mahajan of the Musical Heritage Society wrote me recently to let the world know that the release has it’s own website now, courtesy of The Jazz Store. If you still don’t own this set, click here and get it NOW!

Anyway, that preamble is my way of saying that Armstrong recording “Hustlin’ and Bustlin’ for Baby” during the Fleischmann’s run. Today, Armstrong nuts love the tune but it’s definitely not one of the trumpeter’s best-known performances. But I’m guessing it must have had a pretty good reception upon its original release because here it is, still being performed on national radio four years later. Enjoy it:

The tempo is a bit faster but what I find remarkable is how it is almost identical to the Victor recording. (It's even the same arrangement!) Armstrong often got criticized for “setting” his solos in his later years but here he is in 1937--his prime, in my opinion--almost playing the exact same stuff he played on the original recording. Even the scat break that concludes the vocal is identical. Admittedly, it’s not exactly note-for-note the same throughout--vocally and instrumentally--but it’s pretty damn close, meaning that Armstrong probably performed this tune more than some might think.

Of course, there are differences. The band, Luis Russell’s, is even looser than the one on the original record, drummer Paul Barbarin’s accents being particularly masterful. Armstrong’s closing cadenzas became an art form during his Decca years, thus, we’re treated to a longer one at the close of the broadcast performance. The bridge doesn’t quite float as weightlessly in 1933 but is now more melodic than before. Overall, a dynamite performance.

“Hustlin’ and Bustlin’ for Baby” might have never become a true standard, but that doesn’t diminish great beauty of Armstrong’s performances of it. It’s a great song, one that should still be performed, in my opinion (does anyone else out there play it? I’m sure there must be someone). Anyway, I somehow managed to squeeze out this extended blog in between baby feedings and diaper changes so I’m going to relax,enjoy the weekend and celebrate my four-year wedding anniversary with the missus and little Ella. Hustling and bustling for my babies? I know all about it, brother...


worldsgreatestmusicdad said...

Wonderful blog that I've just discovered. Thanks! Ruby Braff did a fine version which was my introduction to this lovely tune. Am I right in thinking that it's melodically/harmonically related to 'Wrap your troubles in dreams'?

Crash said...

Since you mentioned it, would you happen to know why the song "Hello Brother" was revolved around "brothers" when the main content of the song was about finding a loving woman? Or is it just a way to express emotion, like saying "oh, brother"?

Les Bull said...

I don't do blogs, but I had to comment on this one. I'm in a traditional jazz band in the North of England which has been playing 'Hustlin' and Bustlin', on and off, for about 20 years! Love the tune, love the vocal, and I'm delighted to hear several other interesting versions - Billy Cotton even! But Louis did the definitive versions of course. The recording I've got of Louis is different from the two you have on the site. All just beautiful!

Many thanks!