Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Gypsy In My Soul

Louis Armstrong With Dick Jacobs's Orchestra
Recorded November 1, 1967
Track Time 2:52
Written by Clay Boland and Moe Jaffe
Recorded in New York, NY
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Joe Muranyi, clarinet; Marty Napoleon, piano; Art Ryerson, banjo; Wally Richardson, guitar; Everett Barksdale, electric bass; Buddy Catlett, bass; Grady Tate, drums; with unknown vocal group with three male and three female voices, Dick Jacobs, conductor
Originally released on Brunswick BL 754136
Currently available on CD: Tough to find, but it's on a couple of compilations, including one blandly titled "The Best of Louis Armstrong"
Available on Itunes? Yes

It must be Dick Jacobs week on my Ipod. Yesterday, I shuffled it and came up with "Ramona," with Jacobs as a member of the saxophone section. And today it's "The Gypsy in My Soul," one of Jacobs's arrangements for a 1968 Armstrong album on Brunswick, I Will Wait For You. Trust me, yesterday was a much better choice...

That's not to say that "The Gypsy in My Soul" is worthless. No, that distinction would go to a couple of other Jacobs-arranged choices for that Brunswick LP such as "I Believe" or "The Happy Time." In the words of All Stars clarinetist Joe Muranyi, who played on these sessions, Jacobs was a "schmuck." Muranyi made sure to let me know that he wasn't a bad guy or anything but he was just a square, commercial arranger. And even with the great Louis Armstrong at the microphone, he produced an album of square, commercial music.

I know my reputation is the guy who worships every note that Armstrong ever played or sang. Hell, to some, I probably treated "Ramona" like "West End Blues." But even I have to admit when things went wrong and that Brunswick stuff is pretty lame. Armstrong gives it his all but the material is too weak and he only gets to play 40 bars of trumpet on the entire album. I've blogged about "I Will Wait For You," the title song, which is outstanding, and the vocal version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" is very affecting. But the rest? It's touch and go throughout...

"The Gypsy in My Soul" was written in 1937 by two graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, Moe Jaffe and Clay Boland. It was written for the 50th anniversary of UPenn's Mask and Wig show and according to sources, wasn't much of a hit at the time of its composition but over the years, it grew into something of a minor standard. Some jazzmen tackled it, such as Lester Young, Oscar Peterson and Barney Kessell, but really, it was a tune tailor made for the pop ilk such as Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., Patti Page and Doris Day.

I don't know how the tune ended up on Armstrong's Brunswick LP since it had been written 30 years earlier. Every other song on that album was either the theme song of a film or in the case of "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "That's My Desire," a song Armstrong was currently featuring live with the All Stars. Perhaps Pops himself suggested it since he had a thing for gypsies (see my previous blog on "The Gypsy," which included a radio interview Armstrong did from 1968 where he goes into some detail on the subject).

Anyway, at least "The Gypsy In My Soul" is of a better pedigree than some of the other slop on the album. Pops sounds happy throughout and even takes a short, but potent trumpet spot. Unfortunately, you'll also hear the trademarks's of Jacobs's arrangements: the cloying voices, the organ and the rubbery bounce of Everett Barksdale's electric bass (Barksdale was also on "Ramona"...get that man his guitar back!). Here's how it came out:


There it is. When I concentrate on Pops, it's hard not to smile. He's clearly enjoying the songs, belting out the "No cares, no strings" strain with gusto. You can hear the All Stars trying to be the All Stars behind him, but they're frequently clashing with organ and the electric bass. But after the vocal chorus, the band decides to swing instead of bounce and everything picks up. Tyree Glenn swings out in a short spot before Pops comes out in a declarative mood for eight totally too-short bars of trumpet playing. By this point, Armstrong's chops were officially erratic, struggling one night and nailing all the high notes the next. He sounds like he's having a good day here but at eight bars, there's not really enough to sink one's teeth into.

Pops's reprisal of the vocal is good one but he really unleashes his personality with his spoken asides during the closing vamp: "Hey, Gypsy! Come on over here, babes!" Fun stuff. Overall, not a record for the time capsule but hey, it made me smile and in the end, Louis Armstrong's music can always be counted on for that.

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