Friday, August 21, 2009

No Time Is A Good Good-Bye Time

Louis Armstrong and The All Stars
Recorded December 18, 1967
Track Time 2:05
Written by Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman
Recorded in New York, NY
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Clark Terry, trumpte; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Joe Muranyi, clarinet; Marty Napoleon, piano; Wally Richardson, Everett Barksdale, guitar; Buddy Catlett, bass; Danny Barcelona, drums; Mitch Miller, conductor; Norman Leyden, arranger
Originally released on United Artists 50251
Currently available on CD: No
Available on Itunes? No

After giving the ol' Itunes shuffle a spin a couple of times, I decided to honor an old request by one of my readers, Len Pogost, who wanted me to do something on a true rarity in the Armstrong discography, "No Time Is A Good Good-Bye Time." How rare is this song? Never mind MP3s; it has never been issued on CD and in the United States, only survives in its original 45 pressing. Fortunately, fellow Pops-nut Dave Whitney has a copy of that record and he was gracious enough to copy it for me, which is how I will be sharing it today. So big thanks to Dave...you'll want to thank him to, because the record is surprisingly a good one.

The song "No Time Is A Good Good-Bye Time" comes from a Here's Where I Belong, a Broadway musical version of John Steinbeck's East of Eden written by Alex Gordon and Terrence McNally with music by Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman. If you do some quick online research on those names, you'll see that they're all talented men who went on to do some good things in the theater world...but Here's Where I Belong wasn't one of them. It literally closed after one single performance. A total bomb. McNally asked for his name to be removed from the credits before it even opened! To quote Uhry, "None of us mention it in our bios." Yikes.

So how did Louis Armstrong get involved? Well, it was "Hello, Dolly" all over again, at least on paper. Someone with ties to the show must have grabbed Joe Glaser's ear and convinced him that the show was going to be a smash and that it featured a couple of songs that would be ideal for Pops. Glaser probably threw a number out there and United Artists bit, even giving him the show's producer, Mitch Miller, as the A&R man. Mind you, this was literally weeks after the Brunswick session that produced "The Gypsy In My Soul," as discussed here the other day. And it was days after Armstrong sang four songs IN ITALIAN for the Company Discografica Italiana label.

Pardon me while I have a strange interlude; it's almost mind-boggling how many labels Armstrong recorded for in his last years. Think about it: from 1932 through 1954, Armstrong had exclusive contracts with TWO labels, Victor (1932-1933, 1946-1947) and Decca (1935-1946, 1949-1954). In 1954 he became a free agent and started recording for Columbia and Decca. In 1956, Norman Granz's Verve threw itself into the mix. From 1959 through 1961, there were various dates for Audio Fidelity, Roulette, Capitol and Columbia...growing, but still nothing crazy. But once "Dolly" exploded and Kapp decided to do an album around in, all hell broke loose. From 1964 through 1970, Armstrong recorded for Kapp, Mercury, Reprise, Capitol, Columbia, Brunswick, ABC-Paramount, Company Discografica Italiana, United Artists, Buena Vista, Flying Dutchman and Atco (thanks to Jos Willems's All of Me discography for the information!). 12 labels in six years...it's ridiculous! But it was Glaser's way. The days of long-term contracts ended for him in the mid-50s when Armstrong's popularity grew to new heights. From then on anyone and their mother could record Armstrong...for the right price. And unfortunately, because Glaser and the record producers all wanted hits, Armstrong's late-60s studio recordings are as erratic as they come.

End of the interlude. So Armstrong was chosen to record these two numbers in December 1967, to be ready for the show's March 3, 1968 opening (and as it turned out, closing). As already mentioned, Mitch Miller was the producer of the show so he ran the recording session. As my faithful readers know, for ages I've written stuff like, "I'd like to share that story, but I have to save something for the book!" Well, as I announced last week, I turned in my manuscript to Pantheon last week. Needless to say, it's almost half the size of what it once was. The title of my original draft could have been titled "This Is What Louis Armstrong Did Every Day Of The Last 25 Years Of His Life...ZZZZZZ."

And you guessed it, I actually had a draft with a section on this session! Needless to say, that paragraph wasn't about to win me any awards so I axed it. But it did contain a quote from Joe Muranyi that I'd like to share now. Joe was Pops's last clarinetist and he's still going strong today. Here's Joe: "We did a thing, two sides for Mitch Miller. He was the best A&R man I ever saw. He was so sensitive to Pops. He was won-fucking-wonderful. He actually had charts written for our band. I mean, the songs are the songs. They’re kind of rare, nobody pays much attention. The show bombed. He actually wrote charts. And the show bombs."

I thought it was beautiful hearing how respectful Miller was towards Armstrong. Miller's "sensitive" way paid off dividends as Armstrong sings with almost crazy enthusiasm and takes a very nice trumpet spot. However, Miller did not write the arrangement, which was done by Norman Leyden, a busy arranger and conductor in the film and television world of the 1960s (he would go one to become conductor of the Oregon Symphony Pops Orchestra in 1968). And you'll notice in the personnel listing that Clark Terry played trumpet, too, which must have made for a fun recording session. Clark and Louis were good friends and admirers of each other's playing; Armstrong named Clark as one of his personal favorites in a Leonard Feather "Blindfold Test" from 1954 (Clark had also done studio work with Armstrong the previous week during the Italian sessions...isn't Clark writing a book? I wonder if he mentions these sessions).

With the scene set, here is the very rare studio recording of "No Time Is A Good Good-Bye Time":


Isn't that a lot of fun? As Muranyi said, "I mean, the songs are the songs"; it's not exactly Cole Porter. But the bouncy arrangement is catchy and Pops's is ridiculously infectious...dig those scat breaks! The band swings for Pops's trumpet interlude; where he sounds very strong except for one or two slightly missed notes (par for the course by this point in his life). His scatting after the trumpet solo almost made me fall out of my chair the first time I heard it, while the ending is as joyous as it gets. It's all over in 125 seconds but I enjoyed every one of them.

You would think that the "No Time" story is over but wait, there's more! Pops must have been told to really push this song because he performed it live on The Hollywood Palace in an episode that was filmed on January 11 but aired on February 24, just days before the ill-fated opening. This version was released on C.D. by the Moon label out of Italy and it's worth a listen. This time it's just Armstrong and the All Stars and it's interesting to hear them still performing touches of the arrangement without the other trumpet or the guitars. (Could they have performed this live? It's pretty tight.) Armstrong's trumpet still sounds very good but I think his last smear would have sounded cleaner just a few years earlier...damn old-age. Here's the live version:


Interestingly, the live one also clocks in at 125 seconds on the nose. Armstrong still sounds like joy personified, if a little more subdued than on the studio version. And though I have some of Armstrong's Hollywood Palace appearances on DVDs in my collection, I've never been able to find a video copy of this episode. If anyone out there has a lead, drop me a line. S'all for now...thanks to Len for the suggestion, to Dave for the copy of the song and to the rest of you for still putting up with my nonsense...interludes and all. Have a great weekend!

1 comment:

Mr. Trashcan said...

I never knew this song was from that show and that it opened and closed on the same day. I heard this song played on either WIP or WIOQ, which were MOR stations in Philadelphia back in the early '70s. It was not unusual for them to play album tracks or odd stuff every now and then. This song just popped into my head last night and I thought I'd google it, and it found your blog.

Great to hear about the rapport between Satchmo and Mitch Miller--I grew up listening to his records, too, and still love them.

Thanks for the trip back into memory lane and the great info.

Best regards,

Howard