Continuing onward with our look at Louis Armstrong's appearances on the Eddie Condon Floor Show, we're now going backwards to August 27, 1949 after listening to the September 3 and September 10 shows last week. As I mentioned, the All Stars began a long, record-breaking run at Bop City in New York in August so Pops had some free time on Saturdays to make the drive in from his home in Queens to do a TV spot before heading to his gig. (And Pops breaking records at a place named Bop City is as ironic as it gets since he spent the entire summer blasting that "modern malice" in every interview he gave.)
Once again, I've edited the four surviving Armstrong performances into one, long 26-minute track. I used three different sources to piece it together, and you'll easily hear the difference in sound quality. Regardless of that, the music is pretty special. Here's the audio:
We open with a real treat, "We Called It Music," a special number written to coincide with the title of Condon's great autobiography, just published the previous year. It features Jack Teagarden as the judge arguing about all the controversy in the music world and even gets in a swipe at "that re-bop slop." It's a pretty musical courtroom, with Teagarden introducing all the musicians one-by-one to take a chorus on the blues. Condon and his gang recorded a studio version of "We Called It Music" around this time, a rocking version complete with boogie-woogie piano and hand claps. If you'd like to hear the studio version, with Peanuts Hucko, Bobby Hackett, a growling Max Kaminsky and Ernie Caceres, click here:
Isn't that a lot of fun? As great as it is, though, I prefer the TV version because as much as love Hackett, Kaminsky and Hucko, I'll gladly propose a five-man trade to get Pops and Pee Wee Russell on my team. In addition to Pops, Pee Wee and Big T, Earl "Fatha" Hines also sits in, along with Condon regulars Jack Lesberg and George Wettling on bass and drums respectively. Teagarden is terrific in the role of the judge (bop is now "blee-bloop"), though he botches the introduction of the piano solo, calling out Joe Bushkin before he realizes it's Fatha Hines at the keys! Teagarden introduces Pops with a new introduction and Pops preaches for one before that rarity of rarities: a chorded Eddie Condon guitar solo...and he sounds good! The closing ensembles positively rock.
Next up, at 5:05, something completely different: a performance of Armstrong's own composition, "Someday You'll Be Sorry" that finds Pops joining forces with Helen Cherell and the Swan-Tones, a vocal group. I'm not usually too big on vocal groups but they sing it pretty and Pops's obbligato is worth the price of admission (though it's in a different key than Pops normally played it, so you can hear him testing the water for a couple of bars at the start). Proof, I think, that this tune could have been a commercial hit if promoted properly and covered by the right people. After a modulation into his regular key, Armstrong happily sings a chorus before instructing Teagraden to "play it pretty, Jack." Naturally, Jack does just that. Pops takes it out with another half-chorus of singing, ending a different, but no less successful, performance of an Armstrong standard.
The meat of the August 27 show begins at 8:45: Armstrong's 12-and-a-half minute reading of "The Three Little Bears," backed again by The Swan-Tones. I blogged about this charming performance back in February and even included a couple of beautiful pictures of the moment. If you'd like to read that piece, click here.
No one threw a concluding jam like Condon and this show's final jam session is good as it gets. The tune chosen was "Chinatown," one of Armstrong's big showpieces in the 1930s. Unfortunately for us (but probably fortunately for Armstrong's chops), Armstrong seemingly stopped performing the tune after 1937 and this Condon version is the only one that survives. Like the "Swing That Music" I shared last week, Armstrong doesn't replicate his original high note flights of fancy but still comes up with some scintillating stuff. It begins at 21:28 and immediately it's great to hear a front line of Pops, Teagarden and Pee Wee Russell...the anti-Barney Bigard! (And that's a good thing.) Armstrong ends with a "Dixie" quote setting up a storming chorus by Earl Hines and a typically agitated outing by Pee Wee. After spots for trombone, bass and even drums, Pops finally steps up for a fun vocal. After some more innings for Wettling, Pops picks up his horn to lead the charge out for the final two choruses. He's very nimble in the first one, all over his horn, before he hits a high one and holds it into the start of the final chorus (Pee Wee joins him, though a shade off--wasn't that part of his charm?). Armstrong plays with unbelievable power but also, the ideas keep flowing. Brilliant playing by all involved and a great end to another great show. Yeah, man!
I should be back Thursday or Friday with my final Condon posting, my favorite episode, from June 11, 1949. You are not going to want to miss that one. Til then!