Friday, September 25, 2009

The Eddie Condon Floor Show - September 10, 1949

As promised, I'm back today with another Armstrong appearance on the pioneering jazz television program, The Eddie Condon Floor Show. The other day, I shared about 47 minutes, nearly the complete show, from September 3, 1949. Today, I'm back with the show from a week later, on September 10, though this time I only have Armstrong's performances, adding up to only about 14 minutes, but each one is a good one.

Armstrong was still at Bop City for the September 10 show but his life was about to take a pretty big change as he had just recorded "That Lucky Old Sun" and "Blueberry Hill" for Decca on September 6. Armstrong and the All Stars would depart for a long European tour beginning in October and when they returned, Pops had his first bona fide hit record in years with "Blueberry Hill" becoming a song he performed almost every night for the rest of his life.

But "Blueberry Hill" was the probably farthest thing on Armstrong's mind when he got together with his friends in the Condon circle on the tenth. Here's the surviving audio:

During the announcer's introduction, listen to the background and you'll hear Louis and the boys warming up on "Our Monday Date." Once the intro is over, Armstrong goes about the business of greeting the other musicians, which could seem hokey and fake when done by someone with less personality, but Armstrong comes off as completely genuine. It's a lot of fun hearing Armstrong go around the room (Peanuts Hucko gives out with a bit of his Pops impression) and greet everyone. "Everyone" by the way included Bobby Hackett on cornet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Hucko on clarinet, Ernie Caceres on baritone, Joe Bushkin on piano, Condon on guitar, Jack Lesberg on bass and George Wettling on drums.

Once everyone's "crumb crushers" are straight, they hit with "Royal Garden Blues" at the 1:18 mark. This tune was a mainstay for both Armstrong and Condon's groups so it's nice to hear this meeting of the "Royal Garden" giants. The whole band sounds great (I love the rhythm section, especially Wettling) and Pops uncorks some new ideas both in his single-chorus solo and during an unexpected closing break, the kind of thing Condon usually featured when he played "Royal Garden" but Armstrong never otherwise did. Pops sounds happy, remarking that everyone's "jumping" after he finishes playing lead during the opening choruses. Condon drives Teagarden during his solo and the closing ensemble positively rocks. We're off and running.

Then (after a horrible one second loud hiss--I'm sorry!), Armstrong introduces "Back O'Town Blues" at 4:30. This was another All Stars staple but its unfamiliarity with the other musicians leads to Bushkin kicking it off faster than Louis enjoyed. He comes in together with Jack to play the opening phrase and they immediately slow it down with their forceful playing ("Back O'Town" would eventually pick up a few miles of speed but not until the mid-50s). When the All Stars played it, Armstrong's vocal usually received all kinds of heckles and verbal responses from the other members of the band. But because they were all sitting at home except for Teagarden, it was up to Big T to do all the backtalk, which he does with great enthusiasm (still managing to play a trombone obligato in between his jokes). Armstrong's solo, set in stone since the mid-40s, is always a killer.

From there, at 9:11, it was time for "Me and Brother Bill," an Armstrong penned novelty originally recorded for Decca in 1939. It was always a fun number that allowed Pops to rest his chops and get a few laughs in the meantime. The Jos Willems Armstrong discography lists George Wettling as the drummer, but the drum responses to Armstrong's vocal sound a lot like the fills Sid Catlett used to play. And during the opening greetings before "Royal Garden" it almost sounds like Pops mentions "Big Sid" but I'm not sure. Regardless of whose on drums, it's a fun performance.

Finally, at 11:48, Condon calls a final blues in Bb. Unlike the show I posted the other day, Armstrong takes part in this final jam session and dominates it from the start, opening with one of his patented blues lines. An exuberant Pops asks for Teagarden to take another helping chorus, and Big T, too, responds with one of his patented riffs. And then it's Pops for two choruses, some of my favorite moments on the entire broadcast. In a quoting mood, he jumps in with Dvorak's "Going Home" and begins his second chorus with Irving Berlin's "The Song Is Ended." Pops is wailing, leading the charge into the final ensemble choruses...when a voice of doom--the announcer--breaks it all up to read the closing credits. The first time I heard it, I yelled, "Noooo!" The band's clearly swinging like mad in the background and probably could have kept going for another few minutes but alas, time was up and we have to be thankful for the two minutes we have.

S'all for now. I hope you're enjoying these Condon shows; I know I am! Next week I'll be back with two more, August 27 and June 11, 1949. I'm sorry for going out of order but I'm saving the best for last as I think the June 11 show is one of Armstrong's all-time great television appearances (even though the "appearance" aspect of it will probably never be seen). Til then...have a great weekend!

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