Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In The Gloaming

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven
Recorded March 10, 1941
Track Time 3:00
Written by Annie Fortescue Harrison and Meta Orred
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; George Washington, trombone; Prince Robinson, clarinet; Luis Russell, piano; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; Johnny Williams, bass; Sid Catlett
Originally released on Decca 3825
Currently available on CD: It’s on Mosaic's recent boxed set of Armstrong's complete Decca recordings 1935-1946
Available on Itunes? No

After a full day of celebrating the news about my book (it's listed on Amazon, too!), it's back to business today with "In the Gloaming," a pick from my Itunes shuffle. Louis Armstrong recorded many old songs, but this is ridiculous..."In the Gloaming" was composed in 1877! The Internet is a wonderful place for researching stuff like this so I was pleased to discover the story behind the song buried in the comment section of a YouTube video. It seems that the lyrics were originally a poem written by a governess in love with the son of a family she worked for. When the family forced them to separate, she wrote the lyrics, which were turned into a song by Anne Fortesque Harrison (who later married Lord Alfred Hills, comptroller to Queen Victoria). The song became a popular popular that the governess's ex heard it, found her and married her. A sweet story. Is it true? Who knows, but it works.

Anyway, the song has gone one to become one of those pretty themes that's never truly gone away. If you do a YouTube search, you'll find a version from just about every decade over the past 100 years. For example--and to show what it sounded like when performed in a "straight" manner--here's a 1914 Edison recording of it by John Lovering:

In the jazz world, Fats Waller recorded a swinging take on the tune for Victor as an instrumental in 1938. According to Stephen Taylor's book Fats Waller On The Air, Waller performed it frequently during broadcasts in the ensuing years so maybe Decca felt that if it suited Fats, it could work for Pops. Armstrong recorded it on March 10, 1941 during the first of two terrific "Hot Seven" sessions, featuring a small group made up of musicians from Armstrong's big band. I've written about two of the songs from these sessions before ("Long Long Ago" and "Do You Call That A Buddy") and as I've pointed out--and Dan Morgenstern confirmed in his incredible notes to Mosaic's recent collection of Armstrong's Decca recordings--these Hot Seven dates really foreshadow the sound of the All Stars in many ways.

Nostalgia was the theme of the March 10 session; minutes after tackling "In the Gloaming," Armstrong and the gang tore up "Long Long Ago," a tune from 1833. Check out my blog on that piece to hear some dazzling Armstrong trumpet work (really locked in with Big Sid Catlett's drums) and a hilarious vocal where Armstrong even namedrops Joe Glaser. It's such a fun performance, that it almost seems hard to believe that the sober "In the Gloaming" was recorded the same day. But 'deed it 'twas (I've broken out my 19th century dialect to discuss these tunes) and here's how it came out:

Now isn't that pretty? Dan Morgenstern always finds the right words for the right occasions and his description of Armstrong's trumpet "showing us how to croon" hits the nail on the head. This must go down as one of the softest trumpet outings of Armstrong's entire recorded output. And you should know me by now: I jump up and down, shout and whistle when I hear those high notes. But I'm a sucker for the lyrical stuff, too, and Armstrong's gentle playing--and singing--on this tune really put me in a peaceful state of mind. His voice is just as smooth as his trumpet playing--not a trace of gravel--getting nice support by trombonist George Washington in the background. Even in the closing ensemble, the front line sounds like they're trying not to wake the neighbors until Armstrong finally turns up the volume for the final phrase of the tune. Gorgeous, breezy, melodic swing from start to finish.

(And I have to mention the guitar interludes by the great Lawrence Lucie, who sadly passed away on August 14 at the age if 101. It's a regret of mine that I never got the chance to meet Lucie, though I literally traded e-mails with Randy Sandke about paying him a visit just days before he died. He played with Pops from 1940 through 1944 and even served as best man to Armstrong for his wedding to Lucille. The last surviving musician to have recorded with Jelly Roll Morton and a man present for some of Armstrong's finest moments on stage and in the studio, Lucie will be missed.)

That's really all I have to say about Armstrong's touching recording of "In the Gloaming" but I do have a bit of a postscript to add. While in New Orleans last month, I picked up an American Music C.D. Bunk Johnson Plays Popular Songs. Armstrong got crucified by traditional jazz critics for playing "commercial" pop tunes but I think that was part of his New Orleans mentality. Do we really think he played nothing but "Tiger Rag" and the blues while he was a youngster? We know the theme of his vocal quartet was "My Brazilian Beauty," a pop tune and he also played popular songs with Fate Marable's riverboat band. Thus, even aside from Armstrong, a lot of producers and so-called experts insisted that jazz musicians during the New Orleans revival stick to "Muskrat Ramble," "The Pearls" and "Bill Bailey" instead of "commercial" stuff. But occasionally, the musicians would get a chance to play something popular and it usually came off beautifully. I treasure stuff like George Lewis playing "This Love of Mine," Billie and DeDe Pierce doing "Love Song of the Nile" or Kid Thomas Valetine punching out the lead on "Easter Parade."

Thus, a disc of Bunk Johnson doing material like "You Always Hurt the One You Love" and "Maria Elena" was right up my ally. The C.D. begins with Bunk in a trio with pianist Don Ewell and drummer Alphonse Steele performing "In the Gloaming." They do it considerably faster than Armstrong but for the first time ever, I was really struck by a likeness to Armstrong in Johnson's tone and even his phrasing. Give it a listen and see if you hear it the same as I heard it:

I mean, it's not 100% Pops (Bunk's aging chops are obviously not as strong), but I definitely hear some similarities (listen to the placement of the high note Bunk enters on after Ewell's piano solo). In the liner notes, Ewell is even quoted as saying he wished Armstrong himself could hear the recordings the trio made that day in 1946. As Bunk became a figurehead in the New Orleans revival, he often talked about how he taught "Little Louis." Some writers seized on this and while Bunk was alive, Armstrong went with it. But once Bunk passed away in 1949, Armstrong told the truth. So when listening to Bunk playing "In the Gloaming" and listening for similarities to his playing and to that of Armstrong's, it's all a coincidence. Why? I'll let Armstrong get in the final word in this, one of my favorite moments from his private tapes. Tell it like it is, Pops:

1 comment:

jazzlives said...

Both Louis and Fats loved pretty melodies (hear Fats doing I'LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN!)and I wonder if Fats played this when he toured the UK. It would have been a song both men heard in their childhoods, and it's such a touching melody, so tenderly sung by Louis. Humphrey Lyttelton also played it as part of his dramatic evocation of Buddy Bolden, as it was one of the songs Buddy is reputed to have played while in the asylum, if I have my facts right. The Bunk-Ewell trios are some of my favorite recordings -- happy to find a fellow appreciator! -- and happy that you keep reminding people that there are worlds of jazz (or to jazz) that go beyond Fast and Loud. Keep it up, my man! Michael Steinman / Jazz Lives (