Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mumbo Jumbo

Louis Armstrong WIth Guy Lombardo's Orchestra
Recorded July 1966
Track Time 2:28
Written by Carmen Lombardo, John Jacob Loeb
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, vocal; Lebert Lombardo, James Ernest, trumpet; Lynn Welshman, Don Rose, Tyree Glen, trombone; Buster Bailey, clarinet; Carmen Lombardo, flute, clarinet, alto saxophone; Cliff Grass, clarinet, alto saxophone; Joe Cipriano, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Victor Lombardo, clarinet, baritone saxophone; Marty Napoleon, piano; unknown, guitar, banjo; Buddy Catlett, bass; unknown, bells; Danny Barcelona, drums; Guy Lombardo, conductor
Originally released on Capitol 5716
Currently available on CD: No
Available on Itunes: No

Happy Halloween, fellow Armstrong nuts! In the past, I've celebrated such Halloween appropriate records as "Old Man Mose," "The Skeleton in the Closet" and "Spooks." I thought I was pretty much finished with the genre until I remembered Armstrong's forgotten 1966 recording of "Mumbo Jumbo." It's not a specific Halloween song, but it's a minor-keyed opus with a voodoo theme so I think it's a fun thing to listen in between scarfing "fun size" Snickers bars and Reeses peanut butter cups.

The song comes from the 1966 revue, "Mardi Gras," helmed by Armstrong's hero Guy Lombardo. "Mardi Gras" ran at New York's Jones Beach from July 1966 through September and proved to be quite a terrific experience for Armstrong and his All Stars. For one thing, it meant no one-nighters for three full months, a true rarity since Armstrong had pretty much stopped doing long runs in NYC clubs in the 1960s. In the 50s, you could find him in NY for weeks at a time, usually holding court at Basin Street East or earlier, Bop City. But by the 1960s, Armstrong's ever-increasing popularity made one-nighters the more lucrative way to go. When Armstrong returned to the Latin Quarter in 1968, it marked his first extended New York club engagement in almost a decade.

But there were those three months at Jones Beach. Three months that allowed Armstrong to live in his Corona home, relax, show up for work each night, play for a few hours, then head back home. When I interviewed drummer Danny Barceona and bassist Buddy Catlett about it 40 years later, they still had fond memories of the Jones Beach run because it was so relaxing.

On top of that, Armstrong was finally teamed with his musical "inspirator," Guy Lombardo. Armstrong's love of Lombardo sickened most hardened jazz writers, which I think says more about them than it does about Armstrong. The Lombardo influence went back to the 1920s, as we'll here when I finally get around to writing about "When You're Smiling," hopefully this week (never mind my wife and baby, the job and the commute to Yankees are in the world series and that's officially made blogging impossible this week!).

"Mardi Gras" was actually a full-blown play, with a cast of actors and dancers, numerous original songs, two acts, you name it. It took place in old New Orleans and Armstrong and the All Stars pretty much played themselves (though they had to wear corny striped shirts, something Armstrong never wore during his regular gigs). In the second act, the play would give the All Stars some time to play a short set. After a finale that found Armstrong and Lombardo joining forces, the two bands would head to a "Maxwell House" stage to play music for dancing.

How do I know so much about this? Blame it on my new job as the Project Archivist over at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. I've been living in Jack Bradley's world ever since I started three weeks ago. Jack took dozens of photos of the show itself, the after-show performances and even rehearsals. He even kept items such as press releases and an original program.
Thus, the history of "Mardi Gras" is pretty well-represented in the Bradley collection at the Armstrong Archives...meaning,it's now pretty-well represented in my head!

Anyway, no recordings have turned up from the run of the show but Capitol Records decided to capitalize on the occasion (capitol-ize?) by having Armstrong and Lombardo record two of the show's new tunes, "Mumbo Jumbo" and "Come Along Down," both written by the team of Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb, a team responsible for tunes like "Seems Like Old Times," "Boo Hoo" and "A Sailboat in the Moonlight." Unfortunately, the new tunes recorded for Mardi Gras were pretty dopey, especially "Come Along Down" (any song that begins with a rhyme of "jazz" and "razzamatazz" never should have seen the light of day). Even more unfortunately, Armstrong didn't play a note of trumpet on the Capitol date. Both songs resulted in exactly 4 1/2 minutes of music on a 45 record, never issued on LP, CD or MP3.

"Come Along Down," as stated, is pretty dopey, but "Mumbo Jumbo" is actually pretty fun, especially on a day like today. Give it a listen:

Right from the spooky opening, I think you can see how this fits into Halloween setting, right? It's in a minor-key, which Armstrong always thrived in, and features a neat shuffling rhythm that moves the piece along nicely. Armstrong's storytelling ability is in great form, as he always relished material like this (again, see earlier entries on "The Skeleton in the Closet" and "Spooks"). There's really not too much to add except to bemoan that the muted trumpet solo wasn't given to Pops. He also makes a reference to himself as "Louis," another attempt probably by the producer to replicate the success of some form of "Hello, Dolly." Armstrong's final bellowing of "Mumbo Jumbo" is pretty great, though "Star Dust" it ain't.

Just to put "Mardi Gras" to bed forever, here's the 1:58 flip side of "Come Along Down." Again, Pops really gives it his all and the All Stars peep their heads in here and there (including Buster Bailey's clarinet) but I still think the lyrics are pretty dumb (should I say it again? "Star Dust" it ain't.). Here 'tis:

That's all for now. Have a safe, happy Halloween and World Series permitting, I'll be back in a couple of days with "When You're Smiling."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Crack Open A Bottle Of Slivovice...It's Dan Morgenstern's 80th Birthday!

Today is a very special day in both the Armstrong community and the jazz world: it's Dan Morgenstern's 80th birthday, something truly worth celebrating. Any fan of Louis Armstrong has probably had his or her listening experience enhanced by Dan's peerless liner notes. His writing on Pops was my single biggest influence when I first got in him 14 years ago (this month, actually, October 1995), an influence that hasn't stopped as my own writings on Armstrong have spanned from college newspaper articles to a master's thesis to this blog to my upcoming book. And Dan hasn't stopped either, as his tremendously comprehensive booklet to this year's Mosaic Records collection of Armstrong's Decca recordings more than testifies.

I've written plenty of words in honor of Dan on this blog over the past two-and-a-half years and I could probably write an entire essay on the subject. But instead, I have different plans for today, something that I think is going to be a little more fun than a list of reasons of why Dan is great. Today, I'll be sharing the Slivovice interview.

The what, you say? The Sliovice interview, a legendary occasion for the crazed sector of Armstrong nuts that have heard and absorbed it since Phil Schaap used to play it during WKCR's Armstrong marathons. Here's the backstory:

In July 1965, the world was preparing to celebrate what was then perceived as Louis Armstrong's 65th birthday. Dan decided to mark the occasion by interviewing Pops at his Corona home in May for Down Beat's "Salute to Satch" issue. The resulting portrait would be published in the July issue. If you'd like to read it, it appears in Dan's indispensable Pantheon volume Living With Jazz. But if you'd like to HEAR it, you've come to the right place.

Though Dan had known Armstrong for about 15 years, he hadn't ever been to the Armstrong home. Thus, he asked Louis's good friend Jack Bradley to put in the good word. Jack did just that, got the okay and accompanied Dan on that day, taking a bunch of photos, some of which appeared in the final Down Beat article. Armstrong's career was just as busy as ever, but Dan actually caught Louis during a rare break. After a historic tour that found Armstrong breaking down the Iron Curtain by playing such places as East Berlin, Prague and Yugoslavia in March and April, Armstrong took over a month off for a dental procedure. I'm not sure what the procedure was, but I'm sure it was chops related. Armstrong's mentor King Oliver lost his chops because of bad teeth (pyorrhea) and Armstrong wasn't about to do the same.

Unfortunately, from what my ears tell me, Armstrong was never the same trumpet player after this procedure. His playing during the March 1965 tour featured some of his finest horn work of the decade. But beginning in the summer of 1965, I find his chops to have become much more erratic, both in live performances and with the All Stars. By 1966, he stopped taking solos on numbers like "Indiana" and "Muskrat Ramble" when he didn't feel like it and by 1967, numbers like "Basin Street Blues," "Black and Blue" and "Royal Garden Blues" were permanently retired, though they were all part of the 1965 tour. Of course, I am generalizing a bit; a concert I recently acquired from November 1967 (thanks Peter!) will blow the minds of any who detract Armstrong's final years.

But I digress. During Dan's interview, Armstrong was resting from the dental procedure, but about to embark on yet another tour of Europe. Surrounded by his friends Jack and Dan (with Lucille chiming in now and then from the background), Louis sounds very relaxed and friendly. But there was something else present that made for the relaxed atmosphere: a bottle of Slivovice plum brandy Armstrong brought back from Europe earlier that year. Slivovice (now known as Slivovitz) is still around as an online search quickly shows. Louis and Lucille both testify early on about the powers of Slivovice. They warn Dan and Jack that it's pretty much going to knock them on their asses. Dan and Jack are up for the challenge, so the bottle of Slivovice is cracked open. Not only will you hear the sound of ice clinking around the glasses during this interview, but you'll also hear Dan and Jack get progressively sillier as the interview goes on. Pops doesn't change much but the laughter certainly gets goofier towards the end.

Speaking of the end, I should mention the length of the Slivovice interview: two hours and ten minutes. Thus, I obviously don't expect anyone to set in front of their computer for the next 130 minutes and listen to every second of this. But I still want to share it and let it be known that it will always be here to savor if you want to listen to it in bits and pieces. And to make it easier, I've broken it into three small segments. Here's the 50-minute first part:

Here's the 50-minute second part:

And finally, the 30 minute third part:

It's a fascinating interview from start to finish (this is the one where Pops finally came out and admitted he wrote "Muskrat Ramble") but it's also a fun way to feel like you're spending an afternoon with the Armstrong's in Corona in 1965. Thanks to David Ostwald for the tapes and thanks for Dan and Jack for just plain being there.

Oh, and as a postscript, I mentioned my trip to Jack Bradley's last week to pack up and gather the rest of his rare Armstrong treasures. I saw so many artifacts, my head spun, but none excited me more than this one:

Yes indeed, that's the ORIGINAL Slivovice bottle polished off by Jack, Dan and Louis on that May day in 1965, now an artifact to be preserved and displayed at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Incredible. So on behalf of all the Armstrong nuts from around the world, happy birthday Dan...and we hope you get to enjoy some Slivovice on this special occasion!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Catching Up

Hello faithful readers. My goodness, how many times have I opened up a blog with an apology? You know, "Sorry I haven't written in a while, I had a baby....went on vacation...started a job....bought a new computer....wrote a book," etc. It's always something. Well, here I go again as it has officially been two weeks since I wrote anything fresh on Pops and that is a crime. But with the new job starting last week and a trip to Jack Bradley's in Cape Cod in the middle, writing blogs has been about the farthest thing on my mind. To give you an idea of a day in the life of me, take yesterday: I worked, went to Dan Morgenstern's 80th birthday celebration at Birdland and finished off the night giving a lecture on Armstrong for an appreciative crowd at the Duke Ellington Society. I left my house at 7:30 a.m. and got home at 12:15 a.m. Wife? Baby? Zero. Blog? You gotta be kidding...

And never mind blogging, I have very nice readers who have written very nice letters and even some of those, I'm at least a month behind. But as the song goes, what can I do after I say that I'm sorry? The answer? Write some fresh blogs. Thankfully, it looks like I have some free time over the next few days and I'm planning on stockpiling some new material, including a couple on "When You're Smiling." But for now, I just wanted to pop my head in and thank you all for being patient.

In other news, my job as Project Archivist continues to be dream up at the Louis Armstrong House Museum at Queens College. There's really no need to use this blog to describe my daily activities at work, but I do want to spend a little time and share some photos from my visit with Michael Cogswell to Jack Bradley's house in Cape Cod last week. As I reported a couple of weeks ago, I'm pretty much in charge of the preservation and cataloguing of Jack's collection. And what a collection it is. Holy geez, what a collection. It's the largest private Armstrong collection in the world and after five trips in five years, just about all of it is now held at Queens College. Amazing.

I've spoken to Jack many times over the phone but getting to meet him and him and his terrific wife Nancy was simply an honor. Suffice to say, Jack's house if a bona fide jazz museum. The crazy part is, after five years of removing all the Louis-related material from the house, it literally looks like we took nothing. Films, pictures, periodicals, albums, CDs, everything spilling from room to room, shelf to shelf, filling up the attic and wrapping all the way around the impossibly large basement.

Don't believe me? I have some photos to prove it. First, here's a shot of the records in Jack's living room, with a small sign atop marking it as a "Vinyl Resting Place"

These signs, "Disaster Area" and "Bless This Mess," were located in the basement. Directly to the right, two Armstrong records hanging on a wall. Why wouldn't they be?

My biggest project was sorting through Jack's massive 16mm film collection to cull out the Armstrong films. I think we came back with almost 40 reels. Here's a picture of me in action:

Once out of the basement, Michael insisted that I had to see the attic to believer it. He wasn't kidding:

Here's Michael, somewhat in disbelief at the treasures lurking around every corner:

Photos and posters took up almost all the visible space on Jack's wall. I had to get a shot of this two-fer: Louis and Jack together on the left and (hide the children), naked Louis on the right:

I also had to get a shot of this t-shirt, which I think summarizes Jack's feelings towards his hero:

Here's Jack, Nancy, Michael and myself, enjoying dinner at the 400 East:

And here's Jack with a trusty Kodak disposable camera, ready to shoot. Don't knock the camera; he won an award for a photo he took with one of those last year!

Parting with his Armstrong collection has been extremely emotional for Jack, but he did take a chunk of the money he got for it and purchased a beautiful 1937 Oldsmobile:

Finally, after a lovely Friday afternoon featuring an emotion oral history interview with Jack, it was time to say goodbye. Here's Jack and myself in front of the packed cargo van:

And here's Jack, saying farewell to this the fifth, and almost final batch of his life's work:

MIchael and I left Cape Cod early on Saturday morning and had everything loaded into the Archives by 11 a.m. This is what awaited me on Monday morning:

And that's only one pile! But everything is now back on the shelves and I've already begun the process of sorting through and preserving the photos, contact sheets and negatives. In two years, when the Louis Armstrong House Museum Visitors Center is open, Jack Bradley's entire life's work will be safe, secure, preserved, organized and much of it will be on display. Stay tuned for that.

Thanks again to Jack and Nancy for their hospitality. I hope you enjoyed this photographic look at what turned out to be an unforgettable there-day trip for myself. I'll be back on Saturday with a special post. I'll be commemorating Dan Morgenstern's 80th birthday with the complete audio of the famous 1965 "Slivovice" interview. Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, see you on Saturday!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Just a quick note to explain why there hasn't been a new blog for over a week and why there won't be one for another few days. I started my duties as Project Archivist of the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College this week and though only two days have passed, it has truly been a dream. More than once, I've found myself thinking, "Am I really getting paid for this?" So that's where I've been this week. As for where I'm going, I'm heading off to Cape Cod with Michael Cogswell to go see Jack Bradley for the next two days. Jack's the world's greatest Armstrong collector and it's his collection that I'll be in charge of at the Archives. I love Jack and we've had plenty of phone calls but this will be the first face-to-face meeting and I'm very excited. Michael and I will depart on Friday with a van full of treasures, to be sorted out, preserved, catalogued and described in my coming weeks. When I get back on Friday, I'll obviously need to spend every second of the weekend with my loving (and understanding) wife and baby. Thus, feel free to roam around here for a while and read some of my older entries and I promise to be back with something fresh sometime next week. Til then!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Eddie Condon Floor Show - June 11, 1949

After promising it for a week, today I'd like to present my all-time favorite Armstrong appearance on the Eddie Condon Floor Show, this one coming from June 11, 1949. It's my favorite for a number of reasons: Armstrong's personality shines through tremendously as he's obviously comfortable with the surrounding musicians his humanity also comes out during his exchanges with his adopted son Clarence; and music-wise, he plays some astounding horn. I think it's some of the best playing of his later years, if not his entire career. So, where to start? How about with the 30-minute audio track:

The show opens with a few bars of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," Armstrong's theme song. It's presented as an instrumental, which is how Armstrong opened all of his shows until he finally began singing it in early 1952. As you'll soon hear, Eddie Condon was ill in the hospital, thus could not make the show. Instead, hosting chores are taken over by pianist Joe Bushkin, a good friend of Pops's, a future (short-lived) All Star and a fellow viper. Speaking of vipers, I wouldn't be surprised if a little "gage" was being passed around before the show. Pops is so loose and funny throughout the broadcast that it makes me wonder, but by this point in his career, he usually didn't indulge before performing so it's doubtful. I just think he felt totally comfortable surrounded by these musicians and without any scripted jokes to read, he got to relax be the good-humored, quick-witted offstage Pops many of these cats knew when the cameras weren't on and when the curtain closed. In 1950, Bushkin said of the experience, "I couldn't possibly describe the joy of playing the piano for Louis again. The next best kick was having dinner with the master between rehearsal and the program. Satch's round table dialog tops even money." So we know Pops was already holding court before the show and that mood permeates the actual broadcast.

(Nice to hear him use the expression "holler at my boy" in 1949 since it seems to really have taken off in the slang of recent years. You could probably surprise a lot of people by telling them that Pops was talking like that 60 years ago...and probably even longer than that!)

Armstrong and Bushkin allow Jack Teagarden to say a few words to Condon, too, before they strike up the first tune, "Them There Eyes." Along with that swinging triumvirate, the band also features Peanuts Hucko on clarinet, Ernie Caceres on baritone saxophone, Jack Lesberg on bass and most specially, Big Sid Catlett on drums. It's tempting to think that Armstrong brought Teagarden and Catlett with him from the All Stars but the truth is, Big Sid quit the band on April 11, 1949 due to illness. Unable to travel much anymore, Catlett settled on the New York scene and often took part in Condon's TV shows. Catlett died on March 25, 1951 and this is the last aural evidence we have of one of the great partnerships in jazz, Louis Armstrong backed up by Sid Catlett.

As we've heard in the last couple of weeks, the Condon show was great for letting Armstrong play tunes he normally didn't play any more, stuff like "Chinatown" and "Swing That Music." The June 11 show is no different, starting right out with "Them There Eyes," which begins at 2:15. A favorite from Armstrong's big band days, it never became a feature for the All Stars. However, this version, along with the studio one done in 1956 for the Decca Autobiography project made it clear that Pops still had a lot of ideas left for the song.

Armstrong asks Bushkin for four bars on the piano, then almost immediately asks for four more to have enough time to get his chops in his horn. The tempo's up and though his health was in decline, there's nothing amiss in Catlett's playing, as he sounds as strong and swinging as ever (oh, those accents). It's a great ensemble, the art of collective improvisation in full bloom, anchored by Ernie Caceres's fat-bottomed barks. Pops closes it with a high note then immediately launches into his standard vocal on the number, boiling much of the written melody to a single note (Billie Holiday knew Armstrong's original recording very well). Catlett's accents behind the vocal are positively emphatic throughout. A nice touch is Pops's unexpected second vocal chorus. Never mind boiling phrases down to a single pitch; Armstrong discards chunks of words at a time, only keeping the pertinent rhymes ("certain...flirtin'" he sings, conveying all we need to know).

Everyone then solos in top form, probably inspired by Pops's presence (Armstrong gives Hucko's clarinet a simple backing riff that sounds more like he's just keeping the chops warm). Caceres is especially hot, entering with a great opening phrase and only getting more gritty from there. After a spot for Sid (Lesberg, aka "Bass Face" to Pops, takes eight in the middle), Armstrong storms in to the his solo with a three-note descending riff somewhat reminiscent of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" before the ideas just start spilling out of his horn for the next 32 bars (dig that break!). He holds an absolutely gigantic high Bb into the final chorus which I want to call an ensemble but the other horns play so quietly, it's almost like they don't want to miss anything Pops plays! Could you blame them when the man's so on fire? Sid gets a few more shots in the last chorus, but really it's Armstrong's show, right up to the final scintillating high concert Eb, held for all its worth. We're off and running...

At 7:25, Armstrong introduces "Jackson" Teagarden to play his feature on "St. James Infirmary." Last December, I did a long recap on Armstrong's history with this tune and I included a couple of Teagarden versions but forgot about this one. I'm glad I can make up for it today as it's a gassuh. The Town Hall version from 1947 will always be the high standard but once Teagarden began playing it with the All Stars, it took on the added attraction of an Armstrong trumpet obbligato behind the vocal. The slide-and-water-glass stuff is here, too, always a killer. As Pops says, he really blew that one, papa.

At 11:27 comes one of the true highlights of the broadcast, "Sweethearts on Parade." Of course, Armstrong's original 1930 recording of this Carmen Lombardo tune is one of the high points in a career filled with them. He remade it for Decca 1940 in a version that features some nice ideas on the horn but overall, isn't in the same universe as the original. For the 1947 Town Hall concert, he played it as a beautiful ballad. He didn't tackle it for the Autobiography project but he did turn in a swinging version with the Dukes of Dixieland in 1959. However, for my money, it's this Condon version that rates as second to the original OKeh disc.

The tempo's lightly swinging thanks to Sid's brushwork, slightly faster than the original. Armstrong's single-chorus reading of the melody is simply beautiful. He doesn't deviate from the melody much but he phrases it in such a way that it becomes more appealing than how Lombardo originally notated. Bushkin (he sounds GREAT throughout the show) and Teagarden (ditto) take full choruses before a charming Armstrong vocal, which explores his tenor range, sans gravel. except for one righteous "Oh, babe" leading into the bridge. And though I don't have a copy of the original sheet music with me, I highly doubt the original lyrics ended with "Take four bars, gizzard."

While brother Bushkin takes those four on the piano, I'd suggest buckling your seatbelt to prepare for Pops's work in the final chorus. He opens with a nod to his original solo before going completely for himself in his best late-1940s form. In the late 40s, Pops showed tremendous command on his horn, often scatting nimble, floating phrases all over his horn; not quite bop, mind you, but still, he crossed plenty of barlines in his day. By the 50s, which I think is the best decade of his later years, he had lost a couple of miles off the ol' fastball but his power, range and mind were always in A+ form. Finally, in the 60s, the ol' fastball got traded in for some offspeed stuff but he still made it work for as long as he could. But in the late 40s, he was all over that horn and the results were often magical.

But that's not why you called. Back to "Sweethearts" the middle of all these great ideas, Pops flexes his muscles in the second eight with a ridiculous, almost out-of-nowhere climb to a high concert E, just about as high as he could go, though he usually saved those notes for the ends of his solos, not the beginnings! Just as much fun is his slippery descent from atop the high E, very tricky stuff that he pulls off without a problem. But for me, the main event occurs during the bridge, where just as in 1930, Armstrong soars to a high C. It was a move he never attempted on any of his other remakes of this tune, but my goodness does it give me chills every time I hear it on this one. Armstrong leaves just a couple of bars of space towards the end of the bridge and Catlett fills them up like a pro, building to the inevitable backbeat-fuled rideout. Armstrong even closes with a surprise dash of the bugle call he opened and closed with on the 1930 original. Just a terrific performance from start to finish.

Next up, at 16:00, it's time to relax with a lazy, wistful version of "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans." By this point, it had been in the All Stars's book for two years so Armstrong and Teagarden's joint vocal patter was already pretty solidified but their genuine love of performing together shines through and makes every word sound completely spontaneous (though I'm not sure if Pops ever referenced "ham and cabbage" on any other version!). From there, it's the straight All Stars ending, meaning it's a spectacular one. Teagarden takes one, then Pops leads the final ensemble with Hucko taking the bridge (a bridge he'd have to cross again when he joined the All Stars and would play this tune 10 years later). Armstrong's final climb and slow ending, though it never changed, always thrills.

What follows, at 20:22, is a real treat: a rare appearance by Armstrong's adopted son Clarence. I actually wrote about this clip last year and it's worth sharing again. Clarence was the son of one of Armstrong’s cousins who died while giving birth. Armstrong, then only 14 years old “adopted” Clarence and took care of him for the rest of his life. A nasty fall at a young age injured Clarence’s brain, leaving him mentally disabled. “That fall hindered Clarence all through his life,” Armstrong recalled. “I had some of the best doctors anyone could get examine him, and they all agreed that the fall had made him feeble minded.” Because of this, Armstrong took extra good care of Clarence, always making sure he had, as Michael Cogswell has written, “a place to live, clothes, pocket money, and even companionship.” There are some wonderful photos of Armstrong and Clarence in Cogswell’s book, The Offstage Story of Satchmo, an essential work for Armstrong fans.

As you can here, Armstrong's love for Clarence clearly comes through in their short exchange. There's a real sense of pride in Armstrong's voice; could you imagine if he had children of his own? A beautiful little moment.

After Bushkin previews the following week's show (Armstrong's fun mood continues with his reference to "Count Baseman!"), Armstrong calls "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," which begins at 23:00. Please, if you only have six minutes to spare, click the audio button above, wait for it to load, scroll it over to 23:00, then really buckle in your seatbelt (and if your office chair has a seatbelt, now is the time to use it). Now, with your kind permission, I'd like to plagiarize myself for a few paragraphs. Back in the early days of this blog, before I knew how to include audio, I wrote about this track because it popped up on Itunes and I implored my readers to download it (I even titled the posting "99 Cents Well Spent"). Here's what I wrote about it back then and I think it still applies.

Armstrong gives the grieving Condon a shout-out in the hospital (“Look out, Condon”) at the start of the performance. With no set pattern, he can also be heard telling pianist Joe Bushkin to lengthen his introduction (“Give me four more, Homes”). Armstrong takes the lead in the opening ensemble, getting fine backing from Teagarden, Hucko and the terrific burps and hiccups of Ernie Caceres’s baritone. A string of solos follows, Bushkin to Hucko to Teagarden to Caceres to Lesberg to Catlett, with Armstrong heard vocally encouraging everyone in the background. And then it’s time for Pops, getting a backing riff from the other horns. It’s a wonderful chorus and a great example of Armstrong’s genius for melody. It’s a very improvised solo, but he consistently keeps going back to melody, sometimes just for a phrase at a time, but always keeping it in the forefront.

Armstrong then barrels into a second chorus with a motive that would become part of his set “Barbecue” solo in the 1950s. But there’s nothing set on this one as you can hear Armstrong just plain taking chances. He plays the motive and almost sounds like he surprises himself, as he continues the line upward to an unsuspecting high C, not quite hitting it 100% solid but he gets points from this judge for taking the chance and going for it. He is improvising and feeling damn good as the whole solo has a delightful bubbling quality to it. I just love Armstrong’s concept of rhythm. 1949 was a very harsh year as Armstrong and the boppers traded barbs in the jazz press. How anyone could accuse a solo like this of being out-of-date is absurd. Continuing into his second chorus, the horns, not ready to create a rideout atmosphere, continue lightly riffing in the background as Armstrong takes off into the stratosphere during the second-half of his second chorus, pounding out some more high C’s. And then there it is: Armstrong’s quotes “That’s My Home,” the song he originally recorded for Victor in 1932 and a quote that would become an integral part of all future “Barbecue” solos. It’s not certain when he started using this quote, but it’s not in the June 1948 version from Ciro’s and this is the earliest I ever heard him use it. Nevertheless, it fits like a glove.

But wait, there’s more! After these two exciting solo choruses, Armstrong launches into the rideout with aplomb…in fact, the whole solo reminds me of the boxing legend with the same last name, Henry Armstrong, who specialized in “perpetual motion.” Without even stopping to think, he just plows into final ensemble, a man possessed. If you know Armstrong’s later “set” solo, you’ll hear snatches of phrases that would become embedded in Armstrong’s playing over the years, but for the most part, he seems to be flying by the seat of his pants, too inspired to stop for even a second. The repeated note leading into the drum break would also become part of the standard All Stars routine. Just when the excitement level threatens to boil over into dangerously fun territory, Sid Catlett takes a short drum solo, the show runs out of time and Armstrong calms things down with a few bars of “Sleepy Time Down South.”

Armstrong continued to work on “Barbecue” for the years and when he had it as tight as could be, he recorded it with the All Stars for Decca on March 19, 1954. I’ve always loved this version (Kenny John’s drums sound wonderful) and I think it’s a testament to Armstrong’s sustained brilliance to point out how he made three completely different studio records of this tune over the years (1927, 1938 and 1954) and each one is a delight for different reasons. But for my money, his three rollicking choruses on the 1949 version of Barbecue deserve to be placed next to his work on those earlier versions (though I think the Chappie Willet-arranged 1938 Decca will always be my favorite). Bushkin was still talking about it for Down Beat magazine in 1950 saying, "Satchmo's first chorus of 'Strumttin' with Some barbecue' brought the combined staff orks of NBC and ABC to the scene, and, gates, that's a crowd!"

So as the final strains of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" fade out, that'll conclude our look at Armstrong's June 11, 1949 appearance on the Eddie Condon Floor Show, one of Pops's all-time great television appearances. Wouldn't you agree? I'm sorry it took a week longer than promised for me to finally get this post out, but I hope it was worth the wait. Til next time!

Friday, October 2, 2009

When The Saints Go Marchin' In - Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa, 1953

My apologies to those who came here today expecting my fourth and final installment of posts on Louis Armstrong's appearances on the Eddie Condon Floor Show. I'm going to delay my look at the June 11, 1949 show until the beginning of next week because I want to write a lot about it and there's just not enough time in the world for that right now.

Instead, I'm offering up a real treat. First though, I must ask for your attention to wander elsewhere in the blogosphere for a few moments. Over at JazzWax, the great Marc Myers has presented a terrific four-part interview with trumpeter Al Stewart. Stewart was part of Benny Goodman's band when the King of Swing teamed up with the King of Jazz for what turned out to be an utterly disastrous tour in 1953. How disastrous? Well, I won't go into details here, but let's just say the subject matter takes up an entire chapter in my forthcoming book on Armstrong's later years.

But don't take it from me, Stewart was there and has some wonderful stories about the tour, as well as about Louis's offstage life as he got to hang out with Pops a couple of times. A must-read series of articles. Thanks Marc and thanks Al!

Now, onto my treat. After Goodman backed out of the tour early on, he was replaced by Gene Krupa, who finished off the remaining dates sharing the bill with Pops. In part three of his series of interviews, Marc writes that there are no commercial recordings from the Armstrong-Goodman/Krupa tour and that is correct. However, never underestimate the power of bootleggers! I think an Armstrong set exists from a Symphony Hall date from the tour as Joe Muranyi told me about it and Jos
Willems lists it in his discography, but alas, I do not possess it. However, Bruce Klauber over at put out a CD of an entire Krupa set from after Goodman left the band, including the unforgettable finale Stewart talks about of Armstrong's All Stars and Krupa's big band joining forces on "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." To purchase the set from Klauber's website, click here. You won't be disappointed.

But for today, I'm going to share the version of "The Saints" that concluded these star-studded affairs. Here's what Stewart told Myers about it over at JazzWax: "When our part of the concert was completed, Gene [Krupa] and Cozy [Cole] had a drum battle. When they were done, Louis' band came out playing When the Saints Go Marching In. Then Benny’s band joined in, and we all marched around the stage. It was so exciting. Louis sounded fantastic. Everybody was having a ball. I'll never forget that scene."Here then, just as he described it, is the finale.

It opens with two-minutes of drum trading, which should make the percussionists in the crowd excited. For the non-percussionists, you can begin the track at 2:55, where Pops makes his entrance on "The Saints." Interestingly, listen to Pops's opening the phrase, slowing down the tempo a bit right to where he wants it. The drummers follow suit...

The crowd cheers at the sight of Pops, trombonist Trummy Young and clarinetist Barney Bigard, who sound like the only ones on stage. After two choruses (the audience clapping along), Armstrong sings the vocal though when he calls on Bigard, it's Trummy who steps up to the mike. You can here Bigard at the start of Armstrong's entrance but he disappears almost immediately and can't be heard for the rest of the track. Weird.

Nevertheless, Trummy powers through one before Armstrong picks up his horn for his patented three-chorus rideout solo. Everything's in place and Pops sounds positively superhuman, the rhythm section finally joining in during his second chorus. If it ended right there, it would have been just fine...but wait, there's more! Armstrong signals for an encore and is immediately joined on stage by the other members of the big band (who the hell starts playing it in the wrong key???). The other musicians sound a bit distant, probably because of their marching around, as Stewart described, but Pops is right on top of the microphone and in furious form, improvising all sorts of new touches such as those burning repeated high B's. Armstrong ends with another high D and the crowd goes wild.

But don't go anywhere, because they're not through yet! Armstrong calls for one more encore, this time at a faster tempo. Unfortunately, there's a cut about three bars in so some of it has been lost. But no need to cry over a few missed bars when we still have what follows: after Pops gets downright bluesy on a repeated F, he sets up a final chorus where he plays the melody an octave higher, something he only did when he was really feeling 100%. The band's riffing, the drums are whacking the backbeat, Pops is riding over it's ecstasy.

So that ends my look at this very special version of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." Thanks to Marc Myers and Al Stewart for triggering it. Enjoy it for the weekend and if you really have time to kill, explore my 2008 history of Armstrong and "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" by clicking here. Have a good weekend and I'll be back next week with more from the Condon show.