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 Queens...my 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."

2 comments:

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Nice piece as usual!
Boo'dat!

Lourdes Prayer said...

Great article! I used to ride my bike past Mr. Armstrong's house as a kid in the 60's. He often was out tending his garden and always gave us that great smile and a wave!