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 JazzLegends.com 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 all...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.

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