Friday, February 26, 2010

Book News, A Good Joke and Even More Odds and Ends

Greetings from snowy NJ where once again, Mother Nature has closed down Queens College and the Louis Armstrong House Museum, giving me the day off from processing the Jack Bradley collection. I can't complain (not until I begin shoveling out my car) as it's giving me more time with the family and the time to dash off another post on Armstrong odds and ends.

First, the latest on my book. As I've discussed before, Pantheon had given me a release date of May 18, 2010, which was fast approaching. However, earlier in the week, Amazon sent me a notice to tell me that the book was being delayed....until April 2011!!!! Naturally, I had mini heart failure and began placing frantic phone calls to my agent and editor. Here's the good news: the book has been delayed, but it's probably not going to be held off for an entire year. More likely, it will come out this fall, possibly September.

The reasoning? Well, first off, when I signed the book deal, Forest Whitaker had announced that his Armstrong biopic was being greenlit with early reports showing that it could be released in the summer of 2010. More on that in a minute, but the Whitaker picture is not coming out any time soon. Thus, there was no reason to rush the release of my book since the summer isn't exactly a booming time for the book business. On top of that, they decided to let the buzz around Terry Teachout's Armstrong biography Pops die down a bit. The last thing we needed was for newspapers and reviews to say, "Another book on Armstrong soon? We'll pass." So that makes perfect sense to me, which is why I'm fine with the delay. And since the editing of the book is nearly finished, it'll give me a little more free time to devote to the blog in the coming months. So keep your eyes glued to this space for further announcements and more good news regarding that.


Speaking of Forest Whitaker, after he announced his intentions to make an Armstrong biopic in October 2008, all talked on the subject seemed to cease. But finally, earlier this week, Whitaker gave an interview for in which he said all systems are a go for the project, a script has been written and he hopes to start filming in April 2011. Thus, we're still a solid two or three years away from seeing a finished product, but at least it's a step forward. The film, which will be titled Satchmo, will feature a number of other actors portraying Louis in addition to Whitaker as it will span Louis's entire life. That's a LOT of living to squeeze into one film! I'm glad a script has been written but I hope Mr. Whitaker makes the trek out to the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens and the Armstrong Archives at Queens College before he gets too deep into the filmmaking process. To read the entire interview, click here.


Last Sunday, I posted a YouTube video featuring a mind-bending assemblage of talent: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Wild Bill Davis and the Duke Ellington Orchestra performing "Hello, Dolly" at Madison Square Garden in February 1970. Have you seen it? Here it is again The original person who uploaded it "jefferson22478" removed it temporarily only to reupload it with 30 extra seconds in the beginning. When I originally mentioned this, I wrote that you could hear Louis tell the end of his famous "hamburger" joke. It wasn't until after I posted it that I realized that very few people probably knew what the hell I was talking about.

Armstrong and many people in his entourage had almost an obsession with telling jokes. All kinds of jokes, from silly puns to the most vulgar subjects you can imagine (and then some). Though Armstrong's natural humor always came through on stage, he sometimes managed to sneak in a joke from time to time. There wasn't really a reason for it: on two occasions (that are recorded), he told the "Alligator Story" to buy time because his chops were down. Other times, they just seem to pop in his head such as one about Raymond Massey he told at a 1957 concert. At a 1971 concert, he told my friend Michael Steinman's favorite "rye bread" joke.

But the "hamburger" joke pops up three times in my collection: once, during a ceremony at a concert in New Orleans in 1952; once at a 70th birthday tribute for Armstrong at the Shrine in Los Angeles in 1970; and once at the above concert. And according to George Wein, Armstrong once told it when asked to say a few words at an important dinner. It was clearly one of his favorites.

I've traced the joke back to Redd Foxx, who Louis adored. But now, you can hear Louis deliver the joke in its entirety at the aforementioned New Orleans concert in 1952. In between sets, there was a whole ceremony onstage to unveil a photo of the deceased clarinetist Leon Rappolo. Myra Menville, the secretary for the New Orleans Jazz Club, then gave Louis a certificate of merit and a key to the city on behalf of mayor DeLessups Morrison. It's a very nice little moment and Menville sounds read to move on when Pops grabs the mike to say a few words. Here, then, is the complete hamburger joke:

Isn't that great? I love how Louis always fakes the audience out with the "I just scratched what you like" line. The audience breaks up in New Orleans (Menville clearly thinks it's over) and even Ellington and the MSG crowd are already laughing when the YouTube clip begins. But then Pops lowers the boom with the real punchline and the REAL hysterics begin. Great stuff.

I subscribe to Google's news alert for Louis Armstrong which leads me to a lot of silly links almost daily. But this morning, it struck gold for me with an incredibly touching remembrance of Clarence Armstrong by Tom Cosentino over at Innovative Media PR's Blog." Clarence was the mentally challenged son of one of Louis's cousins. When that cousin died, Louis "adopted" Clarence and made sure he was taken care of for the rest of his life. After Louis's death in 1971, a lot people forgot about Clarence, who lived in the Bronx until 1998. But Cosentino grew up in the Bronx in the 1960s and 1970s and has some very special memories of Clarence. To read the entire piece--and please do this--click here. And to read an old post I did about Father's Day with a picture of Clarence and audio of him and Armstrong speaking on one of Eddie Condon's television programs, click here. Thanks, Tom!


Finally, a few videos sent in to me by my readers. Back when I was covering the Armstrong vs. Bechet rivalry in January, David Parkinson wrote in to alert me to a video of Eva Taylor in 1975 (!) performing "Cake Walking Babies From Home" with the Peruna Jazzmen. Dig it:

And after my "Blue Turning Grey Over You" posts, Phil Ralph wrote in to tell me of a video from the 2009 Louis Armstrong Jazz Festival featuring Joe Muranyi singing and performing this beautiful Fats Waller number. And dig the great Herbert Christ's sound on trumpet; he sure gets Louis!

For more videos from that set, just type in "Louis Armstrong Jazz Festival 2009." Thanks for letting me know about those videos David and Phil!


S'all for now, I'm going to enjoy my family for the day. However, next week, I'm planning on doing something different if I have the time. I originally posted that I was going to cover five versions of "Dear Old Southland" but I was wrong about the 80th anniversary, which isn't until April. So I'm going to hold off on that and instead focus on a different version of "Pennies From Heaven" each day. Til then!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kickin' the Gong Around

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded January 5, 1932
Track Time 3:13
Written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Preston Jackson, trombone; Lester Boone, clarinet, alto saxophone; George James, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Albert Washington, tenor saxophone; Charlie Alexander, piano; Mike McKendrick, guitar; John Lindsay, bass; Tubby Hall, drumsl; Joe “Little Joe” Lindsay, woodblocks, talk
Originally released on OKeh 41550
Currently available on CD: It’s on the JSP two-disc set The Big Band Sides, 1930-1932
Available on Itunes? Yes

You know, it's almost March and I've spent the first two months of this year doing anniversary posts, revisits to older entire and other odds and ends without ever hitting the famed shuffle button on my Ipod, which was the whole reason for this blog back when I started it in 2007. So with a little free time this past weekend, I hit the shuffle button and as usual, Itunes picked a winner with this one, a fairly unheralded Armstrong performance of a tune normally associated with the great Cab Calloway.'

In 1931, Calloway was riding high off the popularity of "Minnie the Moocher," probably the greatest call-and-response song about drug addicts ever written. It only made sense for the sequels to be written. And in Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Cab had a helluva team to drum up those future scenarios for Minnie and all the other cokies. Arlen and Koehler later presided over "Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day" but first up was "Kickin' the Gong Around," a slang term of the day for smoking opium. I thought maybe the Internet machine would perhaps give a little more background but all I could find was this from "The Mavens' Word of the Day" in 1998:

"Kick the gong around is first found in the late 1920s. It is based on the earlier (1915 or so) gong and gonger, both meaning 'an opium pipe'. The origin of these words is not clear; gong could be a shortening of gonger or the inspiration for it. It it not known whether gong is the same word as gong meaning 'a large bronze disk that produces a vibrant tone when struck', which is a borrowing from Malay or Javanese, presumably of imitative origin. Opium pipes do not have any disk-like parts, but the relationship (if any) could simply be that both gongs and opium are associated with East Asia."

Makes sense to me.

Anyway, Cab recorded the tune in late 1931 and got to immortalize it in the 1932 film The Big Broadcast. Here's the footage (dig Cab's dancing!):

Isn't that great? I love Cab; he was a helluva entertainer. Armstrong and Calloway didn't covery too many of the same tunes but on January 25, 1932, the executives at OKeh figured they'd try one of Cab's numbers on Pops to see how it fit. Before doing they, they threw another Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler number at Louis, "Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea." What Pops did with that song has justifiably been elevated to classic status for decades. "Kickin' the Gong Around" isn't exactly in that same immortal class but it's a lot of fun. Listen for yourself:

The recording comes out swinging right from the gate with an arranged introduction (Armstrong's reeds always had an unusual, if distinct, intonation), taking the piece at a faster trot than Calloway. Armstrong emerges from the ensemble with a big gliss that launches him into a poised break. Armstrong takes the melody, his reeds providing the responses, without changing it up too much, but I love the two-note riff he plays during the turnaround after the first eight bars, almost like a fanfare to call everyone's attention to what he's about to go down. In his next eight bars, he's more free with the melody and very sparing with his choice of notes.

A neat tricks occurs when Armstrong dips down to a rare low note and holds it right into the bridge, repeating it a few times for good effect. The bridge is very mellow except for the surprising break. From there, Armstrong turns on the heat, coming up with another clarion call of a riff that he hammers into the start of the vocal.

The vocal is a lot of fun but Armstrong seems to start singing it straight before he gets to the title of the song. At that point, he can't resist chuckling over the subject matter of the tune and uttering a hilarious "Ohhh, Lord." After the next eight bars, Armstrong instructs his band to "Double it up, Gate," which they do. Armstrong takes off on a dazzling scat interlude that is very much in tune with his trumpet conception, especially the break. Armstrong's joy continues through the end of the vocal, a fun one.

From there, Armstrong's trumpet section (aka Zilner Randolph)takes the lead during a somewhat dissonant interlude (Pops digs it, yelling out "Yeah" in the background). Louis rejoins the group for a modulation but for the most part sticks to playing with the band, poking his head out now and then to recast the melody where he sees fit. The whole trumpet solo comes to life during the bridge. Remember that low note Louis held the first time around? Well, now he uses the same concept, but this time with a high note. He swings mightily on some quarter notes and keep building upward to a thrillingly passionate end to the bridge. That bridge always, to me, foreshadows something he would have played in the 1940s or 50s, right?

The bridge is the highlight of the record but Louis still plays with authority until a cute arranged ending that finds him and the band creeping upward towards the finish line.

"Kickin' the Gong Around" might not be the greatest recording he ever made but it's still a good ol' good one for those two trumpet bridges and that contagious vocal. Ohhhh, lord, indeed!

Friday, February 19, 2010

WHAT!? Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and Duke Ellington Together, 1970

Two posts in one day! This will be a short one, but still one full of disbelief. My friend from Germany Uwe Zanisch just wrote me to tell me about this video that popped up on YouTube. Brace yourself: Louis Armstrong doing "Hello, Dolly"....backed by Duke Ellington's orchestra with Duke conducting....and Ray Charles playing piano! (Plus Wild Bill Davis on organ...thanks Joao for correcting me!) It's from Madison Square Garden but it's not from 1969 as I originally reported. My thanks to Håkan Forsberg and Bernt Thunè who both wrote me this morning to tell me it's actually from February 23, 1970. The concert was titled "Soul On Soul" and was a tribute to Ellington and an NAACP benefit. Louis apparently made a presentation to Duke before they joined forces on "Dolly" (and Charles had just sung Ellington's "Satin Doll" please!).

I have the best readers in the world, huh? Thanks for straightening everything out. Now all that's left is to just enjoy the video again...and thank Uwe!
[For those who saw this posting on Monday, the video had been taken down. But fortunately, it was uploaded again today...and it's 30 seconds longer, now with Louis telling the punchline to his famous "hamburger" joke. Also, if Armstrong, Ellington and Ray Charles weren't enough, you can now glimpse B.B. King. Thanks to Lounisproduction on behalf of music lovers everywhere!)

Good Evening Ev'rybody DVD - and Other Odds and Ends

Loyal readers, thanks for being patient with me during my recent disappearance. The book, the family, the job, some gigs, everything has put the blog on the back burner...along with e-mails, phone calls and other correspondence with the good people who try to contact me almost daily. I love you all and promise I'll catch soon as I can breathe again!

But today's a good day for a little catchup because I'm off from work and the baby is sleeping. The major focus of this post will be the worth-the-wait DVD release of Louis Armstrong's 70th birthday tribute at the Newport Jazz Festival, but I want to cover a bunch of little matters, too, before I quit. But first, the DVD:

I think I speak on behalf of all Pops nuts when I say, it's about time! George Wein, the man behind the Newport Jazz Festival, had the cameras rolling that July day in 1970, capturing rehearsals, Armstrong's arrival and the main performances that took place that evening. He even filmed Armstrong in his den a few months later, talking about the entire event and his life. And since that day 40 (!) years ago, it's been nearly impossible to see this footage. A PBS special used a bunch of it in the 1970s, but that just whet the appetite for more. Occasionally, Wein has been able to screen it at places like Columbia University but was unable to do much more with it.

Personally, I had an edited copy of the material given to me by a German collector. It was great to see it, but every time Armstrong spoke, a narrator spoke over him in German! Thus, after so many years, it was beginning to look like this footage would never get to see the light of day.

But finally, in 2008, Albert Spevak reedited the footage and repackaged it as "Good Evening Ev'rybody," a 92-minute documentary that aired on some PBS stations across the United States. It never aired on mine so I was in the dark but finally, thanks to the magic of DVD, it's out. And boy, is it worth it...

Because Wein shot so much, some of it still ended up on the cutting room floor. That meant bad news for my pal Lars Edegran's New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra whose set was eliminated and not even mentioned on the disc. It could have at least been a bonus feature, right? And also, the day's events are slightly out of order, beginning with Louis rehearsing "Hello, Dolly" instead of his arrival and ending with a rehearsal of "What a Wonderful World," trying to cash in on the current popularity of that number. (I know the feeling...have you seen my book lately?)

But in between, it's pure magic. To some accustomed to seeing the larger-than-life Pops in performance, the skinny, gaunt figure you'll see in this film might be a little jarring. He had been off from performing for almost two years thanks to a variety of ailments and life-threatening illnesses. But by the time of (what he thought to be) his 70th birthday, the whole world was in the midst of a giant Armstrong lovefest. He made frequent appearances on television, recorded a major album in May and celebrated his birthday at the Shrine in Los Angeles and at Newport. After being derided by so many in the jazz world in the 1950s and 1960s, it must have been gratifying to see this outpouring of love and admiration so late in the game.

That love and admiration shines through in the other trumpeters featured in the film: Bobby Hackett, Dizzy Gillespie, Wild Bill Davison, Joe Newman, Ray Nance and Jimmy Owens. Each man got to blow for Pops and this DVD features their individual numbers virtually unedited (Dizzy loses his opening chorus of "Confessin'" and if each man played more than one song, those results didn't make it). But just seeing those five men on the same stage--along with trombonists Tyree Glenn and Benny Morton, pianist Dave McKenna, bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Oliver Jackson--is quite special. I've always loved Joe Newman but I sometimes make the mistake of forgetting about him. He blows the lights out on "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" and even takes the lead during the six-trumpet version of "Sleepy Time." And it's nice to see Pops's singing persona reflected in both Dizzy and Ray Nance's performances. Hearing Louis's comments on each man is a beautiful touch.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band even gets an entire number to themselves, romping on "I Want a Little Girl" with Billie and De De Pierce, Jim Robinson, Willie Humphey, Captain John Handy, Allan Jaffe and Cie Frazier, one of the best editions of this group (I'm a sucker for Handy's alto playing). My mentor Lewis Porter was present and still talks about the power this group generated during their set. We're fortunate to hear some of it on this one (slightly edited) number and on "Bourbon Street Parade," which is located on the bonus features.

Mahalia Jackson even shows up for an explosive four-song set before she joins Pops for the finale, duetting on "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" (watch her feeding Louis the lines!) and "The Saints." Louis kept an eye on the rain and you can hear him rushing to get his numbers in because dammit, he had waited long enough out there and he wasn't about to lose that audience!

In addition to his own features--including a wonderfully swinging "Pennies From Heaven"--Armstrong can also be glimpsed at work during the rehearsal sequences, still smiling and swinging during the tunes, but also showing the seriousness with which he took his craft as he guides his fellow musicians through his routines. (Speaking of which, Armstrong's clarinetist Joe Muranyi is still rightly upset that the All Stars weren't called in for the occasion. They had just done a TV show with Louis in June and Pops sounded as proud as could be to have them back. At least they knew the routines and wouldn't have needed as much--if any!--rehearsal.) And on a personal note, I got a kick out of seeing Jack Bradley prowling around in the background with his camera as I just spent the week cataloging the photos that Bradley took of this occasion! Jack was everywhere...

The DVD also has some nice bonus features, including "The Story Behind the Film" and short featurettes on Preservation Hall and "When It's Sleepy Time Down South." The rehearsal of latter song contains the most drama of the entire event as Louis fought to keep it as his opener and I was originally dismayed when it was edited in the actual 92-minute film. Some more of the drama appears in "The Story Behind the Film" but it's not complete. Armstrong's rehearsal performance and the a capella version he sang at his home are in the "Sleepy Time" featurette. Got it? I know it sounds confusing but at least most of this important sequence made the DVD so that's all that matters. (Actually, Ken Burns did the finest job of telling this story in the tenth of final part of his jazz epic.)

In the end, if I was a critic, I'd give "Good Evening Ev'rybody" ten thousand stars. Click here to go to Amazon to order your copy NOW.

(And now that this has made it to DVD can Sony finally release Satchmo the Great on DVD???? Please?
Speaking of the Newport Jazz Festival, the good people at Wolfgang's Vault have continued sharing treasures from the Newport archives. I've mentioned them before as they have started streaming--for free--audio from mostly unissued sets from Newport's golden era. They finally got around to Pops last week, offering Armstrong's set at the 1960 festival. You can stream it for free but it doesn't cost much to download it for personal use. The Omega label released this set many years ago on CD and it's always been a personal favorite of mine. It's only 10 years prior to the 1970 tribute but what a difference those 10 years made! (Though like 1970, it was raining in 1960, too.)

Louis and the All Stars are in peak form, Pops sharing the stage with stalwarts Trummy Young, Barney Bigard (going through a reinvigorated period of blowing during his third tour of duty with Louis), Billy Kyle, Mort Herbert, Danny Barcelona and Velma Middleton. There are no surprises on the set list but as I often say, who cares? Just listen to it from start to finish and be amazed and how damn entertaining it is. It's perfectly paced, with instrumental burnups ("Indiana," "Ole Miss"), songs from films ("Now You Has Jazz," "High Society Calypso"), Armstrong's big hits ("Mack the Knife," "Blueberry Hill"), features for the sidemen ("Girl of My Dreams," "C Jam Blues") and two riveting duets with Middleton ("St. Louis Blues" and "Ko Ko Mo"). The Armstrong horn is in glorious form--listen to that "Ko Ko Mo" solo!--and he proves that his mind was still sharp as a tack. Listen in "St. Louis Blues" as Louis quotes the "every time it rains, it rains" line from "Pennies From Heaven," a humorous comment on the pouring weather!

It's a perfect little set by the band. If you're the type who says, "Ho hum, it's the same songs Louis played every night," let me point out that this was a one set festival appearance. Most evenings Armstrong played two sets and in the months before and after Newport 1960, he dug out numbers such as "Back O'Town Blues," "Muskrat Ramble," "Black and Blue," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," "The Faithful Hussar," "Bill Bailey," "West End Blues," "Basin Street Blues," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" and more. So don't underestimate the size of the All Stars's bandbook, just enjoy the music. Click hereto go to Wolfgang's Vault to listen to the set. And Wolfgang, while your at it, let's hear Pops's complete sets from 1955, 57 and 58, okay? Thanks!

I mentioned the Preservation Hall Jazz Band earlier. On the "Good Evening Ev'rybody" DVD, Louis himself can be heard extolling their virtues. Personally, the PHJB should get almost equal billing to Pops in starting my interest in jazz. In the summer between eighth and ninth grade, I was going through a Woody Allen phase (I didn't have many friends) and fell in love with the soundtrack to the 1973 film "Sleeper." When I saw that the music was done by the Preservation Hall band, I went out and bought one of their cassettes and loved the hell out of it. A couple of months later, in August 1995, they came to Atlantic City, where I went to see them with my parents and grandparents. It was my first live jazz concert and I bought it hook, line and sinker: the ensembles, the hand clapping, the "Saints," the marching around the theatre, you name it. I needed to hear more of this stuff.

At the same time, I was going through a Jimmy Stewart phase (I told you I didn't have many friends, didn't I?) so I rented The Glenn Miller Story. Well, when I saw Armstrong do "Basin Street Blues," I connected it with the Preservation Hall sound. But Louis's sheer personality completely won me over and I've never been the same since. And though my interests in jazz kept evolving through swing, bop, Coltrane and all, I still kept coming back to Louis...and to Preservation Hall. Even with all those early legends dying off, I still would purchase their new CDs and catch them when they came to Jersey. And it was a thrill of thrills to actually visit Preservation Hall and see them in action during the Satchmo Summerfest the past two years.

Thus, it's with great regret that I have to write to criticize part of their latest release, "Preservation," a disc of all-star collaborations. And on "Rockin' Chair," who is the all-star they decided to collaborate with? None other than Pops himself. Oy. First off...."Rockin' Chair"? A vocal that relies on two people? They used Louis's vocal from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival (not 1962 as they're claiming) but they edited out Jack Teagarden's responses so it's just Louis. In the "Rockin' Chair" routine (which I blogged about in December), Pops would do the responses in the first chorus and sing lead the second time around. For the "Preservation" disc, they edited together some of Pops's leads and his responses to make it sound coherent but at times, especially during the bridge, it sounds like he's talking to himself. The "year-and-a-half" line makes no sense without Teagarden's setup!

The end result isn't as bad as Kenny G doing "What a Wonderful World" but I'd rather let sleeping jazz musicians lie. Besides, on their other recent recordings, the PHJB has done original takes on Louis standbys such as "Heebie Jeebies" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," bringing them up-to-date through the vocals of Carl LeBlan and Clint Maedgan respectively. But carving out the voice of Pops--on "Rockin' Chair" of all things!--is just silly (though trumpeter Mark Braud plays well, as usual). To see an NPR story on the song with a link to listen to it, click here.
To wrap everything up, George Wein is still going strong these days and is planning on bringing more great jazz to New York City this summer with his upcoming CareFusion Jazz Festival. For those who can make it, the fest will feature a can't-miss evening of live music as David Ostwald's Louis Armstrong Centennial Band will be performing in the garden of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens. And it's only $15! Yes, I work for the House Museum but even if I didn't, it's an event I wouldn't be able to stop talking about. Tickets go on sale in March. Purchase information will be available through the Armstrong House website, which be found in my list of links or by clicking here

And speaking of David Ostwald's group, I recently headed to Birdland, where they perform every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. (this is their tenth year!). I brought along my Flip camera and captured two performances by this edition of the group, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Jim Fryer on trombone, Ehud Asherie on piano, Marion Felder on drums and Ostwald on tuba. The video quality isn't ideal (no tripod, bad lighting) but the sound comes through nicely. Here's "Indiana":

And "St. James Infirmary":

Okay, well that's I think five posts for the price of none so I'll quit while I'm ahead. Quickly though, my friend and fellow blogger Michael Johnston wrote to me last weekend to share an article that announced that Blogger--my host--pulled the plug on ten popular music blogs because they shared MP3s of music. All I could say was....yikes. Fortunately, I don't actually allow anyone to download the music, I just stream it. Also, I get as many hits in a year as some of those sites probably get in a day so I think I'm flying under the radar. But in case I disappear, don't worry, everything's been saved and I'll make to pop up somewhere (though possibly sans music). Stay tuned....I hope!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

That's For Me Revisited - Again

Recorded April 26 or 27, 1950
Track Time 5:08
Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstien
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Earl Hines, piano; Arvell Shaw, bass; Cozy Cole, drums
Originally released on Decca
Currently available on CD: On the Hip-O box set, An American Icon
Available on Itunes? Yes

Valentine’s Day is here again and instead of choosing one of the very many love songs Pops recorded in his career--“Let’s Fall In Love,” “I Was Doing All Right,” “I Married An Angel,” “If I Could Be With You,” “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby,” “Fantastic, That’s You” immediately spring to mind—I decided to revisit the same song I covered for my last two Valentine's Day entries, "That's For Me."

For me, “That’s For Me” is one of Pops’s all-time greatest records, treasured by those who know it, but unknown to most of the world. I couldn’t believe when I just searched for it on Itunes and it only came up twice, once on a cheapie compilation and again on Louis Armstrong: An American Icon, a wonderful box set on the Hip-O label that is now out-of-print on C.D. (though it’s available on Amazon). It was on the Mosaic collection of Armstrong’s Decca recordings with the All Stars, but that’s out-of-print, as well. But hopefully, by the end of this blog, you’ll have a new appreciation for this neglected gem.

The song “That’s For Me” was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the 1945 musical, State Fair. Dick Haymes sang it in the film and had a hit record of it, as did Jo Stafford. After listening to various versions of it on Itunes, it appears that it was originally conceived as a sort of snappy number, not fast and uptempo, but with a lilting beat that makes the singer sound pretty confidant that he knows what he likes and likes what he sees (substitute “she” if necessary).

I never understood how it got into Armstrong’s hands, but I’m glad it did. Armstrong was performing it live for at least a year before he recorded it. Now, this is some pretty sad audio quality, but please, have a listen to this early version from a broadcast from Philadelphia’s Click, August 7, 1949:

Again, the quality is atrocious (why does it sound like someone’s beating time with a coke bottle?). One thing’s for sure is that the band sounds like they have the routine down, meaning they had probably been performing it for some time. When I tackled this song last year, I complained that the tempo was a little too fast for my taste until it was pointed out to me that, being an unmastered bootleg, it's pitched too high and thus, artificially fast...oops! Earl Hines sounds particularly good but the record obviously centers around Pops’s heartfelt vocal, which showcases his range, especially his beautiful tenor register. The tempo’s a shade too fast to allow him to feel completely at ease with the lyrics, but he does a beautiful job. Much like the later “Gypsy,” the song has a built in space for applause after the vocal, as Earl Hines repeats the last few bars to allow Pops to get his chops in his horn. And it’s a wonderfully poised trumpet solo, no high notes or real drama, just a lot of melodic flurries that stick with the listener long after the song has ended. Pops reprises his vocal at the bridge and continues on until the nice, slowed down ending. Even through the abysmal sound quality, Pops’s warmth shines through.

I didn’t want to spend too much time on the blow-by-blow of that version because the real main event comes with the Decca studio recording of 1950. Over two days in April of that year, the All Stars recorded ten of their finest concert numbers in a studio setting. Pops had already embarked on his string of pop records for Decca but for this occasion, producer Milt Gabler allowed Armstrong to record whatever they wanted from their live repertoire. Armstrong’s picks are interesting because instead of just featuring himself all day, he gave each of his sidemen one feature of their own choice. Like most sidemen features, Armstrong doesn’t exactly stay in the background, taking a series of stirring breaks on “Bugle Call Rag/Ole Miss,” singing a chorus on “I Surrender Dear” and stealing the show from Jack Teagarden with his trumpet solo on “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home.” For the other five numbers, Armstrong chose one romp the band had been playing since their inception, “Panama,” one stage set-piece, “New Orleans Function,” one comedy number, “Twelfth Street Rag,” and a lowdown blues song that was about to become a staple of almost every All Stars show, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It.”

For a tenth song, Armstrong could have chosen any of the All Stars’s great numbers from the period: “I’m Confessin’,” “Back O’Town Blues,” “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” “Basin Street Blues,” “King Porter Stomp,” “That’s A Plenty,” anything. But instead he chose “That’s For Me,” which he really must have loved to perform. So without any further ado, let’s listen to this classic, classic recording from April 1950.

Now, I’m sorry, but that’s the most beautiful piece of music you’re going to hear all day. The slow tempo strips Armstrong’s vocal from any confidant leanings and instead makes it a charming, fragile ode from a man who truly cannot believe how lucky he is to be in love with the woman “that’s for him.” If you’re reading this on Valentine’s Day morning and still need an inscription for your card, you can’t go wrong with this offering from Oscar Hammerstein:

I saw you standing in the sun
And you were something to see.
I know what I like, and I liked what I saw
And I said to myself "That's for me."
"A lovely morning," I remarked,
And you were quick to agree.
You wanted to walk,
And I nodded my head
As I breathlessly said "That's for me."
I left you standing under stars,
The days adventures are through.
There's nothing for me but the dream in my heart,
And the dream in my heart, that's for you.
Oh, my darling, that's for you.

Doesn’t get much better than that. But listening to the record is a marvelous experience. The opening ensemble is perhaps the most tender one in All Stars history, clearly one that had been perfected on the bandstand. Bigard sticks to his low, chalameau register, playing the melody straight in the second half while Armstrong plays lead, opening with those gorgeous quarternotes, phrasing the melody where it feels best for him and sounds best for us. Teagarden plays quietly, but he later makes his presence felt with a lovely obbligato. Hines, maintaining the proper mood for a change, sets Armstrong’s vocal up with a perfect interlude and then we’re off to heaven.

Just listen to quality of Armstrong’s voice, brilliantly captured by Decca’s engineers. There’s barely a trace of gravel and though you can hear him struggle to sing those high notes, that all adds up to the charm of the record. He clearly loves the melody, not even infusing it with a single scat syllable or a even a “mama.” Tegarden’s obbligato is a highlight of the record, as he quotes liberally from the Armstrong vocabulary, especially the phrase he plays at 2:17 in, a quote from the Drdla Souvenir that Pops loved to sing and play (thanks to reader Anthony Coleman who pointed that out to me, something I did not know a year ago!). Hines again sets the stage for Armstrong’s lightly muted trumpet offering, which, repeats some of the phrases from the 1949 broadcast, but is much more effective at this gentle tempo. The double-timed opening phrase never fails to give me the chills as Bigard noodles around in the low register and the rhythm section begins swinging ever so lightly. The rhythms in this Armstrong solo are mind-boggling. Really, how many more times am I going to write this? I guess one more can’t hurt…I would hate to transcribe a solo like this one! It’s so flowing, so melodic, yet it’s also so unpredictable and quite daring. Armstrong goes into the upper register to bridge the two halves of his solo, but otherwise, he’s content to play circles around the melody, offering snippets of Rodgers’s original notes here and there as points of reference. Please, listen to this one 10 or 11 more times. It never ceases to surprise and it never ceases to move.

After the solo, you can hear Armstrong quietly clear the rubble out as Hines and Teagarden play a Satchmo-fied phrase (shades of Django’s “Nuages”?) Pops reenters with the “I left you standing under stars phrase,” which sounds like a bridge, but the melody reverts right back to that of the first two A sections (this is an oddly structured song, but it works). Teagarden plays that Pops phrase in obbligato once again at the 4:10 mark. Finally, though he’s made it this far, Armstrong sings a perfectly placed “Babe” before his final climb into the highest registers of his voices. I don’t think there’s a lovelier phrase in the history of Armstrong’s recorded vocals than that “Oh my darling,” leading to the sublime coda, with a little subdued scatting. You can hear Armstrong smiling as he hits the final “You,” Hines’s playing pretty descending runs behind him while Bigard and Teagarden harmonize. I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful ending to a more beautiful record.

In my research, I’ve come across a concert review from, I believe, 1951 that mentions a live performance of “That’s For Me,” but it soon after disappeared from the All Stars’s band book. That’s not to say he forgot about it completely. In a 1968 interview for the BBC radio program “Be My Guest,” Pops spoke about the inspiration for his recording that song: his fourth wife, Lucille. At that time, I didn't have my Mac so I was clueless about editing tracks but now I'm a whiz so here it is, a beautiful, short excerpt from the interview climaxed by the 67-year-old Armstrong singing "That's For Me" completely a capella:

“That was for Lucille.” Ah, love. Pops had it for Lucille and it's safe to say, the world still has it for Pops. I hope you enjoyed "That's For Me" half as much as I did and I wish all of you a very Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When The Saints Go Marchin' In - Revisited

Recorded May 13, 1938
Track Time 2:44
Written by “Traditional”
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Shelton Hemphill, trumpet; J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Rupert Cole, Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, tenor saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin
Originally released on Decca 2230
Currently available on CD: It’s on volume four (1938) of the wonderful Ambassador series, as well as about a thousand other discs
Available on Itunes? Are you kidding?

First off, congratlations to the New Orleans Saints for their Super Bowl victory the other night! I'm a Giants fan, who jumped to the Jets bandwagon when my team fell apart at the end of the year, but I couldn't help but pull for the Saints on Sunday. If any town needed a reason to celebrate, it was New Orleans. Also, I've met so many great people down there during my trips to the Satchmo Summerfest that it makes me smile to picture them going nuts for their team. And hey, it's Pops's hometown so how could I not root for them?

In the last couple of days, the Internet has been exploding with Saints stories that somehow tie-in the song "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." Many of these sites even reference Armstrong or have a link to one of his versions. Remembering that I knocked myself out with a gigantic post on the song two years ago, I decided to spruce it up a bit. Some of the YouTube links have been fixed and I added audio to a couple of verions I missed the first time around. Here you go Saints fans (the team and the song), this is for you!

On May 13, 1938, Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra walked into Decca’s New York studios to record a song Armstrong had played as a child. The song was “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” and that first Armstrong recording of the tune transformed the piece from a traditional gospel hymn to a jazz standard that has become an anthem of sorts in the United States, having been performed by everyone from B.B. King to Bruce Springsteen. Gospel groups have performed it, it’s been heard in films and television commercials, children are taught to sing it in elementary school and just about every New Orleans-related jazz band closes with it (even if they’re sick of it. As the old sign in Preservation Hall used to read: “$1 for standard requests, $2 for unusual requests and $5 for the Saints”).

Type the title of the song into a YouTube search and you’ll get 694 results to wade through. Type it into an Itunes search and be prepared to sift through 563 results, with versions by the likes of Elvis Presley, Trini Lopez, Yusef Lateef and Harry Belafonte (it’s also on a “Baby Einstein” compilation of music for, well, babies). lists 929 versions of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” but that website also lists additional versions with altered titles or recordings of it that are part of medleys, which drives the total to over 1,000 recorded versions.

And for better or for worse, it all began with Louis Armstrong’s record, 70 years ago.

I personally think it’s for the better because it led to so many great versions by Armstrong himself. When I type “Louis Armstrong Saints” into MY Itunes library, I get 47 results. Add in the versions I have on videos and DVD and the actual number is probably closer to 60. Now, before you frantically close this window and go back to checking your mail, don’t worry, I’m not going to discuss all 60 versions. But there are some greats ones out there, including a number on video, and I think the evolution of the performance in Armstrong’s repertoire over the course of his career is quite interesting. So stick with me as we celebrate the anniversary of this song with an interactive look at some of the great man’s finest versions. Even if my words put you to sleep, skip ‘em and stay for the music!

Obviously, I’ll start with that first recording, though of course, it was not Louis Armstrong’s first encounter with the song. On the original Decca record, the composer for the “Saints” was listed as “Traditional” and that’s how it’s listed on almost every succeeding version. However, after digging around the Internet, I discovered that a song titled “When the Saints Are Marching In” was published in 1896 with music by James Milton Black and lyrics by Katherine Purvis. However, this is not the one we all know and love. You can read more and even hear a sample of that song by clicking this

According to the always-reliable Wikipedia (sarcasm), other derivatives followed over the years, including “When the Saints March In For Crowning” (1908), “When All the Saints Come Marching In” (1923) and “When the Saints Go Marching Home” (1927), but I don’t know if any of these sounded like the traditional version or the Black and Purvis. The “Saints” we all know and love (loathe, for some) was officially included in Edward Boatner's 1927 book of hymns, Spirituals Triumphant - Old And New. However, a silly website I found has an article about how Virgil Stamps wrote the music and Luther Presley wrote the lyrics…in 1937! Presley was a noted gospel songwriter, but composing “The Saints” in 1937? Impossible!

Louis Armstrong himself talked about hearing the song frequently as a child, both as a sober hymn and as a joyous romp during the second line parades that gathered after a funeral. On the new Armstrong DVD The Portrait Collection, there’s footage of Armstrong on a talk show in 1961 talking about how he played the song as a kid in the Waif’s Home. So Armstrong was quite familiar with the tune, which was already being jammed by the New Orleans jazz musicians, but around the rest of the country, it was mainly known as a gospel tune. That’s how the Paramount Jubilee Singers performed the song when it made its recorded debut in November 1923 on a record. Titled “When All the Saints Go Marching In,” it sounded like this:

Five years later, in January 1928, Blind Willie Davis recorded “The Saints” accompanied solely by his bluesy guitar. He misses some of the changes but it’s a smokin’ performance and I never would have known about it without finding this on YouTube:

In 1930, “When the Saints Go Marching In” was included in the Broadway stage production of Green Pastures, as well as in the 1936 film version of that play. However, I haven’t found any other recordings of it before Armstrong’s and certainly nothing that resembles a jazz version.

Armstrong had recorded almost nothing but pop tunes since he signed with Decca in 1938, though occasionally he got to break out an instrumental classic like “Dippermouth Blues” or “Mahogany Hall Stomp,” while he also got to record the occasional original composition such as “Swing That Music” or “If We Never Meet Again.” But somewhere along the way, Armstrong must have remembered his days of listening and playing “The Saints” as a youngster and thought a good record could be made of a New Orleans-styled treatment of the tune. Armstrong’s pianist Luis Russell cooked up an arrangement and it recorded as the fourth and final tune of the May 13, 1938 session. Interestingly, the session featured a streamlined version of Armstrong’s big band, utilizing only one trumpet, one trombone and three reeds. Thus, without further ado, here’s that first recording of “When the Saints Go Marching In” (note: the Red Hot Jazz version is pitched low in the key of F#. Armstrong played it in G so here it is in the correct key courtesy of Gösta Hägglöf’s Ambassador series, with pitch correction by the fabulous trumpeter, Bent Persson).

I don’t care how sick some people might get of this song, I find the original record to be irresistible, right from the opening “chords” played by the brass and reeds. Paul Barbarin’s parade drumming sets the mood perfectly. In fact, this might be Barbarin’s finest record with Armstrong. I love Barbarin, but he was no Sid Catlett (who was?), the man who replaced him and who became Armtrong’s all-time favorite drummer. Catlett was a bit more “modern” in his approach, while Barbarin favored snare drum work and heavy backbeat cymbal splashes. But Barbarin was a New Orleans man and he always fit in beautifully with that Russell rhythm section of Russell, guitarist Lee Blair and bassist Pops Foster. Whenever Barbarin got to pull out his parade drumming tricks, stand back—“Jubilee” from January 12, 1938 is another classic uplifted by Barbarin’s drumming.

I think New Orleans drumming is an art form and anyone who says it was the boppers who freed up the drums in jazz has never listened to New Orleans jazz where it seems like those cats playing anything BUT straight time. Barbarin really boots along “The Saints” with his snare and those funky bass drum and tom-tom accents in between the choruses, a hallmark of New Orleans drumming.

But naturally, Armstrong is the main event. As the congregation of horns gives Armstrong his padding, the master steps up to the mike to deliver a sermon: “Sisters and brothers, this is Reverend Satchmo getting ready to beat out this mellow sermon for ya. My text this evening is ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.’ Here come Brother Hickenbottom down the aisle with his tram-bone. Blow it, boy…”

Armstrong had been parodying reverends since he was a teenager in New Orleans, creating a character that he would feature in live performance during his New York and Chicago days, as well as on records such as “Lonesome Road.” Of course, his announcement of “Brother Hickenbottom” is a reference to the band’s all-star trombonist, J.C. Higginbotham, who really “sings” the melody with his shouting reading of the “text,” getting cute responses from the high reeds and some somber moaning from the low ones. Russell arranged a neat little interlude to separate the music portion from the start of the vocal, four short bars that stick in the listener’s mind every time he or she listens to the recording (I love that patented late-30s emphasis on the fourth beat of the second bar, shades of Cab Calloway’s “Scrontch”).

Armstrong then delivers the vocal, a favorite of kids from 1 to 92 (or is that “The Christmas Song”?). He sounds joyous in his tenor register, getting echoing responses from the members of the band (as well as a female voice somewhat prominent in the mix). Barbarin lays down the parade beat as alto saxophonist Charlie Holmes takes a fairly bluesy solo, Armstrong telling him to “Blow it, Brother Holmes.” Another Barbarin drum fill leads to the second chorus of singing, featuring the same words as the first. The traditional spiritual featured many different verses but Armstrong was content to do only the first (in later versions he went as far as “When the Saints Go Marchin’ By,” but that was it, no stuff about sun’s refusing to shine or sister’s getting religion).

Before Armstrong’s even done with the vocal, the strutty, funky trombone of Higgy can already be heard in the distance. The song really takes off during Higginbotham’s solo, which is so note-perfect, part of me wonders if he “set” it in advance. Russell’s written figures for the reeds provide a nice counterpoint, while the rhythm section really drives everything along. Another reading of the Russell’s four-bar interlude sets up Pops’s trumpet, taking it out for two choruses. His first sticks pretty close to the melody, but the additional little notes and changes in phrasing carry the day (I dig the blues inflection on the first playing of the word “In” and those almost inconspicuous swoops and glides in his snake-like playing).

In pure New Orleans fashion, Armstrong doesn’t even finish the melody after the first chorus, instead holding a high tonic G to signal the beginning of the next chorus. He’s stays on the G before playing a run that works up to an F#, the major seventh and more or less a direct quote from Armstrong’s composition “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” (in future versions it would become more direct). Armstrong keeps up his variations before building up to an ending where he nails a high concert D. The band reprises the Russell “interlude” one last time and the record ends with a bang. Classic stuff.

When the record was released, Armstrong was met from resistance from at least one listener: his sister Beatrice, better known as “Mama Lucy.” As Gary Giddins reported this story in his book Satchmo, “Danny Barker remembers how Mama Lucy criticized her brother for tarting up a piece from the church. When Barker told Armstrong what she had said, he got angry and remarked that she didn’t see anything wrong with playing bingo in the church.” Such a great response…

So naturally, the song became a big hit and Louis Armstrong began featuring it every night, right? Not quite. The “Saints” revolution appears to have taken off a little slower than imagined. Wingy Manone recorded it in 1939 and was filmed performing it in 1943 with what was basically a copycat imitation of the Armstrong Decca record:

But that was five years after Armstrong’s recording. Hadn’t the “Saints” begun their march yet? Not quite. Revival hero Bunk Johnson didn’t get around to it until 1944 and there aren’t many other versions from the following couple of years. And what about old Pops? Well, Jos Willems has listened to and charted just about every surviving Armstrong session, broadcast and concert and he lists absolutely zero performances of “The Saints” between the 1938 original and 1946. And trust me, there are a lot of Armstrong broadcasts from those years, but Pops never pulled out “The Saints” a single time. Armstrong’s version led many New Orleans bands, both of the authentic and “revival” kind, to adopt “The Saints” as kind of a theme song, but Armstrong wasn’t playing with a New Orleans band and thus, the piece was kind of left on the back burner.

When it was time to revisit the song, it was for the motion picture New Orleans, a piece of Hollywood fluff that purported to tell the story of the origins of jazz in the titular city. It’s a mess of a movie but Pops lights up the screen and the music is often good. Three short takes of “The Saints” exist, all strictly instrumental and featuring Pops mainly playing the melody in a band that featured his former boss Kid Ory on trombone and future All Star Barney Bigard on clarinet. Armstrong sounds in wonderful form but the large group doesn’t exactly swing, instead marching along on top of heavy tuba beats. Armstrong sounds great riding over the ensemble, but otherwise, it’s kind of murky. Here’s the recording:

By April of 1947, New Orleans was getting ready to make its debut so Armstrong did a lot of promotion including an appearance on Rudi Blesh’s WOR radio show This is Jazz. The broadcast reunited Armstrong with many of his New Orleans cohorts, including clarinetist Albert Nicholas, bassist Pops Foster and drummer Baby Dodds. As I said, the song hadn’t exactly become a staple yet and Armstrong doesn’t seem to have played it much since the original recording nine years earlier. Thus, the arrangement follows that Decca record to a tee. Here ‘tis:

I love the tempo of this version and especially the drumming of Baby Dodds…oh, only if he could have sounded like that on the old King Oliver recordings. Trombonist Georg Brunis (aka George Brunies) makes his presence felt with his extroverted personality and fine, shouting trombone style. Armstrong’s two rideout choruses follow the pattern of the Decca, though this time, when he holds the G going into the second chorus, he uses it as a springboard to a very exciting B. Again, the performance lands on a high D, Armstrong sounding as strong as ever.

One month after the broadcast, Armstrong performed with a small group at Town Hall in New York City. The concert was such a success that Armstrong decided to break up the big band and begin touring with a sextet, the All Stars. Again, using Willems’s discography as a guide, it seems that “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” was an infrequent part of the repertoire in the earliest days of the band, having been played at a Carnegie Hall concert in November 1947 and at the Nice jazz festival in France in February 1948, the only two known versions of the tune in the first year of the band. But by September 1948, the All Stars had a new arrangement of the song, now played as part of a medley with “Shadrack.” After making the original Decca record of “The Saints”, Armstrong began infrequently tackling religious material and “Shadrack” was one of the first up, recorded with a choir on June 14, 1938, one month after “The Saints.” “Shadrack” was a popular recording for Armstrong so it made sense to combine the two.

“Shadrack” would open the medley and when it was over, a drum break would herald the beginning of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” performed faster than any of Armstrong’s previous versions. How fast? The original Decca record weighed in around 190 beats per minute while the live versions with the All Stars kicked off around 250. Armstrong would now play two choruses up front, sing one, then throw it to Barney Bigard, who usually began with a quote from “Pennsylvania 6-500.” Then Armstrong would sing another before Jack Teagarden’s trombone would take over. Then it was time for Pops, who, as always, led the two final rideout choruses, often changing his phrasing of the melody in the first chorus and always holding a note to lead into the second chorus. The second chorus would always begin with the exact phrase Armstrong played on the 1938 recording, though this time it would be played in tandem with Teagarden, while the “Barbecue” quote was more pronounced. And you guessed it, Armstrong would trade phrases with Teagarden until climbing up to that final high D.

The early All Stars versions of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” are all very exciting (especially the ones with Sid Catlett) but they’re all quite similar. In late 1950, Armstrong and the All Stars recorded a bunch of songs for use in the Mickey Rooney film, The Strip. For the soundtrack, the band recorded their medley of “Shadrack” and “The Saints” in beautiful sound. Here’s that track:

Unfortunately, when it came time to actually film the scene for The Strip, nearly five minutes of running time was a little too long. Thus, here is the medley as it appeared in the film, with a pretty complete “Shadrack” and a too short run-through of “The Saints,” with no vocal and only one trumpet outchorus. It’s not exactly a great film but it has a lot of music and a lot of priceless glimpses of the Armstrong-Teagarden-Earl Hines addition of the All Stars in prime form. Here ‘tis:

So that’s the story of “The Saints” in the early years of the All Stars. However, it was during those years when the popularity of the tune really began to take off in the jazz world. Sidney Bechet recorded it in 1949, Lu Watters waxed it in 1950 and many other versions began springing up. However, by the end of 1951, when personnel of the All Stars began changing, Armstrong momentarily let go of “The Saints.” Willems lists no versions of the song being performed live or on broadcasts between the summer of 1951 and the summer of 1953. Of course, Willems only had access to surviving broadcasts and concert tapes so the exact contents of every Armstrong live show will never be truly known. Besides, it is known that during Armstrong’s 1952 run at the Paramount Theater in New York, he closed each show with a Gordon Jenkins arrangement of “The Saints” for the All Stars and big band. According to a review of the period, “When the Jenkins band joined Louis in the final, ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,’ the house was in virtual bedlam. Jenkins seems to have such a good time up there, looking at Armstrong and Velma Middleton, he should pay to get in.”

In early 1953, when Armstrong embarked on an ill-conceived tour with Benny Goodman big band, those concerts also ended with Armstrong jamming “The Saints” with the orchestra. Goodman basically had a nervous breakdown on that tour and was soon replaced by Gene Krupa. Interestingly, a release titled “Where’s Benny?” features a set by the Krupa big band and concludes with Armstrong and the band doing “The Saints.” I finally purchased it and blogged extensively about that exciting track last year. If you'd like to read that post (I won't inflate this one any more by quoting it!), click here. If you just want to hear the audio, here 'tis:

By the end of 1953, Armstrong and the All Stars were back to regularly featuring the medley of “The Saints” and “Shadrack.” The band had a new trombonist in Trummy Young and his rowdy, robust concept of trombone playing added a new spark to the band. A broadcast from the Club Hangover in January 1954 showcases the power of this new edition of the All Stars on “The Saints,” whose tempo had now dropped back down to about 224 beats per minute. The Club Hangover broadcast is available on a Storyville C.D. is truly one of my favorites as it absolutely smokes. A big part of the smoking has to do with Young’s blasting trombone, which really spurs Armstrong to great heights. In fact, after so many years of taking two rideout choruses, Armstrong now began taking three, the rhythm team of bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Kenny John really spurring him on. The first chorus would consist of a mostly improvised reading of the melody while the second featured some call and response with Bigard and Young and a swinging descending eighth-note run. The last chorus was the set one he had been playing since 1938, but now the “Barbecue” quote stuck out and Young really came out like a piledriver, repeating notes like a rhythm-and-blues tenor saxophonist while Bigard would hold a high note. “The Saints” never sounded so good but as great as this version is, I’ve chosen right now to share another one from the same period, a ten-minute marathon from Armstrong’s May 8, 1954 afternoon concert at the University of North Carolina.

I blogged a complete review of this concert back in September 2007 but what I wrote about “The Saints” then still holds up today. Please listen along and prepare to be stunned:

Armstrong was in absolutely peak form on that 1954 show and he had just blown up a storm on the “New Orleans Function” and “Lazy River” preceding that track. Here’s what I wrote about it in September:

“If you think I’ve been enthusiastic up to this point, I don’t know how I’m going to convey the wild roller coaster ride that is a ten-minute medley of “Shadrack” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” After another long piano introduction (you can hear Armstrong make a reference to the Ink Spots), “Shadrack” begins with an absolutely infectious minor vamp (think “Hit the Road, Jack”) and it’s impossible to not get carried away by it. Unfortunately, by this point in the show, something went awry with the tape machine. All of a sudden, John’s drums sound louder and Pop’s voice sounds distant. After “Shadrack,” the band swings into the “Saints” and though it takes some effort to listen for it, what follows might be the most scorching, free-spirited playing of the entire All Stars period. It begins like every other version of the “Saints” and after solos by Bigard and Young, Armstrong leads the way with his set three-chorus rideout pattern, Bigard and Young with him all the way. Armstrong had worked on this routine for years and it works. The song ends on another huge high D and it’s over. The audience goes wild and Pops counts off the tempo for an encore, done at the same tempo. This encore was also pretty set and it, too, works as Pops blows another set of variations before ending on another high D. So far, so good but it’s not over yet. John takes a drum break and we’re off for a second encore, now at warp speed. Now’s where the improvisation begins as Armstrong first plays around with the melody then launches into a positively demonized second chorus, where he blows like it’s his last night on earth, hitting high G’s, smearing phrases, playing some very fleet-fingered ideas and showing complete command of the horn before pushing himself to play the melody a full octave higher than usual in the third chorus, nailing every note before ending on a sickening high E!

And he’s still not done.

He counts off one more time, and this time the band sounds like they didn’t even expect it. Shaw starts walking, John joins in but Pops is the only horn playing for a few seconds. Who needs anyone else when Armstrong is blowing with such fury? Armstrong now turns back the clock and it’s now 1932 again. He starts showing his endurance, hitting high G’s and holding them, the first one for five seconds before glissing to a higher B, the second one for four seconds, before another B and finally a third for three seconds before yet another gliss to yet another B. I’m glad I don’t play the trumpet because I would probably start crying and put my instrument up for sale after listening to this. Then once more, he plays the melody an octave higher, sounding a little shaky at first but almost immediately finding his footing, blasting it out with authority. Bedlam erupts and even Armstrong can’t help laughing his funny high-pitched laugh he only trotted out when he was especially titillated.”

So that’s what I wrote in 2007 though there’s a few items I could add. Armstrong now sang, “I would like to hit the number” instead of “I want to be in that number,” a humorous little touch. Also, Bigard’s “Pennsylvania 6-500” quote bit the dust, replaced by some exciting repeated high notes. I wrote that Armstrong’s first reprise was already kind of set but I think this is the first version in my collection with the encore, including the “National Emblem March” quote. It’s definitely the first I have with the speeded up encores and the playing of the melody an octave higher and it’s certainly not the last. I apologized for the somewhat shaky recording quality, especially the overbearing drums of Kenny John, but fortunately there are other similar versions that exist in better sound.

By 1955, John was gone, replaced by Barrett Deems and the “Shadrack/Saints” medley had become a popular set opener at live shows and on radio broadcasts such as one from the Basin Street club in New York City from around this time. In January 1955, the All Stars performed at the Crescendo Club in Hollywood, where their sets were recorded for Decca. Armstrong began the second set with the medley, which, with the encores, weighed in at seven minutes, too long for the original release. Thus, Decca lopped off “Shadrack,” thanks to some fancy editing in the announcement, and released what might be one of the most perfect versions of “The Saints” in the Armstrong discography. Nothing can match the raw excitement of the Carolina version but this one is the tightest; everything is set, Pops is flying and the sound quality is miles ahead of that from Carolina. Here it is, complete with the originally unissued "Shadrack":

Hot stuff, huh? In between, Armstrong appeared on the CBS show You Are There, playing the role of King Oliver on the last night of Storyville. It’s one of the most ironic television moments of all time. Before this clip begins, Armstrong, as Oliver, delivers scripted lines about blacks and whites playing together. At the same time, the All Stars always featured an integrated line-up. However, the suits at CBS were still afraid of southern viewership not being able to handle seeing an integrated band…in September 1954! When they suggested Armstrong hire a black drummer, Armstrong refused, defending Deems as his drummer to the end. So what the final solution?


Yes, you read that right. Blackface. In 1954. To give the impression of an all-black band. Whose leader just spoke about the benefits of integrated music. It’s truly bizarre, but the music in this clip is stunning. Armstrong jams “The Saints,” first engaging in a “cutting contest” with white trumpeter Bobby Hackett, heard offscreen because, well, he was white and again, that was taboo! Hackett sounds really inspired and Pops comes up with a string of improvised ideas. But at the end, he plays the set All Stars ending, marching and playing like he’s a kid in New Orleans again. A wild clip:

Louis Armstrong All Stars-When the Saints-1954
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By the mid-50s, “The Saints” was officially becoming an anthem in the traditional jazz world. For example, at a 1952 concert, clarinetist George Lewis played it as the fourth song of the first set. The crowd reaction was pure bedlam and just a few short years later, it was closing most Lewis concerts, becoming a standard closer for most New Orleans jazz bands until today. After the Crescendo Club album, Armstrong soon ditched “Shadrack” and began moving “The Saints” from being a set opener to being an evening closer.

By the end of 1955, clarinetist Edmond Hall joined the All Stars, beginning the prime period of the famed group. Numerous versions of “The Saints” exist from the Hall period and I have to share at least one of them. In early 1956, the All Stars embarked on a tour with Woody Herman’s Orchestra. Listening to the surviving recordings and reading the reviews from the tour, it seems like the All Stars played with an extra competitive edge. They often closed their sets with “The Saints,” joined by Herman’s group for some simple riffing. This version is from a one-nighter in Grand Rapids, Michigan and it’s a hot one with some new ideas in Armstrong’s rideout choruses and another crazy encore featuring Armstrong playing the melody an octave higher. Here goes:

Speaking of Herman, Armstrong and Herman met again on December 30, 1957 for the taping of the very first Timex All Star Jazz Show. The finale that year was a wild version of the “Saints” that began with Herman’s orchestra before Armstrong and the All Stars played the melody their way, joined by Jack Teagarden’s band, which could be called the All Stars’s farm team as it featured other members of the Armstrong circle including Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Marty Napoleon, Arvell Shaw and Cozy Cole. Then, without missing a beat, the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond plays a couple of choruses before Armstrong sings, backed by Steve Allen, June Christy, Herman, Teagarden and Trummy Young. Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole then engage in a drum battle before Armstrong leads the charge out. It’s a bit messy but the spectacle overshadows any of the hysterics of the playing. By my count, there are 33 musicians on the stage, many in the jazz hall of fame: Woody Herman, Bill Harris, Al Cohn, Paul Qunichette, Zoot Sims, Nat Pierce, Chjubby Jackson, Trummy Young, Edmond Hall, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Ventura, Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden…it’s mind-boggling. And for me, the wildest part is listening to all 33 guys blowing at once and through it all, hearing Pops’s sound still shine through. And because the director was probably signaling them to keep going until the credits finished rolling, Armstrong was forced to take more than his usual set three-chorus finish. In his third chorus, Armstrong takes the melody up an octave but the band keeps going, so Armstrong knocks himself out with one high D and E after another. He stays up there for three more choruses before we finally fade out. Well, enough blathering from me; enjoy this incredible moment:

Armstrong was clearly feeling his oats in the 1954-1959 years and 1958 features a bunch of great “Saints.” In fact, on May 13 of that year, the 20th anniversary of the original (and 50 years ago today), Armstrong played it at a concert in North Bay Ontario. Highlights from this concert were released on C.D. in 2006 to absolutely no fanfare but I’ve mentioned it here a dozen times because it’s one of the finest Armstrong discs I’ve ever heard. Pops is in absolutely peak form throughout and especially on “The Saints” where, instead of playing the set third chorus he had been playing for 20 years, he heads right on up to playing the melody an octave higher, with no encore or anything. Unfortunately, the performance is split up between two different tracks on the C.D. so I’m not going to include it here but please, please, please, order this incredible disc at and prepare to blown away by some ferocious playing by Armstrong and the rest of the band. Here’s the : link.

Shortly after the North Bay concert, Edmond Hall left the group. His replacement was Peanuts Hucko, whose first engagement with the band was at the Newport Jazz Festival that year. I’ve also written about this crime before and I might as well do it again. Columbia recorded Armstrong’s entire set that night and they’ve released a grand total of three tracks from it over the years, each in glorious sound and featuring Pops in glorious form. However, Sony has sat on those tapes for years now, though they’ve released every scrap of Miles Davis in their archives. This summer would mark the 50th anniversary of the concert and what would mark the occasion better than a deluxe issue of the event? Sadly, it looks like it’ll never happen. None of my European contingent of Armstrong nuts possesses a recording the concert and producer George Avakian, who recorded the show, has also had his request for a copy of the concert turned down by Sony itself! It’s an outright crime but hopefully someone from Europe can get into the Sony vaults and issue it when the copyright runs out after this year.

The only good news is Bert Stern filmed a lot of the festival for his film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Stern filmed some of Armstrong’s set including a brief, closing version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” Armstrong’s time obviously was drawing to a close to he eliminates all solos and such but my goodness, he plays with fury, again, like in North Bay, skipping the preliminaries, and going straight for playing the melody an octave higher. Stern’s photography is beautiful and the juxtaposed shots of Armstrong wailing really capture the intensity of the man. Here’s Louis's filmed set, ending with "The Saints":

So Pops was blowing his ass off in the summer of 1958, but he might have blown himself out a little bit as he sounds in less than 100% form at the Monterey Jazz Festival from October 3, 1958, and the subject on another one of my early blogs. Armstrong had a rough start that evening, even omitting his customary solo on “Indiana,” but he blew through the pain, eventually settling in a bit towards the end of the concert. However, by the end of the set, his lip was just about shot, as he doesn’t play his usual obbligatos on “St. Louis Blues” and “That’s My Desire.” He saves whatever he has in tank for the closing “Saints” and it’s clear that it hurts. In the opening choruses, he hits a few air notes and he really struggles with the “Here Comes the Bride” quote that bridges the first and second rideout choruses. All the fleet-fingered little phrases are gone but Pops manages to blow through the pain and still hits that high note at the end. Oh, the lengths he went to please his audiences and hit those high notes…

Now, before I march onward, we’ll take a breather. If you’ve been foolish enough to attempt to read this in one sitting, you’ve probably fallen asleep. So if you would like to grab a cold beverage, check your e-mail, call your mother, enjoy a sandwich, take some Swiss Kriss, whatever, go right ahead and knock yourself out. As a means of an intermission, I’ll keep things strictly chronological and throw out a YouTube clip of Armstrong and Danny Kaye doing “The Five Pennies Saints” for the film, The Five Pennies. This was another subject of an older blog entry but there’s really not too much to add. I think it’s a magical film moment and it was recorded in October 1958, right where we are in the narrative anyway. There’s no trumpet playing but the vocal routine is a gas. Enjoy!

Wasn’t that a “gassuh”? The ending, where both men scat their hearts out, gets me every time.

Okay, class—I mean, readers—let’s get back to the nitty gritty. When I left off, Pops was struggling with “The Saints” at the Monterey Jazz Festival. But don’t fret, my children…by the time of his mammoth 1959 tour of Europe, Armstrong was in fighting shape. “The Saints” continued to be a show closer, allowing Armstrong to introduce everyone in the band and though a million versions survive from this tour, there’s not one that’s a dud. If you didn’t notice it on the 1958 clip, the tempo of “The Saints” had now crept back up to 250 beats per minute. Armstrong now sang “I would like to hit the sweepstakes” instead of “hit the number,” a cute touch. New drummer Danny Barcelona now played some accents when Armstrong threw a few punches during the trombone solo. Also, listen for Young and Hucko’s furious riffing as Armstrong introduces the members of the band for their final bows—they’re smoking! Pops’s three choruses come off beautifully, though he doesn’t play the melody an octave higher (also, listen for Hucko doubling Young’s repeated notes). There are a few videos of “The Saints” from this 1959 tour floating around YouTube but I’ve decided to choose one from Stuttgart, Germany, February 15, 1959:

Of course, the 1959 tour is mostly remembered for Armstrong’s heart episode, which either almost killed him or was only a bad case of indigestion, depending on whom you believe. Armstrong clearly suffered some trauma and though he continued to blow beautifully for years to come, he now had to pace himself more. And here’s where the plot thickens, my friends. Because “The Saints” usually closed the evening, Armstrong sometimes no longer had the chops to make his climb to the top. This becomes apparent when watching a clip of the All Stars on the "Ed Sullivan Show" from September 20, 1959, just a few months after Armstrong recovered and began touring again. This is otherwise a fun version and I love the interplay between Pops and Danny Barcelona (“Hawaii Speaks!”) but Armstrong’s chops let him down in that climactic third chorus. Up to then, he sounds fine but his lips do seem to tire and it takes every ounce of willpower to make that high D. Unfortunately, the Ed Sullivan Show took the clip down off of a YouTube. The good news is they put it up for themselves (though they edited out "Hawaii Speaks!"), but without the ability to embed it anywhere. So to see this version go to YouTube by clicking

He makes it but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t become any easier in the coming months. Just a few weeks later, Armstrong and the All Stars played an outdoor concert at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. This concert was never commercially issued but it survives in beautiful sound. Probably because it was an outdoor concert, Pops has some trouble with his chops, hitting a lot of air notes and struggling with his dexterity (you can hear him complain that “It’s cold” during “Tiger Rag”). Oddly enough, Armstrong’s highest notes come out clean as a bell but he struggles with the middle register (I’ll never understand the trumpet!). Both sets of the concert survive and both sets end with “The Saints.” And on both versions, Armstrong, knowing deep down that he’s probably not going to make it, omits his final three-chorus solo. The first time around, he introduces everyone, then throws it right into Barcelona’s feature on “Mop Mop,” which didn’t require an Armstrong solo. At the end of the second set, Armstrong takes “The Saints” at a slower tempo, getting the entire audience to sing and clap along. After the vocal, Armstrong picks up the chorus and plays one chorus, sounding fairly strong. But again, not wanting to chance it, he cuts it off abruptly and heads into the closing theme “Sleepy Time Down South.”

And that, sadly, was the end of Armstrong’s wondrous three-chorus rideout on “The Saints.” At the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, he segued into the “Star Spangled Banner” once he introduced the members of the band. At the Oregon State Fair in September 1960, the tempo slowed further while Young and clarinetist Barney Bigard tried out some new riffs during the introductions. But once the introductions are over, Armstrong throws it over to “Mop Mop” again, a tactic from the Keesler that would be repeated at an African concert in November 1960 and at a Swedish concert in early 1961.

So loyal readers, was this the sad fate of “The Saints” in Louis Armstrong’s repertoire? A few choruses up front, a vocal, then a short drum solo? Thankfully, no, as Pops wised up and probably noticed how much the audience loved singing the tune. So by at least a September 1961 engagement in Pennsylvania, Armstrong was playing two choruses up front, then leading a sing-a-long with the band members and the audience. Clarinet and trombone still took solos but now the tempo dropped dramatically to around 166 beats per minute, slower than any previous Armstrong version. In 1961, Jewel Brown became the group’s new vocalist and initially, she played a prominent role during “The Saints,” dancing, clapping and singing some remarkably high counterpoint notes. It’s impressive as far as singing goes, but it got in the way of the performance. By the middle of 1962, she toned it down to simply clapping and shouting encouragements.

But in April 1962, the All Stars were filmed doing “The Saints” for a Goodyear jazz short. Here, Brown really tries taking the spotlight, to the point where she seems to annoy Pops with her high notes towards the end. However, the real reason to celebrate this clip is Pops’s decision to take a couple of choruses in the middle. Pops is full of new ideas, including a quick “Dixie” quote and some scorching high notes in the second chorus. It represents one of the last great surviving solos Armstrong ever took on “The Saints.” Here it is, courtesy of a YouTube video that’s seen more than 1.5 million hits:

As I said, that was a pretty padded version. Here are the All Stars in May 1962, just one month later, performing “The Saints” in Sweden, a good representation of how Armstrong approached the song in the 1960s:

Thus, that became the normal routine for “The Saints” from about 1961 to 1964: Pops plays two up front, sings, trombone and clarinet solo, the band is introduced and Pops encourages one last sing-a-long. It’s pretty good, but I always get annoyed at Billy Kyle’s overly-church-ified piano comping, playing static inversions on the first and third beats, which usually clashed with Danny Barcelona’s straight swinging drums.

In 1964, “Hello, Dolly” became all the rage, a bigger sensation than “The Saints.” Starting around 1965, “The Saints” was moved back to the first set closer, setting up intermission and that’s where it usually remained. If the All Stars did a one set show, then “The Saints” might still close it, but after the band introductions, Armstrong would head back to “Dolly” for one final chorus.

Yet Armstrong wasn’t ready to retire “The Saints” just yet. In late 1964, Louis appeared at an Australian TV and actually opened with "The Saints." That wasn't the only surprise: he also took two entirely new trumpet choruses at the end! I didn't possess this recording two years ago so this is all new to the blog. Pops sounds FANTASTIC! Dig it:

In April 1966, Armstrong recorded a version of it for Mercury, his first studio recording of the song since the 1938 original. It’s an okay record, but please don’t compare it to the original. Armstrong’s opening monologue is fun as he recounts seeing a bunch of “soul brothers” who wanted to sing and blow “The Saints.” Then Armstrong picks up his trumpet and plain and simple, sounds fairly weak. His tone is still there, if a bit dimmed and though his variations on the melody are somewhat beautiful in their subtle nature, the tower of the strength we were used to hearing in the 1940s and 1950s simply isn’t there. And this doesn’t mean he was dead; Armstrong still had some great blowing in front of him. But 1966 seems to be a rough year for Pops on record and from then on, the status of his chops could be erratic from night to night. And sadly, after that first, weakened chorus, Armstrong’s trumpet is silent for the rest of the record. He still had his voice and he puts on a good show introducing the members of the band, but it’s not quite the same. Here's the audio:

But as usual, don’t shed any tears for ol’ Pops yet. In 1968, Armstrong’s chops sounded quite strong again. On top of that, “The Saints” was sometimes moved to the closer status, now once again sporting a faster tempo. This is how it was played on a BBC television show in the summer of 1968 and I’d like to share that recording right now. Pops takes two up front and sounds better than he had in years, though he has to go low a few times where he once went high. Nevertheless, it’s a good one:

After illness forced him to miss more than a year of performing, Armstrong became a ubiquitous presence on television in 1970. In my collection, I have a great version of “The Saints” from the “Mike Douglas Show,” with Pops singing and leading a band that included Pete Fountain, Eddie Miller and Sammy Davis Jr. on drums! Zutty Singleton’s in the audience and everyone has a ball. Later that year, Armstrong sang it on the “Flip Wilson Show,” looking resplendent in a tuxedo and as happy as ever. In between, Armstrong recorded “Boy From New Orleans,” a new autobiographical tour of Armstrong’s life set to the familiar strains of “The Saints.” He would perform it on the “David Frost Show” in February 1971, just months before his passing.

But to close, I can’t think of a better clip to wrap everything up than this one: Louis Armstrong, taking “The Saints” back to church and back to New Orleans, where it all began for him. The occasion was a Newport Jazz Festival 70th birthday tribute to Armstrong. For the finale, Armstrong and gospel queen Mahalia Jackson duetted on “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” So there’s the church aspect for ya…but midway through, the Eureaka Brass Band of New Orleans comes marching out, filled with musicians Armstrong grew up listening to and playing with. They give “The Saints” the second line treatment Armstrong remembered hearing as a youngster. Pops marches around the stage like a kid again before stepping up to the microphone, clapping his hands and singing from the heart, ol’ Reverend Satchmo, still leading the congregation after all those years.

The full clip has been pulled from YouTube but is now availabe on the DVD "Good Evenin' Everybody" (more on that in a future post). However, the Internet is a magical place and the video is available on a Russian website. Thanks to my friend Mario Gonzalez for the embed link....enjoy!:
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And that, my friends is that. I don’t know if I can possibly say anything more about Louis Armstrong’s long and fruitful association with “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” but I know I had a helluva lot of fun taking a tour of all these different versions. “The Saints” has become pretty beaten to death over the years, but any and all Armstrong versions still sound fresh as a daisy. As always, comments and e-mails are always welcome…any additions? Corrections? Questions? Answers? Feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line at Thanks for taking this tour with me, celebrating the 70th anniversary of when the head saint himself—Pops—first came marching in, taking the whole music world with him…