Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Penny A Day - Pennies From Heaven - October 4, 1952

Louis Armstrong and His All Stars
Recorded October 4, 1952
Track Time 6:07
Written by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke
Recorded in Stockholm, Sweden
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Trummy Young, trombone; Bob McCracken, clarinet; Marty Napoleon, piano; Arvell Shaw, bass; Cozy Cole, drums
Currently available on CD: It’s on Louis Armstrong in Scandinavia Volume Two on the Storyville label
Available on Itunes? Yes

Unlike yesterday, where I discussed the Town Hall version of "Pennies From Heaven" that has been celebrated for over 60 years, today's version remained unissued until just a few years ago. But just because it's less known doesn't mean it's any less special.

After the success of the Town Hall concert in 1947, Armstrong formed his All Stars but "Pennies From Heaven" did not seem to be a regular feature with the group. Pops always sounded so good on it that I'm sure he must have taken it for a spin a few times but if he did, nothing survived until this version from Stockholm, Sweden on October 4, 1952. As you'll hear in Armstrong's announcement, it was a request given to him by a fan during intermission and he was glad to oblige it. Armstrong's intro is humorous because he has a momentary lapse on what film "Pennies From Heaven" was from, originally starting to introduce it from the picture "Skeleton in the Closet." Of course, "Skeleton in the Closet" was Armstrong's featured song in the film "Pennies From Heaven" and he quickly sorts it out.

Like the Town Hall version, the tempo is slow and stately. But unlike every preceding version, we get a full chorus of the Armstrong horn up front. For that alone, this version is very, very special. Dig it:


Isn't that breathtaking? If there's one thing lacking in this version, it's the passion from the other members of the group. The Town Hall event was so special and I think everyone on that stage knew it and as I discussed yesterday, everybody just plays over their head in that final rideout half-chorus, with Pops leading the way.

Here, everyone else is, you could almost say, more revervential. Trombonist Trummy Young and clarinetist Bob McCracken offer very low-key support; maybe they were too busy marveling at Pops's lead! And in the rhythm section, I enjoy Cozy Cole, but sometimes his playing is too dry for my taste and he really doesn't add much here, especially after we heard Sid Catlett's pushing and prodding and dancing drums at Town Hall.

But forget about all of that and just focus on Pops. He plays that opening chorus like a damn lullaby, it's so touching. As usual, no one sung this song as charmingly as Armstrong so I dare you not to smile when you listen to his vocal. Trummy then takes a half-chorus, again, not quite living up to what Teagarden played in 1947, but this is not a talent competition.

Louis, though....wow, there are no words. In 1947, he was sure to stay right on that melody. In 1952, he had already stated the melody so beautifully in the first chorus, that he takes a few more chances and improvises a bit more, building up to that dramatic high-note finish. A spectacular version!

Our thanks to the late, great Gösta Hägglöf, who spearheaded Storyville's four-volume Louis Armstrong In Scandinavia series, unearthing numerous rare gems such as this one, which appears on volume two. All four volumes are still available on Amazon in a box set for $40, an absolute steal. If you still haven't picked it up...what are you waiting for?

Tomorrow, Louis and Bobby Hackett reteam to perform it at Newport in 1970. Til then!

1 comment:

"Jazz Lives" @ WordPress.com said...

Breathtaking indeed! And what will fool some people is that it seems so simple -- Louis's sober, joyous, passionate simplicity. But only those who listen closely will know just how incredibly difficult it is to appear so simple and be so moving. But Louis did it every day of his life. I am, as always, so moved by the little phrase-ending orchestral phrases (not words) that Louis adds to his vocal: I'm not original in this, but they are his way of filling in what the band in his head was playing, the orchestral accompaniment he provided for himself. And if you played Trummy's chorus on another instrument, you would hear how deeply it is homage to the Master: a series of Louis phrases, beautifully executed. Blessings on your head for sharing this with us, Ricky -- I bought the Scandinavian set, finally, because of this. Cheers, Michael