Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Penny A Day - Pennies From Heaven - April 9, 1937

Louis Armstrong and His All Stars
Recorded April 9, 1937
Track Time 2:36
Written by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Leonard Davis, Henry "Red" Allen, Louis Bacon, trumpets; Snub Mosley, Jimmy Archey, trombone; Pete Clarke, Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Abert Nicholas, Bingie Madison, clarinet, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin, drums
Currently available on CD: It’s on the indispensable two-disc set Fleischmann's Yeast Show & Louis' Home Recorded Tapes
Available on Itunes? Yes

Welcome to day two of our look at Louis Armstrong's surviving performances of "Pennies From Heaven," a song that's guaranteed to put you in a good mood with Louis at the helm. Yesterday, we listened to the Decca recording made for the release of the film of the same name. As I mentioned, it was a pioneering moment for Louis as he became the first black actor to have featured billing in a major Hollywood movie.

Today's entry comes from another pioneering step in Pops's career, the Fleischmann's Yeast radio programs of 1937. When the series's original host Rudy Vallee left for an extended stay in England, the series was turned over to Armstrong, becoming the first black entertainer to star on a commercially sponsored network radio program. In 2008, many of Armstrong's Fleischmann's Yeast performances were released for the first time, compromising an absolutely essential release that features some of the finest playing of his entire career.

On the April 9, 1937 Fleischmann's Yeast show, Armstrong and his Orchestra, led by pianist Luis Russell, debuted a new arrangement of "Pennies From Heaven," one that was never recorded in the studio. Not only does it feature another great vocal, but this time we get to hear the Armstrong trumpet. Stand back:


With only an arpeggio serving as an introduction, Louis jumps right in with the vocal at a slightly faster clip than the Decca recording. Once again, he sounds marvelous, filling the spaces with an "oh babe" here and an "mm-mm" there. After the chorus, the Russell band takes a swinging interlude as Armstrong gives Papa Bing a plug. Pops enters during the second eight bars, sticking closely to the melody. Armstrong continues rhapsodizing the melody over a splashing cymbal backbeat by Paul Barbarin and some very hip chord substitutions in the arrangement (is it a Chappie Willet work?). Armstrong lets loose a bit in a perfectly paced extended ending. His sense of time is just too much to handle sometimes; is it possible to swing anymore than Louis does during this coda? Just try to keep your feet still. The gliss to a high note at the end is right in there with Armstrong's Decca work of the period. It took 71 years for it to be made public but this version of "Pennies From Heaven" was more than worth the wait.

Tomorrow, Town Hall, 1947...bring some tissues!

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