After yesterday's magnificent 1952 version of "Pennies From Heaven," we have to jump all the way to 1970 for today's entry. You might be wondering why Pops didn't touch the tune in those ensuing years. The reason is pianist Billy Kyle joined the band in late 1953 and brought a feature of his own on "Pennies From Heaven." Armstrong respected that let Kyle keep it to himself until his death in 1966. I'm probably going to post Kyle's version this weekend for completness sake but Pops never played on it.
There is one conspicuous unissed version in the Armstrong discography and that's from the Newport Jazz Festival 1958. Anyone who has been with me for a while is probably sick and tired of hearing me talk about Newport 1958 but it's still number one on my list of Louis performances I need to hear. Columbia recorded it in gorgeous stereo sound but they've only issued three random tracks on various compilations. Sony is still sitting on it, the good people at Wolfgang's Vault say they don't have it in their Newport archive and Scott Wenzel of Mosaic Records expressed interest to me about it last year but so far, no news. In addition to Pops's chops being in top form and the concert being recorded in stereo, it also featured a special reunion of Louis with Jack Teagarden and Bobby Hackett. And what do you think they did? Yep, "Pennies From Heaven." I sweat when I think about it (of course, it could be lousy), but hopefully one day it'll be released and I'll be able to talk about it here.
Anyway, in 1970, Louis's 70th birthday was celebrated at Newport, the subject of the DVD Good Evening Ev'rybody I discussed in detail last week. Bobby Hackett was appointed music director for the event. Perhaps knowing the tie between Louis and Bobby on the Town Hall and Newport 1958 versions of "Pennies From Heaven," George Wein wanted them to open with the tune in 1970. Pops wouldn't hear of it, arguing to open with his standard theme, "When It's Sleepy Time Down South." He won that argument but once onstage, he followed "Sleepy Time" with a breezy vocal-only performance of "Pennies." The tempo is swinging is Pops delivers yet another master's class in swinging. Here's the footage:
Louis Armstrong-Pennies From Heaven-1970 Newport
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Fantastic stuff. In addition to Pops and Hackett, Tyree Glenn was on trombone with a rhythm section of Dave McKenna on piano, Jack Lesberg on bass and Oliver Jackson on drums. Louis looks and sounds great and his ad-lib lyric, "Bobby Hackett will swing the trumpet for me!" is terrific. (Seriously, check out that DVD to see and hear it in much better quality.)
That seems to be Louis's last public performance of "Pennies From Heaven," but there's still one more story to tell. In early 1971, Louis appeared on "The David Frost Show" with Bing Crosby. Dan Morgenstern was there and was with Pops backstage when Bing walked in. Louis was warming up on his trumpet, saw Bing and immediately, with a wooden practice mute in the bell of his horn, played a chorus of "Pennies From Heaven" that made Dan cry. If only a tape recorder was running for that moment...
So with that, we've come full circle with this week's look at five Louis Armstrong versions of "Pennies From Heaven." I hope you enjoyed it and be sure to come back this weekend for Billy Kyle's version (gotta give the piano player some respect, too!).