[Quick note: I wrote all of these "Southland" posts at once but mistakenly backdated the Earl Hines versions before the Dick Cary versions so no one really noticed the Hines ones. I'm posting it up front today and will conclude with Billy Kyle on the weekend. Thanks!]
Ah, the team of Armstrong and Hines....they sure made some stunning music together in the 1920s, didn't they? "West End Blues," "Muggles," "Beau Koo Jack," "Skip the Gutter," and so many more. It was a partnership that explored every possibility of great heights jazz could attain.
But that was the 1920s. Flash forward 20 years to 1948 and Hines's joining of Louis's small group, the All Stars. At the time, it was cause for celebration in the jazz world, seeing these two giants back in tandem again. For years critics would knock later editions of the All Stars, getting misty-eyed about the edition with Louis and Earl. This is something that still goes on today by people who don't understand Louis's later years and think that just because the 1948-51 edition had the most star power, it must have been the best edition.
Well, it wasn't and a lot of that stemmed from "the popular young man at the piano," as Louis used to introduce "Fatha" Hines. Hines had been a successful bandleader for almost 20 years but he had fallen on hard times when Joe Glaser called him up to join the All Stars in January 1948. Hines went for it, thinking it was going to be a short stint as featured artist. But Glaser basically tricked him into signing a contract and staying with the group as a sideman for three long years. That was too much for Hines and his ego to take. Accustomed to the spotlight shining on his pearly teeth, it gnawed at him to have to take a backseat to Louis for over 300 nights a year.
Hines's attitude often led to his mind wandering when he played live dates with the All Stars. His accompaniment sometimes didn't suit band and he could easily trip up a soloist by hogging the spotlight while comping. I don't mean to trash Hines in any way as he was a genius at the keyboard and often contributed some incredible playing when he was sufficiently inspired. But he wasn't a team player like later Armstrong piano men Billy Kyle and Marty Napoleon and especially not like his predecessor Dick Cary, who was an incredible fit and should have held down the the chair for years and years instead of just six months.
All of this backstory is just the lead-up to my sharing two versions of "Dear Old Southland" from the All Stars's tour of Europe in February and March 1948. As we heard yesterday, "Dear Old Southland" broke it up at Armstrong's famous Town Hall concert and it became a standard part of the All Stars show, usually placed towards the beginning of the first set or second set. When Hines's arrival caused Cary's departure, "Dear Old Southland" stayed in the show. I'll admit, the thrill of an Armstrong-Hines duet does lead some excitement to the proceedings. I mean, these were the guys who made the trumpet-piano duet a work of art with their jousting on 1928's "Weather Bird." So these versions of "Dear Old Southland" should definitely be of interest to any fans of jazz in general. But they also illustrate Hines's boorishness at the keyboard, often steamrolling over Louis's sober, operatic lead.
So first off, let's travel to Nice and hear how "Dear Old Southland" was performed in February 1948:
From the start, it sounds like this is Armstrong and Hines's first live attempt of this song because Hines sets about three different tempos in his introduction. Finally, he gets the idea that this is supposed to be fairly free in tempo and all he has to do is fill in the spaces around Armstrong's lead. Solid. For the first strain of "Dear Old Southland"--the "Deep River" section--Hines is actually on good behavior and the combination of these two legends is somewhat thrilling.
But Hines could only take the back seat for long and when it's time for the minor-keyed "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" strain, well, good night nurse. Hines's confounding runs are usually surprising and enjoyable but in this context, they're just out of place. I believe Louis might have given him a dirty look or something because Hines turns it down a couple of notches. He still gets off a few wild runs (one ending, I think, on a clam) but he places them more in Louis's silences.
For more proof that Hines doesn't exactly know the routine, listen to him start swinging the tune at a walking, medium tempo for about three seconds at a medium tempo. Then you'll hear a voice in the background shout something and Hines gets the message, with drummer Sid Catlett joining in, that this section is supposed to be UP. Hines tears out and Louis soon joins in and for a few seconds, memories of "Weather Bird" might come flooding back. Alas, this interlude is only that and things slow down for Pops's dramatic ending, which finds him hitting a couple of ascending notes before landing on his final high one.
For better or for worse, "Dear Old Southland" was now in the book and Armstrong and Hines trotted it out again in Paris about a week later. Here's the Paris version:
After a more appropriate introduction, it takes Hines about a half-a-second to start his world-record attempt for most notes in a short period of time. Again, I love Hines and what he plays is technically marvelous but it's so heavy-handed under Armstrong's gorgeous lead. I mean, he can't hold back for even five seconds. It'd hard to even concentrate on Louis; it sounds like someone has a radio on in the background with some manic pianist taking over the airwaves...
Fortunately, unlike Nice, Hines shows a bit more restraint on the "Motherless Child" strain and some lovely moments occur (Hines's tremolos really work here). And when Louis starts the double-timed section, he's locked in pretty tight with Hines and again, the two mean create an exciting moment. Louis then goes into his slow ending, cracking the final note for a second.
Overall, I don't know which version comes off better; it might have been nice to edit the first half of Nice with the second half of Paris. Either way, "Dear Old Southland" soon disappeared from the All Stars's bag of tricks. I'm sure Louis grew frustrated with battling Hines every time he played it. But also, it was a pretty demanding piece for a nearly-50-year-old trumpeter and on both of today's versions, you can hear Pops have a bit of difficulty with that final note. Maybe it was just time to retire it. However, Louis would dig it out one more time in the confines of the recording studio, this time with a much more sympathetic partner on the piano. For that version, come back tomorrow.....