Friday, September 24, 2010

Where I've Been and Where I'll Be Going

Sorry for invoking a lame college essay with the lame title of this posting, but I thought I should offer up a quick explanation of my recent disappearance. I mean, it's September 24 and I've only put up two blogs this month....the shame, the horror! Honestly, I feel pretty bad about putting the blog on the back burner but it comes with good reason: I have spent the last week or so in a state of lockdown to put the finishing touches on my book.

Once Pantheon decided to delay it from May 2010 to May 2011, I was put on hold, which I didn't really mind because it allowed me to insert all sorts of new findings into the manuscript. But last week, I received the call of duty from my editor and just like that, I was whisked into an undisclosed location (okay, it was my basement) and when I finally came up for air, I had tightened up every last page of the manuscript, dotting every "i" and crossing every "t" (not manually, there are computer programs for that these days).

I then had to perform photo selection, obtain some permissions and select a photo for the jacket. Yes, there's been a mockup of my jacket on Amazon for almost a year (just look to the upper right corner of that page) but that design inadvertently used two photos that appeared on the back cover of Steven Brower's book on Armstrong collages so I didn't want any duplication. But a wonderful image has been selected courtesy of Swiss photographer Milan Schijatschky (wow, do I have a story about finding him to tell one day!) and a new jacket is being designed as I write this. Thus, keep checking this space to see it when it finally goes public hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Next stop: the copy editor, who will wrestle with it for about a month, at which point I'll have two weeks to make any last minute corrections. And once I give it the green light, presto, I'll have a galley copy that will actually look like a book and what seems like a lifetime of research and writing will be nearly complete.

So that's where I've been; as to the second part of this title, the where-I'm-going, I would like to share some exciting news: after blabbing and blogging for three years, I finally landed my first liner notes writing gig! And it's a doozy. The Storyville label out of Denmark has been doing wonderful things since founded by Karl Emil Knudsen in 1950. Since Knudsen's death, the label has been turning out various boxed sets, repackaging issued and unissued material on many artists they represent, including Ben Webster, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum and most recently, Teddy Wilson.

Well, our dear Louis Armstrong is next on Storyville's list with a release that should probably see the light of day in early 2011. The box will consist of seven CDs and 1 DVD and will pretty much constitute a history of the All Stars from 1947 to 1967. (Honestly, it's pretty perfect as a soundtrack to my book....the timing couldn't have been better!) Some of the material has been released before, such as live Louis sets at the Winter Garden in 1947, the Blue Note in 1948, the Hollywood Empire in 1949, San Francisco in 1954 and Chicago in 1962. But there's a good chunk of material that most Armstrong aficionados will welcome: the All Stars live in Ephrata, Pennsylvania in 1954, receiving an honor and playing a short set in Sweden in 1955, a fantastic, unissued concert from Nice in 1962 and a good chunk of an unissued concert from Copenhagen in 1967. Overall, it's a pretty tremendous set, showcasing the many incarnations of the group (lots of Catlett!) and the large repertoire the All Stars offered through the years (yes, there's some repetition--I hope you like "Sleepy Time," "Indiana" and "A Kiss to Build a Dream On," to name three, but it's always fun to hear how Louis attacks a number of the years). Throw in a DVD of Louis's Timex television appearances in the 1950s and slap a price tag of about $80 (for 8 discs) and how can you go wrong?

I know I sound like a pitchman, but obviously I'm passionate about the subject and think it's going to be a great set for all serious Armstrong fans, as well as a perfect companion to Storyville's previous "In Scandinavia" box, of which this set repeats, I think maybe six songs. Seriously, between that set and the upcoming set, Storyville has pretty much everything you need to know about the history of the All Stars in two box sets. Kudos, to them.

But as the liner note writer, I have a pretty big job of conveying the importance of this music and to clear up some myths about the All Stars, stuff that makes up a core part of my book. And for such a set, I'll be writing more than notes, I'll be writing an entire booklet so you know it's going to take some time. And because Storyville wants me to hand in my notes by mid-October, I don't know how I'm going to squeeze any new, large blogs in before that's over.

(Remember, I'm still away from home 15 hours a day for my job, four days a week, with a wife and baby waiting patiently for me to spend the weekend with. And the baseball playoffs are about to start. Priorities!)

Because I don't want my reading audience to desert me, I think I'll pull off my old tactic of "revisiting" older blogs, reaching way back to the beginning and re-posting some entries with new audio links (by the way, a few readers wrote in saying they had trouble with some audio links. Is anyone else experiencing this? Everything's working fine on my end but please let me know!).

So that's my life these days, my friends. I really can't complain: to busy to write an Armstrong blog because I had to finish an Armstrong book before writing liner notes to an Armstrong set in between my daily duties at my Armstrong job. I think I'm doing okay! But bear with me a little longer and regular blogging will resume before you know it. Thanks for understanding and for continuing to stick with me as your tour guide through this wonderful world of Louis Armstrong. Til next time!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

60 Years of "New Orleans Function"

Louis Armstrong and His All Stars
Recorded April 26 or 27, 1950
Track Time 6:42
"Oh Didn't He Ramble" Written by Will Handy ("Flee As a Bird" is Public Domain)
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 "New Orleans Nights"
Available on Itunes? Yes

Well, folks, the novelty is over; on September 8, your intrepid blogger turned 30 years old. A 29-year-old Louis Armstrong nut who can identify any Armstrong solo on "Indiana" in eight bars? Now that's a circus act. But a 30-year-old who can do the same thing? Old hat, man, move on, take a number...

But I'm not planning to quit anytime soon, my friends (though 10 days in between posts is pushing it, I know). Interestingly, this month marks the 15-year anniversary of the first time I saw the "Glenn Miller Story" and had my life turned upside down by the presence--visual and aural--of Louis Armstrong. In October 1995, I checked out my first Armstrong disc from my local library and well, the rest is history. I only could have dreamed at age 15 that on my 30th birthday I'd be putting the finishing touches on an Armstrong book manuscript, serving as Project Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum and visiting Louis Armstrong's grave in Flushing Cemetery.

Wait....what? Oh, yes, about that last point: I've been working in Queens for nearly a year but never took the pilgrimage to Louis's final resting place. When my boss Michael Cogswell found out it was my birthday, he demanded we celebrate by taking a trip to the cemetery. I know, I know, what'd you do for your 30th birthday? I spent it in a cemetery! It might not sound like everyone's idea of a good time but it was an overwhelming, emotional, deep experience for me.

For those, who have never been to the grave, here's a photo of the headstone, with a white granite sculpture of a trumpet and handkerchief resting atop (it was originally bronze but vandals pulled it off years ago and it was replaced soon afterward):

Here's Louis's marker, still sticking with the July 4, 1900 birthdate (with Lucille's a few feet over):

And finally, this photo of yours truly at the site. Some friends on Facebook have remarked that the American flag behind me looks like a party hat; it was my birthday and if this is how you imagine I party, well, you're not far off:

So, after writing about a classic version of "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You" and spending a milestone birthday in a cemetery, I guess you could say death was in the air. This cryptic thought, though, led to today's blog topic, one this is five months overdue--60 years ago this year, on April 26, 1950, Louis Armstrong waxed his conception of a New Orleans funeral procession, titled "New Orleans Function." With my recent posts about New Orleans and my current series on death I figured, geez, what better way to tie it all in? So here goes...

If you don't know much about a New Orleans funeral, just do a quick Google search as I don't have the time to go into all the details of its history. The quickest way to describe is it's a two-part affair: on the way to the cemetery, the band plays a slow mournful hymn. Once the service is over, the band marches back--with joyous "second line" dancers in two--by playing something more joyous as a way of celebrating the life that just passed. It's really a beautiful thing and, as far as I know, unique for New Orleans.

Young Louis Armstrong knew these funerals very well, first as a second line spectator and later as a musician; his final gig in New Orleans before leaving to join King Oliver in Chicago was a funeral. On his 1933 Victor recording of "High Society," Louis announced he was going to give an idea of an old New Orleans street parade, but that record focuses on the hot aspect. It was until the long-playing record era when Armstrong could really take the time to recreate both moods--the sorrow and the party--of the funerals he played.

Louis wasn't the first to do this; Jelly Roll Morton's 1939 "Oh, Didn't He Ramble" is more or less the direct ancestor to "New Orleans Function," beginning with a glimpse of the hymn "Flee as a Bird," followed by a brief "Ashes to ashes" speech, some crying and finally the exuberant strains of "Didn't He Ramble." But as far as I know--and please correct me if I'm wrong--this whole funeral recreation didn't really take off in revival bands until after Louis made his recording of "New Orleans Function." Many bands recorded "Oh, Didn't He Ramble" in the 1940s--I have versions by Bunk Johnson, Kid Ory and Zutty Singleton--but no one else put the slow hymn first. But after Louis made "New Orleans Function," many New Orleans jazz bands, such as George Lewis's, began incorporating a "Funeral Sequence" into live shows, something that still goes on today, mostly when bands tackle "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and play it in two tempos.

But enough backstory; let's listen to the man himself talk about some of the funerals he witnessed in New Orleans in his youth, leading to Louis's discussion of how he recreated it all for the "New Orleans Function" record. This is from a 1956 Voice of America interview with Louis, spoken as a lead-in to his playing the original Decca recording:

And without further ado, here's that first record with the All Stars--Jack Teagarden on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Earl Hines on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass and Cozy Cole on drums:

Fantastic stuff. I love Louis's spoken introduction, which has a lighthearted feel. But then Louis picks up the horn to play "Flee as a Bird" and well, get out the handkerchiefs. This is serious, emotional playing and it gets me every time. But just when you're ready to walk away sobbing, Louis and the All Stars conduct an impromptu service, complete with crying musicians. Then it's time for "Didn't He Ramble" with a march feel--according to Barney Bigard, drummer Cozy Cole had never played such drums and had to be taught how to do it properly. However, it's only a short march and before you know it, another Cole break leads the band into swing time. Louis plays melody for the first chorus, then starts in with his variations before handing it over to Bigard and Jack Teagarden for solos. Then Louis takes the lead for the final two choruses, riding high in the outchorus prodded by Cozy Cole's backbeats.

It's a wonderfully swinging record but for me, this version of the All Stars could be a little too polite. There's something about the way they're swinging during the solos that's just kind of, I don't know, safe. Cole's content to swing dryly on his cymbals, pianist Earl Hines comps mechanically, possibly miffed to not get a solo and Teagarden and Bigard, though wonderful players, don't generate much heat. This is a very small complaint, but keep it in mind for future versions.

Speaking of which, let's jump right in with the first surviving live version of "New Orleans Function," broadcast from Bop City in New York in June 1950, just weeks after the Decca recording session. I should note that Armstrong's April 1950 Decca recordings with the All Stars were made to document material the band had been having success with during live engagements, so it's possible that the band was already playing "New Orleans Function" live but I've found no evidence of this. Either way, here it is live by the same group:

Everything is pretty much the same as the studio record but there are some differences. First, Louis's sermon is a little looser and his reference to a "Madame Pompei" is obviously an inside joke that breaks up the band. Louis comes up with some new variations in his lead playing and seems hellbent in generating more heat, playing searing high notes at the end of every chorus, including breaking up the solos of Bigard and Teagarden. Louis romps....period.

"New Orleans Function" been an integral part of Louis's live shows, often leading off his second sets. Many versions survive from a European tour in 1952 but because they're all fairly similar, I'm going to jump ahead instead to the fall of 1953 for an All Stars gig at Cornell University. This concert was originally released on two LPs on the Rarities label but has somehow never been issued on CD, which is an out-and-out crime (whattaya waiting for, Spain?). This concert is one of my favorites because not only is Armstrong in scary form and not only is the audience on fire but it also documents one of the most exciting, though short-lived versions of the All Stars: Trummy Young on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Marty Napoleon on piano, Milt Hinton on bass and Cozy Cole. This band JUMPED and I think the addition of Young, Napoleon and Hinton made the band much more exciting. But don't take my word for it; listen to them do "New Orleans Function":

Romping! First off, Louis really takes his time with "Flee as a Bird," playing it slower than usual, but just as majestic as always, prodded by Cole's tom-toms (Louis is a bit off-mike at first but stick with him). The band REALLY hams it up during the crying sequence, always getting a laugh out of me. Interestingly, Cozy takes a blazing drum solo but the marching portion is slower than usual. ( The horns can be heard again going slightly off-mike as I think they did a bit of marching to really recreate the scene.)

But once the group starts swinging, stand back! You can hear that Louis is in ridiculously strong form but the whole band is just swinging like mad. Cole really lays down that backbeat, prodding Bigard along in his second chorus before Trummy storms through two exciting helpings. Then Louis takes over and hold on to the roof! Man, Trummy is a monster in that ensemble! And you can imagine Milt smiling and swinging and Marty bouncing up and down on his keyboard bench...I'm sure this was just as much fun to watch as it is to listen to.

But by 1954, this edition had an entirely new rhythm section with Billy Kyle on piano, Arvell Shaw back on bass and Kenny John on drums, replaced in May by Barrett Deems. In the fall of 1955, clarinetist Edmond Hall replaced Bigard on clarinet--definitely a trade up. Alas, it was at this moment when Louis began phasing out "New Orleans Function"; in fact there are no surviving versions of it from 1955 through 1962! At the famous "Chicago Concert" of June 1, 1956, Armstrong and group made their way to the stage on a wagon, playing "Flee as a Bird" and a short version of "Didn't He Ramble," but it wasn't the true "New Orleans Function."

However, earlier that year, the All Stars played a special version of "Didn't He Ramble" that I think is worth sharing. On January 20, 1956, Louis and the All Stars performed a concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on their only day off during the filming of "High Society." They shared the stage that night with trumpeter Teddy Buckner's band. Both Armstrong's set and Buckner's set were recorded and issued on LP (Armstrong's set--a dynamite one--is still in print as a download). To climax the night, both bands joined forces on a tremendously exciting version of "Didn't He Ramble." The track breakdown on the CD version of the concert is a little mixed up so I've edited a new version starting with Louis introducing Buckner during his closing version of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South." After that, they do the march-version of the tune before swinging the hell out of two tempos! Listen to see what I mean:

Yeah, man. There's a little confusion during the march-section as it sounds like the Buckner musicians are getting in place (I definitely hear four hands on piano). But after the drum break, everything gels nicely. Buckner was an Armstrong man through-and-through so it's nice to hear him and Pops together. 14 years later, at a 70th birthday tribute for Louis, Buckner got so nervous he made a mess out of the cadenza to "West End Blues," scarring him emotionally for years to come. But at Pasadena, Buckner doesn't sound too nervous and instead plays quite well. Louis's solo after Bucker starts off with such a swinging passage, I usually can't listen to it without clapping along. Buckner allows Louis to lead it out and Louis does so without a problem, going up high.

But wait, there's more! Another drum break leads to another round of "Didn't He Ramble" at a ludicrously fast tempo. Buckner is a little sloppy but very exciting, while Louis is more declamatory in his short solo before both trumpeters go way up high for the finish. Definitely an exciting moment and a nice way of breaking up all of these "Functions."

After years of seemingly not playing it, Louis had a reunion with "New Orleans Function" in 1962, first digging it out for an Italian television show, "Il Siggnore Delle 21," on April 18 of that year (this footage has been high on my priority list for years, though I've never heard any leads that it even exists; if anyone has any leads, drop me a line!). Later that year, on August 1, the All Stars played a gig in Chicago that was recorded in stereo sound. This time the All Stars featured Trummy, Joe Darensbourg on clarinet (who was also in Buckner's band in Pasadena six years earlier), Billy Kyle on piano, Bill Cronk on bass and Danny Barcelona on drums. I always thought Louis sounded a little under-the-weather during this concert, or at least tired, as his announcements are a little low-key. But otherwise, he played marvelously that night and I think you'll agree after hearing this, the final "New Orleans Function" of the night:

It's been 12 years and the routine is still the same, but I always value hearing 60-year-old Louis still blowing like mad at such a late date. Once again, "Flee as a Bird" gives me goose bumps. The comedic interlude in the middle doesn't last very long before Louis is off and running and "Didn't He Ramble" is off and swinging (by the way, thanks to Phil Person for sending in this pitch-corrected version!). Darensbourg and Young only take one chorus apiece--with Louis still bridging them with those high notes but Louis still leads the ensemble for two up front and two at the end. He's really on fire during those last two choruses, arguably playing better than he did on the original versions from 1950. The string of high quarter-notes he plays after Trummy's solo gasses me, while his ideas in the last chorus are simply spot on. That last high note does sound like it's hanging on by a thread but Pops keeps it afloat til the last crash of Danny Barcelona's cymbals. Bravo, Pops.

And that's that for "New Orleans Function." I'm sorry it took 11 days to get a new blog out but I hope it worth it...and I hope there was enough meat to enjoy until I find time to crank out another one later this week. Til then!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Louie, Louie - Louis Armstrong Meets Louis Jordan

Louis Armstrong With Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five
Recorded August 23, 1950
Recorded in New York, NY
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Louis Jordan, alto saxophone, vocal; Aaron Izenhall, trumpet; Josh Jackson, tenor saxophone; Bill Doggett, piano; Bill Jennings, guitar; Bob Bushnell, bass; Joe Morris, drums
Originally released on Decca
Currently available on CD: Both songs are on a variety of discs, "You Rascal You" being more ubiquitous.
Available on Itunes? Yes, both are on an Armstrong compilation, "The Wonderful Duets."

I'm a week late to celebrate the official anniversary of this momentous date as life (and "Confessin'") got in the way of me making this post on August 23, the 60th anniversary. You know, life is so peculiar but as everybody says, that's life. (Okay, I was originally going to go with "Better late than never" but I wanted less of a cliche and something more appropriate to the situation at hand!)

And pardon the joking "Louie, Louie" title but how can anyone not be inspired to clown around when in the presence of two of the greatest comedic geniuses jazz ever produced in Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan. Seriously, these two men brought more smiles to the American public in the 1940s, 50s and 60s than anyone else that comes to mind (though you know Fats Waller would have given them a run for their money if he had lasted past 1943).

I don't think I have to go into too much background, but a few words are in order. As some of the Armstrong die-hards know, Louis Jordan's first appearance on record was as a member of a Philadelphia pit band orchestra that backed Louis on his two "Medleys of Armstrong Hits" recorded for Victor in 1932. Obviously, Jordan watched Armstrong very carefully and took copious mental notes about how to deliver a song with equal parts grin and swing.

After a few years, Jordan joined Chick Webb's orchestra, acting as frontman during live engagements. Though a terrific, gritty alto saxophone player, Jordan's personality is what really made him a star. Soon enough, he formed his own band. Instead of leaning towards a 16-piece aggregation, as was the custom of the day, Jordan started a small group, but one with the power of a big band. Known as the Tympany Five, it provided the perfect backing for Jordan's string hit Decca recordings in the 1940s. Jordan took his showmanship lead from Louis (as well as performing concepts such as setting solos and have a fixed live repertoire) but he also took something much more important: Louis's black audience. In fact, it wasn't just Louis's black audience; one could argue it was jazz's black audience, many of whom were turned off by bebop and went down the R&B path, following Jordan, Bull Moose Jackson, Wynonie Harris and others of that ilk (that fantastic ilk; I legitimately have a love affair with 1940s R&B).

As Armstrong's audience grew paler in complexion, he grew a bit hurt by this. Jack Bradley tells a story about a time Armstrong and Jordan appeared in the same town in Texas and all of that city's black audience went to hear Jordan, stinging Armstrong deeply.

But Armstrong didn't blame Jordan personally for this abandonment and the two men remained friendly, always with hopes of making a record. On August 23, 1950, that record became a reality. If you've heard this music before, you know how much fun it is. If you've never heard it, prepare to do a LOT of smiling for the next six minutes. And either way, I'm sure you'll join me in the camp of people who shake their heads and lament, "Geez, how did these two never make a dozen long-playing albums together???"

This session is a tremendous amount of fun but Armstrong plays a serious amount of horn, too. Part of me debated whether or not to share the following story now or wait until after I've discussed the music, but I'm going to share it up front because if anything, it'll make you appreciate the music even more. As Louis Jordan told it, Armstrong's chops and voice were in woeful shape when he showed up for the session that day. Through a weird combination of fruit, sandwiches and plain old killing time, Louis nursed them back into shape....and how! Terry Teachout used a bit of this quote in his Armstrong biography, but here is the entire story, told by Jordan himself in 1970:

Isn't that a riot? I've written before that Louis's chops never sounded at less than 100% form on any of his 1950s Decca recordings, but as Jordan's story shows, sometimes he had to work pretty hard to get to that 100% (Norman Granz recorded full albums in a single day, never mind three-minute pop songs, so he never had the time to let Pops go through his routine, which led to some very human playing on Armstrong's late-50s Verve material).

So with Pops's chops percolating, it was time for producer Milt Gabler to start recording the first song on the docket, "Life is So Peculiar." Naturally, with Mssrs. Armstrong and Jordan in town, Gabler wasn't about to call anything like "Strange Fruit." He knew these men better than most and managed to select a current song that would fit them like a glove. "Life is So Peculiar" was written by the more-than-formidable team of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke for 1950 film "Mr. Music," starring Bing Crosby. In fact, Bing performed the song in that flick with Peggy Lee. I love Bing and I love Peggy but I don't know, it all feels a little flat to me. The song isn't that great, the performance is more cute than funny and overall, it's just a little ho-hum. Watch it for yourself and see how you feel:

Okay, so you have that in your head now, right? Now stand back and listen to Louis and Louis make that song absolutely come alive:

You can stop smiling now! Right from Pops's signature scat break, you know you're in the company of two men who know how to have a good time. They each take turns singing lead while the other one jives around with comic asides. I do wonder how many takes it took to record this number because the whole thing is so funny and so tight, it's a little scary. Also, don't miss the first to this session's many references to "cabbage." I'm sure Burke meant it in the "corned beef and cabbage" way but one listen to Louis's aside, "I love cabbage," and you know that Louis isn't talking about food. If you still don't know what I'm talking about, Louis took part in a recording in the 1920s by Maggie Jones titled "Anybody Here Want to Try My Cabbage?" Case closed...

After the first vocal go-around, Armstrong and Jordan pick up their instruments for a scorching interlude, spurred on by drummer Joe Morris's ringing cymbals. Louis's chops show zero signs of distress as he jumps right in with a quote from "The Song is Ended," followed by a blistering, melt-the-saxophone-into-liquid outing by Jordan. On the bridge, Louis goes up and stays there, pounding out a series of high C's (on the trumpet; concert Bb's). Jordan wails a bit more before the two team up on a nifty little break. The sound of the cymbals disappears so abruptly that I feel that there might be a splice in there but who cares, the break is just a gassuh.

Armstrong and Jordan ham it up vocally for the final minute leading to the hilarious ending where Jordan throws in a snatch of a Satchmo impression. It's hard not to join both men in their joyous yelling of approval at record's close.

"Life is So Peculiar" is a very entertaining little platter but the flip side, "(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead), You Rascal You," is one for the time capsule. Seriously, force me at gunpoint to name my ten favorite Armstrong recordings and I'd have to list this version of "You Rascal You." Because this isn't a blog about that song, I'm not going to go into its history; Louis first introduced it on records in 1930 and it immediately became one of his best-known songs. He performed it in films, it was a staple of his live shows in the 1930s and 1940s and he even remade it once for Decca in 1941 (two words: Big Sid!). I have many broadcasts of this song, Louis played it often in the early years of the All Stars and he made one more incredible studio recording of it in 1957 for "Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography." But this is the version to end all versions.

As usual, when I'm confronted by a performance that I love so much, one that I have listened to at least a thousand times in my life, it's hard to come up with words to describe it. So for now, I won't try. Just hit the play button and start smiling:

Full disclosure; I wrote that last sentence before leaving my house for a doctor's appointment at 8:00 this morning. It is now 4:00 in the afternoon. In those eight hours I'm going to be conservative and say that I listened to "You Rascal You" ten times. I still don't know what to say about it; I do know I want to listen to it

Okay, maybe I'm addicted to this performance, but I'm not ready to kick it. Right from the dramatic introduction, Pops soaring over the other horns in Jordan's band, I'm hooked. Jordan takes the first lead, Louis coming up with endless variations in his obbligato. Louis puts down the horn long enough to shout, "Talk about him, Jordan, talk about him!" but then it's right back to blowing those inventive responses to Jordan's calls for action.

Finally, Louis takes the vocal spotlight with Jordan playing a groovy obbligato. And what do we have here...a new stanza about cabbage! (Hmm, it's almost dinner time and I have an insatiable hunger for cabbage....) The two men continue switching roles for the next two choruses. Jordan is fun as usual, especially in his vocal responses ("Catch up with him, catch up with him!"), but Louis (Armstrong) pretty much swallows the spotlight whole with his reading of the lyrics. That descending "Wonder wonder what you got" riff kills me every time, especially with the emphatic "I say" lead-in. These two men are swinging!

But soon enough, it's time to sweating. Louis puts in a request to "Blow him out, blow him out" and damn, he does just that in the final minute of the record. Anyone who thinks Pops's chops were gone in 1950, just slide them a copy of this record. And then think of Jordan's story about how much Louis struggled to just produce a sound earlier that day! Incredible.

The Tympany Five really turns on the heat in these outchoruses. Again, I have to give honors to the rhythm section with Bill Doggett's big block chords sounding sweet throughout the record. I also never fail to be moved by bassist Bob Bushnell's lines, especially when he goes from the root down to the lower third and works his way back up the is swinging! And I love Morris's swishing cymbals, especially as he plays closed hi-hat throughout the vocals, and opens up just in time for the jammed choruses. What a hot group!

But of course, highest props go to Pops for the way he soars over the insistent riffing of Jordan, tenor saxophonist Josh Jackson and trumpeter Aaron Izenhall. Louis so sounds so inspired, he almost blows his chops through his horn. At first, he's content to answer the riffs with perfectly phrased responses, turning up the heat in his second chorus. But at 2:36, he grabs onto a high G...and doesn't let go for 12 seconds! And when he lets go, he sends it off even further into the stratosphere by glissing to a higher B. And then he does it again, holding it for a shorter period of time, but still infused with enough of that special intense vibrato to make the listener reach for a cold glass of water. Rounding the third chorus and heading home, Armstrong tweaks his two-note motive from G-to-B to G-to-Bb, the flatted third adding a heap of blues to the proceedings. Jordan's horns respond each time Louis does right until Louis's final climb to a high concert D. Unbelievable!

I don't know about you, but I have to go somewhere and cool down. What a session! But as I alluded to in my opening, the crime of it all is that it was done only once. I don't think there was a bad-blood motive or anything behind it; the two men clearly loved performing together (or at least made it sound that way). As Jordan alluded to in the interview excerpt I posted, it was hard enough getting both men together in the studio for this one date, never mind a series of dates. These were two road warriors who never turned down the opportunity to play anytime, anyplace, anywhere. And besides, these men were superstars who, in the end, didn't need the other to make hit records. Louis duetted with many great artists during his Decca years but usually it was one session and done (that's how it went for his pairings with Jordan, Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby; Ella Fitzgerald and Gary Crosby each got to do two Decca sessions with Louis).

Interestingly, the session also represented a bit of a crossroads for both Louis's. Jordan might have had more hit records in the 1940s and he might have overtaken the black audience, but by 1950, the magic was disappearing. Jordan made many, many great records in his last 20 or so years but the days of #1 recordings were through and by 1954, Decca dropped him. Louis, on the other hand, had just recorded "La Vie En Rose" and "C'st Si Bon" and was about to embark on a run of hits at Decca including "I Get Ideas," "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" and "It Takes Two to Tango." And though Jordan still has a deservedly large following (of which I'm a proud member) and his roll in laying the foundation of rock-and-roll has been acknowledged, he has never achieved the iconic status as Pops.

Either way, I don't want to turn this into a silly competition. I'm just glad we have so many wonderful Louis Armstrong records and so many wonderful Louis Jordan records (and completely off the subject, I'm also glad we have so many wonderful Louis Prima records!). But for 60 years after that August 23 day in 1950, I'm especially glad we have those two wonderful recordings of Armstrong and Jordan together.

Okay, time to listen to "You Rascal You" one more time. The last time, I swear!