Recorded May 7, 1937
Track Time 3:06
Written by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Shelton Hemphill, Henry “Red” Allen, Louis Bacon, trumpet; Jimmy Archey, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Pete Clarke, Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, Albert Nicholas, tenor saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin
Currently available on CD: It’s on Louis Armstrong: Fleischmann's Yeast Show & Louis' Home-Recorded Tapes
Available on Itunes? Yes
Welcome back to part two of my week-long look at Louis Armstrong's versions of "Memories of You." The original 1930 recording was a pretty epic one, as we heard the other day. And that, for most Armstrong nuts, was that as for decades, the next known version of "Memories of You" in the Armstrong canon was from 1956. But wait! Discovered in Armstrong's personal collection were a bunch of Fleischmann's Yeast Broadcasts from 1937, one episode containing a brand new arrangement of "Memories of You" that offers a fascinating glimpse into how Louis was approaching this song in the late 30s, arguably the peak of his playing prowess. (And if you've been with me for any amount of time, you should know that I consider the two-disc set of Flesichmann's Yeast Broadcasts and highlights from Armstrong's private tapes, released in 2008, to be the most essential Armstrong release of the last decade. For those who are into downloading, it's available on Itunes and can be purchased at jazzstore.com or in person at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Perfect gift for the holiday season. Really, if you don't have this set, ask yourself....why?) Enough blabbing, here's the 1937 live broadcast of "Memories of You":
From the first note, we can tell that Louis has a brand new arrangement, possibly updated by the great Chappie Willet who did so much writing for Louis in this period. The vibes are gone, as was Lionel Hampton, who was officially off to stardom by this point. But we have Pops and who could ask for anything more? The tempo's slightly faster, with almost a marching feel behind the vocal. Louis's vocal isn't quite as tender as the original, but he's still pretty impassioned. He had obviously been performing the tune regularly for years as a lot of small bits from the original are still present, including the "Now, honey" and the repetition of "rosary of tears." But there's some new approaches, too; the moan the comes after "yesteryears, baby" in the bridge sounds like Louis swallowed his tongue. And the climactic wailing "oh baby" in the last eight bars is also gone, replaced by a kinder, gentler "mama." Still a fine vocal.
After an interlude for the band that reeks of Willet's writing (a good thing), Pops picks up the horn for a full chorus. Remember, on the original, Les Hite's alto took eight bars, leaving Pops only 24 to work with, but here, he gets a whole one by himself. The band really starts swinging as Pops leads the way with some relaxed quarter notes. He cracks one note slightly but doesn't let it deter him. Instead, he turns up heat and climbs into the upper register, backed by some sublime drumming by Paul Barbarin. I've said it once, I've said it again: Barbarin, to my ears, is the MVP of the Fleischmann's set. Even as late as 1956, Louis was giving interviews where he continued raving about Barbarin's drumming. All of his tricks--the backbeat cymbal splashes, that almost "door knocking" fills leading into and out of the bridge, the press rolls--it's all there and gives the band the power to move a mountain. Louis knocks himself out with some completely new playing, very lyrical stuff.
Once again, Pops builds the drama during that bridge. The band doesn't quite accent the first beat of every bar like it did in 1930, but Louis obviously hears it that way, since he shapes his solo in the same manner, leaving a bit of space before unleashing a steady stream of clarion calls. That held Bb is still clear as a bell, topping it off with a high C for added oomph. From there, Armstrong follows the pattern of the original, with those searing Bb's--why change perfection? But because this is 1937 and Louis had become king of the closing cadenza, he stretches out the ending, taking a little more time before nailing that high Eb. Yeah, man.
That's all for now, but again, Pops wasn't through and we'll revisit his 1956 version in a couple of days. Until then, have a happy Thanksgiving!
(In the past, I've celebrated Turkey Day by sharing Louis's versions of "Thanks a Million" and "Thankful." My pal Dave Whitney is carrying the torch this year with his terrific blog on the subject which can be found here. If you still want to see what I wrote about those two, as well as listen to the audio, here's the original links. Enjoy!
Thanks a Million