Recorded December 13, 1956
Track Time 3:27
Written by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf
Recorded in New York City
Originally released on Decca DL 4331
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Trummy Young, trombone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; George Dorsey, alto saxophone, flute; Hilton Jefferson, alto saxophone; Lucky Thompson, tenor saxophone; Dave McRae, baritone saxophone; Everett Barksdale, guitar; Billy Kyle, piano; Squire Gersh, bass; Barrett Deems,d rums; Sy Oliver, arranger, conductor.
Currently available on CD: The CD version of Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography seems to be out-of-print (a crime!) but fortunately, it's still available on some Universal samplers such as Louis Armstrong Sings Back Through the Years and The Ultimate Collection.
Available on Itunes? Yes
After the fantastic version of "Memories of You" from a 1937 Fleischmann's Yeast Broadcast that I shared last week, Louis Armstrong did perform the tune again in front of a recording device for nearly 20 years. But when he did....wow. The occasion was the epic four-LP set Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography, still, I think, the definitive portrait of Louis's superpowers as a trumpeter in the 1950s. On this set, Louis revisited many of the immortal songs he first waxed in the 1920s and early 30s. Though many in the jazz world wanted to paint Louis as an out-of-date Uncle Tom whose best days as a trumpeter were behind him, Pops surprised his critics by reaching the same heights on the remakes as he did on the originals and in some cases, even surpassing his first attempts.
For a long time, I thought that "Memories of You" was one of the remakes that topped the original but after really digging into that 1930 version last weekend, it might be a tie. I'll leave it up to my readers to decide which one is the best (some might campaign for the Fleischmann's broadcast) but I think it's safe to say there are no losers in this competition. So without any more formalities, let's get to the meat, Louis Armstrong in December 1956 revisiting "Memories of You" with his All Stars, augmented by five saxophones (dig those names: Lucky Thompson, Hilton Jefferson, etc.), the guitar of Everett Barksdale and an arrangement conducted by Sy Oliver:
Phew, I'm starting to sway back towards this version again! What a masterpiece. Rather than replicate Lionel Hampton's historic vibraphone intro, Oliver opens with a simple held chord by the band with a brief solo by Barkdale's guitar and a break by Billy Kyle's piano to set up Louis's warm entrance. What a sound! Like the original, Louis only takes eight bars, Decca's engineers capturing his tone brilliantly. Armstrong gets sympathetic support from clarinetist Edmond Hall, who breaks away for a short spot while Louis gets ready for his vocal.
And what a vocal. As I mentioned in my Fleischmann's post, Armstrong's daring vocals of the 1929-1934 are a wonder to behold but by 1935, he had already turned down the aggressiveness. By the 1950s, Armstrong's maturity had made him a better singer than ever before (just listen to the way he handled the Great American Songbook on his recordings for Norman Granz made before and after the "Autobiography" sessions). Though he's no longer all over the place as in 1930, the 1956 vocal still features some of the hallmarks of the original, including the "Now, honey," and repetitions in the bridge. And along with warmth and tenderness, Louis's genius at rephrasing is still there, especially in many instances of his rendering the melody to just a single pitch. And Louis's array of sounds was still an integral part of the game; listen to what he does after the word "new" at around 1:10.
After a sumptuous offering by Lucky Thompson, Louis turns back the clock and plays his original entrance break, the one with shades of "Dixie" before going his own way. Arranger Oliver transcribed all of Louis's original solos but wrote "Go for yourself" next to them to inspire Pops to come up with something fresh. Louis does that right off the bat, playing with rhythm as only he could, a tension-filled little clinic before he relaxes and starts telling a story (his descending run leading into the bridge is a new touch). The accents on the first beat are back on the bridge and Louis responds with some dramatic work in the upper register, playing with more intensity than on the original. In the second half of the bridge, Louis follows his original pattern, holding that high Bb for all its worth, before playing the same pitch-perfect phrase leading into the final A section.
The difference is obviously the 1956 recording better captures Louis's gigantic sound. Also, the rhythm section is better recorded; when Barrett Deems opens up his cymbal and starts pounding out the backbeats under Louis's held high note, well, hang on to the roof! And Oliver replicates one of Louis's favorite touches on those early OKeh big band recordings, having the reeds accent the first and third beat of ever bar, something that always seemed to drive Louis to incredible heights; this is no different. Louis follows the pattern of what we've heard already--again, why mess with perfection?--but there's something about the sound of that horn that just gets me in the heart. I love all three surviving versions of this tune but it's tough for me to listen to the 1956 version without having to suppress tears. Incredible playing, right up to that last high Eb. And you know, I just compared the two and I think my original opinion was right; Louis topped himself in 1956.
That was the end of Louis's versions of "Memories of You"...but wait, a little laginappe for making it this far with me. In 1964, Louis's All Stars began featuring a new clarinetist in the guise of Eddie Shu, a talented multi-instrumentalist who played with Gene Krupa for years. Shu pretty much had no connection to traditional jazz and when one watches videos of him, he looks kind of bored playing with Pops (Joe Darensbourg said he only got the job because his father was a friend of Joe Glaser). But Shu actually played very well and on everything that survives during his year with the band, I think he does a very good job (an assessment Joe Muranyi would agree with as we just had a conversation about Shu a few weeks ago and Joe thinks he did an excellent job with Louis).
Anyway, one of Shu's features was "Memories of You." By this point, Louis allowed his sidement to stretch out a bit more than in the past so Shu would turn this into a six-minute feature, complete with a long uptempo section. I have three versions from Louis's historic "Iron Curtain" tour of 1965 but I'm only going to share one, this one from East Berlin on March 22 of that year. Again, I think Shu does an excellent job (he tops Darensbourg's features and many of Barney Bigard's in my opinion), but if he's not your cup of tea, fast forward to the 4:00 and listen as Pops and trombonist Tyree Glenn enter with the melody. Louis is slightly off-mike, as was his wont when another All Star had the spotlight. But listen carefully, and there's a whole lot of soul in that melody statement, as Louis still hits the high notes without a problem. Shu takes the bridge and pays tribute to the leader with that held high note before Louis reenters with another eight bars of melody and a neat extended ending, shared with Shu. And listen carefully for Louis's final high note...wow! Dig it:
And that ends the story of Louis Armstrong's association with "Memories of You," a song that has been covered by just about everybody, but, I think, will always be associated most with Pops (yeah, I'm biased, I know). I hope to have something new by the end of the week, but I'll keep you all posted as I'm about to start one more final push with the book at the end of this week. Stay tuned!