Saturday, June 26, 2010

60 Years of "La Vie En Rose"

Louis Armstrong with Sy Oliver's Orchestra
Recorded June 26, 1950
Track Time 3: 26
Written by Mack David, Edith Piaf and Louiguy (Louis Gugliemi)
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Melvin Solomon, Bernie Privin, Paul Webster, trumpet; Morton Bullman, trombone; Hymie Schertzer, Milt Yaner, alto saxophone; Art Drelinger, Bill Holcombe, tenor saxohpne; Earl Hines, piano; Everett Barksdale, guitar; George Duvivier, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums; Sy Oliver, arranger, conductor
Originally released on Decca 37113
Currently available on CD: It's on "Satchmo Serenades" and about a thousand compilations.
Available on Itunes? Yes

For the last couple of decades, "What a Wonderful World" easily wins the title of the most ubiquitous Louis Armstrong recording, being used in a countless amount of films, television commercials and high school reports (just check YouTube). But "La Vie En Rose" is definitely a close second. According to, it's been used in at least eight major motion pictures since 1994, most notably in the Pixar classic "Wall-E," as well as television shows, commercials, you name it. And anyone who has spent three minutes and 26 seconds in its presence can easily understand the phenomenon. You'd have to have the heart of the Tin Man (pre-Oz) to not be moved by it.

Of course, the song truly belongs to Edith Piaf, the legendary French singer who co-wrote it and made it famous to the point where a documentary and a feature film about her life each bear the title "La Vie En Rose." Piaf apparently wrote the song in 1946 and sat on it for a while before she finally gave it a go in public, where it was received tremendously. In 1948, she sang her original French lyrics on a recording that was picked up in the United States by George Avakian of Columbia Records. I'll let George tell the story, as he eloquently did in the liner notes to an Armstrong boxed set on the Hip-O label, "An American Original":

"That same year, Edith Piaf took New York by storm an me by surprise. I was doubling as International and Pop Album director at Columbia in those days, and when Piaf's manager told me she was coming back to New York despite a cool reception the first time 'round, I asked our Paris affiliate to send me samples of her interim releases so that I could try to choose something which might appeal to the American public. I recognized one melody as 'You're Too Dangerous, Cheire,' a failed pop tune I had liked a couple of years earlier. The label said 'La Vie En Rose,' and the impassioned French lyric was far superior to wishy-washy English words I knew. We gave it a shot and to everyone's astonishment but 'Ay-deet's,' it sold a million copies."

For those who aren't familiar with it, hear's Piaf's original French version, courtesy of YouTube:

As of today, that YouTube version has over 4 million views, a testament to the lasting power of Piaf and that song in particular. But who is in second place? Ol' Pops with nearly 2 million views himself. As Avakian added, "Of the countless cover versions that followed, Louis' was easily the best, and he never stopped singing it."

So how did Louis ever get around to recording it? The answer is pretty simple: the song was incredibly popular and Decca, Louis's label at the time, was in the habit of having Louis cover other people's hits. Louis had a big seller in 1949 with "Blueberry Hill" and "That Lucky Old Sun" and Decca wasn't about to quit. Though they let the All Stars do their thing from time to time, producer Milt Gabler knew that Louis's manager Joe Glaser only wanted hit records so Gabler consistently had Louis try to piggyback the top of the Hit Parade. Of course, these records drove jazz purists to their ledges, which has led many of them to be ignored to this day. I've attempted to shine the light on some of the lesser-known outings on this blog in, devoting space to records such as "Congratulations to Someone," "Because of You," "I'll Keep the Lovelight Burning" and "Indian Love Call."

Though these are all terrific records, many of them weren't big sellers. But occasionally the formula worked and when it did, stand back. In addition to the aforementioned coupling of "Blueberry Hill" and "That Lucky Old Sun," Decca--and Louis--also struck gold with "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" backed by "I Get Ideas" and the two songs recorded 60 years ago this week, "C'est Si Bon" and "La Vie En Rose." Except for "That Lucky Old Sun," all of these songs became almost permanent parts of Louis's live repertoire.

"C'est Si Bon" is a marvelous song, one truly worthy of a blog of its own so I'm not going to say anything more about it now. "La Vie En Rose" is our main event and without wasting any more space, I'd like to share the audio right now. Prepare to be melted...

Now didn't that feel good? Did all your troubles go away for three minutes? I know mine did. The power of Pops, right? It's a tremendous record because it allows Louis to exhibit some of his many wondrous talents, from the quiet, lyrical, hit-you-in-the-gut melody statement, the absolute warmth of the vocal and the operatic drama of the final trumpet reprise, ending on that unbelievable high D. Really, who else could do it all?

(Quick side tangent: the other day marked the one-year passing of Michael Jackson. I can't deny Jackson's brilliance but I actually read stories, such as one in "The Atlantic" that called him "the most influential artist of the 20th century." These kinds of articles--"Jackson's the best!" "No, Elvis is the best!" "No, Sinatra is the best!"--are always silly but this one mentioned Louis, giving him credit for "inventing jazz" (?) and adapting his art "for records and radio." Yep, that's it. Ho hum. Never mind that he created the musical language for just about everything that followed him and that he had arguably equal impact as an instrumentalist AND a singer. And just records and radio? What about 30 films? Countless television appearances? The man wrote two books, was on the cover of "Time" magazine in 1949, was the subject of an Edward R. Murrow feature documentary, knocked the Beatles of the charts, stopped a war in Africa....should I keep going? But never mind those accomplishments, as lofty as they are. All it really boils down to, to me, is the playing AND the singing. To play that melody so tenderly on "La Vie En Rose," then open his mouth and sing with such warmth and feeling, I'm sorry, nobody else could do that.)

Aside from Louis's gigantic offering, the Decca recording of "La Vie En Rose" also benefits from Sy Oliver's arrangement, which is remarkably simple, yet totally appropriate to the mood, with its repeated bass line and accent on every fourth beat. Even the alternating reeds and brass behind the vocal adds some gentle charm. Also, props go to Earl "Fatha" Hines, who I have beaten up in the past for his failure to listen to his surroundings and play obtrusively. Here, from his opening glisses onward, he makes his presence felt but does so with plenty of taste, his offerings a special part of the song's magic.

"La Vie En Rose" almost immediately entered the All Stars's live repertoire. In face, a broadcast performance survives from Bop City in New York with the date "late June 1950." The studio recording was made June 26, itself pretty late, so this might have been just hours or mere days after the wax was dry on the studio version. It's an interesting performance because the band is still a little tentative. For one thing, Louis doesn't take his opening trumpet solo, which is missed. Also, he botches two lyrics, singing "Hold me tight" instead of "Hold me close" and later singing, "An when you speak, heaven sings from above" instead of "angels sing from above." The closing trumpet solo is fine but the rest of the band sounds a little empty. Could this be their first public run-through? Give this fascinating rarity a listen:

By the fall of 1950, "La Vie En Rose" had proved to be a big seller and became something Louis began featuring on television and radio appearances. Here's another unissued treasure, courtesy of my late friend Gosta Hagglof, Louis on Kay Kyser's NBC television show on November 9, 1950, featuring a slightly different version of Sy Oliver's great arrangement:

Interesting, huh? Louis doesn't play any horn at the start but otherwise, it's exactly the same Oliver arrangement as the Decca recording until Louis does pick up the trumpet. At that point, it heads off into a surprising direction with Louis taking a full, dramatic chorus. Louis starts off high and never comes down, playing the melody and offering variations all in the upper register, a terrific display of endurance but one he never again repeated.

About two months later, Louis performed the tune on Bing Crosby's radio show. I've included Louis and Bing's original kidding around from the introduction but Louis is all business during the performance. Here 'tis:

Did you notice Louis get a little turned around after the vocal? He picks up his horn and seems a little confused by the arrangement as he plays his signature two-pitch riff three times instead of two. But he soon hears where the band is and immediately makes amends before anyone notices and still makes it up to that final trumpet high C. Quick thinking.

But did you notice something else about this performance? I'm telling you, thank goodness for my readers! This post has been up for almost two weeks but my friend Phil Person, an ace trumpet man, wrote in to tell me that beginning with that Crosby version, Armstrong lowered the key for all future versions of "La Vie En Rose." Up to this point, he did it in C and modulated into F after the vocal but from here on out, it's in Bb with a modulation to Eb after the vocal. Thanks, Phil!

That'll take care of our television and radio versions but I don't want to forget the All Stars. When we last left them, they were tentatively performing it for possibly the first time at Bop City in June 1950. By January 1951, they had a better grasp on the tune, as heard on this performance from a concert/dance in Vancouver, Canada:

Great stuff. As can be heard, Louis finally gets to play his opening chorus of tender melody and it's a doozy. Clarinetist Barney Bigard and trombonist Jack Teagarden offer snatches of countmelodies but also team up for some arranged harmonizing to support Pops. Hines still does his opening runs but disappears for most of the rest of the performance. Louis's passion calls everyone home at the end but the other All Stars still seem to be going through the motions a wee bit. That was, alas, a fault of this edition, even though most people assume the Teagarden-Hines-Bigard band was the Super Group.

No, that distinction belongs to the mid-50s version with Trummy Young and Edmond Hall in the front line, Billy Kyle on piano, a revolving bassist and either Barrett Deems or Danny Barcelona on drums. Fortunately, a couple of versions survive from this period and I'd like to share one now from the Orpheum Theatre in Seattle from September 7, 1957:

Now that's more like it. Hall and Young's support is more cohesive than that of Bigard and Teagarden; they've clearly worked out the routine. That goes for Louis, too, whose opening statement has been honed to perfection. But just grab on to your chair after the vocal. Trummy steps up to the mike and really pours everything into the melody, drummer Barrett Deems starts laying down a sledgehammer backbeat, the crowd goes wild and Pops picks up his horn and proceeds to give everyone within listening distance the chills. A terrific version.

That version was slow but it still had the teeniest hint of a bounce, an ever-so-slight foot-pattin' tempo that just managed to keep everything swinging. Most of the times, when a band plays the same song night after night, year after year, it tends to speed up. With Louis, just check out "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It," "Mack the Knife" "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" and "Someday You'll Be Sorry" to see what I mean, especially in the 1950s.

But as the 1960s dawned, something happened. First, I think Louis began to see his lip give in ever so slightly. Though he played magnificently until at least 1965, certain one-time staples such as "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Lazy River" and others began getting phased out. And interestingly, around the same time, Louis began SLOWING down numbers such as "Mack the Knife," the "Saints" and "Now You Has Jazz." And incredibly, "La Vie En Rose" was affected by this slowing down period in Pops's career.

That might sound hard to believe but for exhibit A, I'd like to share perhaps my second all-time favorite version (after the Decca original) from a Chicago concert in late 1962. This is the last "La Vie En Rose" to have survived but what a killer rendition to go out on. Incredibly, the tempo has slowed to the point where there's almost no tempo. I've made a lot about Pops's ability to navigate superfast paces ("Tiger Rag" anyone) but he also had such command of rhythm that he was perfectly comfortable at a tempo that could only be described as a crawl. My good friend trumpeter Phil Person has pointed this out to me, specifically using "La Vie En Rose" as an example. Louis just likes the tempo there and thrives from it. And give credit to the rest of the All Stars for keeping it afloat; as many musicians can attest, it's easier to play fast than to play slow. And this slow? Jesus...

Here's the audio:

Isn't that something else? That version is almost a full minute longer than the one we just heard from Seattle. Again, Louis and the All Stars (now with Joe Darensbourg on clarinet, Billy Kronk on bass and Danny Barcelona on drums) are tight as can be; the little slide Louis and Trummy play together after the first bridge is just plain delightful. The vocal is just as warm as ever while the final trumpet solo is still triumphant, 61 Louis shooting out the lights on a song he had been playing for 11 years, infusing it with the same artistry and passion as he had from that very first Decca version. That's artistry, my friends.

And I'd like to close with a video, if you don't mind. I mentioned "Wall-E" earlier, a film I found absolutely delightful. I won't go into plot details or anything other than to say it's a love story between two robots told almost entirely silently in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world. Yeah, I know, that doesn't sound like much but it charmed the pants off me. And when the title character becomes smitten with another robot named Eva, it's time for a montage that's equal parts funny and charming. And what's used on the soundtrack? The Decca "La Vie En Rose." It's a perfect fit. So I'll close with a YouTube video of this scene. Here's to 60 years of Louis Armstrong's "La Vie En Rose." Now pick up the phone and tell someone you love them...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Limehouse Blues

[NOTE! Oof...I posted "Limehouse Blues" on Wednesday morning and gleefully quoted Maxie Kaminsky's exclamation, "Didja hear Pops on 'Limehouse'?" Well, the answer was NO as I forgot to post the audio to the master! I'm so, so sorry. It's been corrected so please enjoy it. And I'll let it stew for the weekend and be back on Monday with "La Vie En Rose." Sorry!]
Louis Armstrong and The Dukes of Dixieland
Recorded May 24, 1960
Track Time 4:53
Written by Philip Braham and Douglas Furber
Recorded at Webster Hall, New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Frank Assunto, trumpet; Fred Assunto, trombone; Jerry Fuller, clarinet; Stanley Mendelsohn, piano; Jac Assunto, banjo; Rich Matteson, bass, Helicon; Owen Mahoney, drums
Originally released on Audio Fidelity
Currently available on CD: “Limehouse Blues” on the Blue Moon label and on "The Complete Louis Armstrong With The Dukes of Dixieland" on the Essential Jazz Classics label.
Available on Itunes? No

Last Monday, I raved on and on about Louis Armstrong's 1960 recording of "Avalon" with the Dukes of Dixieland, arguing that it was one of the high points of Louis's later years. But in that same entry, I made numerous mentions of "Limehouse Blues," a song recorded that same day and in my opinion, is tied for the distinction of being the very best performance to come out of Louis's two albums with the Dukes (and trust me, there's plenty to choose from).

Well, people seemed to have dug "Avalon," so I can't resist by following up with "Limehouse Blues," recorded just two songs after "Avalon" on May 24, 1960, 50 years ago last month. (You might be wondering, what some came in between these two? A dynamite "Wolverine Blues" that I blogged about last year. To revisit that entry and really get a more complete picture of how incredibly Louis was blowing that day at Webster Hall, click here.)

I originally chose "Avalon" last week because it presented a more complete picture of Pops: singing, playing, swinging, hitting high notes, playing second, doing it all. But "Limehouse" is purely instrumental, a burning take on a number that had been part of the jazz repertoire since the 1930s. Louis had given it a 101-second run-through for a Standard Oil transcription session with the All Stars in 1950, but otherwise, had never touched this song before playing it with the Dukes. With a studio audience consisting of the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Krupa, Marty Grosz, Jack Bradley, Max Kaminsky and others, Pops had quite the audience watching and listening to his every move. When he got through with "Limehouse," EVERYONE was broken up with Dukes trumpeter Frank Assunto uttering the words, "The old man's too much" and Kaminsky shouting to everyone else in the studio, "Didja hear Pops on 'Limehouse'!?"

So to hear what all the full is about, just click here:

I guess I'll be the first to say it...didja hear Pops on "Limehouse"!? The old man IS too much! The Dukes enthusiastically handle the introduction with Frank Assunto in the lead before Pops steps in to show them the way through the first chorus. In no rush at age 58, Louis gives a fairly straight-forward reading of the melody, rephrasing it here and there just caressing it with his extra special tone, ending on a high note to foreshadow what's to come. Clarinetist Jerry Fuller then takes two, sounding a bit tentative a first before gradually heating up a bit.

But then Pops enters and well, good night nurse. He takes "Limehouse's" main melodic motive and spins circles with it, before he starts unleashing some beautifully flowing improvisations. Midway through his first chorus, he turns the melody into a quote of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" before floating through the bar lines in his lower register. He then revisits the melody, as was his wont, for the last eight bars, playing it with a bright tone.

So far, so great, but he really lets loose in his second go-around, opening with a quote from "The Hoochie Coochie Dance," one of his favorites from the 1920s and early 30s. The leads into a devastating concert B natural, a blue note that Pops really makes moan, whipping it into a slippery gliss. He keeps pounding away, perhaps surprising some by going way down, instead of up, at the halfway mark of his second chorus. But it's a storytelling device as he's back on top mere seconds later, punishing the living hell out of those blue B naturals until the listener wants to scream, "Mercy!" After a series of more piercing B naturals, Armstrong turns his final one into a dazzling gliss that dives low before rising up to end on a triumphant high C. A terrific solo.

Rich Matteson then gets his innings on helicon before the performance's final two ensemble choruses. The first one is a true gassuh as Louis and Assunto peck and poke around each other, swapping phrases, having fun with melody and really just have a sweet little conversation. Midway through, Louis takes over with a brief, ingenious quote from Massenet's "Elegy."

But much like "Avalon," Louis is kind of just toying with Assunto before he unleashes full blast in the last chorus. Armstrong works over a three-note motive like it's 1927 again before shooting out those high, hard ones. Assunto's in there, offering a great counterpoint but overall he, and the rest of the Dukes are swallowed up by Pops's gigantic lead, working over more of those searing B naturals. After the drum tag, Louis lets Assunto take charge for a few bars but he still has the final say with a roof-shaking closing high C. Incredible stuff.

Like "Avalon," Hank O'Neal released an alternate edit of "Limehouse Blues" on the Chiaroscuro label in the 1970s. Only the drum tag and final eight bars were used on the issued take; the rest is entirely new. It must have been an earlier attempt because, though Pops is still in remarkable form, he performs a couple of miniscule fluffs in his second solo chorus and enters with a bit of a miscue going into the final ensemble choruses. But otherwise, he's a force of nature, dispelling any myths that he could no longer improvise at this stage of the game. As I've exhausted myself saying on this blog, he knew exactly what he was doing when he played those "set" solos on numbers like "Indiana" and "Struttin' with Some Barbecue" with the All Stars, as those were more or less improvised compositions honed to perfection night after night on the bandstand. But give the man a fresh piece of material...and stand back! "Limehouse Blues" is a great example of this as his playing is completely different from take to take. Even when some of his ideas are similar--playing with the three-note motif, quoting the "Hoochie Coochie Dance," etc.--he approaches them in different way and places them in completely different spots.

But don't rely on my word for it. Here's the alternate take, 30 seconds longer because of an extra chorus by Matteson's helicon:

So there you have it, some pretty ferocious playing from Louis in 1960. The old man, really was too much, wasn't he? Til next time when I'll be celebrating yet another anniversary, 50 years of "La Vie En Rose."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

80 Years of "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas)"

Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra
Recorded July 21, 1930
Track Time 3:11
Written by Phil Baxter
Recorded in Los Angeles, CA
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Leon Elkins, trumpet, conductor; Unknown, trumpet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Leon Herriford, Willie Stark, alto saxophone; William Franz, trombone; L.Z. Cooper, piano; Ceele Burke, banjo; Reggie Jones, tuba; Lionel Hampton, drums
Originally released on OKeh 41442
Currently available on CD: It’s on the recently reissued JSP two-disc set The Big Band Sides, 1930-1932, as well as about a hundred other discs
Available on Itunes? Yes

Happy Father's Day to all my fellow Papa Dip's out there! I wanted to post something special to celebrate the occasion but didn't have time for anything fresh. Thus, I've reached into the archive and pulled out my 2008 entry on "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy," which Louis recorded 80 years ago next month. So consider this a Father's Day celebration, an anniversary post and a revisit all wrapped in one. Whatever you call it, it's an epic recording by Pops. Here's all you'll ever need to know about it!

Let me get started on today’s entry, as promised, a full appreciation of “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas),” one of my all-time favorite Armstrong records. Before I get to the song, let’s look at where Louis Armstrong was in his career when he recorded it that July day in 1930.

After conquering Chicago and New York City in the 1920s, Armstrong found himself giving California a shot in May 1930. His band broke up in New York in 1929, forcing Armstrong to begin working as a single. With the Depression hurting the music and entertainment scene, Armstrong headed off to California without any band of his own, just the hope of getting an opportunity to play. That opportunity came almost immediately when he was hired to front the band at Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Culver City, a band that featured bright youngsters such as trombonist Lawrence Brown and drummer Lionel Hampton. Then again, EVERY band at Sebastian’s Cotton Club featured these two men because, as Brown later remembered, “Sebastian got the idea of handing out contracts instead of having some of the men run him out. Lionel Hampton and I were the two he contracted to the club and we stayed regardless of who came.”

This band was led by a trumpet player named Elkins, whose first name was either Vernon or Leon—I’ve seen both probably an equal amount of times (Stanley Dance even misheard Brown say it as “Vernon Nelson,” while Hampton, in two different works, wrote about “Vernon” in 1972 and “Leon” in 1989.) From the first time Armstrong visited the Cotton Club, he remembered, “…[W]hen I heard that band play, I almost jumped out of my skin.” Armstrong had nothing but fond memories of the Elkins band, as he would later write the following: “There was a band playing there at the time, was kinda mixed up. The leader was an elderly fellow who, I’m sure, was a fine trumpet man in his heydays. His last name was Elkins. He was surrounded by some of the finest musicians that I had witnessed playing music in my whole life. From New Orlenas to St. Louis—Chicago to New York. Through all of those own where I had already heard some of the greatest men on their instruments, yet, these boys sort of had a little something on the ball (musically) that I had not witnessed. Such as endurance—tones, perfect sense of phrasing, and the willingness and the spirit that the Eastern Musicians or the Southern Musicians used to have before they got to Broadway and became stinkers, looking for power and ego-tisms, the desire to do practically anything but enjoy their first love—which is their instrument.”

Here’s a wonderful picture of Armstrong around the time of his arrival, outside Sebastian’s Cotton Club, surrounded by members of the band (Hampton on the far left):

Hampton and Brown were equally excited to be paired with the trumpet star. “When Louis came to California in 1930 to play with us, it was such a happy day for me,” Hampton told Stanley Dance. “Playing with him was a revelation, and he always encouraged me….I had a ball playing behind him, and there’s where I really got my roots.”

Brown told Dance, “[Armstrong] was so terrific out there then, and he was really the only player that influenced me. He’d stand up all night and play, and sometimes broadcast for as long as three hours….He was the kind of musician you could sit there all night and listen to, and be amazed at the technique, the poise—and just everything! People used to come from ‘way up around Seattle to hear him. Every trumpet player at that time tried to play one of his choruses.”

So Armstrong was a hit and everyone in the band seemed to get along happily. The Hollywood crowd also became fixated on Pops, something that has always made me daydream. As I’ve written about in the past, I’m an old comedy buff with an undying love for anything that came out of Hal Roach’s Culver City studios. Knowing that Laurel and Hardy were filming Pardon Us and the “Our Gang” kids were shooting Shiver My Timbers in July 1930 in the same city where Louis Armstrong was making jaws drop nightly at Sebastian’s Cotton Club…well, if there’s a heaven, that’s it!

Within a few weeks of his California stay, Armstrong and Elkins band made their first records for OKeh. However, this wasn’t Armstrong’s first California session as just five days prior, on July 16, Armstrong provided some unbilled backing on a Jimmie Rodgers country tune, “Blue Yodel Number 9.” Thus, Armstrong had already just tried on a musical cowboy hat when he entered OKeh’s Los Angeles recording studio to record “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas),” a tune that would be subsequently embraced by both jazz and country artists in the years to come.

Segue time: onto the song! This, my friends, is Dumas, Texas:

Well, the red dot on that Texas map is Dumas, Texas. Here’s a better representation, the Cowboy Church of Dumas:

Doing some quick research on Dumas for the purpose of this blog, I was delighted to see a link on the official Dumas website to an article titled, “Legend of the Ding Dong Daddy,” taken from a history of Dumas written by Jay B. Funk. Here’s a snippet:

“[Louis] Dumas, the town developer, stayed in the city with his name only a short time, but the name remains to this day. And, what began as a dusty crossroads on the prairie above the “big blues” north and west of Amarillo above the Canadian River began to grow. First, the town was given little chance to survive, but the pioneer-stock was hardy stuff and they stuck it out. The small village was only 571 souls in the 1920’s and late in that decade a man who was to become a moderately successful band leader and song writer, Phil Baxter, chanced upon Dumas. He spent a few weeks in Dumas getting acquainted and after he had a steak continued his journey. Les than a year later Baxter penned the words and tune to a song which he named “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.”

The tune’s writer, Phil Baxter, was born in Navarro County, Texas and recorded twice, once in St. Louis in 1925 and once in Dallas in 1929. His band, Phil Baxter and His Texas Tommies, became the house band at the El Torreon Ballroom in Kansas City from 1927 until 1933. In addition to “Ding Dong Daddy,” Baxter also composed the popular Ted Weems novelty, “Piccolo Pete,” as well as “Have a Little Dream On Me,” a tune recorded by Fats Waller.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t mention Pops once, instead only mentioning Phil Harris’s later version. But Pops wasn’t the first to record it either. According to the Red Hot Jazz Archive, Jay C. Flippen and His Gang recorded the tune for Brunswick on August 8, 1928. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dig up the audio on this one but here’s another early version from March 1930, recorded for Brunswick in Minneapolis by the wonderfully named Slatz Randall and His Orchestra. It’s a typical dance band performance, complete with violin, but the lively vocal is taken by banjoist Joe Roberts while one of the trumpets is the great Yank Lawson. You can listen along by clicking
here. Roberts sings two choruses, complete with verse, but if you can’t make it out, here are the lyrics to the main strain:

I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ You ought to see me do my stuff
I’m a clean cut fellow from Homer’s Corner/ You ought to see me strut
I’m a caper cuttin’ cutie, Got a gal named Katie,
She’s little heavy laden, but I calls her baby,
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ You ought to see me do my stuff.

The second time around, Roberts sings these lyrics:

I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ You ought to see me do my stuff
I’m a ping pong papa, from Pitchfork Prairie/ You ought to see me strut
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy, Got a whiz bang mama,
She’s a Bear Creek baby, and a whompous (Wabash?) kitty
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ You ought to see me do my stuff.

The blowing strain is only 16 bars and is based on the “How Come You Do Me Like You Do” model—later utilized by Sonny Rollins on “Doxy”—and is perfectly suitable for soloing, with a four-bar break practically sewn into the middle of it. Thus, with enough backstory to bore you all to tears, let us finally listen to the main event, Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra and "Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas)":

The playing of the horns and reeds is no great shakes, but the rhythm section is very good, with a similar feel to that of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, a band Hampton said was very influential to the Elkins sound. The exciting intro sounds like the record starts almost in media res—really, could someone count off and just hit it on the nose like that? Doubtful. Lawrence Brown’s got the melody, phrasing like Armstrong and taking a nice break. The saxes then take over with prominent banjo in the ensemble, playing with a bouncy two beat that conjures up memories of Armstrong’s stint with Fletcher Henderson.

But throughout the entire record, Lionel Hampton is killing it on the drums: he drives the band with his cymbals, works over the snare with various rolls and places his accents perfectly, a one-man dynamo that puts the notion to rest that pre-bop drummers simply played time. Armstrong loved Hamp’s drumming and wrote about it to Robert Goffin: “And Lionel was so young and vivacious (still is) on those Drums. And he had taken to like me (personally) so well and I felt the same way about him. And he was one of the Swinginest Drummers I had ever seen and heard in my life….Lionel used to get so Enthused over my playing Trumet he would get ‘Soakened Wet.’ And Beat a whole gang of Drums, saying to me ‘WA—WA’WON’Mo’POPS.’—Meaning—‘One More Chorus,’ Especially on Tunes like ‘Tiger Rag’ and ‘Ding Dong Daddy.’ And me enthused over him being Enthused—would play, Chorus After Chorus—I went up to Forty one night. Well I was much younger in those days myself.”

Back to the record: after the saxes take over, the band goes into the verse, with Hamp’s cymbals really booting everyone along in bar nine as Brown again plays a short but hot spot.

Then it’s time for Pops’s vocal, a real “gassuh.” What he sings is almost unintelligible, but damn, it swings! The most famous part of the vocal is when he sings, “I done forgot the words,” which is debatable. Pops probably saw the tongue-tying middle section and thought that it might be funny to act like he forgot the words, much like the “Heebie Jeebies” story he would always tell. Of course, he indeed might have forgotten that middle part, but regardless, it’s a wonderful moment that always makes me laugh. In fact, here’s a translation of Pops:

I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ And, ought to see me do my stuff
I’m a clean cut fellow from the corner/ You ought to see me strut
Oh, ee-ba, ey-ba, oh, oot
And I done forgot the words and lo, doot
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas/ Ought to see me do my stuff.

Pops slides down on “stuff” like a descending glissando and dives right into a second vocal chorus, which I’d like to call scatting, but really it’s not because he uses the words of the song instead of nonsense syllables. The rhythm of his vocal reminds me of the daring scat vocal he took on 1927’s “Hotter Than That.” Eventually, during the built-in break, he starts scatting, bubbling over with joy as the vocal comes to an end (Hamp catching him with a perfectly timed accent).

Alto sax takes the next chorus (it’s probably Leon Herriford) and it’s pretty corny but the final “jada jada jing jing jing” phrase is pure Pops. Man, this band was already listening and emulating their new front man after not even a month of backing him up.

But now it’s time for the hair on the back of my neck to stand up: Pops’s four-chorus rideout solo. 64-bars of sheer bliss. Armstrong states a motive immediately with the first three descending notes of his solo. He stays in the lower part of his horn, shooting out all sorts of nimble, yet melodic phrases. At the break, Pops keeps the double-time feeling with the second part of it reminding me of the “done forgot the words” break from the vocal. By the end of the chorus, he finally nails one high note but he’s still building so he heads back down to pace himself, ending the chorus with another Armstrong hallmark, two quarter-notes and two eight-notes. This is Storytelling 101….

Armstrong’s second chorus is a classic, pure joyousness personified. The three-note motive is now played higher and faster as Pops plays ping pong with two different sets of phrases, eventually slowing them down and stretching them out into another new motive that sounds like a quote from “Pretty Baby.” He then plays the phrase even slower and more emphatically, a textbook example of rhythmic mastery and how to get the most mileage out of as few different pitches as possible. It’s supremely singable, too. He then burtsts out of it with some double-timing, leading into his second great break, which opens with a scorching hot phrase before he settles into yet another motive of repeated D’s, sounding particularly ambivalent without the band playing beneath it. He then leaves a little space and hits a high G, the sixth of the tonic key of Bb, holding it into the start of the third chorus.

Now the band is cooking. Hamp switches from snare to cymbals and even banjoist Ceele Burke begins tearing it up on his instrument. The horns really only riff lightly the entire time Ops solos, but it’s swinging and Pops didn’t exactly require much more. Armstrong is now smokin’, beginning another swinging little motive at the 2:36 mark, happily descending in sing-song manner. Every note choice, every phrase, makes so much sense it’s mind-blowing. The next break opens up in a similar fashion as the “My Sweetie Went Away” quote Lester Young popularized on “Sometimes I’m Happy,” but Armstrong cuts it to make room for two hot rips, one up to a high G, the next a few seconds later hitting a high A, all building logically to the held high concert Bb that heralds the beginning of the fourth and final chorus.

Chorus four is yet another demonstration of pure genius as Pops simply works over three descending notes—Bb, A and G—playing them relaxed, than hurried, back and fourth, kind of similar to what he would play on “When Your Lover Has Gone” in 1931. He keeps it up for eight bars before the bridge, where he plays a phrase that Dizzy Gillespie would borrow for the his composition “Salt Peanuts.” Pops uses it as a springboard to a ridiculously high D, the highest note of the solo, hitting it again for good measure a few seconds later. The pure sound of it is positively freakish. Naturally, he wraps up his break with another perfectly logical conclusion and though the final few bars still swing mightily, it’s safe to say that the climax was that final break. Oh, what a solo!

OKeh mush have known that they had a pretty hot record on their hands as they decided to push it hard, complete with advertisements that featured Armstrong’s head on a cartoon of a cowboy’s body!
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Armstrong began featuring “Ding Dong Daddy” nightly at the Cotton Club, as Lionel Hampton fondly recalled. “We were on the air one night, and he said, ‘Look out, man, we’re gonna open up with ‘Dumas.’ I feel good tonight, and if I’m going well, Hamp, you sit on those cowbells with me, and I’ll play another chorus.’ Well, man, I was sitting on those cowbells, and Louis played about ninety-nine choruses on ‘I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.’”

Armstrong stayed on in California until March 1931, cutting more great records with his “Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra.” Elkins grew ill in the late summer of 1930 and was eventually replaced as leader of the group by Les Hite. Many writers, including Gunther Schuller, write that it’s the Hite band that backs Armstrong on “Ding Dong Daddy” but Hite wasn’t involved in any Armstrong recording session until October 8, 1930. The move worked out for Hite who became a prominent presence on the Los Angeles jazz scene, appearing on many film soundtracks and even backing the likes of Fats Waller during his stay at Sebastian’s Cotton Club in 1935.

By the time of that October session, Lawrence Brown was out of the band, having gotten fired for not wanted to rehearse on Easter Sunday. But don’t cry for Brown; Duke Ellington signed him right up and the rest is history. And on Armstrong’s second October session with the Hite band, he suggested that drummer Hampton take the introduction to “Memories of You” on the vibraphone. And again, the rest is history. But though their time together was fairly short, Armstrong, Hampton and Brown always had wonderful things to say about each other. The three men reunited for this photo years later, taken from Stanley Dance’s World of Swing:
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Unfortunately, “Ding Dong Daddy” seems to have disappeared from the Armstrong repertoire after he left California. There are no surviving broadcasts of it, there are no mentions of it in contemporary reviews, he seems to have never played it with the All Stars and he didn’t even revive it for the Decca Autobiography project. Only in late 1970, on an episode of The Flip Wilson Show, did Armstrong sing a chorus of it with the host—reprising the “done forgot the words” line and earning big laughs for it.

But though Armstrong might have moved on from “Ding Dong Daddy,” the song itself was just starting to take off. As mentioned earlier, Phil Harris did become associated with it after singing it on The Jack Benny Program and recording it for Victor. Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys gave it the Western Swing treatment on this version. The Benny Goodman Quartet—with Lionel Hampton—used to swing the hell out of it, as can be heard on their studio version and even more exciting live broadcasts from the late 1930s. Sidney Bechet recorded a hot version of it for Blue Note in 1953 with Jonah Jones referencing Pops in the outchoruses. And after it’s start in the jazz and country world, “Ding Dong Daddy” slowly began extending its reach over pop culture in general. On one of my favorite episodes of The Honeymooners, Ed Norton watches Ralph Kramden hysterically try to dance the Hucklebuck, telling him, “You ain’t exactly no Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.” By the 1960s, it was being featured in four-part harmony by the Osmonds...

...on the Lawrence Welk Show with a vocal from Larry Hooper:

In 1966, “Teen Titans,” a DC Comics comic book, featured a villain named the “Ding Dong Daddy,” who lasted exactly one appearance. The title has been “borrowed” for other songs such as the Sister Wynona Carr 1950’s R&B jump opus, “Ding Dong Daddy,” and the during the short-lived swing craze of the late 1990s, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies wrote an original titled “Ding Dong Daddy of the D-Car Line.”

But we’re way off point now. For me, “Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas)” begins and ends with that incredible Armstrong version. But when I originally wrote this entry in 2008, I finished with a YouTube video of the New York Jazz Repertory Company performing it live at the Nice Jazz Festival from 1977. Alas, that video is no longer on YouTube BUT I have a good substitute, courtesy of my pal Hakan Forsberg who recorded another version by the New York Jazz Repertory Company performing it in Umea, Sweden in October 1975. A three-headed trumpet team handles the Armstrong solo--Joe Newman (who also sings), Pee Wee Erwin and Jimmy Maxwell, while the rest of the band includes Eddie Hubble, Kenny Davern, Dick Hyman, Gueorge Duvivier, Marty Grosz and Bobby Rosengarden. What a band! This, to me, is what jazz repertory is all about. The swing it like it’s 1975, not trying too hard for a 1930 feel. All of it builds up to the trumpets of Maxwell, Erwin and Newmann stand up to play a harmonized version of Armstrong’s original four-chorus solo. The effect is electrifying and leads me to wish that more bands would transcribe Pops solos for sections to play (Joe Muranyi transcribed Armstrong’s 1955 “Christmas in New Orleans” solo to be played for trumpet, clarinet and tenor saxophone and again, the effect is really something else, with Armstrong’s rhythmic mastery really grabbing one’s attention when it’s spread over multiple instruments). One can only imagine the endurance needed to nail this solo as by the end, matters get a teeny tiny bit sloppy. But I’m not complaining…it’s exciting as hell! Enough from me…here’s the clip:

And that is, I think, all I can possibly say about “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas).” Again, Happy Father's Day to all you Ding Dong Daddy's out there and I'll be back in a couple of days with something fresh.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Public Melody Number One

Greetings, fellow rhythm rascals. I've decided to head into the weekend with a little video treat, Louis's performance in the 1937 film "Artists and Models." This was formerly a pretty rare clip but now, thanks to YouTube, it can be viewed while eating breakfast. For those who don't know, this performance was pretty controversial at the time. Louis takes part in a performance of "Public Melody Number One," a song written by the top team of Harold Arlen and Tod Koehler, who had already done much for Pops (see "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" and "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea").

But "Public Melody Number One" would be no standard pop tune. It was the basis for a lavish seven-minute production number staged by the legendary Vincente Minnelli. The film itself, I should add, was directed by Raoul Walsh, another heavy hitter. Louis had officially hit the big time by this point, recording for Decca, hosting the Fleischmann's Yeast radio series and with this, appearing in his second major motion picture after signing with Joe Glaser in 1935.

But the controversy surrounding "Public Melody Number One" could have derailed him. In addition to Louis and about a hundred of black dancers (as Dan Morgenstern has pointed out, the white actors play the G-men, the black actors play the gangsters!), the number's co-star was Martha Raye, always a popular attraction--and a white one at that. This was 1937 and the thought of a provocatively dressed, gyrating white woman surrounded by a number of black people was enough to make the South break into a collective cold sweat. Knowing something would have to be done to soothe the situation, a light layer of dark makeup was applied to Raye's body, an attempt to make her appear more, um, ethnic.

Naturally, this didn't work. Many southern cities had the scene cut from showings while one critic from Atlanta wrote, "Martha Raye, thinly burnt-corked, does a Harlem specialty with a fat Negro trumpeter and a hundred other Negroes. It is coarse to the point of vulgarity. I have no objection to Negroes on the screen. I like them from Bill Robinson down the line. Their stuff is usually good. But I don't like mixing white folks--and especially a white girl---in their acts." Yikes. Well, you can't please everyone..

Anyway, here is the full seven-minute performance, in excellent quality. Louis plays and sings beautifully and overall makes a commanding presence in his sharp suit (how could anyone write him off as just a "fat Negro trumpeter"!?). Enough from me; enjoy the full performance and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section. Here 'tis:

So there you have it. I guess while I have your attention, I should cover Louis's Decca recording of the tune, cut with his usual big band, led by Luis Russell, on July 2, 1937. Here's the audio:

For this record, Louis doesn't have to share the spotlight with anyone else. He's the main event from start to finish and makes the most of it, delivering a really fun vocal, his gifts as a actor emanating out of every groove as he completely sells every line. When he picks up the melody, you almost immediately realize that hey, this isn't exactly the world's greatest melody. But Pops, the master, adds his variations and rephrasings and comes out with something swinging.

After a brief break from the band, with Paul Barbarin making his present felt on drums, Louis begins soaring. He was in superhuman form during the period--just listen to those Fleischmann's Yeast broadcasts--and sounds in complete command beating out those high concert Bb's before taking a Gb, the minor third, and squeezing and wringing all the blues out of it that he can get. The band takes over for much of the bridge with more Barbarin fills before Louis gets a dramatic spot backed only by swishing cymbals.

But it all builds up to that final climb, first up to a giant Bb, which he holds triumphantly--that sound!--before using it as a springboard into a dazzling cadenza. The band implores, "Look out, Satch!" and Pops replies with some grumbling about "going to make that note" (Dizzy Gillespie must have known this record as, with Joe Carroll playing Louis, this routine would crop up in his 1950s parody, "Pops Confessin'"). And sure enough, Pops sets off on a giant gliss and makes that note, a big fat Eb up in the stratosphere. Bravo, Pops.

S'all for now. Have a great weekend everyone, and if you're lucky enough to be at David Ostwald's concert at the Louis Armstrong House Museum on Saturday night, come up and say hello as I'll be enjoying the righteous sounds direct from Pops's garden. Til next time...

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Louis Armstrong and The Dukes of Dixieland
Recorded May 24, 1960
Track Time 4:53
Written by Al Jolson, Buddy DeSylva and VIncent Rose
Recorded at Webster Hall, New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Frank Assunto, trumpet; Fred Assunto, trombone; Jerry Fuller, clarinet; Stanley Mendelsohn, piano; Jac Assunto, banjo; Rich Matteson, bass, Helicon; Owen Mahoney, drums
Originally released on Audio Fidelity
Currently available on CD: “Limehouse Blues” on the Blue Moon label and on "The Complete Louis Armstrong With The Dukes of Dixieland" on the Essential Jazz Classics label.
Available on Itunes? No

I know I'm a little late with this one, as Louis Armstrong's epic version of "Avalon" was originally recorded 50 years ago on May 24, 1960. But on May 24, I was thick in the throes of "Tiger Rag" and I couldn't stop for anything else. But "Avalon" is one of those recordings worth celebrating 365 days of the year so I think it will be just as enjoyable as ever today as it would have been if I posted this on May 24.

By the time Louis Armstrong got around to recording it in 1960, the song "Avalon" had been around since 1921, originally introduced by Al Jolson, who gladly took a co-composer credit. The tune's melody is based on part of "E lucevan le stelle," a Puccini aria from the opera "Tosca." Our hero might have been familiar with this aria as he was an opera buff proud of his collection of Caruso records. The great Caruso himself recorded "E lucevan le stelle" and courtesy of YouTube, you can now hear it yourself:

By the late 20s, "Avalon" had become a bona fide jazz standard, only growing in stature in the 1930s thanks to hot versions by the likes of Benny Goodman, COleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. Louis, however, never officially took a stab at it, though he did record an odd 80-second version with the All Stars as a transcription for Standard Oil, though that recorded only featured Jack Teagarden. And to skip past 1960, the All Stars later featured "Avalon" as a vibes outing for Tyree Glenn, with Louis joining in on the melody.

That's all well and good but today is all about that glorious 1960 version, which came from Louis's second trip to the recording studios with the Dukes of Dixieland. Louis had sat in with the Dukes in person a few times and apparently liked them a lot. In 1959, Joe Glaser officially made Louis a free agent when it came to recording; whoever had the right amount of money to record him could do so. The man with the money was Sid Frey of Audio Fidelity records, whose early recordings focused on the possibilities of stereo. The Dukes were already a popular attraction on the label so it only made sense for Frey to combine Louis with them for a series of recording sessions in the summer of 1959. However, Frey didn't do much planning; nor did he do his homework. Decca had a five-year restriction clause in their contracts, prohibiting Louis from recording any tune he already recorded for them for five years. As it turned out, nine of the songs waxed in 1959 had been already recorded for Decca in the previous five years, many on the "Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography" project. Frey decided to keep them in the can and try again when all parties were free and willing.

That time came on May 24 and 25 in 1960. This time Louis and the Dukes would record 12 songs Louis hadn't either recorded in years or recorded at all. Louis was about to turn 60 (or so he thought) but 1960 was a great year for his chops, even after the 1959 heart attack. But if an enthusiastic young band and a slate of new material wasn't enough to inspire him, Louis just had to look through the recording studio window. Besides his usual entourage, including his wife Lucille and friend Jack Bradley--who snapped dozens of pictures and even took notes on the sessions--the studio was filled with jazz heavyweights including Dizzy Gillespie, Max Kaminsky, Gene Krupa and a young Marty Grosz, among others, all there to watch Louis in action. Louis rose to the occasion and blew everyone's minds more than once, especially on "Limehouse Blues," which caused Kaminsky to run around the studio yelling to anyone in listening distance, "Did you hear Pops on 'Limehouse'!???"

I thought of celebrating the anniversary of these sessions with "Limehouse" (and if there's enough requests, maybe I'll still do something on it) but for me, the high-water mark was "Avalon." In four minutes and 53 seconds, Louis demonstrated every single aspect of his greatness: his ability to make a melody swing, his sense of humor, his dynamic vocalizing, his swinging improvisations, his unimpeachable sense of time and rhythm, his effortless high notes and operatic tendencies. As everyone knows by now, I'm the world's biggest defender of Louis's later years and to me, this is one of the greatest moments of that period.

So enough blabbing from me. Just buckle your seatbelt and take a trip to "Avalon":

An exciting break by drummer Owen Mahoney sets up a rollicking first chorus. The presence of tuba (actually helicon) makes it immediately apparent that these aren't the swinging, straightahead All Stars. Nevertheless, the Dukes had enthusiasm and they definitely seemed to inspire Pops (actually, it was probably the other way around!). Louis showed a great deal of respect to the Dukes's lead trumpeter Frank Assunto, giving him plenty of solos and occasionally a vocal. On the first chorus of "Avalon," Armstrong lets Assunto play lead. What's pretty neat about it is it allows Louis to go back to his King Oliver days and play second trumpet, devising a countermelody to Assunto's lead and generally staying out of the way. For the second chorus, the two trade roles, with Louis playing a stately lead with slight embellishments and Assunto harmonizing behind him. Louis opens up a bit towards the end of the bridge but hands the ball over to Assunto for the last four bars as he had to make his way up to the microphone for the vocal.

And what a vocal! As already stated, Sid Frey didn't do much preparation for these sessions; Marty Grosz told me that Frey purposely called public domain numbers like "Dixie" so he wouldn't have to pay for any copyrights. Thus, there wasn't any sheet music lying around the studio with lyrics for Pops to sing. Thus, on more than one occasion, Louis was forced to wing it (such as his ad-lib about Swiss Kriss on "South"). On "Avalon," Louis gets through the first line with no problem but then he just starts making 'em up with hilarious results ("She was killing me!"). My favorite part is when he sings "But now we up in Harlem.....lon," that extra "lon" thrown in for good measure. The whole thing leads to a happy shout-out to Lucille, but according to Nat Hentoff's original notes, Louis improvised different lyrics on every take. Isn't it high time some of those got released? More on that later...

Thanks to the magic of tape splicing, Louis's trumpet solo immediately follows the last word of his vocal. And my goodness, what a solo it is. Louis, as was his custom, starts out by making sure we're familiar with the melody. The embellishments are small, but telling, such as his insertion of his favorite quote from Vasa Prihoda's "Drdla Souvenir." He keeps that melody front and center but manages to play his own obbligato during every one of the tune's spaces. But after that first chorus...stand back! Louis begins his second outing with some dazzling fingerwork. Perhaps he was looking at Dizzy standing there, but out of nowhere, Louis unleases a dizzying, dancing, descending motif with some rapid clusters of notes. He soon settles down into his own rhythm and begins simply floating through the bar lines. His bridge is a lesson in deceptive simplicity as he chooses only a few notes but they're pretty demanding choices. He then ends with a bang, taking the melody up an octave, topping out at a huge high E. Man, there's a little of information in those two choruses. Feel free to listen to it a couple of hundred more times.

After a helicon solo by Rich Matteson, Armstrong lets Assunto play the lead again. The other horns lay out so it actually becomes a nice little conversation between the two. Assunto puts together an exciting ending, holding an F for good measure. It's pretty impressive, until Hurricane Pops enters and blows everyone else out the door. Louis enters with an Ab higher than Assunto's F and builds from there. It literally sounds like he's playing a different instrument as he performs his old trick of playing the melody an octave higher than expected and as usual, it works like a charm. In fact, Louis completely sticks to the melody, building higher and higher, possibly with Caruso in mind (or at least B.A. Rolfe). He nails those high E's in the bridge and just keeps pushing up in the stratosphere.

After a drum break, Pops takes a second to get his chops together and whips himself up to a ridiculous closing high concert F (G on the trumpet). If you were hear for my high note discussion last week, trumpeter Dave Whitney wrote, "Louis seemed to use high G as his cut-off. As you have stated, he probably went higher in practice. The thing about his high note work was how much control and sound he had up there-never straining or squeaking and such a huge sound. His shakes on the end of Avalon with the Dukes and Black and Blue from E. Berlin '65 are so huge and powerful. They just electrify the listener." Amen, brother Dave. If you're not electrified after the end of that "Avalon," check your circuit breaker...

As great as that "Avalon" is, I should mention that it's a composite take, which was nothing new to Louis's 1950s work, especially if you're familiar with Louis's seminal George Avakian-produced albums for Columbia in the 1950s, which sometimes edited together three or four different takes to make a master. That stuff doesn't bother me in the least bit; Pops played it all, right? Anyway, the late Gosta Hagglof told me that when he visited America in the 1960s, he was fortunate enough to hear the session tapes for Louis's sessions with the Dukes and they were fascinating, with rehearsals, studio chatter and more complete takes. Those tapes ended up in the hands of Hank O'Neal, the wonderful record producer and photographer (and now, blogger; check out his wonderful blog in my list of links to the right). O'Neal went through the tapes and edited together different alternate masters, which he released on a series of Chiaroscuro LPs in the 1970s. O'Neal's takes were eventually released on the Essential Jazz Classic's boxed set "The Complete Louis Armstrong With The Dukes of Dixieland."

However, I'm a greedy bastard and want more, more, more! Hopefully one day a handsome boxed set will be released with some complete takes, session chatter, Jack Bradley photos and more. But for now, we still have O'Neal's alternates, which are definitely worth listening to. Here 'tis:

As you may have noticed, O'Neal's "Avalon" is 6:28. Where'd the extra time come from? Well, remember the "magic of editing" that produced the seamless transition from Louis's vocal to his trumpet solo? In the studio, Louis's vocal was followed by clarinet and trombone solos, which are restored to this take. Also, the opening choruses AND the vocal are identical to the master. But after the new clarinet and trombone outings, we get a new solo by Pops and it's another "gassuh," though not quite as swashbuckling, for lack of a better word, as the issued take. It follows the same pattern with a melody-centric first chorus and a more daring second outing, full of more great high note work and completely new ideas....dig that ending! Louis sounds pleased, offering a shout of approval before the helicon solo. The final chorus is also new and it features Louis the tower of strength once again playing the melody an octave up. To do that once must have been hard enough...but twice? That's the iron man for you! However, the eight-bar tag after the drum break is identical to the one on the master.

So if you're scoring at home--and I know this is getting confusing--THAT was a complete take from start to finish. For the original master, Sid Frey used the opening two choruses, the vocal and the eight-bar tag but inserted Louis's solo, the helicon solo and the rideout from another take. Who cares how you break it's all pretty amazing, right?

"Avalon" is a high-water mark in Louis's later years but it's only one of the many masterpieces he recorded that day. After a short break, it was time for "Wolverine Blues," which I enthusiastically wrote up back in 2009. Then "Limehouse Blues," which had everyone shaking their head in disbelief. But those are subjects for another day. Today is all about "Avalon"...and it is a gassuh!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Louis Armstrong: iPhone Salesman

Greetings everyone. I had hoped to have something fresh ready for today...I had also hoped to hit the lottery overnight. I had about the same chance of either one occurring and naturally, failed on both accounts. But I wanted to post a quick note to say that this week, the good folks at Apple unveiled their new iPhone complete with "Face Time" feature. They also unveiled their new pitchman: Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong. In fact, before Steve Jobs came out to unveil it at the press conference, "What a Wonderful World" played for all to enjoy. And once unveiled, it was time to debut a new commercial directed by Sam Mendes, the main behind major films like "American Beauty," "Revolutionary Road" and the upcoming James Bond film. Mendes went full Hallmark for his opus, with something to pull at the heartstrings of anyone within viewing distance of the commercial. Soldiers, babies, deaf people...take your pick!

But for me, I was turned into putty at the opening sounds of Sy Oliver's saxophone section because I knew it only meant one thing: hundreds of thousands of people were about to hear Louis Armstrong's 1956 version of "When You're Smiling," one of Pops's all-time great moments. For those who haven't seen the commercial, here 'tis:

There you have it. Already, the commercial has been viewed thousands of times on YouTube...and it's probably led to thousands of iPhones being sold. But of course, I'm just pleased that thousands of people are listening to Pops sing "When You're Smiling." So in case any future iPhone user is a little curious about the music heard on that commercial, here's what I blogged about that performance back in November. Enjoy it, have a great weekend and keep on smiling!

(Do I get an iPhone now, Mr. Jobs?)


Armstrong's final attempt at "When You're Smiling" came on December 12, 1956. It was recorded for the ambitious Musical Autobiography project for Decca, the end result being a four-LP set that found the mid-50s Armstrong recreating many of the tunes he originally made famous in the 1920s and early 30s. I've gushed about the Autobiography numerous times in the past and I'll probably never stop as I think it's the definitive look at Armstrong's trumpet playing abilities in the 1950s. He was in simply stunning form from the first session through the last, mainly thanks to a little strategy on the behalf of producer Milt Gabler. Gabler insisted that Joe Glaser not book Armstrong anywhere else in New York while Pops was doing this project. Gabler paid Glaser for the service, and even booked the sessions in the evening, when Armstrong's chops were most ready for an evening of blowing. Friends and family were invited, food and drink were served and by all accounts, it was a relaxed, truly special series of sessions. With such care and concern surrounding the dates, Armstrong responded with some of the greatest playing of his entire career.

Because of the conditions, it was an ideal chance for Armstrong to dig out "When You're Smiling" one final time. He could rest the chops before, rest them after, take a break, do whatever he had to do to get through this test of endurance one more time. The song was chosen to be second one recorded during the album's second session. The December 12 date led off with a swinging run-through on "Mahogany Hall Stomp," a piece the All Stars regularly played in 1956. Armstrong was familiar with it and knocked off his climactic three-chorus solo with ease.

Sufficiently warmed up, it was time for "When You're Smiling." Though the conditions were ideal, one small curveball threatened to make this performance a lot more difficult then it had to be: the tempo. Yes, at 120 beats per minute, the 1929 original was pretty slow. But for the 1956 remake, Armstrong and arranger Sy Oliver decided to up the ante...or is it lower the ante? Regardless, they dropped the tempo to an almost inhuman 88 beats per minute. 88 beats! That's fine for a resting heart rate, but for a song tempo? As Dan Morgenstern once wrote, this is "dangerous territory--to swing at this almost static pace takes some doing."

Fortunately, Armstrong was more than up to the challenge. The resulting four minutes of music, I think, constitute a high point for Armstrong's trumpet playing in the 50s...and that's saying a lot since it was a helluva decade for him and his chops. Enough from me, listen for yourself and just prepare to feel good about everything and anything:

Well, I'm emotionally knocked Where to begin? I guess at the beginning with Sy Oliver's reeds, mimicking the "Lombardo" saxes from the original. Trummy Young's obbligato is quite beautiful. After quietly clearing his throat, Armstrong enters his vocal with a righteous, relaxed scat-break. He still phrases the melody in his own way and still inserts all the bits of scatting in all the right places. By the final eight bars, it's simply joy personified. Armstrong's smile was arguably the greatest in show business and you can actually hear him smiling as he delivers the song's simple message. As warm a vocal as has ever been sung.

But that's just the appetizer; the main course is coming up and believe me, it's worth the wait. Billy Kyle's piano takes eight bars to allow Pops to get his lips in his horn. Once he's ready, well, good night nurse. Armstrong hits his first note at the 2:15 mark. The song is 4:03 long. It was tough enough work lasting the original 72 seconds in 1929. But lasting 108 seconds? With 55-year-old, battle-scarred lips? At 88 beats per minute?

Armstrong's trumpet enters with the exact same phrase he scatted as a lead-in to his vocal, but then it's melody time. Two giant quarter notes followed by an even bigger concert Ab, held and shook for all its worth. Oliver's reeds give him a sensuous cushion of harmony that just adds to the angelic feel of this performance (not even Gabriel could have blown anything so pretty). In the next eight bars, Armstrong now climbs higher to a Bb, again, holding it for an insane amount of time. That's the thing about a solo like this that some jazz fans, accustomed to strings of 16th notes chewing up the changes, might not get. Yes, it's quite a feat to play dozens of notes per bar. But this is something else. This is a test of endurance. This is high notes, held notes, gigantic notes, vibrato-filled notes. Each quarter note is worth more than any chorus of runs based on a lydian mode.

But back to the action. In between the strict melody playing, listen to Armstrong's asides, once again echoing his little scatted phrases. But it's still those held notes that take my breath away, such as towards the end of the second eight bars, when he hits a high G, hold it, plays it two more times, then hits again once more for good measure, holding it yet again. But the bridge is really where I begin to worry. I've heard this track about a thousand times but still there's that tension of "Is he going to make it?" After hitting multiple high Ab's and Bb's, it's the end of the bridge (corresponding to the lyrics "be happy again") where Armstrong finally makes high C. Once up there, he shows no quit, hitting it three more times going into the last eight bars.

And what bars they are. He's basically back to the melody by this point, but he's officially been up in the stratosphere for a minute-and-a-half. Trust me, I've listened to this track with world class head phones, looking for any evidence of a splice. There's nothing. This was all knocked off in four other-worldly minutes. Nearing the finish line, Armstrong pushes himself another step higher, hitting a high Db during the song's final phrase, "the whole world smiles with you." But he has one more trick up his sleeve; where the written melody makes those lyrics descend two notes at a time, Armstrong goes up one more time where the word "world," hitting a sickening Eb, the highest note of the solo. I mean, is this guy kidding or what?

Finally, it's time for the final two notes of the solo, "with you." On the second-to-last note, Armstrong plays a quick gliss to the high C. For me, it's his only teeny, tiny sign of tiring. He hit every other note square on the nose, but that last high C sounds like it needed a little push. Still, he hits it and safely lands at his final note, an Ab, not quite as high as some of the ones we've just heard, but still a freakishly high one to hit and hold after almost two minutes of pure chops-punishment. That last note, for me, is one of the great ones of Armstrong's entire career. Bravo, Pops...

Fortunately, the stars aligned beautifully to create that magical moment inside of Decca's New York studios that December day in 1956. But a piece like that required the absolute ideal circumstances, which Armstrong had for the Autobiography. It was too punishing a piece to be performed during a grueling evening with the All Stars, where Armstrong usually blew on about 95% of the songs performed each night (especially during that period). Thus, unless someone requested it with a tape recorder present, the 1956 masterpiece is the last surviving version of Louis Armstrong performing "When You're Smiling." What a way to go out!

Armstrong might have never played it again, but he was certainly proud of the Decca version. Dan Morgenstern remembered that when Armstrong was about to leave his Corona home to go on back on the road for another string of one-nighters with the All Stars, he'd blast the 1956 "When You're Smiling" to put him in the right frame of mind. Definitely something to be proud of. Even for me, it's the kind of performance that always puts me in the right frame of mind, too. No matter what's happening in my world, it's guaranteed to make me smile and marvel at our luck to have a performance like that to savor forever. Amazing stuff. I'm going to listen to it again....

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Louis Armstrong: A Discussion on High Notes

Before resuming my regular blabbings about all-aspects of Louis Armstrong's music, I want to try something different today, something stemming from my series of "Tiger Rag" posts. Swedish Armstrong authority Håkan Forsberg is one of my heroes (and I should have mentioned that without Håkan, Jos Willems, Peter Winberg or the late Gösta Hägglöf, I wouldn't have had half of those later, live versions of "Tiger Rag" to share so please, thank them!). In the middle of my ravings about Louis's upper register work on those crazy 1959 live versions from Europe, Håkan was struck by an idea. Few people love Louis as much as Håkan but at the same time, he has admitted that he prefers lyrical Louis rather than just exhibitionistic streaks of high notes.

This led him to ask me a question last week: "Nevertheless – couldn’t you give me and other readers of your blog an idea of how high Louis played when compared to other trumpeters like Bunny Berigan, Buck Clayton, Harry James, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, the Condoli brothers, Clifford Brown etc, etc - well also compared to Jon Faddis and other “young cats”. That Louis’ 'highnoting' was sensational in the 20s and early 30s we know but how sensational was it really in the late 50s? – And is it necessary to say that 'remember he was almost 60 years old etc'? A few words on this matter in your final Tiger Rag excursion could perhaps be in it’s place?!?"

Well, I think knew MY response: Louis's high-note work in his later years was pretty sensational! But the more I thought about it, who am I? I have never even attempted to play the trumpet so what do I know about high notes? Thus, I sent out an e-mail to a couple of trumpet players I know to get their reaction. (I didn't want to go overboard because I know many musicians and I hope more write in after reading write in, Al and Phil and Herbert and Yves and so on!)

To compare Louis to others around him, the consensus was that yes, others did play higher than Louis, especially beginning in the 40s. The young trumpeter Gordon Au wrote to me, "I'd say off the bat yes, of course you're correct, Louis was a natural great when it came to high notes and other trumpet technique. In his early days, I think he was leaving other trumpeters in the dust, but for comparison, I think by 1950 Maynard Ferguson had joined Kenton's band and was doubling lead trumpet parts up an octave. Of course, that was not in the virtuosic soloing style that Louis could do, but as far as numbers go, it was higher than Louis generally played."

Jon-Erik Kellso agreed, saying, "I don't think I can give a very detailed answer, and really don't think in terms of who played how high, or who could play higher than who, as you might have guessed. I think it's safe to say that Louis raised the bar for high notes in the early days, and Jabbo Smith was probably similarly able to pop 'em out in those days. The Berigans and James's's of the swing era could play as high or almost as high as Louis. Roy could play even higher, as did guys like Al Killian and Charlie Shavers, and then a little later--Dizzy...then Cat Anderson...then later Maynard and his disciples took it up even higher. And of course there are guys now like Faddis who can play notes only dogs can hear."

Interestingly, Marc Caparone of California wrote almost the identical thing as Au and Kellso, regarding Louis being higher than all at first before gradually being surpassed by Roy Eldridge, Maynard Fergusson and Jon Faddis. But Marc had some wonderful insights into the pure sound of Louis's upper register playing: "Now, Pops didn't spend a lot of time up in his highest notes, generally he didn't go much higher than F over high C, but that leads me to the most important aspect of Louis's high register -- the SOUND of his high notes. I have never heard another trumpet player (Berigan and Eldridge came close) who put so much feeling and pathos into the high register. Louis' high notes covered the range from pure operatic grandeur to a banshee's wail, often in the course of the same solo. His high notes always sound higher than they really are, because of the way he plays them. I think that Louis' high notes sound absolutely sensational in the late 50's, even though players like Cat and Maynard Ferguson were playing higher. Again, not because they were spectacularly high, but because of the way they were played. The triumph of musicality over technique!"

Marc then wrote back to add, "Oh, and one more thing, I think is is very impressive that Pops had a good high register in his old age. Playing the trumpet is a lot of physical work, and many players embouchures tend to deteriorate as they get older, especially the high notes. Louis worked very hard to keep his technique at a high standard, and the various later Tiger Rags show that he was indeed very, very strong at age 60, and that he obviously had a good technical approach to the trumpet. Actually, the fact that Louis was still hitting those high notes in his 60's really shows that he did not have a 'primitive' technique as some folks have stated. Unschooled, perhaps, but not primitive."

Naturally, I couldn't agree more with Marc. I was even happier when Louis nut Dave Whitney--a terrific trumpeter and fellow blogger over at "Pete Kelly's Blog"--wrote in with his response. Here's Dave:

"I'm delighted to offer some opinions on Pops' Tiger Rag blowing etc.
First regarding the high notes- As we all know, Pops opened the door for high note playing. Bunny Berigan, a favorite of Pops got up to high F a lot and occasionally higher-he took many risks and made his share of fluffs, but like Pops was always musical and had a huge sound in all registers. Guys like Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers, Paul Webster, Dizzy, Cat Anderson and Maynard Ferguson all played higher than Pops, but all drew on him as the originator of high note playing.
Louis seemed to use high G as his cut-off. As you have stated, he probably went higher in practice. The thing about his high note work was how much control and sound he had up there-never straining or squeaking and such a huge sound. His shakes on the end of Avalon with the Dukes and Black and Blue from E. Berlin '65 are so huge and powerful. They just electrify the listener."

Quick musical interlude: Dave mentions Louis probably going higher in practice. For a remarkable example of that, here's 46 seconds of "Over the Rainbow," as played by Louis while warming up in a German dressing room, probably in the 1950s. This is taken from the absolutely essential two-disc "Fleischmann's Yeast Broadcasts" set:

Incredible, isn't it? But back to Dave, who had some words about Louis's exhibitionism. "As far as the exhibitionistic aspect of Tiger Rag- Yes it is, but Pops was so great at this kind of musical theatre and other trumpeters went for far sillier and unmusical displays. With Louis, he's making great improvisations as well as building tension with his high notes. Each encore has a surprise and he never fails to nail the big ending. As you have stated, sometimes his variations to accomodate the chops are equally brilliant-he knew how to edit his routines. Louis' blowing on the various Tiger Rags shows not only his sense of drama and willingness to please the audience, but it's also pretty amazing trumpet playing."

As for the "almost 60 years of age" factor, Dave writes, "Yes, it's pretty amazing. Especially considering how beat up his chops were and the punishing tour schedule he put in. Men much younger would never try his Tiger Rag routine at a concert for fear of failure and embarassment. The Trumpet is a tough, demanding instrument and when things don't go right it can be very humbling. Pops knew when his chops were up and used those times for the 'Tiger Rag' type of blowing. As you have mentioned, this tour pretty much ended that phase of his work, although he had many more amazing years of blowing thru '65. Even after, there are many great moments right to the end, even if the high-note days were over."

So there you have it...for now! I sincerely hope other musicians, scholars and fans write in with their take on the subject. Until then, I'll be back later this week with something else (don't worry, not "Tiger Rag"!).

Friday, June 4, 2010

80 Years of "Tiger Rag" - Part Ten: The Final Versions

We've come to the end, my friends...those of who you are left! It's taken a month and I realized pretty quickly I was in over my head but hey, if one has the opportunity to write about Louis Armstrong's history with "Tiger Rag," why do a half-assed job? I thank you for sticking with and can promise some good stuff in the coming weeks such as a 50th anniversary tribute to "Limehouse Blues," a 60th anniversary tribute to "La Vie En Rose" and a discussion with some top trumpeters and scholars about Louis's use of high notes, which is something I'm sure you've all gotten used to throughout all of these "Tiger Rag" posts.

As my last two entries showed, Louis was especially inspired on "Tiger Rag" during his marathon six-month tour of Europe in 1959. But in June of that year, he suffered a heart a attack in Spoleto, Italy. Louis and his team quickly covered it up ("It was just gas!") and to prove that nothing was wrong with their champ, Louis went back on the road about a month later. Honestly, nothing had really changed on the surface except for two routines: first, he found himself struggling to get through his patented three-chorus rideout routine on "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" and had to find a way to alter it (as I've detailed in my February blog on that song). And the days of endless high notes and humorous quotations on "Tiger Rag" would be officially over.

But "Tiger Rag" always went over well and Louis wanted to keep it in the show. But from post-Spoleto on, it was always a 90-second performance that was more of a clarinet feature than a trumpet showcase. With the tempo still way up, Louis would play the opening strains, but sometimes in the background to allow the clarinet centerstage. Then after a full chorus by the clarinet and a half-chorus by the trombone, Louis would swoop in and take charge for the final 16 bars. Yes, no more eight chorus masterpieces of construction or live versions with multiple encores. It was now 16 bars and out.

So, for the clarinet fans in the house, I'll share a version featuring every All Stars clarinetist from 1959 through 1971. You'll also hear Pops's chops sadly fade, too, but he always managed to make that final high note. Okay, let's kill this "Tiger"...

First us, Peanuts Hucko. This is the same band as on all of the other wild 1959 performances but this tracks is from Keesler Air Force Base, an outdoor venue in Biloxi, Mississippi in October 1959, just four months after the heart attack. Here's the audio:

This complete show is one of my all-time favorite All Stars outings but Louis's chops took a while to warm up and you can hear him sounding strong at first but gradually growing weaker, especially during the "Hold That Tiger" refrain. In fact, if you have good headphones, you can almost hear Louis say something about it being cold out there out, which would make sense, being outdoors in late October. That couldn't have helped the chops. After Hucko and Young, Louis swarms in rejuvenated and indulges in a bunch of high notes, probably aimed at Trummy, an abbreviated version of their usual routine.

Pops must have known that not getting a full chorus to scream those high notes at Trummy wasn't worth the effort so something would have to be changed. The new routine can now be heard from the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1960, now with Barney Bigard on clarinet:

As can be heard immediately, Pops takes more of a backseat during the opening strains. Trummy now takes the melody while Louis dips in out with various phrases, including one giant gliss, sounding much stronger than at Keesler. But once they get to the "Hold That Tiger" strain, Louis passes it immediately to Bigard. After Trummy, Louis then revisits his old solo by entering with an "I'm Confessin'" quote before a series of high notes bring him to his closing Eb. This was now to be the routine for all future versions.

Naturally, the longer Louis played something, the more quotes he would find to insert. Thus, by the time Joe Darensbourg got around to playing the clarinet part on it in this 1962 versions, Louis's opening appearances now includes quotes from the "Wedding March" and Ravel's "Bolero" while the ending still featured "Confessin'" and that high Eb. Here's Darensbourg:

By 1965, Louis was still playing brilliantly but he had lost a few miles off his fastball. In the past, I've dubbed this loss of velocity as Cootie Williams-syndrome and I think it still applies. Louis's power and high notes are still there but he's almost playing in slow motion. The wedding march quote now takes a few extra bars and for "Bolero," he hits the first few high notes and just leaves it there, the bar lines moving too fast for him to resolve it. Eddie Shu is now the clarinetist and, being more of a bopper than a trad player, seems at home with the tempo and offers up something different from New Orleans homeboys Bigard and Darensbourg. Also, Tyree Glenn is now on trombone. Here's this 1965 version from Prague:

After returning from Prague, Armstrong took some time off for dental surgery. When he went back to playing in the summer of 1965, he still sounded fine, but not at the A+ level he was playing in early 1965. The combination of old age, abused chops, dental work and endless one-nighters was too much to overcome. The great decline had officially begun, though Louis was too smart to let it show. He eliminated tough showpieces from the All Stars book, eliminated certain demanding solos when he didn't feel up to it ("Indiana" and "Muskrat Ramble" being two examples) and either sang or featured his sidemen more. It was still a tremendous evening of entertainment, but for lovers of the trumpet, Louis in 1966 was quite different than Louis in 1964.

One version of "Tiger Rag" survives from 1966 and it's in pretty rough sound quality. I hesitated about showing it but I'm a completist and it's the only version that features Buster Bailey, the clarinet virtuoso who originally played with Armstrong with King Oliver and Fletcher Henderson in the 1920s. By this point, Louis began standing even more off-mike so you really have to turn it up to hear his contribution. But it's still there, the wedding march reference and a couple of high notes. But now, after Glenn's trombone solo, the "Confessin'" quote and the high notes are gone. Instead, Louis improvises basically on a series of half-notes though he makes sure to have enough to hit a final high note. However, that note is now a concert Ab, down a fifth from the Eb he ended every preceding version of this song. Here it is from 1966:

After Bailey's death and a short stint by Johnny Mince (who wasn't recorded), Joe Muranyi became Armstrong's final clarinetist. I have many "Tiger Rag's" from Muranyi's tenure in the band, some in great quality, some in poor, some with strong Pops, others with weak Pops. But for the sake of a narrative, I think I have to end with a sad one.

Muranyi joined after Pops had to lay off for about six weeks due to bronchial pneumonia. Armstrong emerged reenergized, as can be heard on the fantastic playing he did on the "Tonight Show" and at concerts in Sandusky, Ohio and Highland Park, Illinois in June 1967. But the grind of the one-nighters soon wore him down. By the time of a broadcast from Atlantic City's Steel Pier on July 22, Louis's lip was in bad shape. Right after, he had to fly to Europe for another series of concerts, a different city almost every day. Louis wasn't ready for this, as can be heard on a July 25 show in Copenhagen. Eventually, he settled down and sounded much better at Juan-Les-Pins, France on July 26 and 27 but on video from those performances, he didn't look quite right.

But I have to go back to that July 25 Copenhagen show. Why? Because it was in Copenhagen in January 1959 where Louis was pushing himself to the brink, contributing all those versions with either four encores or three encores, the ones I've been celebrating for two weeks. Back then, Louis was feeling great, killing himself for two shows a day, breaking up his crazy audience who demanded encore after encore on "Tiger Rag." Well, Louis, on pure talent and guile, broke 'em up in Copenhagen in 1967, but it was not the same trumpet player. Here's the audio:

Now Louis is REALLY off-mike. He gets off a few good runs but can't pull off the high note right before Muranyi takes over for the "Hold That Tiger" refrain (which he always began by quoting "Three cheers for the red, white and blue," a favorite quote of Captain John Handy's on this same number). He sounds better after the trombone and manages to work his way up to that final high Ab, even sliding up to a high C for good measure.

Then something bittersweet happens: the crowd goes wild and stars applauding together in march-like fashion. Perhaps Louis was transported back to 1959 where the very same fans in the very same city also went wild for "Tiger Rag." Seeing their appreciation, he calls for an encore, the only post-1959 suriving version of "Tiger Rag" in which he does this. As Muranyi takes over for another chorus, Louis quietly starts repeating the two-note phrase C to Eb in the background. That's how he began so many of those wonderful "Tiger Rag's" in the 1930s so it's hard not to get emotional hearing him doing it lower and so quietly in the background. After a jammed chorus, Muranyi takes over for a half-chorus. Pops then comes in, still not very audible, except for a triumphant ending where for the only time after 1966, he actually ends "Tiger Rag" on a high C. It's one of those do-you-cry-or-cheer moments, as it's sad as hell that he could no longer play as he did in 1959 but it's still admirable to hear him pushing right to the end, giving everything he had left in the tank. Here's the encore:

It seems that every Louis performance for the rest of 1967 and 1968 included this racehorse, 80-second version of "Tiger Rag." And according to John S. Wilson's review in the "New York Times," Louis even played it on the opening night of his final engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria in March 1971. He had been through a lot with that "Tiger" since that first version from 1930. And we've been through a lot, too, with ten blogs on the subject, with 39 audio examples and three videos. I hope you enjoyed reading these blogs as much as I enjoyed putting them together. I'm going to recharge my batteries over the weekend and then it'll be on to other Louis-related material next week. Til then!