Recorded October 14, 1957
Track Time 4:37
Written by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow
Recorded in Los Angeles
Louis Armstrong, vocal; Oscar Peterson, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Louie Bellson, drums
Originally released on Verve
Currently available on CD: Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson
Available on Itunes? Yes
So they tell me there's a "Super" full moon tonight, 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than the average non-super moon. That's pretty cool and I figured a lot of people out there are going to poke their heads out to see what's going on in the sky. In case you need a soundtrack for the experience, I could suggest perhaps 700,000 songs about moons to set the mood. But allow me to select one of my favorites, "Moon Song," recorded by Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson on October 14, 1957.
The song, written by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow, was a favorite of Norman Granz, who had Roy Eldridge do it with Art Tatum in 1955. As I've written on this blog before, I'm a huge fan of "Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson" as I think it might be Louis's most neglected album, at least in the jazz community. So you complain about "Dixieland" settings and corny tunes like "Hello, Dolly"? Fine, here's Louis doing the American songbook with a terrific 1950s rhythm section. But instead of embracing the concept, those who complain about later Louis seem to ignore this album. Their loss.
Anyway, "Moon Song" is as good as it gets. Listen along and watch out for that super moon!
Isn't that dynamite? A perfect Peterson intro sets Louis up with the vocal, obviously new to him but he sings it like he's known it for years. The Peterson rhythm section (with Louis Bellson on brushes) is light and swinging, but stand back! After the vocal, Pops picks up his horn and starts improvising almost immediately. He dodges in and out of the melody but he sounds so relaxed, Bellson's drumming commenting on Pops's lines in a more modern way than he was used to but it doesn't throw him for a minute. On the bridge, Louis can't resist hammering home the tune's similarities to his theme song "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," emphatically hitting the last note of the section. One more time, Louis introduces us to the melody but as the chorus ends and Pops was supposed to head back to the vocal, Louis surprises us--and other musicians--by holding a high note and swinging into a second, unplanned chorus!
It's an exciting moment as Louis clearly didn't want to stop blowing; he's digging the song and the accompaniment and decides to go for two, the Petersons growing more intense in their backing as Louis starts uncorking an extended improvisation on the tune's changes. He starts with quarter notes, he he plays some eighth-notes, he throws in a couple of glisses, he floats across the bar lines, he does it all. A favorite moment for me comes at 2:31, after Louis's harried run, he plays a low, two-note phrase that expertly mimics his vocal "oh yeah" trademark aside. On the bridge, Louis uncorks a quote that I should know (hell, I've used it in my own improvisations), though he slightly cracks a note. I should mention that Granz always got to Louis was Louis was blowing at night with the All Stars, never an ideal circumstance. Louis recorded his 12 songs with Peterson in one afternoon and this was take 7 of eighth song recorded that day so one little crack is all Pops allows that he's perhaps a little tired. He responds with perhaps my favorite part of the solo over the second half of the bridge with a dramatic, building phrase that's all opera to me, ending with a pinched gliss. His playing grows downright earthy in the last eight bars as he simply gives a lesson in swing.
Louis knows he uncorked a gem and his concluding vocal is simply effervescent. The whole track is guaranteed to make you smile and pat your feet but again, the jazz world ignored it. In fact, when "J. A. T." reviewed the album, he gave it two stars in "Down Beat" and said, "When he does embark on a more ambitious undertaking, blowing a second chorus on 'Moon Song,' the clams and flubs are embarrassing." What was that man listening to!?!?! Well, whatever, those days are behind us (I hope). Listen to "Moon Song," enjoy the "Super Moon" and I'll be back in a few days with more of "Muskrat Ramble."