Sunday, July 31, 2011

Anatomy of an All Stars Concert - 1947-1951

And now for something completely different....

I hope you all have been enjoying my "Listening to the Book" posts, offering up many of the songs--famous and rare--I've discussed in my book. I have plenty more in the works--the book is 19 chapters long and I've only gotten through four--but I wanted to take a short break before this place became nothing more than a dumping ground for audio links and not much else. Besides, on August 4, the annual Satchmo Summerfest commences and I'm sure I'll have a few posts about the goings on down in New Orleans.

But until then, I wanted to begin yet another series: "Anatomy of an All Stars Concert." This was an idea that I thought could have made a fun appendix to the book but the narrative and endnotes too up too much space for silly things like this. I didn't fret, knowing that I always had the blog to serve as a platform for such ruminations.

So what the hell do I mean by "Anatomy of an All Stars Concert"? I'm not even sure, but it does sound cool, huh? It all stems from the belief that started just months after Louis formed the All Stars: that this was a group that played the same set, including the same songs, every night. Critics started throwing this barb at the All Stars pretty early on, even though Louis never seemed to ever play two sets identically the same way.

In my book, I kind make a dual-argument about it, which some people have noticed: on one hand, I argue that the All Stars had a large repertoire but at the same time, I allow that they did play many of the same songs each night. So which is it? Well, it's both. The All Stars did have a huge bandbook and Louis and the group could always make some surprising choices. At the same time, Louis was a superstar and he always included certain numbers in almost every show because he knew that's what his audiences expected. When he did long engagements at nightclubs with three or four sets a night for two weeks at a time, that's when he'd really change things up. But if Louis was playing a high school gymnasium somewhere and he knew he wasn't going back for another year, he better damn well make sure the show was chock full of hits. And besides, I also want to play my favorite game, "What Louis DIDN'T play." You can look at any All Stars set and say, "There they are, the same old tunes"...until you realize what's missing. At that point, the size of the band's book becomes much more clear.

In this first part, I'm just going to examine shows from the early years of the All Stars 1947 to 1951. I have my trust copy of Jos Willems's Armstrong discography, "All of Me," by my side. Willems lists recordings that I sure don't have but at least HE knows they exist so that's good enough for me. In addition to just noting changes, it's interesting to see how Pops shaped the flow of his shows and how some songs entered and some left.

So let's start at the beginning....not the very beginning, which I consider the Town Hall concert from May 1947. That show has some anomalies, some OKeh classics that never quite became standards of the All Stars years ("Cornet Chop Suey," "Save It Pretty Mama," etc.). The All Stars officially made their debut in August 1947 at Billy Berg's in Los Angeles. Nothing survives from these early days until two concerts were recorded in complete form in November 1947. By that point, the group already had a working routine, though there's just enough differences to illustrate some flexibility. Let's take a look at what the All Stars played at Carnegie Hall, November 15, 1947 (note: I have this stuff saved in a neat Word document but blogger isn't making anything easy with side-by-side comparisons so I apologize for the long lists that are following):

Carnegie Hall, November 15, 1947
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Muskrat Ramble
Black and Blue
Royal Garden Blues
Stars Fell on Alabama
I Cried for You
Buzz Me Baby
Tea for Two
Body and Soul
Back O' Town Blues
Steak Face
I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues
SECOND SETWhen It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Mahogany Hall Stomp
Dear Old Southland
When The Saints Go Marchin' In
High Society
Basin Street Blues
Baby Won't You Please Come Home
Rockin' Chair
Velma's Blues
C-Jam Blues
How High The Moon
St. Louis Blues
That's My Desire
Mop Mop
St. James Infirmary
I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

Looks like a great show! It was recorded and some of it survives in excellent sound (I've shared some), some of it in abysmal sound (I've shared that) and some, not at all, though we know it was played from notes on the original tapes. 15 days later, the All Stars played two sets at Symphony Hall, a show that was released in Decca (though never in complete form, though apparently, the excised performances still exist. Here's the Symphony Hall rundown:

Symphony Hall, November 30, 1947

When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Muskrat Ramble
Black and Blue, (What Did I Do To Be So)
Royal Garden Blues
Stars Fell on Alabama
I Cried for You
Since I Fell for You
Tea for Two
Body and Soul
Back O’Town Blues
Steak Face
I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Mahogany Hall Stomp
On the Sunny Side of the Street
High Society
St. James Infirmary
Baby, Won't You Please Come Home
Velma’s Blues
That's My Desire
C-Jam Blues
How High the Moon
Mop Mop (Boff Boff)
Jack Armstrong Blues
I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

Pretty interesting stuff. You'll notice off the bat that this was a band that already had it together. The first set of each show is pretty near identical, save "Lover" and "Stars Fell on Alabama" being swapped and Velma Middleton choosing to sing "Since I Fell For You" at Symphony Hall rather than "Buzz Me Baby," which she did at Carnegie. It's the second set of each show that differs and that's where you can start seeing that the group had a large number of songs to choose from. Carnegie Hall featured "The Saints," "Dear Old Southland," "St. Louis Blues" and "Panama" as unique Armstrong features, while Symphony Hall included "Sunny Side of the Street" and "Jack Armstrong Blues." Carnegie Hall also featured two top-notch duets with Teagarden on "Basin Street Blues" and "Rockin' Chair." But overall, these are two pretty similar shows with a pretty set pattern:

First Set:
Louis is featured on a few -- Teagarden features -- Velma features -- Barney Bigard features - Louis again -- Sid Catlett
Second Set:
Louis features - Teagarden features (possibly with Louis) - Velma features (one with Louis) -- Bigard features -- Arvell Shaw features -- Sid Catlett - Louis closes

You might notice a LOT of features for the other All Stars. But you have to remember that that was one of the novelties of this group: almost every other member was a former band leader and audiences were excited to see them, too (though note that newbie Arvell Shaw gets only one feature and the unheralded pianist Dick Cary gets zero!). But on every single song except "Lover," Louis plays, often stealing the show with a fierce solo, such as those heard on "Baby Won't You Please Come Home." These were professional musicians and even a lot of their features were worked out; this was something Louis later took a lot of heat for but everyone in this band did it and no one was ashamed of it.

Okay, enough of those two shows, let's forge ahead to Paris, where the All Stars were recorded doing two sets again on March 2. Now Earl Hines was on piano, hence a chunk of piano features towards the end of the first set:

Paris, March 2, 1948
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Where the Blues Were Born In New Orleans
Dear Old Southland
Black and Blue, (What Did I Do To Be So)
Royal Garden Blues
Stars Fell on Alabama
I Cried for You
Buzz Me Baby
You Rascal You
Tea for Two
How High the Moon
Someday You’ll Be Sorry
Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues
Someone To Watch Over Me
Honeysuckle Rose
Back O’Town Blues
Steak Face
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Mahogany Hall Stomp
On the Sunny Side of the Street
High Society
Basin Street Blues
Baby, Won't You Please Come Home
Velma’s Blues
That's My Desire
C-Jam Blues
Body and Soul
Muskrat Ramble

Okay, now we're getting some differences from those November 1947 shows. First, "Muskrat Ramble" has been moved from opener to closer. The new opener was "Where the Blues Were Born in New Orleans," followed by Armstrong and Hines playing a duet on "Dear Old Southland," something they must have known was thrilling for fans of their 1920s collaborations. From there the pattern of features stays the same but now Louis throws in some new features for himself: "Someday You'll Be Sorry" and "You Rascal You" in the first set. Arvell Shaw's solo on "How High the Moon" has also been moved to the first set. At a glance, it looks like a pretty complete evening until again, look at what's missing: "Saints," "Panama," "Rockin' Chair," "Jack Armstrong Blues," and those are just the Armstrong features.

After that, there really aren't any full All Stars shows to analyze for the next couple of years. But there are plenty of broadcasts so let's go through those and see how many new tunes entered the band's book in this period. In June 1948, the All Stars played a long engagement at Ciro's in Philadelphia, broadcasting many short sets that month. I won't detail every one of them, but here are some of the songs performed at Ciro's that were not part of the three shows I've detailed thus far:

Ciro's, June 1948
Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
Milenberg Joys
Struttin' With Some Barbecue
Me and Brother Bill
Don't Fence Me In
That's A Plenty
I Surrender Dear
Tin Roof Blues
(Above are Armstrong features, the following are features for the other All Stars)
Just You, Just Me
Blue Skies
The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else
East of the Sun
I Got Rhythm

Broadcasts from another long engagement at The Click in September added the following to the repertoire:
The Click, September 6-18, 1948
Little White Lies
Shadrack / When The Saints Go Marchin' In
Maybe You'll Be There
Lazy River

Other broadcasts from 1948 added "A Song Was Born" and "King Porter Stomp," the latter often used as an opener. Moving into 1949, here's some more:

Blue Note in Chicago, January 1949
My Monday Date
A Little Bird Told Me

Empire Room, Hollywood, CA, March, 1949
Pale Moon
The Sheik of Araby
A Hundred Years From Today

State Theater, Cincinnati, OH - April 1949 concerts
That’s a Plenty
I Don’t Why I Love You Like I Do
Twelfth Street Rag
As Long As I Have You
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Rose Room

The Click, Philadelphia, PA, August 2-13, 1949
Lover Come Back to Me
Fine and Dandy
Old Man Mose
That’s For Me
A Little Bird Told Me
Jeepers Creepers
These Foolish Things
Bugle Call Rag / Ole Miss
Stompin’ at the Savoy
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
How It Lies

Finally, in October 1949, we get the rundown of a complete All Stars show from Switzerland on October 15, 1949. Because Armstrong often did two shows a night on this tour, his second sets were usually on the shorter side, but still this is a complete show from this period:

Switzerland, October 15, 1949

When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Struttin’ With Some Barbecue
Black and Blue
Royal Garden Blues
Basin Street Blues
Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans
Velma’s Blues
Honeysuckle Rose
Body and Soul
Russian Lullaby
Steak Face
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
That’s a Plenty
Rockin’ Chair
The Hucklebuck
Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues
C-Jam Blues
Bugle Call Rag

Pretty different from those 1947 shows, huh? No "Mahogany Hall," no "Saints," no "Sunny Side," no "High Society," no "Jack Armstrong Blues," no "Muskrat Ramble," no "Some Day," no "Dear Old Southland," etc. The order of features is still pretty similar: Louis - Teagarden - Velma - Hines - Bigard - Shaw - Cozy Cole in the first set and Louis - duet with Teagarden - Velma - Hines - Bigard - Cole in the second set. Because of the short nature of the show and because of the star power of the All Stars, this show is a little light on Louis features, though he still played on every single song. Elsewhere on this European tour, Louis let loose a little frequently. An incomplete list of tunes performed in Marseille, France on November 8, 1949 survives. It opens with "Back O'Town Blues," which Louis never opened with. Looking at other sets from the period, my money is on "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" and/or "Black and Blue" preceding that selection. But here's what followed:

Marseille France, November 8, 1949
FIRST SET (Incomplete)
Back O’Town Blues
Baby Won’t You Please Come Home
Velma’s Blues
Royal Garden Blues
Basin Street Blues
I Got Rhythm
Honeysuckle Rose
I Surrender Dear
C-Jam Blues
Mop Mop
Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
High Society
Russian Lullaby
Big Noise From Winnetka
West End Blues
Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues
The Hucklebuck
Muskrat Ramble
On the Sunny Side of the Street
Steak Face

See some new ones? "West End Blues" jumps out, not the only time Louis played it during this tour. But even with the old standbys, the order is all over the place, more proof that Pops called his shows as they were unfurling and never pre-planned anything except for the first couple of songs.

Heading into the 1950s, Louis started incorporating some of the songs he began recording for Decca in late 1949 and early 1950. For example, here's a short set broadcast by the All Stars in June 1950:

Bop City, June 1950
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Royal Garden Blues
Someday You’ll Be Sorry
New Orleans Function
Velma’s Blues
That’s My Desire
Blue Room
My Monday Date
La Vie En Rose
I Got Rhythm
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South

We haven't seen much of "Someday You'll Be Sorry" nor "My Monday Date" but there they both are. And notice two recent Decca recordings, "New Orleans Function" and "La Vie En Rose" making their first appearances. Louis had so many recording sessions and people who complain about repetition in the All Stars often gripe about Louis not performing more songs he recorded. But as this series goes on, you'll notice that Pops did indeed add about an average of one or two new songs a year beginning around this time, sometimes pushing out other songs in the process (get ready to say goodbye to "Confessin'" with any regularity).

To close this minor thesis, further evidence to support my points from two shows recorded just days apart in January 1951. Here's the first rundown:

January 26, 1951 – Vancouver
Rose Room
Back O’Town Blues
C’est Si Bon
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans
The Hucklebuck
Can Anyone Explain
Rockin’ Chair
Big Daddy Blues
Baby It’s Cold Outside
C Jam Blues
Stomping At The Savoy
I Used To Love You
La Vie En Rose
I Love The Guy
That's My Desire
High Society
Royal Garden Blue
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Steak Face
Love Me Or Leave Me
How High the Moon
Tea For Two
Bugle Blues

Plenty of new stuff there: recent Decca recordings of "La Vie En Rose," "C'est Si Bon" and "Can Anyone Explain," an instrumental version of "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" that became a regular feature for a few years, a performance of "Ain't Misbehavin'" which didn't happen every night, etc. Looks like a pretty complete show again...until you compare it to what Decca recorded in Pasadena just four days later:

January 30, 1951 – Pasadena
When It's Sleepy Time Down South (opening theme)
Indiana (Back Home Again In)
Some Day
Back O' Town Blues
Way Down Yonder Down In New Orleans
Star Dust
The Hucklebuck
That’s My Desire
Honeysuckle Rose
How High The Moon
Just You, Just Me
Bugle Blues
My Monday Date
You Can Depend On Me
That's A Plenty
Body And Soul
Big Daddy Blues
Baby, It's Cold Outside
Muskrat Ramble

As can be shown, only eight songs were repeated and the order is completely different. Certain things stayed the same because Pops must have liked they way it flowed: "Way Down Yonder" into "Star Dust" into Velma or Barney into a drum solo, but otherwise, it's very different. You also start realizing what wasn't played at each show. "Louis didn't play 'Some Day' in Vancouver? And he didn't play 'La Vie En Rose' in Pasadena? I thought he played the same songs every night!" And again, the missing song game for both is illustrative: Where's "Sunny Side"? "Mahogany Hall"? "Struttin' with Some Barbecue"? "Basin Street Blues"? Hell, it's 1951 and we haven't even gotten to a show with "Blueberry Hill" yet! And we've only encountered "Indiana" once!

The rest of 1951 was filled with various recorded broadcasts. Without trying your patience and giving you full broadcast details, here's a short list of more new titles performed by the band in that year:

Jazz Me Blues
Big Butter and Egg Man
I Get Ideas
A Kiss to Build a Dream On
Blueberry Hill
Because Of You

I will now quit as I think I've gone above and beyond. I hope at least one person found this interesting out there. All I want to prove is that yes, Louis played many similar songs but geez, he had a helluva repertoire to pick from and never seemed to give the same show twice. Seriously, look over those January 1951 set lists....then scroll all the way back and look at those November 1947 shows that stated this post. You cannot deny the differences. And don't forget: all of this is based on some random broadcasts and bootleg concerts. I have no idea what this band played night in and night out 300 nights a year..who knows what songs were only played a few times and were subsequently dropped? Who knows how many songs WERE played many times but coincidentally never in front of a recording device and are not lost to time?

For those who like hard numbers, I went through all of the above and made a list of every song I could find that the All Stars played in this period--and note, I just counted All Stars broadcasts, not recording session songs or songs Louis played on television or radio with pickup bands, such as Eddie Condon's groups. Grand total? 105 songs. That's pretty impressive considering that the personnel was so consistent in these years--Cozy Cole for Sid Catlett and Earl Hines for Dick Cary were the only real personnel changes.

Now, the naysayers will jump up and say, "Yeah, but those include features for the sidemen!" This I cannot deny. As I've already mentioned, Louis played on about 90% of the features. And what he played wasn't just simple riffs; he usually soloed, or he'd lead the ensemble or sometimes he might even sing. But fine, you want me to discount the features? Done. Here's what's left of just songs that featured Louis up front:

1. A Kiss to Build a Dream On
2. A Song Was Born
3. Ain’t Misbehavin’
4. Back O' Town Blues
5. Basin Street Blues
6. Because Of You
7. Big Butter and Egg Man
8. Black and Blue
9. Blueberry Hill
10. Bugle Call Rag / Ole Miss
11. C’est Si Bon
12. Can Anyone Explain
13. Confessin'
14. Dear Old Southland
15. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
16. Don't Fence Me In
17. High Society
18. I Get Ideas
19. I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues
20. I Surrender Dear
21. I Used to Love You
22. Jack Armstrong Blues
23. Jazz Me Blues
24. Jeepers Creepers
25. King Porter Stomp
26. La Vie En Rose
27. Lazy River
28. Mahogany Hall Stomp
29. Me and Brother Bill
30. Milenberg Joys
31. Muskrat Ramble
32. My Monday Date
33. New Orleans Function
34. Old Man Mose
35. On the Sunny Side of the Street
36. Panama
37. Rockin' Chair
38. Royal Garden Blues
39. Shadrack / When The Saints Go Marchin' In
40. Shine
41. Shoe Shine Boy
42. Someday You’ll Be Sorry
43. St. Louis Blues
44. Struttin' With Some Barbecue
45. That’s For Me
46. That's A Plenty
47. Them There Eyes
48. Tin Roof Blues
49. Twelfth Street Rag
50. West End Blues
51. When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
52. When The Saints Go Marchin' In
53. When You and I Were Young, Maggie
54. Where the Blues Were Born In New Orleans
55. You Can Depend On Me
56. You Rascal You
57. You’re the Apple of My Eye

57 songs! Now am I nuts or is that not pretty impressive? In a regular concert, two sets with intermission, Louis might play 10 or so songs that featured himself. Imagine having a reserve of over 40 others to call from at any given moment? And I'm ending tonight in 1951; more songs will be added in ensuing years, as will be demonstrated in future posts in this series. But for now, I think I've broken some kind of record for length of a blog (at least in terms of amount of spaces) so I'm going to quit. I do hope you found this somewhat interesting. If not, don't worry, I'll be back in a few days with good stuff from the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans and even more music samples torn right from the pages of the book. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Listening to the Book: Chapter 3

Time to listen along with chapter 3 of my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years. This chapter, " "King of the Zulus," begins with a description of Louis's appearance on Bing Crosby's radio show in February 1949. Listen to what they do with "Lazy Bones":

Then it was time for Louis to be named King of the Zulus, at a ceremony that took place at Booker T. Washington auditorium in New Orleans on Febraury 27, 1949. On March 1, radio station WDSU broadcast an eight-minute segment on the event. This is some RARE stuff as you'll get to hear Louis interviewed, the actual coronation ceremony and Louis's immortant wisecrack to Mayor Morrison:

It was also at Booker T. Washington that Louis turned in two of his all-time finest performances (no joke), ones that were responsible for two of my most well-recevied blogs. First up was "Shoe Shine Boy":
Shoe Shine Boy:

The full blog on that version and all versions of the tune can be found here.

Then that was followed by a ferociously hot "Royal Garden Blues" with some jaw-dropping Sid Catlett:
Royal Garden:

A few months later, Louis appeared on the Eddie Condon Floor Show, one of Louis's finest television appearances, in my opinion, and one that also featured a guest appearance by Clarence Armstrong, Louis's adopted son. Here's the audio of the entire show:

And a blog about it with more details: Eddie Condon June 11, 1949

Soon after, Louis started recorded for Decca. I called his version of "I'll Keep the Lovelight Burning" a "minor classic" in the book. Listen along and see if you agree:

Again, for more details on the song itself, here's the link to a blog on the subject I wrote in 2008: I'll Keep The Lovelight Burning blog

Louis's next session with Gordon Jenkins resulted in two classics that I've somehow never blogged about! Here's the original "Blueberry Hill":

And "That Lucky Old Sun":

Louis's next session found him alongside Billie Holiday. Towards the end of "My Sweet Hunk O'Trash," Louis's phrasing of "how come, baby" sounded like "fuck 'em, baby" and columnists went nuts. Here it is unaltered:

And courtesy of YouTube, here it is with a hilarious, clear (and white) voice dubbing in the word "How":

Over to Europe, where I discussed Louis's love of Ray Martino, Here's Louis playing along with Martino's "Luna."

And finally, from that tour of Europe, a fantastic version of "West End Blues," pairing Louis and Earl "Fatha" Hines 21 years after the original:

And a link to my full blog on "West End Blues".

S'all for now good people. Next up, some classic Decca recordings from the early 50s. Thanks for listening and especially for reading!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Listening to the Book: Chapter 2

Time to listen along with Chapter 2 of my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years. This chapter introduced Earl Hines into the fold. Jazz purists and critics went crazy at seeing Louis and Hines again, reunited from their days as an unbeatable team in the 1920s, but time had marched on and things weren't quite the same this time around, with Hines reluctant to play a supporting role. Their attempt to play duets on "Dear Old Southland" was proof of the sometimes messy work that resulted from these two stubborn egos at work. Here's a blog I wrote about it, complete with audio: Dear Old Southland Blog

Now, a little something from the cutting room floor. In Nice, Louis played one of the all-time great versions of "When It's Sleepy Time South." In an earlier draft of the book, here's what I wrote about it:

"On February 28, Armstrong played and sang his theme song, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.” At this point in his career, it was usually used as just a short theme statement but on this occasion, he decided to stretch out. Unfortunately, he still sang the word 'darkies,' a word that had become horribly out-of-date, though it was written in the original lyrics by the song’s black songwriters. But the trumpet solo Armstrong plays on the piece is simply breathtaking with a bridge that rates as one of the finest musical sequences to ever come out of his trumpet. Proving that his sense of time was completely steeped in rhythmic freedom, Armstrong begins his bridge by repeating the descending concert notes G, F# and E a total of 15 times in four bars! But without ever sounding boring, Armstrong changes the rhythm of each descending phrase, starting slow, building up speed as the tension rises, then slowing down one last time before a tremendous gliss up to a stunning high concert B. After a pause for a breath, he continues with a dramtic holding of the same high B. His final eight bars are a paraphrase of his classic 1941 Decca recording of the piece but overall, the trumpet playing surpasses all other Armstrong versions, except maybe the 1932 Victor one. Nevertheless, it was further proof that Armstrong still had plenty of surprises left in his playing and could change things up at a whim whenever he felt like it. "

That whole passage got cut out of the book but I didn't sweat it because I knew I had the blog, so here 'tis, a fantastic moment from Nice 1948:

Then it was off to Paris. Here's "Muskrat Ramble"; you can hear Earl Hines get admonished for started it too fast but after that, stand back (Sid!):

And a full blog on "Muskrat Ramble" from this period: Muskrat Ramble Part 3

In the book, I mention a version of "That's My Desire" where Louis sings in "surrealist pidgin French," to quote "Downbeat". Here's that version:

And finally, the chapter ends with me describing a super-rare "St. Louis Blues" from Ciro's. My argument is Louis plays with such fury, he was trying to prove a point to Hines that he was the real star of the band. Here's my proof. Here's "St. Louis Blues" on June 2 at Ciro's, a feature for Hines as "Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues." Louis and Earl joke around at the beginning, Louis lets Hines introduce his own feature and Earl tears it up. Here's how it came out that night:

Now flash forward two days later to June 4. No announcement, no nothing, the band launches into "St. Louis Blues" Louis plays like an animal. His solo is vicious, he sets background riffs I've never heard him play ("Rug Cutters Swing" anyone?) and goes out on top like it's 1934. I seriously believe that Hines must have angered him in some way and Louis was out to prove that he could own this song. It went right back to being Hines's feature but I think Louis made the point:

S'all for now...back in a few days for chapter 3 with material from the King of the Zulus parade, an Eddie Condon floor show and some of Louis's first Decca pop hits. Til then....thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Louis's Private Tapes Coming To BBC Radio 2 On July 27

I interrupt my series of posting links to relevant audio showcased in my book to present some exciting news: this Wednesday, July 27, BBC Radio 2 is doing a one-hour special about Louis's private tapes, chock full of audio. The man behind the special, Paul Sexton, wrote about it in today's issue of the London "Telegraph," which you can access by clicking here.

I mentioned in my last post that I wouldn't be sharing any snippets of the private tapes because they were property of the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Thus, this special comes along at a perfect time to listen to a small sample of what I listened to in the years of researching my book. I just hope in can be heard in the United States....

And of course, full disclosure (though I don't think this'll fool anyone), as the Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, I was the go-to guy for this special. Paul couldn't come over to the States so I personally set over what I thought were some of the best moments. I haven't heard his final selections but judging from the article, he picked some great ones.

The Jelly Roll Morton tape was unknown to researchers until I stumbled across it at work about a year ago. The full context, which I don't think is represented in the special, is Louis is taping his copy of Jelly's Library of Congress recordings. Louis is alone but opens the tape by introducing the set (to an invisible audience he knew would be there decades after he died) and saying that Jelly was a real "homeboy" and whatever he says, you can believe it. And then he puts it on for a while and remains silent...until Jelly gets to scat singing and begins blasting Louis for getting all the credit for inventing it.

At that point, Louis stops the tape, grabs his microphone and offers his incredible rebuttal, addressing all of his comments directly to the deceased Morton. I think Louis knew deep down that he didn't invent it but he stuck by the "Heebie Jeebies" story and to him, that was the first time he ever heard the word "scat" applied to that kind of singing and that was good enough for him. Sexton is confused by Louis's closing "carry on" but at that point, he simply put Jelly's records back on and recorded the rest of the set for a couple of hours, never uttering another word, but sitting there and listening intently.

Another small gripe....I hate the phrase "audio diaries." That conjures up the image of Louis at night, turning on the tape and saying, "Hello, this is July 24 and this is what happened today." No, the tape recorder was seemingly turned on at random...sometimes backstage with friends, sometimes at home with Lucille, sometimes alone. Often it was used to capture music. Sometimes he would record television programs or audio of sporting events. He would record radio stations for hours at a time, capturing children's shows, weather reports and news breaks. And for some reason, the man didn't seem to make a tape between 1961 and 1968, reasons I have guesses about but no concrete evidence.

But again, I'm just groaning about a few words. The point is the tapes are getting out there and hallelujah for that. The Louis Armstrong Archives has been open since 1994 and the tapes have been available for listening since then but few know about them. Thomas Brothers quoted some in "Louis Armstrong's New Orleans" and Gary Giddins and Ben Alexander wrote about them in a newspaper column and academic journal respectively. Finally, in 2006, Terry Teachout and myself arrived at the Archives and dove in headfirst, the tapes making up significant portions of both of our biographies on the man. And I've made no secret that I've had dreams about writing my next book about just the tapes.

But before we get carried away, let just all sit in front of our radios/computers on Wednesday night and listen to Louis Armstrong in his own words, hopefully the first of many, many such specials.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Listening to the Book: Chapter 1

Welcome back to the blog to listen along to some of the great music featured in chapter one of my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years. The chapter opens up with a description of "Cornet Chop Suey from the 1947 Town Hall Concert. Here 'tis:

Here's an entire blog on the history of the song: Cornet Chop Suey

Moving backwards to 1945, here's "I Wonder":

Before Town Hall, there was Louis's February 1947 Carnegie Hall concert with Edmond Hall's band. From that show, here's "Ain't Misbehavin'":

And a full blog from that period of "Ain't Misbehavin's": Ain't Misbehavin' Blog

Here's "Confessin'" from Carnegie:

And a full blog on "Confessin'" from this period:Confessin' Blog

Moving to Town Hall, here's "Dear Old Southland":

And a full blog on just this version: Dear Old Southland: Louis and Dick Cary

The legendary "Rockin' Chair" from Town Hall:

My history of Louis and "Rockin' Chair":80 Years of Rockin' Chair

Here's the original RCA version of "Some Day You'll Be Sorry":

And "Jack Armstrong Blue" from that same session:

Finally, some comparisons between the Carnegie and Symphony Hall concerts of November 1947. Here's "Mahogany Hall Stomp" from Carnegie:

And "Mahogany" from Symphony Hall:

For a full "Mahogany Hall Stomp" blog about this period, check this out:
Mahogany Hall Stomp Part 3

Now here's a Carnegie version of "Royal Garden Blues":

And the Symphony Hall version of "Royal Garden Blues":

And again, my full history of the song: Royal Garden Blues Blog

Sid Catlett's "Steak Face" was a highlight at both shows. Here's my blog on the subject, featuring links to both versions:
Steak Face Blog

And finally, the overwhelming "Muskrat Ramble" from Symphony Hall:

And my blog on the early All Stars versions of "Muskrat": Muskrat Ramble Part 3

That'll do it for now. I'll be back in a few days with songs for Chapter 2....til then, thanks for reading!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Listening to the Book: Introduction

And so it begins....

As promised, over the next few weeks, I'll be contributing biweekly blogs featuring almost nothing but audio for those good people out there who are reading or who have read my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years. As I mentioned last week in my preview of the Universal box, people keep asking if there's going to be a tie-in CD/downloadable album to go along with the book. The 10-CD Universal box, along with an upcoming 8-disc Storyville box, will do an incredible job in telling the aural story of the years covered in my book but at a certain time, you have to realize that if you want something done, it's better to do it myself.

So here's the drill: twice a week, I'll post a blog with the "Listening to the Book" title, along with a chapter number. In that blog will be links to any audio or, when applicable, video, featured in that chapter. I'm opening up the vaults: rare All Stars concerts, that Hungarian Relief Fund concert from 1956, the "Black and Blue" from 1965, it's all coming out. If you good people out there have supported my work by purchasing my book, I have to show my gratitude by providing the relevant audio so you can actually listen to the things that made me flip my lid while writing the book.

What won't you get? Context. I know that sounds cruel but hey, that book represents about 15 years of crazy work and research and I still want people to buy it! Thus, I won't be quoting from the book, or describing scenes or giving the background to much of the audio. It'll just be the chapter number and the sounds; if you have the book, you'll know why it's important. If you don't have the book, you'll be missing out on the context, but you'll have plenty of choice Armstrong to listen to.

Who will I quote? Well, when necessary, myself. This blog is four years old and I have written about a LOT of the tracks that are featured in the book. Whenever an old blog is available with more details on the history of the song and Louis's relationship with it, I'll post a link to that as well.

So, for those of you who have finished the book and are ready to start again, for those of you who haven't cracked it open yet and for those of you who are on the fence about pulling the trigger for it (whattaya waiting for!), here goes. Let's begin with the introduction. In fact, let's begin with the epigraph, the first words that appear in the book, straight from Louis Armstrong's mouth from a Voice of America interview from July 1956:

From there, my introduction lays out many of the themes of the book, without much time for musical discussion. But I do mention Louis in the 20s performing with Erskine Tate. Here's a blog I did on Louis's only recording session with Tate's band. And I knock Gunther Schuller and others for missing out on Louis's more comedic Hot Five and Hot Seven numbers. Here's another blog on one such song, That's When I'll Come Back to You.

And finally, a quote about showmanship where Louis begins by discussing Big Sid Catlett, then starts talking about himself, mentioning the "notes that come out of the horn.":

That's really all I have to share from the introductory chapter. In case you're curious, all quotes from Louis's private tapes are held at the Louis Armstrong House Museum's Archives at Queens College, so I won't be sharing any of those (but since I am the Archivist there, if you're in the neighborhood, come in and I'll play 'em for you!). But if it's in my collection, I'll share it when possible so I'll leave with a little bonus. The July 1956 Voice of America interview was given to me by David Ostwald in 2008 and it was pretty mind-blowing. Not only did it feature Louis talking so much about specific records (and I've excerpted audio from it before of Louis discussing such songs as "Basin Street Blues," "Heebie Jeebies" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love"), but for one six minute and 32 second run, Louis opened up about music. I had many theories about Louis's music and shared them over the years in my college thesis and on this here blog. But I heard this clip for the first time, I almost died because here was the man himself, talking on the record about so many of my central theories. I think I used about four or five quotes just from this segment throughout the course of the book but the whole thing really is dynamite. So a little thank-you for making it this far with me: here's the sound of Louis Armstrong in 1956 defending his trumpet playing, his band, talking about showmanship and making it clear why he didn't like to take vacations and why he felt so strong in this short, many of the themes of the book in one chunk, straight from the man's mouth. Enjoy and I'll see you in a few days for Chapter 1!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday, Lionel Ferbos!

I've been going down to New Orleans for the Satchmo Summerfest every year since 2008. The first time I went down there, I remember being shocked at seeing 97-year-old Lionel Ferbos, alive and still playing. The following year, he was at it again, knocking me out with his version of "You Always Hurt the One You Love." Last year, at 99, Ferbos performed yet again. This time I felt the need to record it for posterity, so I filmed Ferbos playing--and singing--"I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" at Maison on Frenchman Street:

And today, I'm happy to announce that Mr. Ferbos is 100 years old! And how is he celebrating? By playing, naturally...really, why stop now when you still love what you're doing and you still can deliver the goods to audiences week in and week out? Because of the milestone, Ferbos has been on the receiving end of some beautiful publicity, such as this piece in the USA TODAY. At, you can leave comments wishing him a happy birthday or sharing your favorite memory of seeing Ferbos play. And if you prefer doing it the old-fashioned way, don't hesitate to send a birthday card to Mr. Ferbos at this address:
Mr. Lionel Ferbos
5543 Press Drive
New Orleans, LA 70126

So happy 100th, Mr. Ferbos, and thanks for a century of great music. Can't wait to see him again at this year's Summerfest!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Satchmo: Louis Armstrong, The Ambassador of Jazz

My book has only been out for about three weeks but I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, "Rick, is there going to be a CD tie-in with the book?" I love the idea of a compact single disc to mirror some of the book's choice moments (which had been done by Verve with recent biographies of Dinah Washington and Dizzy Gillespie) but as of now, there are no plans for that.

However, I'm a big guy and this is a big book and if you're really going to have an appropriate CD package to go along with it, it might as well be a big box. Or two of them.

You see, I've been working behind-the-scenes on two major Armstrong boxed sets that will be released in the coming months and both serve as essential listening if you're enjoying my book or if you enjoy Louis Armstrong period. One box is coming out from Denmark's Storyville label and it will be seven CDs and one DVD, completely focusing on the All Stars, with a batch of live performances, some previously issued, some not, spanning the years 1947 to 1967. I wrote a very long set of liner notes to put the music in perspective and from the designs of the box that I have seen, it is going to be quite beautiful.

But Storyville tells me that that's not going to be released until sometime in the fall so I'll write more about that one when I get some more details For now, though, I want to dig deeper into a set that will be released in early August. And to quote Pops, it's a gassuh!

The set is simply titled "Satchmo" but there's nothing simple about it: it will encompass ten CDs and be housed in a collectable trumpet case. It will include a 200-page book by Richard Havers about Louis's life, featuring many, many rare photos. It will also contain sheet music replicas of tunes associated with Pops as well as copies of some real treasures, such as Louis's trumpet part for the 1938 Chappie Willet arrangement of "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," the score for the original Gordon Jenkins "Blueberry Hill" and more. Take a look:

Pretty neat, eh? And Universal London (where the set is produced, but it will be available in the United States) is really going to give it the red carpet treatment, rolling it out at the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans next month. They've even produced a YouTube video on the set, focusing on my home away from home, the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Dig it:

But I know, I know, those kinds of novelties only get you so far; how about the music? Well, I can attest that the music choices are top notch because a) it's Louis and b) I helped select them! Quick backstory: last fall, the aforementioned Richard Havers and the great producer Bill Levenson came to the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College, where I'm the Archivist. They told me about Universal's plans for the set and wanted to use some photos and other treasures from the Archives. That was all well and good but once they realized the extent of my Louis Armstrong freakdom, they decided to bring me in as a consultant of sorts. (I should note that I was never an official employee of Universal and I didn't receive a dime for my participation in this set. Thus, don't mistake my enthusiasm for pure shilling...I've torn apart various Armstrong releases on this blog and would have done so with this one if it truly deserved it).

Richard and Bill, working with the great New York producer Russ Titelman, had already done preliminary track selections for the first two discs. The tracks they selected were fine (it's Louis in the can you go wrong?) but there were some omissions. I made some comments and they thanked me...then asked if I so minded, in my role as head Louis Armstrong Nut, to select the tracks for the rest of the discs.

Naturally, I welcomed the challenge, especially when they told me this nugget of info: Universal was willing to purchase songs from the Sony-BMG catalog, making Louis's OKeh, Columbia and RCA Victor sessions available for inclusion! This was indeed huge because Universal tried this in 2001 with a career-spanning "Ultimate Collection" but without the Sony-owned material, there were huge chunks missing (and besides, that release featured the worst sound ever mastered from Louis's 1930s recordings...more on that in a bit).

Well, that very same evening, I had an e-mail put out to Richard with my track selections for discs 3 through 7. The good news is they pretty much made the box verbatim, with a couple of changes here and there (I wanted to end the set with material from 1970's "Louis Armstrong and His Friends," which RCA reissued only six or seven years ago but since then, they lost the rights so that stuff was off limits). So when you see the track listings (which I'll post below), I'm responsible for much of it.

Now, having said that, is it perfect? Hell no! The Universal-Sony-BMG holdings make up about 90% of Pops's discography but that left no room for the 1961 Duke Ellington session or the Audio Fidelity material with the Dukes of Dixieland or some 1960s Brunswick things that are very nice. And friends I've shared it with have already noted their omissions: where's "Song of the Vipers"? Where's "Hustlin' and Bustlin' for Baby"? I personally can't believe I didn't fight for the original "Butter and Egg Man" on disc 1. But hopefully, these are minor complaints. If you look at the tracks from discs one through seven, hopefully you'll agree that it's a pretty great summary of Louis's career.

And on a personal note, the final discs really do kind of act as a soundtrack for my book, which worked out nicely. There's the Decca sessions and material from "Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy" and "Satch Plays Fats," duets with Ella, all the big hits, live tracks with the All Stars such as "Indiana" and "The Bucket's Got a Hole in It," the high points from "A Musical Autobiography," you name it.

But that only takes up seven discs....what about the other three? Well, that's where Universal wanted to throw the hardcore Armstrong fans some extra treats. Again, they came to me and asked what I would suggest. I've posted a track or two on this blog from Louis's August 15, 1956 Hollywood Bowl concert, which was given to me by a collector a few years ago and immediately became one of my favorite single sets in All Stars history. Norman Granz recorded it for Verve so it was a natural to include it. If you want to hear my favorite edition of the All Stars at their peak, this is it. Louis is in unbelievable form, especially on encores on "Ole Miss" and "Bucket." It was a Norman Granz JATP show and it concluded with Ella Fitzgerald joining in for two numbers and the whole cast and crew joining Pops on "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." An incredible evening of music.

Then Richard wrote in to tell me that they found 20 minutes of a spoken-word interview from Pops...but all they had was Louis's voice and no other details. He sent me a copy of it and within seconds I knew what it was: the famous 1965 "Slivovice" interview featuring Louis, Lucille Armstrong, Dan Morgenstern and Jack Bradley gabbing in Pops's den while polishing off a bottle of Slivovice plum brandy. I put the Universal people in touch with Dan himself and Dan granted permission to Universal to release a 75-minute disc culled from the original 2-and-a-half hour interview. I've listened to the final selection and it's quite great hearing Louis talk about his recent trip to East Berlin, hearing him claim "Muskrat Ramble" as his own and more (though honestly, part of the reason it's known as the "Slivovice" interview is that by the end, everyone's pretty hammered and there's lots of silly laughing and goofiness. Fortunately, you can still hear the whole thing on my blog by clicking here!).

So without further ado, here's the track listings for the first nine disc...but don't leave yet! This will take up a LOT of space but I basically have a separate blog entry of its own at the end about the tenth and final disc. For now, here's discs 1 through 9...can't wait to hear the complaints about omissions!
01 Just Gone
02 Chimes Blues
03 Dippermouth Blues
04 Tears
05 New Orleans Stomp
06 Shanghai Shuffle
07 Copenhagen
08 Everybody Loves My Baby
09 Cake Walking Babies (From Home)
10 St. Louis Blues
11 Sugar Foot Stomp
12 Santa Claus Blues
13 My Heart
14 Gut Bucket Blues
15 Georgia Grind
16 Heebie Jeebies
17 Cornet Chop Suey
18 Muskrat Ramble
19 Stomp Off, Let's Go
20 He Likes It Slow
21 New Orleans Stomp
22 Chicago Breakdown
23 Potato Head Blues
24 Hotter Than That
25 Savoy Blues

Disc 2
01 West End Blues
02 Skip The Gutter
03 Symphonic Raps
04 Weather Bird
05 Muggles
06 Tight Like This
07 Knockin' A Jug
08 I Can't Give You Anything But Love
09 Mahogany Hall Stomp
10 Ain't Misbehavin'
11 Black And Blue
12 When You're Smiling (Non-vocal take)
13 After You've Gone
14 Rockin' Chair
15 St. Louis Blues
16 Blue Turning Grey Over You
17 Tiger Rag
18 I'm A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas
19 Blue Yodel No. 9
20 Body And Soul
21 You're Lucky To Me
22 Memories Of You
23 Sweethearts On Parade
24 When Your Lover Has Gone

01 Lazy River
02 Chinatown My Chinatown
03 Stardust
04 You Can Depend On Me
05 Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
06 All Of Me
07 Lawd, You Made The Night Too Long
08 That's My Home
09 I've Got The World On A String
10 I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues
11 Basin Street Blues
12 Laughin' Louie
13 I'm In The Mood For Love
14 Old Man Mose
15 Thanks A Million
16 Shoe Shine Boy
17 Ev'ntide
18 Swing That Music
19 The Skeleton In The Closet
20 On A Cocoanut Island
21 The Old Folks At Home (Swanee River)
22 Jubilee
23 Struttin' With Some Barbeque
24 I Double Dare You
25 When The Saints Go Marching In

01 Nobody Knows De Trouble I've Seen
02 Jeepers Creepers
03 I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)
04 Wolverine Blues
05 Perdido Street Blues
06 I Cover The Waterfront
07 When It's Sleepy Time Down South
08 I Never Knew
09 I Wonder
10 Snafu
11 You Won't Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart) (WIth Ella Fitzgerald)
12 Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
13 Pennies From Heaven
14 Back O'Town Blues
15 Rockin' Chair
16 Jack-Armstrong Blues
17 Muskrat Ramble (1947 Symphony Hall)
18 That's My Desire (1947 Symphony Hall)
19 That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day)
20 Blueberry Hill
21 You Can't Lose A Broken Heart (WIth Billie Holiday)

01 New Orleans Function
02 That's For Me
03 Panama
04 C'est Si Bon (It's So Good)
05 La Vie En Rose
06 You Rascal You (I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) (With Louis Jordan)
07 Dream A Little Dream Of Me (WIth Ella Fitzgerald)
08 You Can Depend On Me (1951 Pasadena Civic Auditorium)
09 Baby, It's Cold Outside (1951 Pasadena Civic Auditorium)
10 Gone Fishin' (With Bing Crosby - Live version)
11 A Kiss To Build A Dream On
12 (When We Are Dancin') I Get Ideas
13 Because Of You
14 Indian Love Call
15 When It's Sleepy Time Down South
16 It Takes Two To Tango
17 Your Cheatin' Heart
18 Someday (You'll Be Sorry)
19 The Gypsy
20 The Whiffenpoof Song

01 Beale Street Blues
02 Chantez Les Bas (Sing 'Em Low)
03 (Back Home Again In) Indiana (1955 Crescendo Club)
04 Blue Turning Grey Over You
05 Mack The Knife
06 The Faithful Hussar
07 Royal Garden Blues
08 Bucket's Got A Hole In It (1956 Chicago Concert)
09 St. Louis Blues (Concerto Grosso)
10 Stars Fell On Alabama (With Ella Fitzgerald)
11 They Can't Take That Away From Me (With Ella Fitzgerald)
12 The Nearness Of You (With Ella Fitzgerald)
13 On The Sunny Side Of The Street
14 When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)
15 King Of The Zulus

01 Stompin' At The Savoy (With Ella Fitzgerald)
02 Love Is Here To Stay (With Ella Fitzgerald)
03 I Get A Kick Out Of You
04 Stormy Weather
05 Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen
06 Summertime (With Ella Fitzgerald)
07 Bess Oh Where Is My Bess
08 There's No You
09 Let's Fall In Love
10 Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
11 Summer Song
12 Hello, Dolly!
13 A Lot Of Livin' To Do
14 I Still Get Jealous
15 Moon River
16 So Long Dearie
17 Mame
18 Cabaret
19 What A Wonderful World
20 Blueberry Hill (1970 Newport Jazz Festival)
21 When It’s Sleepytime Down South (1970 Newport Jazz Festival)

DISC 8 - Live at the Hollywood Bowl - August 15, 1956
01 When It's Sleepy Time Down South
02 Indiana
03 The Gypsy
04 Ole Miss Blues
05 The Bucket's Got A Hole In It
06 Perdido
07 You Made Me Love You
08 Mack The Knife
09 Stompin' At The Savoy
10 You Can Depend On Me
11 Mop Mop
12 You Won't Be Satisfied (With Ella Fitzgerald)
13 Undecided (With Ella Fitzgerald)
14 When The Saints Go Marching In

DISC 9 - Slivovice Interview with Dan Morgenstern and Jack Bradley - May 1965

Still with me? Good. Finally there was the issue of a tenth disc. Again, even though I've never stepped foot in the Universal vaults, they came to me and asked what I knew. What I knew was the Jos Willems discography "All of Me" had listings of multiple alternate takes and breakdowns from various Verve and Mercury sessions, but those takes had never been released. "Find them!" I demanded...and they did! They found entire sessions, take-after-take: Decca, October 8, 1958 ("Basin Street Blues"), Mercury 1964 ("Pretty Little Missy," "Bye and Bye," "So Long Dearie" and "Faith"), Verve August 1957 ("Bess, Oh, Where's My Bess") and the killer, EVERYTHING recorded on August 1, 1957, Louis's solo session from "Ella and Louis Again," backed by the Oscar Peterson Trio with Louie Bellson, opening with a warm-up on "Indiana" and continuing with "Makin' Whoopee," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Let's Do It" and "Willow Weep For Me." There was studio chatter, joking around, you name it.

The good folks at Universal were kind enough to share this material with me and I selected what I thought were the most interesting/musically superior alternates. I think I'll share the track listing now

DISC 10 - Rare and Unissued Louis Armstrong
01 Yeh (Take 5)
02 Mm-Mm (Take 10)
03 Indiana (Studio Warm-up)
04 Makin' Whoopee (Breakdown)
05 Makin' Whoopee (Take 1)
06 I Get A Kick Out Of You (Take 1)
07 I Get A Kick Out Of You (Run Through)
08 I Get A Kick Out Of You (Take 3/4)
09 I Get A Kick Out Of You (Take 9-12)
10 I Get A Kick Out Of You (Take 13)
11 Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love) (Breakdowns)
12 Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love) (Take 3)
13 Willow Weep For Me (Take 1)
14 Willow Weep For Me (Take 4)
15 Bess Oh Where Is My Bess (Take 5 and 6)
16 Bess Oh Where Is My Bess (Take 7)
17 Redheaded Woman
18 Let's Fall In Love (Take 1)
19 Basin Street Blues (Take 1)
20 So Long Dearie (Rehearsal Take)
21 So Long Dearie (Take 1)
22 Pretty Little Missy (Take 1)
23 Pretty Little Missy (Take 4)

Okay, the first two songs are little known but they were recorded for Decca in April 1955. I chose "Yeh" for openers because it begins with about ten seconds of Louis warming up and it's positively spine-tingling. And his solo on the trite "Mm-Mm" (with Velma Middleton) is as powerful as it gets. Then a large chunk of that August 1, 1957, opening with "Indiana." Louis gets a little lost on "Makin' Whoopee" but he sounds like he's having a ball, inserting a "Methinks it's cheaper" that didn't make the final take. You've probably noticed a LOT of "I Get a Kick Out of You" but I couldn't resist because here's where you really get to hear a genius at work. You'll hear Louis working with Oscar Peterson on the verse, Peterson hitting a clam and joking about it, Ray Brown alluding to Louis's "liquid Swiss Kriss" and two complete alternate takes that feature completely different phrasing from each other and from the eventual master take (heard on disc seven). You won't complain when you hear it.

"Let's Do It" also has a rough opening but then Granz let Louis do an entire take, complete with some mistakes, but it's still a lot of fun. The master take of "Willow Weep For Me" (alas, not included in the set but easily ready to be downloaded elsewhere) featured a terrific, burnished trumpet solo. This one rivals it and is completely different from start to finish.

After the August 1 stuff, it was off to the "Porgy and Bess" session of August 19, 1957. Alas, nothing extra has survived with Ella, though we know from the tapes and discographies that multiple takes were recorded (maybe Granz, as Ella's manager, had them destroyed). But the Louis material survives and it tells the tail of Louis's epic struggle to tackle "Bess, Oh Where's My Bess." You'll hear Louis struggle and give up at one point, saying, "The sonofabitch hangs me!" But finally, he nails a take and Granz is very happy with it. I've included that alternate and it's pretty great though Louis is slightly flat here and there. Granz must have heard and that tried a couple of more takes but Louis didn't nail them. At that point, Louis had to get back to Las Vegas for a gig so he left early and Granz recorded Russell Garcia's orchestra playing the arrangement with the piano hammering out the melody in single-note style. To make it even more interesting, in Louis Armstrong private tape collection at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, we have a tape with nothing but this exact, Armstrong-less version of "Bess" repeated about 15 times! So Louis obviously listened to it and listened to it and listened to it some more and when he returned to the studio in October, he nailed it, one of the most emotional performances of the "Porgy and Bess" album and of Louis's later years (the master can be heard on disc seven).

Then a real strange one that led me to do some detective work and make some amateur guesses: "Red-Headed Woman." In Willems's book it was listed simply as a "warm-up" and when I first heard it, I thought maybe that was true. But Granz calls for "Red-Headed Woman, take 1" at the beginning and the song is from the score of "Porgy and Bess." What's more, it's Louis overdubbing his trumpet onto an obviously Russell Garcia-arranged chart. And on top of that, Louis doesn't sing a note, it's just melody, a few choruses of powerhouse blues and back to the head. The truth is, Louis comes out of the gate fine, but then has a few missteps before some scorching blues choruses. But at the end, he fluffs a few notes, sounding like he had never played the melody before and some of the twists and turns were surprising him. But as soon as he finishes, he doesn't even hold the final note and instead yells, "I've got the idea now!"

My first theory: Louis's chops were in such erratic form in August 1957 that Granz hoped Louis would be back in top form in October of that year and could nail a full-blown trumpet feature for "Porgy and Bess." And here's the thing: Louis could have done just that. His chops were in great shape for that October session (where he also recorded the complete album, "Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson") and after another take or two of trying out that melody, I think it could have been a spectacular highlight of the album....but for one thing: the damn piano player!

The exact identity of the pianist from Garcia's August 1957 sessions is unknown but it's always assumed to be Paul Smith, who was a great accompanist. Well, as soon as I listened to the track a few times and heard Louis exclaim that he had the idea of it, I heard Granz say, "You know, I'm not happy with the piano." Hmmm. So I listened back and sure enough, when Pops begins his solo, the pianist takes off with such a ridiculous series of runs, you'd think it was an Oscar Peterson solo album. Seriously, it's almost kind of funny, just bopping up and down the keyboard, with no attempt at actual accompaniment. Granz had every right to be displeased with the piano and realizing it was too late to re-record the arrangement, scrapped "Red Headed Woman" after only one take. Again, these are all theories, but I think I'm correct. Anyway, this one take, flaws and all, made the disc because it is kind of a long-lost addition to "Porgy and Bess."

To prove that Louis's chops were in heroic form that October session, I included the first take of "Let's Fall in Love," which features a trumpet solo almost more powerful than the issued version (heard on disc seven). Only Louis messing up the end of the vocal ruined this take.

Then it's off to Decca for "Basin Street Blues," with the All Stars and Eddie Miller added on sax for a stereo version of the soundtrack to "The Glenn Miller Story." The eventual master take was a composite of five takes but I chose the first take because it's very spirited (even if Pops is in A- rather than A+ form).

Finally, we conclude with some Mercury material overseen by Quincy Jones in 1964. I included the master of "So Long Dearie" on disc seven but had to add two takes here. One is a complete rehearsal, with no intension of being released. You can even here Louis verbally talk about what he has to do in between lines of the song. Then I included take one because for a first take, the group really nails it. And finally, we close with Louis and Billy Kyle's "Pretty Little Missy." The first take is a breakdown with Louis humorously getting tongue-tied with the lyrics. But like "Dearie," take four, while not the master, is pretty great.

So there you have it, my personal history with a set that really does Pops justice. Naturally, I've already been over to the Organissimo jazz forums and the carping has begun. After Sony's mammoth Miles Davis box of last year, I think people were expecting a 100-disc set of Pops. So there's complaints that the retrospective portion only spans seven discs. And there's complaints that the "Rare and Unissued" disc contains alternates of previously issued material. And as I mentioned, there's already been and going to continue to be complaints about the track selection. But at the end of the day, I stand by my opinion that this is the best boxed set to ever happen to him. I mean, really, it's all here: King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams, the Hot Fives, the Hot Sevens, Earl Hines, the OKeh big band tracks, the Victor recordings, the Decca material, and on and on and on, PLUS a complete set by the All Stars, 75 minutes of Louis talking at home and an entire disc of rare insights into how Louis work in the studio. Throw in the book and the photos and the sheet music and the trumpet case and really, if you love Pops, what's to complain about?

As of now, the set isn't on Amazon or any main retail site. It is listed on the UK Universal site but the track listing has some mistakes. Thus, I'll have more information about ordering the set and such when we head to August. But I've been promising information about this set for weeks now and had to come through, so there ya have it! S'all for now....

[UPDATE for those still with me: the webiste The Second Disc recently posted a preview of the piece with much of what I gabbed about, but also more discographical details, such as recording dates and original issue numbers for the recordings. Check it out!]

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Four Years Later...

Four years ago I came home from a day of painting houses, sweating like a pig in the New Jersey summer heat, sat down at my computer and wrote these words:

FRIDAY, JULY 13, 2007

Introduction to this Blog

Hello! My name is Ricky Riccardi and you can learn more about me in the (you guessed it) "About Me" section of this blog. I just wanted to take a second and discuss what this blog is all about. There are tons of Armstrong videos on YouTube and in my Itunes, I have 2,408 Armstrong songs arranged in chronological order. I plan on hitting "shuffle" on my Itunes and whatever Armstrong track comes up first, I will discuss it. I'll provide the musicians, the writers, the soloists, I'll give some analysis of the recording and I'll even tell you where you can buy it or listen to it. On some days, I'll post a YouTube video and do the same. You're more than welcome to comment and offer your own opinions or disagreements to whatever I write. There's really no order to anything, just a (hopefully) daily celebration of Armstrong's music! Enjoy!


That's how this whole madness began. Today, four years later, is my 404th post. I'm celebrating it on a book tour, sitting in a hotel room in Washington D. C., about to make a television appearance in Baltimore. When the tour is over, I will resume my day job as Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Seriously? This really happened?

It's crazy and pardon me if I still seem a little stunned by it all. Though I'll admit, when I started this blog, that was pretty much the goal: I wanted to form enough of a reputation to be able to publish a book and maybe work at the Louis Armstrong House Museum one day. Fairytales do come true, my friends...

Major thanks to all of you out there who have followed my exploits over the year on this here blog. It's been a complete "gassuh" and I hope to continue doing it til the end of time (and judging by the heat in Washington D. C., that could be this weekend).

I have a train to catch so I'm going to cut this short. But THANK YOU, YOU, and YOU for all the support over the years....Louis Armstrong touched so many people around the world during his time on earth (and afterwards) and it's just beautiful to be able to bask in that love with so many readers from around the planet.

And a quick thank you to the wonderful crowd at Politics and Prose last night, who really made my evening there extra special. And yesterday afternoon, I had a delightful one-hour appearance on Kojo NNamdi's radio show. Thanks to Michael Martinez, Caitlin, Kojo himself and the fantastic callers who made this hour extra memorable. If you'd like to hear it, click here

S'all for now. Thanks for sticking with me for four years....Pops is Tops!

[Update: Four years ago I wrote about having 2,408 songs on my Armstrong Ipod. Today? The number is over 3,700, most of the additions sent in by generous blog readers from around the world. Keep 'em coming....and thanks again!]

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hear Me, See Me, Meet Me, Greet Me...

Dear friends, I have big things on the blog burner for the upcoming weeks. I've hinted at a massive Armstrong boxed set in the works and I'll have some details about that. Also, more or more people write to me saying that they're digging my book, but wish they could hear the music I discuss in it. This might take a while, but I'm going to start uploading stuff chapter-by-chapter so you can listen along as you read to some stuff you probably won't hear anywhere else.

But before that, indulge me for just a little longer as I'm about to be let loose on the world in a barrage of publicity in the next few weeks. If you're here (and if you've been with me from the beginning), you probably don't need to see or hear me run my mouth on dear old Pops, but if you're into that sort of thing, some recent things I've done have begun popping up on the web. The great Leonard Lopate engaged me in some fun debate about Louis's later years, if you'd like to listen along. Last week, I had a 20-minute phone interview with Cyrus Webb all about my history with Louis and the themes of the book, a session that's also available online. And just the other day, I sat down for a really great chat with the legendary Bob Edwards on his satellite radio show. I don't know when it's going to air, but keep checking Bob's site to find it when it's ready, probably sometime this coming week.

After eating up so much time on the radio, it's time for me to make some public appearances as I'm setting out on a little book tour this week. First up, I'll be in Washington D. C. on Tuesday. For those of you near a radio or computer, I'll be live on the
Kojo Nnamdi Show for a full hour (!) at 1 p.m., which should be a blast. Then, at 7 p.m. that same evening, I'll be at Politics and Prose in Washington D. C. on Tuesday night, which I'm really looking forward to (and they will offer autographed copies of the book if you request them). After a TV appearance in Baltimore on Wednesday morning, it's off to Atlanta for a full-blown lecture for the Margaret Mitchell House. You can purchase tickets in advance to that event, which will find me dipping into my bag of video tricks to bring Pops down Georgia way. And speaking of my endless supply of Louis videos, I'll back at the Satchmo Summerfest for the fourth consecutive year in August, always a highlight of my year.

If you can't get out to D. C. or Atlanta or New Orleans and you still have a strange desire to see me talk about Pops, thank my friend Michael Steinman for bringing his camera to my book party at the Louis Armstrong House Museum on June 26. I already mentioned that it was one of the great days of my life, meeting so many wonderful people and spending time many friends and family members. But in the middle, I took to the podium for a 30-minute mini-presentation, armed with my trusty Ipod, a few choice videos and a short reading from the book. Michael captured the whole thing, which you can watch by clicking here.

And though the video is great, I'd like to close this entirely too Ricky-centric post with a photo that's worth a thousand words to me. It's a gathering of the gang at the end of the book party and it's pretty much my entire life in one picture. From left to right: Uncle John Jackmore, Aunt Pat Jackmore, Louis Armstrong's neighbor Selma Heraldo, my nephews Tyler and Connor Mees, my mother Marilyn, my father Dan, me, my wife Margaret, my brother Jeff, my sister Michele, her boyfriend Ray, Louis Armstrong House Museum Director Michael Cogswell, my mother-in-law Ann holding my two-year-old daughter Ella, my brother-in-law Mike and his wife Stacy, my old friend from high school (and former bassist), Jon Kahnt, my mentor, the great jazz historian Lewis Porter and another old friend from high school, Mark Ipri. Oh, and Louis at left, enjoying the party. What a day!

Have a great weekend and I'll be back with more on Wednesday, the four-year anniversary of this blog (and if you thought when I started this blog four years ago, I'd be spending an anniversary on a book tour, well, you'd be nuts). Til then!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

40 years....

Louis Armstrong left us forty years ago today.

I don't know what else to say except to repeat David Ostwald's reply when I e-mailed him last night to tell him that today was 40 years since Louis died.

"DIED!?" is all he wrote.

How true. How can someone be dead if so many are still talking about him, writing about him and listening to his music? Thanks,'ll truly live forever.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams Revisited

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded November 4, 1931
Track Time 3:39
Written by Harry Barris, Ted Koehler and Billy Moll
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Zilner Randolph, trumpet; Preston Jackson, trombone; Lester Boone, alto saxophone; George James, alto saxophone, clarinet; Albert Washington, tenor saxophone; Charlie Alexander, piano; Mike McKendrick, guitar; John Lindsay, bass; Tubby Hall, drums
Originally released on OKeh 41530
Currently available on CD: The Big Band Recordings, a two-volume set on the JSP label that collects Armstrong’s OKeh big band material from1930 to 1932
Available on Itunes? Yes

Last night, HBO's "Treme" closed out its second season with an unbelievable montage set to the sounds of Louis Armstrong's 1931 recording of "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams." I've long loved this performance, which chokes up Steve Zahn's character, Davis, at its conclusion. I originally wrote about this song in the early days of the blog and it choked me up back then, too. So here's what I originally wrote in those crazy early days, also setting out some themes and quotes that are now appear in my book, "What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years." So thank you "Treme" for bringing this gem to the attention of the world. Dig Pops:

I haven’t had the opportunity to write about any of Armstrong’s early-30s big band recordings for OKeh but that all changed two minutes ago when I hit the “shuffle” button on my Itunes and “Wrap Your Trouble In Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away)” popped up. It’s one of the many songs that Armstrong helped turn into a jazz standard during this fertile, if somewhat neglected, period in his career. I’ve already made a passionate case for the reexamination of Armstrong’s Victor recordings of 1932 and 1933 but I don’t think I have to do the same about the OKeh big band sessions because some of them have become established, bona fide Louis Armstrong classics: “Lazy River,” “Star Dust,” “Memories of You,” “Sweethearts On Parade,” “When Your Lover Has Gone,” “Chinatown” and many others. However, because critics have targeted the dated arrangements, Guy Lombardo-saxophone moans and sometimes stiff and out-of-tune playing of the band itself, a lot of these records get swept under the rug. Sony/Legacy sure did a nice job with their Hot Fives and Sevens box about seven years ago but they currently don’t have a collection of Armstrong’s later OKeh big band recordings in print, which is a shame.

When Armstrong returned from California in early 1931, he began fronting a band assembled by the trumpeter Zilner Randolph. Like some later editions of the All Stars, this group didn’t have any big names or great talents but many in the group were from New Orleans, they gave their leader their all and later, Armstrong himself referred to them as his “happiest band.” Writing about this band to Robert Goffin, Armstrong remembered, “Now there’s a Band that really ‘deserved a whole lot of ‘Credit that they didn’t get.— They made some of my ‘finest recordings with me.” Armstrong goes on to list many of the OKeh records, including some of the lesser known ones, such as “Kickin the Gong Around” and today’s subject, “Wrap Your Trouble In Dreams.” He even takes pride in mentioning novelties such as “The Lonesome Road” and “Laughing Louie,” though that one was made for Victor, not OKeh.

But again, like the All Stars, though Armstrong loved the musicians in the band and though he fondly remembered the records, that wasn’t enough for the critics, who obviously know more about what’s good and what’s bad than the artists in question. Take our pal Gunther Schuller (BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO). In The Swing Era, Schuller does have some nice things to say about this period, such as when he writes about Armstrong’s January and March 1932 OKeh dates, “His playing on these particular recordings is beyond anything he had previously achieved.” But for the most part, Schuller can’t get past the band and their faults. Mike McKendrick is remembered for his “wildly out-of-tune playing,” Tubby Hall is referred to as a “thumpy-footed drummer” and the whole band is written off as “mediocre.” Even when he’s about to compliment a side, Schuller takes a swipe at the band, writing, “Yet, in the midst of this desert of divagation and mediocrity (the band’s), there would occasionally blossom a flower of superior beauty.”

Eventually, Schuller turns his attention to Armstrong himself, writing that, during this period, “Louis begins to weaken. His solos occasionally bog down; there are intonational slips, heretofore unknown with him; muffed notes; rehashings of earlier success (such as the West End Blues cadenza on Blue Again—but muffed at the end). There is also, very imperceptibly, less and less of Louis’s trumpet, and more and more of Louis’s vaudeville hokum and jive talk. And, above all, more and more of the grandstanding finales.” Though published in 1987, that paragraph serves as a perfect summation of the kinds of boneheaded criticism Armstrong had to wade through during the last 40 years of his life. Sure, Pops occasionally fluffed a note or two but to say he weakened in 1931 is absurd. I’ve written before about Armstrong maybe losing a mile or two off of his fastball in terms of rhythmic velocity, but in every other way, I don’t hear any signs of Armstrong weakening until at least 1966 and even then, he still contributed some beautiful moments in the ensuing years. And though this wasn’t a “great” big band in the sense of a Basie or Ellington group, who cares? Who is listening to Louis Armstrong records to hear saxophone solos? I know when the OKeh bands sounds like crap but does it stop me from enjoying Armstrong’s offerings? Never. Armstrong loved the musicians in this band (just try to listen to “Lonesome Road” and not smile) and they gave him the support and stress-free life he needed for over a year. Combine that with Armstrong in his prime and some of the best standards ever written and you have a recipe for some truly wonderful music.

Okay, soliloquy over, let’s move on to “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams.” The song’s lyrics were written by former “Rhythm Boy” Harry Barris, thus it made perfect sense that the song was introduced and made popular by that other former “Rhythm Boy,” Bing Crosby. Crosby was recording hit after hit during this period in his career and “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” was a perfect anthem for a country already mired in a depression. Crosby and Armstrong already had a mutual appreciation society by this point (Armstrong had already recorded another Crosby hit, “I Surrender Dear,” in April 1931) so once Crosby’s version, recorded on March 2, 1931, became a hit, it made perfect sense to have Armstrong record a version of his own in November of that year. For the rest of his life, Armstrong would continually laud Crosby as one of his favorite musicians, telling Time in 1955, “Bing’s voice has a mellow quality that only Bing’s got. It’s like gold being poured out of a cup.” Armstrong’s voice might have sounded like crushed ice being poured out of a running blender, but in terms of phrasing and heart, the two men shared a bond.

Before Pops got around to putting his stamp on it, Bing sang it in a Mack Sennett short, One More Chance. Thanks to YouTube, we can enjoy Bing’s singing during this performance (bizarrely sang to a bunch of smitten Native Americans!)

425" height="355">

At the time of that film, Bing clearly had no idea how Armstrong would approach but you can hear some of Pops in Bing’s phrasing, namely in the way he goes up on the titular phrase 43 seconds in and sings it all on one pitch, which is very Pops. And in the bridge of his second chorus (the second eight bars of which are cut out), Bing takes more liberties with the melody, including that long pause between phrases, falling behind the beat, then rushing to catch up with it, a la Armstrong. But enough Bing, as great as he was. Let’s focus on Armstrong’s recording, which fortunately survives in two takes. The first take was a hair slower and resulted in a running time just shy of 3:40, which was really stretching the limit of a 78 (in fact, the Columbia 78 of this piece edits out the final coda). Care to listen along? Here 'tis:

Armstrong takes the melody at the onset of the record, playing with a straight mute, the only kind he used. I like the loose swing of the rhythm section of Charlie Alexander, Mike McKendrick, John Lindsay and Tubby Hall. Lindsay’s bass is especially propulsive. Armstrong’s backed by the moaning reeds he loved so much, with George James’s clarinet added to the mix. It’s not the prettiest sound in the world but it’s melancholy feel lends a subdued, nostalgic atmosphere to Armstrong’s reading of the melody. And besides, listen to the backing on Crosby’s film version: a muted trumpet plays the melody and obbligato over some mewing reeds. So don’t blame Armstrong for keeping with the times. Jazz be damned; this was how popular music sounded in 1931 and Armstrong played good music. He loved the sound of those reeds and the sound was “in” so why wouldn’t he exploit it? He floats over those reeds with that time feel that was so special to his playing, answering his own phrase at 27 seconds in, leaving pauses, playing short double time bursts, getting downright legato on the bridge and finally building up to that final, pretty gliss, setting up the reeds to take the last eight bars of melody. I know, I know, it’s out-of-tune in spots but hey, if I wanted to hear amazing reed passages, I’d start a Benny Carter blog (not a bad idea!).

Pops slides into his vocal with a prolonged “Ohhhh,” but when he begins, he gets backing from a different type of moaning: the voices of the band members give him a glee club backdrop, an effect Pops already utilized on earlier recordings of “Basin Street Blues” and “Squeeze Me.” As it turns out, the other members of the band had intonation problems with their voices, as well as their instruments, but it’s all in good fun and I can picture Pops and the cats in the band smiling as they went about their business.

Pops’s vocal, while very sober and Crosby-esque at times (dig the “bay-bay-bay,” after the first eight bars, an Satchmofication of Crosby’s “boo-boo-boo”), is a tour de force of melodic rephrasing. The song’s melody is already heavy on repeating notes, a frequent motif of many Armstrong vocals, so it’s interesting to find Armstrong repeating notes different from the written ones. The song’s in the key of C and, as written, the melody begins with two repeated E’s. That’s not good enough for Pops, who begins his vocal with a pause followed by seven G’s, followed by a quick little turn of a A-B-A phrase, exactly as he played it on his trumpet during the melody chorus. He then sings the melody straight for a bit (or at least as straight as he could sing it) before another overhaul, going down for the “dream your troubles away” line, instead of keeping it high as it’s written. The second eight bars are filled with more one-note motives, one of them featuring another quick triplet lick, C-D-C, though he hums the C down to a low E, much as he might on his Selmer. On the bridge, the choir shifts from a steady hum to an incessant emphasis one the first and third beats of every measure, a familiar pattern in most Randolph arrangements, including “Star Dust,” the other song recorded that November day. Again, as he often did with his trumpet, Armstrong plays against the tension of the one-and-three and comes up with a bridge that’s probably a ninth cousin of the written one. As he approaches the final A section, he finally gives the melody a chance, beginning on the written low E, instead of the string of G’s, but he punctuates the line with a typical “babe” for good measure.

After the vocal, George James returns to his usual instrument, the alto sax, and plays a melodramatic four-bar transition that allows Pops to gather his chops. What follows is relaxation personified. He opens with four quarter-note C’s, each one swung beautifully before he trails off softly. Five beats pass before the next phrase, nothing majestic, but perfectly placed, complete with its own trumpet obbligato. He continues swinging on the beat, obviously digging the tempo and the wistful nature of the song. He doesn’t try to change the world on this one, instead focusing on his skills as a storyteller. As he hits his second eight, the story begins to grow more intense, Armstrong building to a high A, the highest note of the record up to this point. He then spins the most delicate phrases imaginable, gently tumbling down from the A to a low G before leaving more space. He continues with this beautiful, almost rhythmically abstract playing until he grows more forceful at the bridge. The reeds give him the one-and-three treatment, much as the voices did and Pops responds with some signifying, including some nice double-timing, an almost violent descending phrase at the halfway point, another aggressive run followed immediately by a gentle gliss from an E to a lower C#. He goes up for another high G, holding it for drama before he settles back into his wistful mood for the last eight bars. Tears literally are forming in my eyes as I try to comprehend the genius of a solo I’ve literally heard a hundred times. The word “conversational” keeps coming to mind and I think it fits perfectly. I love all forms of jazz but I’m a firm believer that there’s nothing quite as “modern” as Armstrong’s rhythmic concept in the late-20s and early-30s. I seriously cannot comprehend it but am quite thankful I get to experience it.

Towards the end of the last A section, Armstrong plays his calling card, a C-A-C-A-E-E-C phrase. The band slows it down and Armstrong plays a short coda consisting of the same exact phrase, played slower and ending on a G, the fifth, instead of a C. For the entire 64 bars of playing, Armstrong never plays a note higher than that A in the second eight bars. This is strange during a period when most Armstrong solos frequently climbed to high C and beyond. It’s not like his chops were down—listen to the wondrous “Star Dust” that followed. It’s just beautiful, conversational playing, the kind of solo to play for those who think Pops was all high notes and grandstanding (Schuller doesn’t even mention this solo—he probably couldn’t listen past the vocal choir behind Pops’s vocal!).

A second take exists of “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,” though it has never been issued on an American C.D. I don’t even know when it was discovered but it must have been within the last ten years since older Columbia collections of this material, such as the old Portrait Stardust disc, included other alternate takes, but not this one. Anyway, here is the audio:

As already mentioned, the 3:39 running time was pushing it so I’m guessing the band took another crack at it at a brisker clip to insure that it would meet the qualifying running time, which it does at 3:18. The song follows the same pattern as the issued take, so there’s not much use for detailed analysis. Pops is still relaxed but his opening melody statement, though similar, isn’t as effective as the one on the issued take. The vocal is similar, but the “bay-bay-bay” is out. On this take, Armstrong has fun with the beat, slowing down phrases dramatically (the first “dream your troubles away” unfurls in slow motion), then quickly shooting out the next line at a much quicker rate, much like Crosby did in the Sennett short. Pops seems to have trouble for a second catching up to the faster tempo during the bridge, but he pauses and solves his problem with a slurred phrase that reminds me of a Louie Prima vocal line. The trumpet solo follows the pattern of the issued take (who knows if the band was already performing this live) as Pops opens with another string of quarter-note C’s, though, because of the added lilt to the tempo, he now comes across as a little more aggressive. His second phrase is played almost completely in a shuffle rhythm, two eighth-notes at a time. He relaxes a bit after that before hitting that high A, this time at the start of the second eight bars. There’s a different, but still aggressive, bridge, though he gets a little tongue-tied at the very end. Overall, it’s a fine solo but the extra few beats of tempo cause that sublime relaxed quality of the issued take to go out the window. Pops must have realized he was pushing a little too much thus, even with a solid running time, the longer take was selected for release.

That’ll conclude this trip back to “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,” one of the string of memorable big band recordings Armstrong cut for OKeh in the early 30s. But as great as it is, it’s no “Star Dust,” which, as already mentioned, was recorded the same day. That is my number one favorite Armstrong record of all-time (there’s a topic for a future blog), wheezing saxophones and all. Gunther Schuller might be a brilliant man but don’t let his condemnation of post-1929 Armstrong records scare you away. Some of Armstrong’s finest music was recorded in front of creaky big bands and “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” is no exception.