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 20s...how 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!
DISC 1
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

DISC 3
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

DISC 4
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)

DISC 5
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

DISC 6
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

DISC 7
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!]

10 comments:

Al Pomerantz said...

O. M. G. You have us all salivating for the release. As per usual, Ricky Rules.

Hal Smith said...

Sounds like a fantastic set!
As always, thanks for your dedication to Pops and his musical legacy!

terryteachout said...

"Beau Koo Jack"!

Rand Dorman said...

SOLID MAN!

Swingin' Drummer said...

I just ordered it and can't wait to hear & see it when I get back from Edinburgh!

Anonymous said...

I vace just received my box ! Fantastic
But why the personnel of the diferent band are not indicated??
You must indicate in this blog the member ogf each themes please

Antoine from France

Matt J said...

Sounds fantastic. Sad to say that it is no longer available at the museum in Queens. The last one sold today.

Swingin' Drummer said...

Wow, that sold out fast, there's a lot of Pops fans out there! I'm glad I bought mine straight away. It really is an awesome set and the only thing that could be better would have been to have full personel listings, but not a huge issue for me as I have "Boy From New Orleans" discography anyway.
And I'm interested if anyone knows how many of the sets were produced?

Ricky Riccardi said...

Indeed, Peter, the set is gone! Universal made 3,000 total, released in early August and gone by early December. Not bad! A lot of happy Pops fans running around this holiday season....

Ricky

Swingin' Drummer said...

Very cool. Hopefully this success will lead Universal to release a deluxe "Satchmo The Great" DVD. Please, please please!