Monday, September 5, 2011

Listening to the Book: Chapter 7

Chapter 7 of my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years, is the biggie, with a very serious Louis confronting Joe Glaser after Lucille Armstrong was arrested for marijuana possession. Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, it's all in the book and will melt your mind but I won't go into it here. It concerns a letter Louis wrote to Glaser while performing with the All Stars at the Club Hangover in San Francisco. I remarked in the book that the All Stars were swinging harder than ever before at the Hangover, thanks to the new rhythm section of Billy Kyle, Milt Hinton and Kenny John. Here they are tearing through "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" at the Hangover:




And Louis was clear to let Glaser know that he was playing better than ever. He proved it by calling "West End Blues" during the engagement:



And if you still haven't seen my epic take on Louis's history with "West End Blues," which places the above performance into context, you can check it out here:
West End Blues Blog

Two months later, Louis found himself back at Decca's studio recording "Bye and Bye" with Gordon Jenkins's big band. This has one of Louis finest opening cadenzas of the 1950s (and dig Jenkins's arrangement quoting Louis's 1933 "Basin Street Blues" scat ending at the close):



And again, for an entire history of Louis and "Bye and Bye" with more details on this recording, here's my blog on the subject:
Bye and Bye Blog

That same session was notable for Louis's take on "The Whiffenpoof Song" with new lyrics by Jenkins that completely lampooned "the boys of the boppin' factory," as Louis once said in a live introduction of the tune. Some serious-minded jazz fans frowned at the parody but I find it very funny and it stayed in Louis's live act for a few years:



In May 1954, the All Stars played two shows in one day at the University of North Carolina. The afternoon show was recorded and a few years ago, began making the rounds on the internet as a downloadable bootleg (search for it and you'll still find it). The Avid label cleaned it up and made a proper release out of it with great notes by Digby Fairweather so check that out if you want the real deal (the bootleg is funny because whoever uploaded it wasn't familiar with the songs so "All the Things You Are" becomes "Billy Kyle Piano Jam" and "Didn't He Ramble" becomes "Didley Rambo"!). Anyway, I wrote about that evening in painstaking fashion in a blog that can be found here (alas, no audio, but again, just find it somewhere and listen along):
Carolina (without audio): http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2007/09/live-at-university-of-north-carolina.html

The most epic performance from that show was a version of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" that effectively demonstrated what the All Stars could do on a random one-nighter when they didn't even think anyone was recording. The crowd went so wild that Louis called encore after encore and pushed himself to play higher and faster with each passing one. Kenny John's drums are a bit overrecorded but the excitement of the performance and Louis's incredible playing makes this one of the great moments, I think, of Louis's later years:


This post has two version of "The Saints" and if you're looking for more, again, here's my full blog on the subject: Saints Blog

That'll do it for now. Next up, the Columbia masterpieces of the mid-50s. Til then!

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