Friday, January 27, 2012

80 Years of All of Me and Home

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded January 27, 1932
Track Time 3:04
"All of Me" written by Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks
"Home" Written by Harry Clarkson, Jeff Clarkson and Peter Van Steeden
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Zilner Randolph, trumpet; Preston Jackson, trombone; Lester Boone, George James, alto saxophone; Albert Washington, tenor saxophone; Charlie Alexander, piano; Mike McKendrick, guitar; John Lindsay, bass; Tubby Hall, drums
Originally released on OKeh 41552
Currently available on CD: The Big Band Recordings, a two-volume set on the JSP label that collects Armstrong’s OKeh big band material from 1930 to 1932
Available on Itunes? Yes

Here we go again with two more great tracks recorded 80 years ago today, "All of Me" and "Home." "All of Me" was still pretty brand new when Louis got to in on January 27, 1932. Written by Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks of Detroit, legend has it that it was introduced by vaudeville star Belle Baker, who performed it shortly after her husband passed away and broke down in tears in the middle of her vocal, she was so overcome with emotion. Once that story hit the press, well, that's how standards are born, my friend.

I haven't done this in a while, but let's listen to some other early recordings of "All of Me," always a fun practice because when we get to Pops, it sounds like we're listening to someone from another planet. However, in the past, when I've shared other renditions of songs Pops did in this period, I usually do it to point and laugh at the other vocalists' dated song stylings. But "All of Me" attracted a hip crowd from the start. The first major hit recording was done by Paul Whiteman with a great vocal by Mildred Bailey:


The ill-fated crooner Russ Colombo also had a hit with the song in December 1931:


Here's Ruth Etting (with the rarely heard verse):


And okay, one more, Scrappy Lambert with Milt Britton's orchestra:


All of those versions were recorded at the end of 1931. America was in love with the song so it became a natural candidate for Pops to work his magic with. And work it he did. According to Joel Whitburn's "Pop Memories" charts, Louis had a number-one hit with his version of "All of Me," one of the biggest selling records of 1932. I don't know, everyone and his or her mother has recorded "All of Me" and I rarely hear it mentioned as an Armstrong tune (Frank gets a lot of credit but he was way later); let's try to change that! First step is to listen:



Yeah, just what I thought: those above records were fine (especially Mildred) but Louis really was from another planet in this period. It wouldn't be very long before the world caught on and everyone sounded like Louis but that was still a couple of years away.

But never mind the vocal, how about that opening trumpet solo? As discussed in my entry on "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" the other day, when Louis had that Solotone (or cup) mute in, it gave him a license to double-time like he rarely did with an open horn; just hear what he does out of the bridge. Otherwise, he's very relaxed and swinging from the start, playing the melody straight for the first few bars and then going for himself almost immediately after. I mentioned that Dan Morgenstern has written that Charlie Parker must have listened to "Between the Devil"; he has also written that Lester Young must have enjoyed "All of Me"....I won't argue with either statement! Louis is so melodic and relaxed but he's also floating through the bar lines like Pres and the later 1930s soloists started doing regularly. It all comes from Pops....

Then there's the vocal....seriously, this man did it with the trumpet AND the voice? I know, I know, I'm gushing like it's the first time I realized this but I guess I feel the same way every time I listen to Louis, even if it's something I've heard a million times (like "All of Me"). Louis's "Mmmmm" moan that sets up the vocal is something we didn't hear from Scrappy Lambert. And then there's the melody...or should I say, what melody? Everybody knows the first three notes of "All of Me" descend, right? Louis didn't get the memo. His first two descend, but then he hops back up for the "me" and climbs even higher to deliver "why not take All of Me" on a single pitch, ending the phrase with a "babe" that plunges into the basement. A Satchel-mouthed "Oh" sets up the next set of lyrics, which he delivers fairly straight until he throws in a snatch of scat, an example of Louis singing lead AND the backup parts at the same time. He makes this aspect of his vocal even clearer after he sings "I want to lose them" and croons a low, descending three-note phrase on "Oh bay-bee" that is the perfect obligato to his own lead.

He trots out "Oh bay-bee" in a different, but no less effective, incarnation at the halfway point, which sets up one of the finest moments of the vocal, Louis in declamatory mode, barking out "Your good-bye" with so much passion, he sounds like he's about to explode. I could take this thing apart word for word but I'll quit before they have to hose me down. I will point out the other worldly moan that connects "eyes that cry" and "how can I"; Louis pronunciation of "dear"; and the joyous abandon of the final eight bars. Seriously, if I had to take eight bars of music to illustrate the genius of Armstrong the singer, those might be them. What a vocal!

Then it's time for a modulation and an open horn Armstrong takes the lead, still in a relaxed frame of mind but also with a touch of that operatic storytelling. He passes it to one of the saxophonists for the bridge but then swoops in to close out the record with some passionate high-register playing of the melody. A perfect high note at the end ends a perfect record. No wonder it went to number one, right?

(Louis wasn't done with "All of Me"; it became a vocal feature for Velma Middleton in the 1950s and he later recorded another definitive version on the "Ambassador Satch" album but I'll discuss those another day.)

The flip side of "All of Me" was "Home," a song written by the Dutch composer Peter Van Steeden along with (I’m supposing brothers) Harry and Jeff Clarkson. Van Steeden also led a dance band orchestra, becoming the first to wax his tune, recording it for Victor on November 25, 1931 in a lovely pop arrangement complete with a vocal by the always-busy singer, Dick Robertson. Fortunately, the record was uploaded onto YouTube so I’d like to share it right now. I have a soft spot for this stuff and I hope you do too:


Pretty charming, huh? But wait, there’s more. The song quickly became a hit and soon was being covered by the likes of Rudy Vallee. Vallee, as we know, was quite the Armstrong supporter, writing the forward to Armstrong’s first autobiography, Swing That Music, and asking Armstrong to take over as guest host for the Fleischmann’s Yeast radio program in 1937. Vallee recorded it as part of the “Hit of the Week” series, a short-lived (three Depression-fueled years) concept of one-sided lacquered cardboard discs of current pop songs. Here’s one YouTube video where the visual of a spinning record is pretty fascinating because it’s kind of amazing that a record like this could hold up 76 years later. Here’s Rudy:

Vallee’s record includes the beautiful verse, which will be discussed later in this article. Shall I keep going? Why not! I find this stuff fascinating and I think it gives added context to Armstrong’s music. You can listen to a disc of Armstrong all day or you could listen to just great jazz from this era, such as that by Duke Ellington, Red Allen, Luis Russell, Jack Teagarden and so many more. But when you listen to that stuff alongside of what was actually popular during the period, I think it makes the era come alive in a fuller fashion. You begin to appreciate the pop songs covered by jazz bands, the dance band touches in big band arrangements and the hot soloists in the popular, “straight” orchestras of the day. If you’re here for Armstrong and Armstrong only, scroll down a bit, but here’s a few more of my favorite versions of “Home,” all dating from sometime in 1932. Here’s a charming version by singing brothers Bob and Alf Pearson:


And finally, let us listen to our old pal Henry Hall and His Gleneagles Hotel Band, a popular British dance band that we originally encountered in my entry for “When Your Lover Has Gone.” This version might be my favorite of the pop related ones but it has a special meaning for horror movie buffs as it was used in the dream sequence in the 1980 classic, The Shining. Here ‘tis, sans Jack Nicholson…



All of the above are pretty popish, but “Home” had also infiltrated its way into jazzier hands by way of a Dorsey Brothers record from December 9, 1931, just two weeks after Van Steeden’s original, while Mildred Bailey recorded it with an orchestra led by Matty Malneck for a Bluebird record cut at the end of 1931. The Dorsey version isn’t available online, but here’s the always wonderful voice of Bailey:


Okay, you probably need a vacation after spending so much time “Home,” but don’t worry, the main event is here. Louis Armstrong, in his 1932 prime, tackling the sentimental tune:



Now after all those strings and weepy 1930s singers, the opening of Armstrong’s record of “Home” must have come as a jolt. The record opens with the band swinging, in New Orleans polyphonic fashion, the John Howard Payne chestnut from 1823 (now THAT’S a standard!), “Home Sweet Home.” For those who know their Armstrong history, it was an important song to Pops as it was the first one he learned how to play on his cornet. As he told it in a 1970 document, “After blowing into it a while I realized that I could play ‘Home Sweet Home’—then here come the Blues. From then on, I was a mess and Tootin away.” Really, has their ever been a better short summary of Louis Armstrong’s career? A popular song and the blues and the rest is history. So it’s nice hearing Armstrong playing the old melody, tearing it up as the band sounds quite relaxed and comfortable, as if they could have jammed on it for the allotted three minutes.

A very pretty interlude by pianist Charlie Alexander sets up Pop’s heartfelt vocal. The saxophones croon out the melody behind him in their best Lombardo fashion, which helps illustrate Armstrong’s genius as he phrases the beautiful melody at his own pace, from the very opening phrase where he inserts a couple of extra beats between “when” and “shadows fall.” He immediately sings the following line—“trees whisper day is ending”—in a completely different fashion from how it’s written. A better fashion, I should say as that next line always sounds unusual when sung straight (Jack Teagarden was defeated by it during one take of a 1944 Coleman Hawkins record, but he managed to rephrase it a la Pops on the second take).

Armstrong puts a lot of feeling into the titular word, but even he can’t resist a little “oh babe.” The intonation of the saxes might not be to everyone’s liking but dig bassist John Lindsay’s popping bass in between the A sections. Armstrong continues his conversational pace by inserting a spoken “now” before singing the next line, “when crickets fall” almost on one pitch, his voice literally falling on the word “fall.” And just listen to the ridiculous place he inserts “my heart.” While analyzing this record for blogging purposes, I paused it right before Armstrong sings those two words. When I un-paused it and heard the placement of those two words, it immediately led me to think of his trumpet playing which always featured phrases floating all over the bar line.

Armstrong continues onward, singing “once more to be returning” one pitch before singing the title word again, filling up the built-in space after with a slightly humorous, “Mmmm, Home.” Van Steeden’s bridge is the gem of the song and Armstrong clearly digs the minor harmonies. Really listen to the saxes playing the melody during this section and just try to hear if Armstrong is singing anything that remotely resembles it. His first phrase follows the arc of the melody, but he begins it a few beats late and he practically bubbles over when he gets to the “one by one” line, repeating it much as he would if he was playing the trumpet.

Again, like a typical Armstrong trumpet solo, Armstrong hit a climax of sorts with that “one by one” so he can’t retreat now. Thus, he approaches the final A section by singing all high notes, continuing the longing mood of the bridge, and really wringing a lot feeling from the word “all.” He winds down for a very sweet ending to the totally heartfelt and moving vocal. One could probably guess that Armstrong was thinking of New Orleans while singing the tune and goodness knows, that was always a recipe for beautiful music.

Alexander’s piano modulates setting up Pops’s entrance over a foot-pattin’ New Orleans beat laid down by the rhythm section. Lindsay’s thumping bass locks in with McKendrick’s tenor guitar sound and, together with Tubby Hall’s simple but steady drumming, creates a loping feeling that might not exactly sound like Count Basie, but is nevertheless pretty irresistible. Pops rides it beautifully, starting high and simple before some nice double-timing in bars six and seven. Armstrong heralds the second A section with two giant quarter notes, always an effective trick, coming after some busy playing. At the 1:57 mark, Armstrong goes high where the written melody goes low, hitting a bluesy, passionate high note that somehow meshes perfectly with the same note being played by one of the alto saxes. It could have clashed but it’s such a perfectly chosen note, it just adds to the drama of the proceedings.

Armstrong continues playing around the melody, as stated by the saxophones, before hitting the bridge. Unfortunately, instead of digging into the minor changes, Armstrong passes the ball to a saxophonist (Lester Boone?) who takes us from pathos to bathos. The saxophonist is all over his horn, showing up some very fleet-fingering but it disrupts the mood and every time he holds a note, it’s so corny, it’s almost laughable.

But have no fear, Pops is here, trampling over the saxophonist with three high A’s, announcing his presence and pointing the way for very passionate final eight bars, reaching its climax with a gliss to another high A at the 2:35 mark. Armstrong then takes off on a spectacular cadenza with shades of 1927 stop-time playing before the band drops out and Armstrong concludes with an operatic conclusion that’s brimming with bravado. Bravo, Pops!

Like many pop songs of the period, “Home” gradually disappeared in the ensuing years. Save the aforementioned Coleman Hawkins disc and I can’t find any other versions of the tune until Nat King Cole tackled it in 1950. Seven years later, our hero found himself in Norman Granz’s Los Angeles studios, recording a number of standards backed by either strings or a big band, all of it arranged by Russell Garcia. I’ve written about these sessions many times, focusing on Pops’s chops trouble. If you ever want to hear Pops at his most human, dig out these albums (I’ve Got the World On a String and Louis Under the Stars). Armstrong was overworked and Granz didn’t have a lot of time so he did his best with a damaged Armstrong. Leave it to Pops, though, to make the best of his problems, turning in many soulful solos that demonstrate just how hard it was being Louis Armstrong in 1957. The skyrocketing high notes of that year’s Autobiography project are missing. All that’s left is the soul of the man and fortunately, that was more than enough to make some timeless music.

Armstrong recreated a number of his old hits for the Garcia sessions, including “I’ve Got the World On a String,” “I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues,” “When Your Lover Has Gone” and “Body and Soul.” Interestingly, Gösta Hägglöf, the Armstrong oracle from Sweden, had written a letter to Joe Glaser suggesting Armstrong record “Home,” as well as “Stormy Weather,” “You Turned the Tables on Me” and “Just One of Those Things” and others, all songs Armstrong would record for Verve in 1957. Did Glaser pass the suggestions to Armstrong or Granz? We might never know, but it is indeed quite a coincidence!

“Home” was recorded at Armstrong’s sixth consecutive Verve session in six days (the first three were made for his second album with Ella Fitzgerald). This session found Armstrong’s chops in better form than the previous two dates and he already had an incredibly emotional “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and a touching “Little Girl Blue” in the can before he got to “Home,” the fifth song of eight to be recorded on that grueling August 16 day.

The Garcia version utilizes strings and though Garcia wasn’t a writer on par with a Gordon Jenkins, his string arrangements generally succeed more than his big band work, in my opinion. Armstrong’s 1957 remake of “Home” lasts nearly six minutes and I think it’s a gem from note one. Please listen along:


Garcia already hits a home run right off the bat by having Armstrong sing the beautiful verse. He sings it in the upper register of voice and the effect is spine-tingling. When the rhythm section kicks in at such a relaxed tempo, the effect, with the strings, is heavenly. Armstrong, though 35 years older, sings it in the same key as the original, pushing his voice for the greater good, such as the beautiful way he sings the word “fall” the first time through. I don’t know if it was a Granz or Garcia suggestion by Armstrong sings the melody the first time through very close to how it’s written, which, obviously, is the polar opposite of the 1932 original. Granz’s mix is perfect as you can hear every little tic in Armstrong’s voice, such as the delightful little “Tch” he lets out in between phrases at the 0:57 mark. Paul Smith’s piano defines elegance and the whole feel of the performance is gorgeous and relaxed.

Immediately after Armstrong sings the final word, you can hear a quick “Pffft,” the sound of Armstrong getting his chops accustomed to his horn. Perhaps to make it easier for him, Garcia has the arrangement modulate from Eb down to C (the 1932 record modulated UP from Eb to F). Armstrong’s very first note isn’t exactly hit on the nose, causing a moment of suspense. Is he going to make it? Fortunately, Pops was no dummy. Knowing what he could do and what he couldn’t do, Armstrong decides to stick to his middle register for a very soulful solo. Armstrong got into this bag a lot during his Verve recordings, reminding me more of Miles Davis with his Verve work than anything he did for Columbia or Decca during this period. Armstrong’s sound is very human on this performance, giving the listener a wonderful glimpse of his low register. In between the two A sections, Armstrong goes up at the 2:47 mark, playing a patented phrase of F-A-D, though normal, he probably would have hit two D’s. However, the one high D he hits is a little shaky and he wisely opts to leave space, coming back a few seconds later, more poised, with a surprising little double-timed run. He continues rephrasing the melody as he goes on and the effect is simply mellow.

The strings take the melody of the bridge, but Pops pops his head in to fill in the cracks with some lovely obbligato work, ending the bridge with his highest notes of the solo to this point, three high E’s (and when I say high E, we’re still an octave lower than the REALLY high E’s Armstrong could, and often did, hit when feeling 100%). Armstrong then begins the final A section with the same double-timed descending arpeggio (C-G-E-C) he played in the ninth bar of the solo, though this time it’s slightly smeared. Feeling confident, he tip-toes a little higher into the upper register but another one of those E’s at the 3:41 sounds a little weak, so he heads back south. Still, he has one more powerful moment left: three quarter note C’s that remind me a bit of Harry “Sweets” Edison, but each one is played with a lot of depth before he turns it into a nifty little phrase, complete with a quick, bluesy little flurry that reminds me of the way he would sing the word “That” at the end of his vocal on “That’s My Desire.”

It’s pretty passionate playing from a pretty passionate person. So, how do you like your Armstrong? Do you like the dazzling cadenza of the 1932 original? Or the wise old storytelling of the remake? Well, you know my answer: it’s all Pops and I’m all happy…

Fortunately, there’s still a good two minutes left after the trumpet solo and it’s here where Pops really begins deconstructing the melody. This is what really makes me wonder if Granz told him to stick to the written notes the first time through because on this vocal reprise, Armstrong barely hints at what was written. He enters with a supremely righteous “Yeah” before embarking on his journey, singing a lot of the high notes his trumpet couldn’t hit. He totally turns it into a new song, mixing in pinches of scat for good measure wherever he sees fit, which is usually in the third bar of every A section. My favorite part has to be the bridge, where he sounds so fragile, creating a melody that’s more touching than the original, which was pretty damn good to begin with. All traces of fragility are shattered with Armstrong’s scatting after the bridge and his triumphant final A section, complete with a resounding “Whoaaaa,” that threatens to blow up your speakers. The delirious trumpet cadenza of the original is gone, replaced by some terrific scatting and a low-key reading of the final “Home.” You can hear him smile as he holds the final note, probably thinking about his humble abode that awaited him in Corona, Queens…whenever these damn sessions for Granz came to an end!

I don’t know if Pops is responsible, but all of a sudden, there was a little resurgence in “Home.” The Mills Brothers recorded it in 1960, the same year it was recorded by Sam Cooke on his legendary Ain’t That Good News album, a work that featured his seminal “A Change Is Going To Come” (as well as a cover of another tune Pops recorded, “Sittin’ in the Sun”). Since then, the jazz world has gradually embraced the tune with the likes of Gerry Mulligan and Bill Mays recording it, though it hasn’t exactly become a tired warhorse. And of course, the more traditional-minded jazz bands embraced it with a number of European versions showing up on YouTube (a particularly brilliant version was recorded by David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band, produced by George Avakian, featuring Randy Sandke and available on Itunes).

So, as usual, Pops carried yet another tune farther than the likes of Rudy Vallee and Henry Hall. Pops definitely had a flair for the melodramatic and songs like “Home” fit him like a glove. I don’t see how someone cannot be affected by either the 1932 or 1957 versions. But that’s all for now…it’s now been two-and-a-half hours since my wife and I were dubbed “clear to close,” so the big moment is right around the corner. But don’t worry, though the hubbub, I’ll still try to pump out one more blog this week on “Rocky Mountain Moon.” But if I disappear, you know where I’ll be…. “Home,” of course.

Ohhhh, when shadows fall…….

2 comments:

Austin Casey said...

I've heard both songs over a thousand times and I still experienced that heavenly feeling listening to them this morning. Thank you!

GD Carrington said...

The YouTube version of Rudy Vallee singing Home posted is no longer available.

The same version is available at the following YouTube entry.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_C3y7cSSooE