Monday, January 28, 2013

Hustlin' and Bustlin' for Baby: 80 Years of Louis's January 1933 Victor Sessions

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Track Time: 3:10
Recorded January 26, 1933
Written by Harry Woods
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Ellis Whitlock, Zilner Randolph, trumpet; Keg Johnson, trombone; Scoville Browne, George Oldham, alto saxophone, clarinet; Budd Johnson, tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Mike McKendrick, guitar; Bill Oldham, tuba; Yank Porter, drums
Originally released on Victor 24233
Currently available on CD: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (as well as a number of RCA compilations)
Available on Itunes? Yes

Next up, a song that can be considered my theme song, "Hustlin' and Bustlin' for Baby." This opus was written by Harry Woods, a songwriter and pianist responsible for a score of standards, including “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along,” “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and more. “Hustlin’ and Bustlin’” is primarily remembered for Armstrong’s recording of it and as far as I can tell, the only other musician to feature it in the decades after was the great Ruby Braff. But in early 1933, the song’s publishers tried giving it a push, resulting in a brief flurry of activity for the song. Honestly, Armstrong was up first but because I like comparing his treatments of songs to what else was out there at the time, I’m going to save his for last.

If you like hot, New York-based jazz of the early 30s, you’re going to love this one. It’s the Adrian Rollini Orchestra doing the tune for Decca on February 14, 1933. In addition to Rollini’s bass saxophone, goofus, vibraphone and xylophone (the man was a monster), the song also features the cream of the New York jazz scene of the period: Manny Klein on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto saxophone, Arthur Rollini on tenor saxophone, Joe Venuti on violin, Charlie Magnante on accordion, Fulton McGrath on piano, Art Miller on bass and an unknown guitarist and drummer. Dick Robertson, an inoffensive pop singer of the day handles the vocal. For those accustomed to the relaxed pace of Armstrong’s record, the peppy tempo might come as a surprise, but I think it’s a fun, creatively arranged record (an xylophone and accordion passage!):
The song also travelled to London around this time, recorded by British bandleader Billy Cotton on March 11, 1933 with a vocal by Sam Browne. It’s more of a straight, dance band arrangement than Rollini’s hotter version, but that doesn’t make it any less important. This was popular music of 1933, folks, and I think we should take it ALL in. Besides, the violin playing at the end of the record is pretty hot, isn’t it? Here ‘tis:
So that’s how the popular music world pretty much treated “Hustlin’ and Bustlin’ for Baby” when the song was published in 1933. Fine records, but both are little known. But now, let’s give a listen to Pops’s definitive treatment of the tune. Seriously, it only takes a few seconds to understand that though this was recorded at the same exact time as what we’ve just heard, Louis Armstrong was living in a different universe:
The record begins with the band taking an unaccompanied introduction, sounding perhaps a tad bit shaky, but no reason to start complaining. I’ve always found Armstrong’s entrance to be almost comical as he plays just two, hurried notes as part of the pick-up to his opening phrase, announcing to the listeners, “I’m here!” Then he begins playing the melody and, at the more leisurely tempo, it sounds like a completely different song. It’s actually a lovely tune but all of its charm was sacrificed for speed on the other versions I discussed. Here, Armstrong is at his most relaxed though the immense passion he infuses the melody cannot be sufficiently measured. It’s clear he loved the tune, plain and simple.

After eight straight bars, Armstrong begins varying the way he plays the melody, reimagining the tune’s natural ascending arc with a series of two-note descending phrases that gradually, through slight of hand, also manage to rise while falling. Armstrong does crack a high note at around the :30 second mark, a tell-tale sign that he had already beaten his chops to death on the first two flawless performances recorded that day. As is incredible as Armstrong plays on the Victor sessions, it's clear that his chops were also beginning to seriously fail him and at times, the pain and strain of his performing life occasionally crept into his playing, sometimes adding a frail, human quality to some superhuman moments.

After a great bridge (he seems to float to the clouds in his closing phrase), Armstrong hands it over to the reeds to finish the chorus, the rhythm section swinging nicely. Then it’s vocal time, Armstrong announcing his entrance with a long “Ohhhh.” Just as he clearly dug the melody by the way he approached it on his horn, he also clearly had affection for the lyrics. He seemed to relish tunes about working hard for money, something he had done his entire life (“That Lucky Old Sun” and “Hello Brother” also come to mind). (And I made that earlier joke about this being my theme song because I do wake with the rooster every morning, arising at 4 a.m. and making my journey to the Armstrong Archives at 4:40 a.m. four days a week, hustlin' and bustlin' for my babies!) The vocal is typically effervescent for the period, with Pops’s enthusiasm infiltrating every syllable of Woods’s lyric. Mike McKendrick’s guitar is a nice touch, too. Listen to how McKendrick almost plays the melody straight; then simultaneously listen to Pops’s rephrasing of it, which doesn’t exactly fit the way it was originally composed. Finally, at the conclusion of the chorus, Pops bursts forth with a dazzling scat passage that even he seems to approve of. Are you having any fun yet? God knows Pops is!

The band plays eight more bars (you can hear Armstrong faintly yelling in the back...never mind his chops, it's a wonder he didn't lose his voice with so much shouting!) before picking up his horn for the climactic trumpet solo. It’s a doozy, opening with Armstrong rising and falling almost in perfect symmetry. He more or less floats through the bridge with the greatest of ease before he turns on the heat towards the finish, the band surging with him. Armstrong climaxes with a high Bb before finishing up with a patented slow cadenza. A beautiful record.

Tomorrow: Louis shows off (and inspires Sun Ra) on "Sittin' in the Dark."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note on this one - I feel that this is where Billie Holiday's vocal style comes form - listen to the way he "flattens" the melody while singing a song like this one - maybe she listened to this one. I am certain, he did not know this song before the recording session - but it is great fun to hear what a nice record he turned this one to be!! The trumpet on the end is spine tingling for me, love the bridge in particular, sailing over it all, if you catch my drift ...