Monday, March 18, 2013

Anatomy of an All Stars Concert - 1947-1951

And now for something completely different....

Back in 2011, after my book came out, I had a ball doing three "Anatomy of an All Stars Concert" blogs, analyzing sets lists from the 1947-1951, 1952-1955 and 1955-1959 eras of the band. I planned on continuing but I realized that they were pretty dense affairs--and the lack of comments/feedback I received confirmed it. I was busy enough promoting the book and trying to finish my epic "Listening to the Book" series so I put the "Anatomy" series on the back burner...only to let it stay there and wilt for the next 15 months.

I've always hated leaving it unfinished, so if you don't mind, I've decided to finish it by writing the final two entries on the All Stars 1959-1963 and 1964-1971. But before I publish those works, I want to go back and repost the original three parts so they're fresh in your mind and hopefully, it'll make a little more sense coming at you one day at a time instead of spread across two years. So here's the first entry again on the early days of the band. Enjoy!

******************

This is the beginning of 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
FIRST SET
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Muskrat Ramble
Black and Blue
Royal Garden Blues
Stars Fell on Alabama
Lover
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
Panama
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
FIRST SET

When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
Muskrat Ramble
Black and Blue, (What Did I Do To Be So)
Royal Garden Blues
Lover
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

SECOND SET
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
FIRST SET
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
Lover
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
SECOND SET
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
Confessin'
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
Whispering
Blue Skies
The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else
Together
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
S'Posin
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
Nola
Caldonia
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
Shine
Stardust
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
FIRST SET

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
SECOND SET
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
SECOND SET
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
Stardust
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
Lover
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! 

Tomorrow: 1952-1955.

No comments: