Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Mosaic Records Louis Armstrong Boxed Set Coming Soon!

Man oh man, I've dreamed about this day for many, many years! If you watched the streaming webcast of my International Jazz Day presentation with Dan Morgenstern on April 30, you probably heard me make a special announcement at the end, something that I promised would be very exciting to my readers: later this year, Mosaic Records will be releasing a 9-CD boxed set Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and His All Stars (1947-1958). And it is with great honor to announce that I will be serving as the set's co-producer along with the amazing Scott Wenzel, in addition to writing the set's liner notes.

However, if you've been waiting for a blog explosion about the set, I apologize for the month-long delay but I actually jumped the gun a tiny bit as we didn't have 100% full clearance (we were at about 98%, which is why I announced it in the first place). Well, last Tuesday night, we got the word from Sony that everything was approved and we're full steam ahead! Huzzah! (Huzzah Cuzzah!)

So what to expect? Well, if you're an All Stars fan, this is heaven on earth. Remember, Sony owns Columbia and Victor, so that's how we got to include so much. Before writing this blog, I already spilled some of the details on the Organissimo forum. If you missed it there, here's the rundown:

1947 Town Hall concert - It was more difficult than  you'd imagine for Sony to locate the original tapes used for the old French RCA set, but they did. I, too, am hoping Andreas Meyer can improve the sound.

1947 Carnegie Hall concert - This is extra special, from November 15, 1947, two weeks before the more famous Symphony Hall concert. Not a second has been issued commercially (but for my faithful blog readers, I've shared the occasional track from my personal copy). RCA, who had Pops under contract, recorded it (probably again thanks to Ernie Anderson) but sat on it. Unfortunately, the complete set of acetates doesn't survive. In the early 50s, someone at RCA dubbed, I'm assuming, what they felt to be the best tracks onto reels. Thus, about 90 minutes of what was probably a two-hour concert survives (in great sound quality). The reels were mislabeled and buried until Ben Young discovered them about a decade ago. He couldn't drum up any interest at BMG to release it so I'm happy it's finally coming out through Mosaic.

Spoken word interviews - To break it up, the "Paris Interview" with Edward R. Murrow will be included, along with a 16+ minute interview between Louis and George Avakian done to promote "Ambassador Satch" (unissued).

Amsterdam concert - On October 30, 1955, Avakian began recording for "Ambassador Satch" by taping an entire show in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the complete concert doesn't survive. (Remember the "Chicago Concert" story about how Michael Brooks snatched it as Columbia was about to throw it out? I have a feeling Amsterdam didn't get snatched.) However, George did copy all of the tracks he thought were worth issuing, so they're all here, two that made it onto "Satchmo the Great," four that made it onto "Ambassador Satch" and a couple of unissued ones (including a great "Back O'Town Blues").

Milan session - This, to me, is a high point. On December 20, 1955, Avakian wanted to record more for "Ambassador Satch" but he wanted to try some different stuff. So he rented out a movie theater, invited a couple of dozen enthusiastic Italian fans, and pretty much ran a recording session, adding lots of fake applause. We have 3 of the 4 original reels, so we'll have unedited versions (without the fake applause, but with the Italians screaming) of lots of stuff that didn't make it onto the album: "Clarinet Marmalade," "Someday You'll Be Sorry," "That's a Plenty," "You Can Depend On Me," "Lonesome Road" and a different version of "Dardanella," in addition to "West End Blues," "Faithful Hussar," "Tiger Rag" and "Royal Garden Blues." An embarrassment of riches, the unreleased tracks are just as good as what got released (my notes, though, will explain why they didn't make it onto the finished album).

Los Angeles session - Not a live date, but it works. On January 24, 1956, Avakian recorded the All Stars at a Los Angeles studio, finishing "Ambassador Satch" with "Twelfth Street Rag" and "All of Me" and then recording a single of "Six Foot Four" and "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along." We found the entire session reels for this date so we'll have multiple, unedited takes of each selection (no fake applause).

Random bits - a version of "Mack the Knife" from Carnegie Hall that ended up on "Satchmo the Great," and audio of a few performances that ended up in the film: "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" from Empress Hall in England and "Royal Garden Blues" and "Ole Miss" from Africa.

The Great Chicago Concert - The CD set has been out-of-print for years so it will be nice to have this fantastic show in one place again (nothing new, though).

Newport 1956 - George recorded Louis's entire set and as Harold pointed out, released a portion on an LP shared with Eddie Condon. But the released portion is a mess: "Indiana" is from the Chicago concert, "Whispering" was a bass feature in which Avakian eliminated the opening bass choruses and "Mack the Knife" had a vocal spliced in from an alternate studio take! We have the whole set and will be issuing it complete for the first time.

Lewisohn Stadium 1956 - This was the big concert that Armstrong shared with Dave Brubeck, ending the evening by doing "St. Louis Blues" with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. However, earlier in the day, there was a rehearsal. Avakian had the equipment ready and as always, was craving new material. So again, in front of a small audience, probably made up of Philharmonic musicians, he recorded multiple takes of "Mahogany Hall Stomp," "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" and "Blueberry Hill." We'll have them, unedited and in multiple instances, unissued. But then George, after recording Louis in Chicago and Newport, figured Louis wasn't going to record perform anything new so he didn't record the All Stars' actual set that evening. But he did turn it on in time to record "St. Louis Blues".....THREE TIMES! This, to me, was the highlight find, hearing this whole sequence go down, with Bernstein addressing the audience, a film camera breaking down, Edward R. Murrow coming out, Louis playing encores to keep the fans satisfied. It's incredible.

Newport 1958 - And finally, another gem, Louis's entire Newport set from 1958, of which only three tracks have ever been released ("Ko Ko Mo," "Rockin' Chair" and the "Saints"). It was recorded in stereo and Louis is in superhuman form. There's virtually no overlap in repertoire from Newport 1958 and it ends where the set began with a reunion between Louis, Teagarden and Bobby Hackett.

So there it is. I hope everyone else is as excited as I am. I know a lot of All Stars naysayers might think, "Ugh, 9-CDs of All Stars many versions of 'Indiana' do I need?" But because of the nature of the set, it's very, very varied: Town Hall was a one-off, no one will complain about hearing the Teagarden-Catlett edition at Carnegie Hall, we have all the different repertoire and unissued material from "Ambassador Satch," two extended interviews, the Chicago Concert with its different repertoire, two totally different Newport sets, the Bernstein sequence, etc. It's a little bit of everything that made Louis so special in this period.

Now that you know what to expect, please indulge me a bit. You see, this has been such a personal project for me for so long, I need to take a minute to talk about my own involvement. To show you how long this idea has been brewing in my brain, let me take you to June 23, 2006. A little background: I graduated Rutgers with a Master's in Jazz History and Research in May 2005 and married my wife, Margaret, one month later. After sending out multiple resumes, hoping to get a gig teaching at a college, I realized that nothing was out there so I started going to work for my father's business, painting houses. Not glamorous, but it paid the bills.

And that was that for a LONG time. By the beginning of 2006, I was panicking that I'd be a painter forever. So I began pushing my love of Pops a little further into the world, giving my first lecture at the Institute of Jazz Studies that February and hiring an agent to hopefully sell my book idea in May. But on June 23, I was still painting houses, now outdoors in the summer time, sweating like a mother. Maybe it was the heat, but that day, I had an idea for an Armstrong boxed set to be issued by my heroes at Mosaic Records. 

The Mosaic website had a link, "Regarding Product Suggestions." I figured I had nothing to lose so I composed an e-mail. It's entirely too long to quote in full, but here's some relevant passages: 

 -----Original Message-----
From: Ricky Riccardi
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 2:52 PM
Subject: Regarding Product Suggestions

From : Ricky Riccardi

Comments :

Hello! I'm a Mosaic supporter from way back, the owner of over 20 boxes. They've all given my tremendous pleasure, but none as much as the Louis Armstrong All Stars Decca box. What a
set! I should reveal right now that I'm an Armstrong junkie who has written a massive thesis on his later years under the supervision of Lewis Porter. I have given a lecture on the subject at the Institute of Jazz Studies and my agent is about to send out my proposal to turn my research into a major biography to hopefully published either late next year or 2008. Thus, when I noticed the Mosaic site takes suggestions I figured maybe something can be done again with Armstrong (I understand multiple sets of Miles, Monk, Teagarden, Basie, etc....why not Pops!).

I think a huge idea would be Armstrong's fifties Columbia recordings, mainly because I've noticed how friendly Sony has been to you guys recently...and in the future with the amazing Ellington small group set (sign me up)....Jos Willems's new Armstrong discography hints that a lot more exists in the Columbia vaults:  For the Ambassador Satch album, George Avakian basically held a recording session in an empty theater after a concert in Milan, Italy. Again, some of this stuff was on the original Ambassador Satch album while two tracks were included in that disc's recent CD reissue so obviously there's more in the vaults. And I personally know that George Avakian has personal copies of the rest of the session, including rehearsals and complete takes of rare Armstrong items such as "You Can Depend On Me," "The Lonesome Road" and "That's A Plenty."

...In July, Columbia recorded the All Stars's set at the Newport Jazz Festival but when they released four tracks from that concert, only two truly were. And over the years, three more tracks were released on a Book-Of-The-Month set so THAT set complete show must also be out there.

Avakian also held a recording session in July, adding applause later on and saying the results were from a Lewisohn Stadium concert. It's not a long session (7 songs) but it would be nice to get them together. And finally, you can jump to the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival where once again, Armstrong's fantastic set has seen a handful of tracks released on Columbia samplers and a handful shown in the film Jazz On A Summer's Day. On the early-90s Columbia sampler "16 Most Requested Songs," a beautiful sounding, unedited "Rockin' Chair" appears. I hate repeating myself but there must be more ofthe concert out there. One of the myths I'm trying to debunk is that the All Stars live shows were always the same uninspired stuff. I've amassed over 2,000 Armstrong recordings, many with the All Stars, and there's all sorts of surprises in their playing. And in my opinion, the band with Trummy Young and Edmond Hall was the best version Armstrong ever had so such a set as I'm suggesting would be the ultimate testament. Oh! I also forgot the amazing "Chicago Concert" from June 1, 1956, which was released by Legacy in 1997 and I believe is now out of print. If indeed all of the above does exist, it would probably make an 8-10 disc set but it would be worth it.

Armstrong is the most important musician jazz ever produced and waiting over ten years is a long time to get a new Armstrong-themed Mosaic!

Well, I thank you for your time and I apologize for going on so long but like I said, Armstrong's music is my life and part of me is a little saddened that jazz fans only know the Hot Fives and Sevens and everybody else only knows "What a Wonderful World." There was a lot more to him. Monk, Mingus, Miles, Trane, they're all geniuses and they're constantly reissued and featured in all the jazz magazines. It's time for Armstrong to receive the same treatment. Thank you for your time and I eagerly anticipate many more purchases in the future (the Bechet's on the way, i want the Duke, the Chu, the...........)

Ricky Riccardi >>

I sent it off and Scott wrote me back two days later, saying, "Thanks for the suggestions. I believe most of the Satch material has been out lately (maybe not in it's entirety as you say), but we'll look further into it." And that seemed to be that.
On April 1, 2007, undeterred, I wrote Scott again with the same exact suggestion. I was still painting houses but also still dreaming. Scott again thanked me and said he'd bring it up with Michael Cuscuna. Silence ensued. 
Flash forward to February 24, 2009. I now had the blog and the book deal....but I was still painting. This time Scott wrote me with some very good news: Mosaic was doing an Armstrong box of Decca recordings 1935-1946. Great! But I used my reply to pitch the Columbia stuff one more time, now that I had friends and collectors like Jos Willems, Hakan Forsberg and Gosta Hagglof sending me copies of sessions and concerts I had only dreamed about. Scott once again said he'd run it by Cuscuna, but did agree that the Newport 1958 I mentioned sounded tantalizing. But with one Armstrong set on the way, there was no way another would follow so quickly. I let the dream die a little... 
Until June 9, 2011. My book was about to come out in two weeks, I was now working for the Armstrong House and I had a hand in helping shape Universal's massive 10-CD Satchmo: Ambassador of Jazz box. The time seemed right so I wrote Scott again and pitched my 1950s live Columbia idea from scratch, over five paragraphs and a thousand words. Re-reading these emails, I'm almost embarrassed that I kept repeating myself so many times...but hey, persistence paid off because this time Scott wrote back, intrigued. He requested the Newport concert from Sony and I sent him what I had from my private collection.  
A few months passed and on October 19, 2011, Scott wrote back: "So we had a little planning meeting yesterday and it looks like we're going to submit to Sony our request for the live Columbia material we spoke of earlier."

Well, you could have probably heard my shout of joy from wherever you were stationed that day. I don't have to continue going e-mail by e-mail to tell the rest of the story. Just know that since October 2011, Scott and I have been diligently working behind the scenes to get this thing ready. It's been awfully hard keeping my trap shut on this blog so forgive me if I've babbled a bit much.

What happens now? Beats me! I can tell you that the great Andreas Meyer will be doing the mastering and Scott and I will be selecting rarely seen photos from the period from the Armstrong Archives.

As for me, last weekend, I started writing the liner notes booklet and if you follow me on Facebook, you know how that went. Over the last several months, I had amassed a 38-page Word document of various notes, quotes and thoughts about the music on this set. Last Saturday, my kids went down for a nap and I started writing the booklet. Scott told me to come in between 10,000 and 15,000 words. Well, after three hours on Saturday, four on Sunday and three more on Monday, I was at 16,474 and only up to about disc 5 of the 9! This will surprise no one who has ever read my blog. Of course, I'm putting it ALL down right now and will go back and chop like crazy (not as hard as it sounds as I'm purposely trying to write everything I know about the sessions to see what will stick; I know some of it is extraneous as I type it but I still want to get it down).

Thus, I'm not sure if my frantic blog pace of 2013 will keep up but do know that I'll pouring my heart into the notes every chance I get (and my friend and fellow Armstrong nut from California, Sharone Williams, might pitch in with a Louis-related blog or two if I get sucked further into the abyss--more on that, and Sharone, soon!). 

Now, to answer the last question everyone has (if anyone is still out there), if all goes according to plan, the box should be released later this year. If everything goes smoothly, it might be here sooner than expected, perhaps in the early fall. But I'm telling myself Christmas, so I'd advise you do the same. Of course, once I know more, my loyal readers will be the first to know.

So keep your fingers crossed and keep watching this space for all the latest updates. I know the set is going to be a winner and I hope all of you out there reading this will enjoy it as much as I will. Thanks, everyone, for all the support over the years!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Louis Armstrong and His All Stars, Indiana Beach 1961 - Silent Footage!

Well, here was a pleasant surprise to start my morning: a four-minute YouTube video featuring footage of Louis and the All Stars at Indiana Beach in Monticello, Indiana on August 18, 1961! Yes, the footage is silent, but it's almost more striking that way; he still communicates that's for sure (and it's always striking to see the serious Pops, isn't it?).

The movies were taken by Ted Swanson. The opening title card on the video gets most of it right: besides Louis, there's Joe Darensboug on clarinet (no "h"), Trummy Young on trombone, Billy Kyle on piano, Danny Barcelona on drums and Jewel Brown on vocals. The only wrong name is Mort Herbert, listed as playing bass; that is Irving Manning in the video. It's not their fault as Manning had just joined the band and Herbert was probably still listed in the program. (Darensbourg and Brown had also joined the previous month.)

Here's some more information from the site where I found this gem: "'I’m pretty lucky to have that opportunity to hear and meet Louis Armstrong,' Ruth Davis said. 'People really loved his music and showed up for Louis Armstrong.' Davis said Armstrong and his band were among the more popular acts of the 1950s. As a girl, Davis remembered seeing Armstrong’s band members sleeping on the ballroom benches after a long bus ride. She also recalled a Monticello restaurant opening just for Armstrong and his band after a late-night gig. When Armstrong was touring, racial tensions were often high, but they did not seem to affect his show. 'There were some racial issues also, but I thought for the most part people liked him and the band,' Davis recalled."

Sleeping on ballroom benches? A tough scuffle, indeed....

Anyway, here's the footage. Angela Cox did a great job editing it together. Perhaps afraid to use Armstrong's original music, the sound track is a two-fisted solo piano version of "Back Home Again in Indiana" by David Drazin. It's very good but of course, when it comes to Pops and "Indiana," there's no shortage of choices. Thus, if you really want to get into the spirit, mute the YouTube video and play this version of "Indiana" from the All Stars at Newport in 1962, the same band except with Billy Cronk on bass instead of Manning, who didn't last long enough to play "Indiana" in front of a recording device.

Thanks to everyone who helped unearth this gem and make it public!

Monday, May 13, 2013

75 Years of "When the Saints Go Marching In"

Recorded May 13, 1938
Track Time 2:44
Written by “Traditional”
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Shelton Hemphill, trumpet; J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Rupert Cole, Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, tenor saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin
Originally released on Decca 2230
Currently available on CD: It’s on the indispensable Mosaic Records box, The Complete Decca Recordings of Louis Armstrong (1935-1946)
Available on Itunes? Are you kidding?

75 years ago today, on May 13, 1938, Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra walked into Decca’s New York studios to record a song Armstrong had first played as a child:  “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In." That first Armstrong recording of the tune transformed the piece from a traditional gospel hymn to a jazz standard that has become an anthem of sorts in the United States, having been performed by everyone from B.B. King to Bruce Springsteen. Gospel groups have performed it, it’s been heard in films and television commercials, children are taught to sing it in elementary school and just about every New Orleans-related jazz band closes with it (even if they’re sick of it. As the old sign in Preservation Hall used to read: “$1 for standard requests, $2 for unusual requests and $5 for the Saints”).

Type the title of the song into a YouTube search and you’ll get 88,200 results to wade through. Type it into an Itunes search and be prepared to sift through thousands results, with versions by the likes of Elvis Presley, Trini Lopez, Yusef Lateef and Harry Belafonte (it’s also on a “Baby Einstein” compilation of music for, well, babies). lists 929 versions of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” but that website also lists additional versions with altered titles or recordings of it that are part of medleys, which drives the total to over 1,000 recorded versions.

And for better or for worse, it all began with Louis Armstrong’s record, 75 years ago.

This is actually the third tribute to "The Saints" I've penned and though the bulk of what is to follow has already appeared here, I couldn't resist celebrating this tune's 75th year anniversary, especially since people are still so interested in it. When the Super Bowl was held earlier this year in New Orleans, CBS sent Wynton Marsalis down to file this report on the history of that song. Not too long ago, my friend Thomas Cunniffe posted his own history of the song, with new theories of its possible origins, on the JazzHistoryOnline website.

So I might say that Louis's version started it for better or for worse, but it obviously seems to be for the better seeing how many people love the song, how many people are interested in its history--and for our purposes, how many great versions survive by Armstrong himself!
I personally think it’s for the better because it led to so many great versions by Armstrong himself. When I type “Louis Armstrong Saints” into MY Itunes library, I get 92 results, totally 5.9 hours of Louis Armstrong playing "When the Saints Go Marching In.:  Add in the versions I have on videos and DVD and the actual number is over 100. Now, before you frantically close this window and go back to checking your mail, don’t worry, I’m not going to discuss all 100 versions. But there are some greats ones out there, including a number on video, and I think the evolution of the performance in Armstrong’s repertoire over the course of his career is quite interesting. So stick with me as we celebrate the anniversary of this song with an interactive look at some of the great man’s finest versions. Even if my words put you to sleep, skip ‘em and stay for the music!

Obviously, I’ll start with that first recording, though of course, it was not Louis Armstrong’s first encounter with the song. On the original Decca record, the composer for the “Saints” was listed as “Traditional” and that’s how it’s listed on almost every succeeding version. However, after digging around the Internet, I discovered that a song titled “When the Saints Are Marching In” was published in 1896 with music by James Milton Black and lyrics by Katherine Purvis. However, this is not the one we all know and love. You can read more and even hear a sample of that song by clicking this

According to the always-reliable Wikipedia (sarcasm), other derivatives followed over the years, including “When the Saints March In For Crowning” (1908), “When All the Saints Come Marching In” (1923) and “When the Saints Go Marching Home” (1927), but I don’t know if any of these sounded like the traditional version or the Black and Purvis. The “Saints” we all know and love (loathe, for some) was officially included in Edward Boatner's 1927 book of hymns, Spirituals Triumphant - Old And New. However, a silly website I found has an article about how Virgil Stamps wrote the music and Luther Presley wrote the lyrics…in 1937! Presley was a noted gospel songwriter, but composing “The Saints” in 1937? Impossible!

Louis Armstrong himself talked about hearing the song frequently as a child, both as a sober hymn and as a joyous romp during the second line parades that gathered after a funeral. On the Armstrong DVD The Portrait Collection, there’s footage of Armstrong on a talk show in 1961 talking about how he played the song as a kid in the Waif’s Home. So Armstrong was quite familiar with the tune, which was already being jammed by the New Orleans jazz musicians, but around the rest of the country, it was mainly known as a gospel tune. That’s how the Paramount Jubilee Singers performed the song when it made its recorded debut in November 1923 on a record. Titled “When All the Saints Go Marching In,” it sounded like this:

Five years later, in January 1928, Blind Willie Davis recorded “The Saints” accompanied solely by his bluesy guitar. He misses some of the changes but it’s a smokin’ performance and I never would have known about it without finding this on YouTube:

That same year, Frank and James McCravy of South Carolina recorded their version for Brunswick. Here 'tis, heavy on the violin and guitar and with some nice vocal harmonies by the brothers:

Another countrified take comes from 1934, when Fiddlin' John Carson and Moonshine Kate recorded it for Victor. Though it's not a jazz version, it's pretty much "The Saints" as we know it:

In 1930, “When the Saints Go Marching In” was included in the Broadway stage production of Green Pastures, as well as in the 1936 film version of that play. However, other than the above ones, I haven’t found any other recordings of it before Armstrong’s and certainly nothing that resembles a jazz version.

Armstrong had recorded almost nothing but pop tunes since he signed with Decca in 1938, though occasionally he got to break out an instrumental classic like “Dippermouth Blues” or “Mahogany Hall Stomp,” while he also got to record the occasional original composition such as “Swing That Music” or “If We Never Meet Again.” But somewhere along the way, Armstrong must have remembered his days of listening and playing “The Saints” as a youngster and thought a good record could be made of a New Orleans-styled treatment of the tune.

In fact, this wasn't the first time Louis had this idea. In the book The World of Earl Hines, Armstrong's valet and Hines's manager, Charlie Carpenter, tells a story about being in the studio with Louis the same day in 1931 that Louis did "The Lonesome Road" (where Louis mentions Carpenter by name). "Another day when I was there, he decided to do 'When the Saints Go Marching In,'" Carpenter said. "Now this was 1931, and he started singing the words. Then he sat down on a table, his legs swinging, and played ten of the most inventive choruses I ever heard in my life. 'How was that?' he asked the a. and r. man when he got through. 'Louis, I hate to say this, but I think you're a little ahead of your time with that song.' 'What do you mean? The Holy Rollers and everybody else do it in that tempo.' 'Yeah, Louis, but the masses are not too much aware of the Holy Rollers. I think they'd take my head off in New York if I sent this in.'"

Isn't that a shame? Could you image a 1931 OKeh record of "The Saints." Oh well, it wasn't meant be so let's be thankful that Decca saw the light and let him do it late. Armstrong’s pianist Luis Russell cooked up an arrangement and it recorded as the fourth and final tune of the May 13, 1938 session. Interestingly, the session featured a streamlined version of Armstrong’s big band, utilizing only one trumpet, one trombone and three reeds. Thus, without further ado, here’s that first recording of “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

I don’t care how sick some people might get of this song, I find the original record to be irresistible, right from the opening “chords” played by the brass and reeds. Paul Barbarin’s parade drumming sets the mood perfectly. In fact, this might be Barbarin’s finest record with Armstrong. I love Barbarin, and so did Louis, though he usually gets a bit forgotten when compared to his successor, Big Sid Catlett.  Catlett was a bit more “modern” in his approach, while Barbarin favored snare drum work and heavy backbeat cymbal splashes. But Barbarin was a New Orleans man and he always fit in beautifully with that Russell rhythm section of Russell, guitarist Lee Blair and bassist Pops Foster. Whenever Barbarin got to pull out his parade drumming tricks, stand back—“Jubilee” from January 12, 1938 is another classic uplifted by Barbarin’s drumming.

I think New Orleans drumming is an art form and anyone who says it was the boppers who freed up the drums in jazz has never listened to New Orleans jazz where it seems like those cats playing anything BUT straight time. Barbarin really boots along “The Saints” with his snare and those funky bass drum and tom-tom accents in between the choruses, a hallmark of New Orleans drumming. And Armstrong loved Barbarin's drumming. As I've mentioned before, on a private tape from the 1950s, Louis listens to "Jubilee" and shrieks in delight over Barbarin before telling his guests to listen to this version of "The Saints" to hear some drumming "that could make a dancer break his leg." (Apparently a compliment.)

But naturally, Armstrong is the main event. As the congregation of horns gives Armstrong his padding, the master steps up to the mike to deliver a sermon: “Sisters and brothers, this is Reverend Satchmo getting ready to beat out this mellow sermon for ya. My text this evening is ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.’ Here come Brother Hickenbottom down the aisle with his tram-bone. Blow it, boy…”

Armstrong had been parodying reverends since he was a teenager in New Orleans, creating a character that he would feature in live performance during his New York and Chicago days, as well as on records such as “Lonesome Road.” Of course, his announcement of “Brother Hickenbottom” is a reference to the band’s all-star trombonist, J.C. Higginbotham, who really “sings” the melody with his shouting reading of the “text,” getting cute responses from the high reeds and some somber moaning from the low ones. Russell arranged a neat little interlude to separate the music portion from the start of the vocal, four short bars that stick in the listener’s mind every time he or she listens to the recording (I love that patented late-30s emphasis on the fourth beat of the second bar, shades of Cab Calloway’s “Scrontch”).

Armstrong then delivers the vocal, a favorite of kids from 1 to 92 (or is that “The Christmas Song”?). He sounds joyous in his tenor register, getting echoing responses from the members of the band (as well as a female voice somewhat prominent in the mix). Barbarin lays down the parade beat as alto saxophonist Charlie Holmes takes a fairly bluesy solo, Armstrong telling him to “Blow it, Brother Holmes.” Another Barbarin drum fill leads to the second chorus of singing, featuring the same words as the first. The traditional spiritual featured many different verses but Armstrong was content to do only the first (in later versions he went as far as “When the Saints Go Marchin’ By,” but that was it, no stuff about sun’s refusing to shine or sister’s getting religion).

[Oh, and here's some new information. On April 11, the Louis Armstrong House Museum was visited by Joan Boone (original last name Hudson), Louis Armstrong's goddaughter. She told story after story of Louis, mentioning that her father was in a dance team and her mother was also involved in the music industry, later with Motown. And she says that the distinctly female voice in the background singing on "The Saints" was indeed her mother! I always wondered who that was....mystery solved!)

Before Armstrong’s even done with the vocal, the strutty, funky trombone of Higgy can already be heard in the distance. The song really takes off during Higginbotham’s solo, which is so note-perfect, part of me wonders if he “set” it in advance. Russell’s written figures for the reeds provide a nice counterpoint, while the rhythm section really drives everything along. Another reading of the Russell’s four-bar interlude sets up Pops’s trumpet, taking it out for two choruses. His first sticks pretty close to the melody, but the additional little notes and changes in phrasing carry the day (I dig the blues inflection on the first playing of the word “In” and those almost inconspicuous swoops and glides in his snake-like playing).

In pure New Orleans fashion, Armstrong doesn’t even finish the melody after the first chorus, instead holding a high tonic G to signal the beginning of the next chorus. He’s stays on the G before playing a run that works up to an F#, the major seventh and more or less a direct quote from Armstrong’s composition “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” (in future versions it would become more direct). Armstrong keeps up his variations before building up to an ending where he nails a high concert D. The band reprises the Russell “interlude” one last time and the record ends with a bang. Classic stuff.

When the record was released, Armstrong was met from resistance from at least one listener: his sister Beatrice, better known as “Mama Lucy.” As Gary Giddins reported this story in his book Satchmo, “Danny Barker remembers how Mama Lucy criticized her brother for tarting up a piece from the church. When Barker told Armstrong what she had said, he got angry and remarked that she didn’t see anything wrong with playing bingo in the church.” Such a great response…

So naturally, the song became a big hit and Louis Armstrong began featuring it every night, right? Not quite. The “Saints” revolution appears to have taken off a little slower than imagined. Wingy Manone recorded it in 1939 and was filmed performing it in 1943 with what was basically a copycat imitation of the Armstrong Decca record:

But that was five years after Armstrong’s recording. Hadn’t the “Saints” begun their march yet? Not quite. Revival hero Bunk Johnson didn’t get around to it until 1944 and there aren’t many other versions from the following couple of years. And what about old Pops? Well, Jos Willems has listened to and charted just about every surviving Armstrong session, broadcast and concert and he lists absolutely zero performances of “The Saints” between the 1938 original and 1946. And trust me, there are a lot of Armstrong broadcasts from those years, but Pops never pulled out “The Saints” a single time. Armstrong’s version led many New Orleans bands, both of the authentic and “revival” kind, to adopt “The Saints” as kind of a theme song, but Armstrong wasn’t playing with a New Orleans band and thus, the piece was kind of left on the back burner.

When it was time to revisit the song, it was for the motion picture New Orleans, a piece of Hollywood fluff that purported to tell the story of the origins of jazz in the titular city. It’s a mess of a movie but Pops lights up the screen and the music is often good. Three short takes of “The Saints” exist, all strictly instrumental and featuring Pops mainly playing the melody in a band that featured his former boss Kid Ory on trombone and future All Star Barney Bigard on clarinet. Armstrong sounds in wonderful form but the large group doesn’t exactly swing, instead marching along on top of heavy tuba beats. Armstrong sounds great riding over the ensemble, but otherwise, it’s kind of murky. Here’s the recording:

By April of 1947, New Orleans was getting ready to make its debut so Armstrong did a lot of promotion including an appearance on Rudi Blesh’s WOR radio show This is Jazz. The broadcast reunited Armstrong with many of his New Orleans cohorts, including clarinetist Albert Nicholas, bassist Pops Foster and drummer Baby Dodds. As I said, the song hadn’t exactly become a staple yet and Armstrong doesn’t seem to have played it much since the original recording nine years earlier. Thus, the arrangement follows that Decca record to a tee. Here ‘tis:

I love the tempo of this version and especially the drumming of Baby Dodds…oh, only if he could have sounded like that on the old King Oliver recordings. Trombonist Georg Brunis (aka George Brunies) makes his presence felt with his extroverted personality and fine, shouting trombone style. Armstrong’s two rideout choruses follow the pattern of the Decca, though this time, when he holds the G going into the second chorus, he uses it as a springboard to a very exciting B. Again, the performance lands on a high D, Armstrong sounding as strong as ever.

One month after the broadcast, Armstrong performed with a small group at Town Hall in New York City. The concert was such a success that Armstrong decided to break up the big band and begin touring with a sextet, the All Stars. Before doing so, Armstrong had to promote the film New Orleans in the spring and summer of 1947. While appearing on the "Henry Morgan Show" on May 21, 1947, Louis first played "Panama" with a small group to illustrate "the way we used to play." Then, with the help of a studio orchestra, Louis played "The Saints" "the way we play today." This is an ultra rare version, only made privately available by my friend, the late Gosta Hagglof. It's also the only other time Armstrong can be heard playing Russell's original 1938 arrangement. Enjoy this true rarity!

Without the solos, it only comes to two minutes but it's pretty action packed, Louis still shooting the lights out with the concluding solo over the much fuller big band. A great one (even though he loses that final high D for a fraction of a second)!

The All Stars officially debuted in August 1947. Again, using Willems’s discography as a guide, it seems that “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” was an infrequent part of the repertoire in the earliest days of the band, having been played at a Carnegie Hall concert in November 1947 (audio doesn't survive) and at the Nice jazz festival in France in February 1948, the only two known versions of the tune in the first year of the band. Nice does survive and I've managed to obtain it since my previous two versions of this post, so here it is, worth the price of admission alone to hear Big Sid Catlett play on it (not to mention Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Earl "Fatha" Hines and Arvell Shaw!). Here 'tis:

Even though the band was less than a year old and even though this is the only existing version from their first year, everything is pretty much in place, including everyone's solos. The tempo is solidly in the the foot-tapping range, which Catlett clearly thrives from. Armstrong would now play two choruses up front, sing one, then throw it to Barney Bigard, who usually began with a quote from “Pennsylvania 6-500.” Then Armstrong would sing another before Jack Teagarden’s trombone would take over. Then it was time for Pops, who, as always, led the two final rideout choruses, often changing his phrasing of the melody in the first chorus and always holding a note to lead into the second chorus. The second chorus would always begin with the exact phrase Armstrong played on the 1938 recording, though this time it would be played in tandem with Teagarden, while the “Barbecue” quote was more pronounced. And you guessed it, Armstrong would trade phrases with Teagarden until climbing up to that final high D (though once again, that final D really gets away from him!).

The Nice one is pretty terrific but it's the only one from that European tour. But by September 1948, the All Stars had a new arrangement of the song, now played as part of a medley with “Shadrack.” After making the original Decca record of “The Saints”, Armstrong began infrequently tackling religious material and “Shadrack” was one of the first up, recorded with a choir on June 14, 1938, one month after “The Saints.” “Shadrack” was a popular recording for Armstrong so it made sense to combine the two.

“Shadrack” would open the medley and when it was over, a drum break would herald the beginning of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” performed faster than any of Armstrong’s previous versions. How fast? The original Decca record weighed in around 190 beats per minute while the post-Nice live versions with the All Stars kicked off around 250!

The early All Stars versions of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” are all very exciting (especially the ones with Sid Catlett) but they’re all quite similar. In late 1950, Armstrong and the All Stars recorded a bunch of songs for use in the Mickey Rooney film, The Strip. For the soundtrack, the band recorded their medley of “Shadrack” and “The Saints” in beautiful sound. Here’s that track:

Unfortunately, when it came time to actually film the scene for The Strip, nearly five minutes of running time was a little too long. Thus, here is the medley as it appeared in the film, with a pretty complete “Shadrack” and a too short run-through of “The Saints,” with no vocal and only one trumpet outchorus. It’s not exactly a great film but it has a lot of music and a lot of priceless glimpses of the Armstrong-Teagarden-Earl Hines addition of the All Stars in prime form. Here ‘tis:

So that’s the story of “The Saints” in the early years of the All Stars. However, it was during those years when the popularity of the tune really began to take off in the jazz world. Sidney Bechet recorded it in 1949, Lu Watters waxed it in 1950 and many other versions began springing up. However, by the end of 1951, when personnel of the All Stars began changing, Armstrong momentarily let go of “The Saints.” Willems lists no versions of the song being performed live or on broadcasts between the summer of 1951 and the summer of 1953. Of course, Willems only had access to surviving broadcasts and concert tapes so the exact contents of every Armstrong live show will never be truly known. Besides, it is known that during Armstrong’s 1952 run at the Paramount Theater in New York, he closed each show with a Gordon Jenkins arrangement of “The Saints” for the All Stars and big band. According to a review of the period, “When the Jenkins band joined Louis in the final, ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,’ the house was in virtual bedlam. Jenkins seems to have such a good time up there, looking at Armstrong and Velma Middleton, he should pay to get in.”

In early 1953, when Armstrong embarked on an ill-conceived tour with Benny Goodman big band, those concerts also ended with Armstrong jamming “The Saints” with the orchestra. Goodman basically had a nervous breakdown on that tour and was soon replaced by Gene Krupa. Interestingly, a release titled “Where’s Benny?” features a set by the Krupa big band and concludes with Armstrong and the band doing “The Saints.” I finally purchased it and blogged extensively about that exciting track last year. If you'd like to read that post (I won't inflate this one any more by quoting it!), click here. If you just want to hear the audio, here 'tis:

By the end of 1953, Armstrong and the All Stars were back to regularly featuring the medley of “The Saints” and “Shadrack.” The band had a new trombonist in Trummy Young and his rowdy, robust concept of trombone playing added a new spark to the band. A broadcast from the Club Hangover in January 1954 showcases the power of this new edition of the All Stars on “The Saints,” whose tempo had now dropped back down to about 224 beats per minute. The Club Hangover broadcast is available on a Storyville's Armstrong Box (with notes by yours truly) and can be streamed online at David Radlauer's fabulous Jazz Rhythm site, which I discussed in a recent blog. This one is truly one of my favorites as it absolutely smokes. A big part of the smoking has to do with Young’s blasting trombone, which really spurs Armstrong to great heights. In fact, after so many years of taking two rideout choruses, Armstrong now began taking three, the rhythm team of bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Kenny John really spurring him on. The first chorus would consist of a mostly improvised reading of the melody while the second featured some call and response with Bigard and Young and a swinging descending eighth-note run. The last chorus was the set one he had been playing since 1938, but now the “Barbecue” quote stuck out and Young really came out like a piledriver, repeating notes like a rhythm-and-blues tenor saxophonist while Bigard would hold a high note. “The Saints” never sounded so good but as great as this version is, I’ve chosen right now to share another one from the same period, a ten-minute marathon from Armstrong’s May 8, 1954 afternoon concert at the University of North Carolina.

I blogged a complete review of this concert back in September 2007 but what I wrote about “The Saints” then still holds up today. Please listen along and prepare to be stunned:

Armstrong was in absolutely peak form on that 1954 show and he had just blown up a storm on the “New Orleans Function” and “Lazy River” preceding that track. Here’s what I wrote about it in September 2007:

“If you think I’ve been enthusiastic up to this point, I don’t know how I’m going to convey the wild roller coaster ride that is a ten-minute medley of “Shadrack” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” After another long piano introduction (you can hear Armstrong make a reference to the Ink Spots), “Shadrack” begins with an absolutely infectious minor vamp (think “Hit the Road, Jack”) and it’s impossible to not get carried away by it. Unfortunately, by this point in the show, something went awry with the tape machine. All of a sudden, John’s drums sound louder and Pop’s voice sounds distant. After “Shadrack,” the band swings into the “Saints” and though it takes some effort to listen for it, what follows might be the most scorching, free-spirited playing of the entire All Stars period. It begins like every other version of the “Saints” and after solos by Bigard and Young, Armstrong leads the way with his set three-chorus rideout pattern, Bigard and Young with him all the way. Armstrong had worked on this routine for years and it works. The song ends on another huge high D and it’s over. The audience goes wild and Pops counts off the tempo for an encore, done at the same tempo. This encore was also pretty set and it, too, works as Pops blows another set of variations before ending on another high D. So far, so good but it’s not over yet. John takes a drum break and we’re off for a second encore, now at warp speed. Now’s where the improvisation begins as Armstrong first plays around with the melody then launches into a positively demonized second chorus, where he blows like it’s his last night on earth, hitting high G’s, smearing phrases, playing some very fleet-fingered ideas and showing complete command of the horn before pushing himself to play the melody a full octave higher than usual in the third chorus, nailing every note before ending on a sickening high E!

And he’s still not done.

He counts off one more time, and this time the band sounds like they didn’t even expect it. Shaw starts walking, John joins in but Pops is the only horn playing for a few seconds. Who needs anyone else when Armstrong is blowing with such fury? Armstrong now turns back the clock and it’s now 1932 again. He starts showing his endurance, hitting high G’s and holding them, the first one for five seconds before glissing to a higher B, the second one for four seconds, before another B and finally a third for three seconds before yet another gliss to yet another B. I’m glad I don’t play the trumpet because I would probably start crying and put my instrument up for sale after listening to this. Then once more, he plays the melody an octave higher, sounding a little shaky at first but almost immediately finding his footing, blasting it out with authority. Bedlam erupts and even Armstrong can’t help laughing his funny high-pitched laugh he only trotted out when he was especially titillated.”

So that’s what I wrote in 2007 though there’s a few items I could add. Armstrong now sang, “I would like to hit the number” instead of “I want to be in that number,” a humorous little touch. Also, Bigard’s “Pennsylvania 6-500” quote bit the dust, replaced by some exciting repeated high notes. I wrote that Armstrong’s first reprise was already kind of set but I think this is the first version in my collection with the encore, including the “National Emblem March” quote. It’s definitely the first I have with the speeded up encores and the playing of the melody an octave higher and it’s certainly not the last. I apologized for the somewhat shaky recording quality, especially the overbearing drums of Kenny John, but fortunately there are other similar versions that exist in better sound (by the way, the complete North Carolina show is commercially available through my friends from the UK's Avid label here).

By 1955, John was gone, replaced by Barrett Deems and the “Shadrack/Saints” medley had become a popular set opener at live shows and on radio broadcasts such as one from the Basin Street club in New York City from around this time. In January 1955, the All Stars performed at the Crescendo Club in Hollywood, where their sets were recorded for Decca. Armstrong began the second set with the medley, which, with the encores, weighed in at seven minutes, too long for the original release. Thus, Decca lopped off “Shadrack,” thanks to some fancy editing in the announcement, and released what might be one of the most perfect versions of “The Saints” in the Armstrong discography. Nothing can match the raw excitement of the Carolina version but this one is the tightest; everything is set, Pops is flying and the sound quality is miles ahead of that from Carolina. Here it is, complete with the originally unissued "Shadrack":

Hot stuff, huh? In between, Armstrong appeared on the CBS show You Are There, playing the role of King Oliver on the last night of Storyville. It’s one of the most ironic television moments of all time. Before this clip begins, Armstrong, as Oliver, delivers scripted lines about blacks and whites playing together. At the same time, the All Stars always featured an integrated line-up. However, the suits at CBS were still afraid of southern viewership not being able to handle seeing an integrated band…in September 1954! When they suggested Armstrong hire a black drummer, Armstrong refused, defending Deems as his drummer to the end. So what the final solution?


Yes, you read that right. Blackface. In 1954. To give the impression of an all-black band. Whose leader just spoke about the benefits of integrated music. It’s truly bizarre, but the music in this clip is stunning. Armstrong jams “The Saints,” first engaging in a “cutting contest” with white trumpeter Bobby Hackett, heard offscreen because, well, he was white and again, that was taboo! Hackett sounds really inspired and Pops comes up with a string of improvised ideas. But at the end, he plays the set All Stars ending, marching and playing like he’s a kid in New Orleans again. A wild clip:

Louis Armstrong All Stars-When the Saints-1954
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By the mid-50s, “The Saints” was officially becoming an anthem in the traditional jazz world. For example, at a 1952 concert, clarinetist George Lewis played it as the fourth song of the first set. The crowd reaction was pure bedlam and just a few short years later, it was closing most Lewis concerts, becoming a standard closer for most New Orleans jazz bands until today. After the Crescendo Club album, Armstrong soon ditched “Shadrack” and began moving “The Saints” from being a set opener to being an evening closer.

By the end of 1955, clarinetist Edmond Hall joined the All Stars, beginning the prime period of the famed group. Numerous versions of “The Saints” exist from the Hall period and I have to share at least one of them. In early 1956, the All Stars embarked on a tour with Woody Herman’s Orchestra. Listening to the surviving recordings and reading the reviews from the tour, it seems like the All Stars played with an extra competitive edge. They often closed their sets with “The Saints,” joined by Herman’s group for some simple riffing. This version is from a one-nighter in Grand Rapids, Michigan and it’s a hot one with some new ideas in Armstrong’s rideout choruses and another crazy encore featuring Armstrong playing the melody an octave higher. Here goes:

Now, time for two new versions from 1956 that I didn't share the first time around. On August 15, 1956, Louis climaxed an all-star, Norman Granz extravaganza at the Hollywood Bowl. In 2011, the complete concert was issued for the first time on this excellent Hip-O Select set. For the finale, Louis called "The Saints" but after the vocal, acted as emcee, introducing just about everyone who performed that evening, a who's who of the golden age of jazz. It goes on for a while but it's a stunning moment, hearing Louis Armstrong introduce Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Roy Eldridge, Art Tatum, Buddy Rich and so many other greats. And then they jam the last three choruses! Pops is right on the mike and his tone soars above it all but you can hear the JATP horns pushing him (Roy probably wanting to cut him!). Here's the whole thing:

Four months later, in December 1956, Louis flew to London for a special one-night performance for a Hungarian Relief Fund. Instead of bringing the All Stars, Louis sat in with a group of top British jazz musicians, in addition to performing symphony arrangements conducted by Norman Del Mar. Well, the concert turned to shambles when the crowd went berserk for Louis and wouldn't let Del Mar back on to do his classical portion of the concert (my book has a large chunk on the evening). But even if there was friction in the air, onstage, Louis went above and beyond, playing in superhuman form from start to finish. Del Mar outfitted "The Saints" with a pompous string introduction; you can hear the crowd tittering and briefly applauding, probably as Louis made faces or seemed unsure when to come in. But once drummer Jack Parnell takes his break, Louis is at home, playing as usual and even overcoming the return of the pomposity in the rideout choruses. It's nice to hear the British musicians for a change, too, including George Chisholm, trombone, Sid Phillips, clarinet, Dill Jones, piano, Lennie Bush, bass, and Parnell. Here's this wonderful, unissued recording (quality isn't great but the entire show should be released commercially in a just world):

And the encore:

Back to Woody Herman, Armstrong and Herman met again on December 30, 1957 for the taping of the very first Timex All Star Jazz Show. The finale that year was a wild version of the “Saints” that began with Herman’s orchestra before Armstrong and the All Stars played the melody their way, joined by Jack Teagarden’s band, which could be called the All Stars’s farm team as it featured other members of the Armstrong circle including Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Marty Napoleon, Arvell Shaw and Cozy Cole. Then, without missing a beat, the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond plays a couple of choruses before Armstrong sings, backed by Steve Allen, June Christy, Herman, Teagarden and Trummy Young. Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole then engage in a drum battle before Armstrong leads the charge out. It’s a bit messy but the spectacle overshadows any of the hysterics of the playing. By my count, there are 33 musicians on the stage, many in the jazz hall of fame: Woody Herman, Bill Harris, Al Cohn, Paul Qunichette, Zoot Sims, Nat Pierce, Chjubby Jackson, Trummy Young, Edmond Hall, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Ventura, Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden…it’s mind-boggling. And for me, the wildest part is listening to all 33 guys blowing at once and through it all, hearing Pops’s sound still shine through. And because the director was probably signaling them to keep going until the credits finished rolling, Armstrong was forced to take more than his usual set three-chorus finish. In his third chorus, Armstrong takes the melody up an octave but the band keeps going, so Armstrong knocks himself out with one high D and E after another. He stays up there for three more choruses before we finally fade out. Well, enough blathering from me; enjoy this incredible moment:

Armstrong was clearly feeling his oats in the 1954-1959 years and 1958 features a bunch of great “Saints.” In fact, on May 13 of that year, the 20th anniversary of the original (and 55 years ago today), Armstrong played it at a concert in North Bay Ontario. Highlights from this concert were released on C.D. in 2006 to absolutely no fanfare but I’ve mentioned it here a dozen times because it’s one of the finest Armstrong discs I’ve ever heard. Pops is in absolutely peak form throughout and especially on “The Saints” where, instead of playing the set third chorus he had been playing for 20 years, he heads right on up to playing the melody an octave higher, with no encore or anything. When I first wrote this blog in 2008, I didn't include the audio because it was originally broken into two tracks, instead offering a link to buy the disc, begging my readers to do so. Alas, it is completely out-of-print now. The good news is two tracks be damned, here it is!
Part 1:

Part 2:

Shortly after the North Bay concert, Edmond Hall left the group. His replacement was Peanuts Hucko, whose first engagement with the band was at the Newport Jazz Festival that year. Now here's a chunk of what I wrote in 2008: "I’ve also written about this crime before and I might as well do it again. Columbia recorded Armstrong’s entire set that night and they’ve released a grand total of three tracks from it over the years, each in glorious sound and featuring Pops in glorious form. However, Sony has sat on those tapes for years now, though they’ve released every scrap of Miles Davis in their archives....It’s an outright crime but hopefully someone from Europe can get into the Sony vaults and issue it when the copyright runs out after this year." Well, if  you watched my International Jazz Day presentation, you'll know the big news that I turned out to be the one to break into the vaults, with the great help of Scott Wenzel, and it looks like a 9-CD box of live Armstrong goodies--including Newport 1958--will be released by the end of the year. More details to come when I'm allowed to divulge them!

Until then, of course, there's Bert Stern's film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Stern filmed some of Armstrong’s set including a brief, closing version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” Armstrong’s time obviously was drawing to a close to he eliminates all solos and such but my goodness, he plays with fury, again, like in North Bay, skipping the preliminaries, and going straight for playing the melody an octave higher. Stern’s photography is beautiful and the juxtaposed shots of Armstrong wailing really capture the intensity of the man. Here’s Louis's filmed set, ending with "The Saints":

So Pops was blowing his ass off in the summer of 1958, but he might have blown himself out a little bit as he sounds in less than 100% form at the Monterey Jazz Festival from October 3, 1958, and the subject on another one of my early blogs. Armstrong had a rough start that evening, even omitting his customary solo on “Indiana,” but he blew through the pain, eventually settling in a bit towards the end of the concert. However, by the end of the set, his lip was just about shot, as he doesn’t play his usual obbligatos on “St. Louis Blues” and “That’s My Desire.” He saves whatever he has in tank for the closing “Saints” and it’s clear that it hurts. In the opening choruses, he hits a few air notes and he really struggles with the “Here Comes the Bride” quote that bridges the first and second rideout choruses. All the fleet-fingered little phrases are gone but Pops manages to blow through the pain and still hits that high note at the end. Oh, the lengths he went to please his audiences and hit those high notes… (again, click that link earlier in this paragraph to read more and listen to the audio of this track).

Now, before I march onward, we’ll take a breather. If you’ve been foolish enough to attempt to read this in one sitting, you’ve probably fallen asleep. So if you would like to grab a cold beverage, check your e-mail, call your mother, enjoy a sandwich, take some Swiss Kriss, whatever, go right ahead and knock yourself out. As a means of an intermission, I’ll keep things strictly chronological and throw out a YouTube clip of Armstrong and Danny Kaye doing “The Five Pennies Saints” for the film, The Five Pennies. This was another subject of an older blog entry but there’s really not too much to add. I think it’s a magical film moment and it was recorded in October 1958, right where we are in the narrative anyway. There’s no trumpet playing but the vocal routine is a gas. Enjoy!

Wasn’t that a “gassuh”? The ending, where both men scat their hearts out, gets me every time.

Okay, class—I mean, readers—let’s get back to the nitty gritty. When I left off, Pops was struggling with “The Saints” at the Monterey Jazz Festival. But don’t fret, my children…by the time of his mammoth 1959 tour of Europe, Armstrong was in fighting shape. “The Saints” continued to be a show closer, allowing Armstrong to introduce everyone in the band and though a million versions survive from this tour, there’s not one that’s a dud. If you didn’t notice it on the 1958 clip, the tempo of “The Saints” had now crept back up to 250 beats per minute. Armstrong now sang “I would like to hit the sweepstakes” instead of “hit the number,” a cute touch. New drummer Danny Barcelona now played some accents when Armstrong threw a few punches during the trombone solo. Also, listen for Young and Hucko’s furious riffing as Armstrong introduces the members of the band for their final bows—they’re smoking! Pops’s three choruses come off beautifully, though he doesn’t play the melody an octave higher (also, listen for Hucko doubling Young’s repeated notes). There are a few videos of “The Saints” from this 1959 tour floating around YouTube but I’ve decided to choose one from Stuttgart, Germany, February 15, 1959:

Of course, the 1959 tour is mostly remembered for Armstrong’s heart attack (which he insisted was just indigestion). Armstrong clearly suffered some trauma and though he continued to blow beautifully for years to come, he now had to pace himself more. And here’s where the plot thickens, my friends. Because “The Saints” usually closed the evening, Armstrong sometimes no longer had the chops to make his climb to the top. This becomes apparent when watching a clip of the All Stars on the "Ed Sullivan Show" from September 20, 1959, just a few months after Armstrong recovered and began touring again. This is otherwise a fun version and I love the interplay between Pops and Danny Barcelona (“Hawaii Speaks!”) but Armstrong’s chops let him down in that climactic third chorus. Up to then, he sounds fine but his lips do seem to tire and it takes every ounce of willpower to make that high D. Unfortunately, the Ed Sullivan Show took the clip down off of a YouTube! A 55-second version that only includes the vocal is still there, but it's not worth sharing.

Take my word for it that Armstrong makes it, but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t become any easier in the coming months. Just a few weeks later, Armstrong and the All Stars played an outdoor concert at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. This concert was never commercially issued but it survives in beautiful sound. Probably because it was an outdoor concert, Pops has some trouble with his chops, hitting a lot of air notes and struggling with his dexterity (you can hear him complain that “It’s cold” during “Tiger Rag”). Oddly enough, Armstrong’s highest notes come out clean as a bell but he struggles with the middle register (I’ll never understand the trumpet!). Both sets of the concert survive and both sets end with “The Saints.” And on both versions, Armstrong, knowing deep down that he’s probably not going to make it, omits his final three-chorus solo. The first time around, he introduces everyone, then throws it right into Barcelona’s feature on “Mop Mop,” which didn’t require an Armstrong solo. At the end of the second set, Armstrong takes “The Saints” at a slower tempo, getting the entire audience to sing and clap along. After the vocal, Armstrong picks up the trumpet and plays one chorus, sounding fairly strong. But again, not wanting to chance it, he cuts it off abruptly and heads into the closing theme “Sleepy Time Down South.”

And that, sadly, was the end of Armstrong’s wondrous three-chorus rideout on “The Saints.” At the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, he segued into the “Star Spangled Banner” once he introduced the members of the band. At the Oregon State Fair in September 1960, the tempo slowed further while Young and clarinetist Barney Bigard tried out some new riffs during the introductions. But once the introductions are over, Armstrong throws it over to “Mop Mop” again, a tactic from the Keesler that would be repeated at an African concert in November 1960 and at a Swedish concert in early 1961.

So loyal readers, was this the sad fate of “The Saints” in Louis Armstrong’s repertoire? A few choruses up front, a vocal, then a short drum solo? Thankfully, no, as Pops wised up and probably noticed how much the audience loved singing the tune. So by at least a September 1961 engagement in Pennsylvania, Armstrong was playing two choruses up front, then leading a sing-a-long with the band members and the audience. Clarinet and trombone still took solos but now the tempo dropped dramatically to around 166 beats per minute, slower than any previous Armstrong version. And it now ended with the vocal, not as dramatic as the trumpet rideout, but still a crowd pleaser.

Yet occasionally circumstances beyond Armstrong's control allowed the trumpet to come back.  In October 1962, Louis appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, live from Germany. He did four excellent numbers, all now on YouTube courtesy of the great Franz Hoffman. I'd like to write a video recap on the whole segment, but for now, let's just focus on "The Saints," which begins at 9:58 of this 12:20 clip. It was the end of the show and closing with "The Saints" made sense. After the usual routine at the new tempo (everyone woefully clapping on 1-and-3), someone must have told Louis to just keep it going until the show ended.

Well, after singing it (there's a weird edit), there was still a minute left. Armstrong then picks up the trumpet and leads the front line (and other guests from the show) in an impromptu march around the stage. It's all well and good but Louis sounds confused, not playing much and possibly keeping an eye on the clock. After the second chorus, he sounds like he wants to end it...but at the last minute decides, "Ah, screw it" and goes for original last chorus! And he nails it!  It's all, from the "Barbecue" quote, right to the high D, Trummy turning back the clock to play those roaring repeated notes as he did for so many years. It's a pretty triumphant moment:

That same year, Jewel Brown became the group’s new vocalist and initially, she played a prominent role during “The Saints,” dancing, clapping and singing some remarkably high counterpoint notes. It’s impressive as far as singing goes, but it got in the way of the performance. By the middle of 1962, she toned it down to simply clapping and shouting encouragements.

But in April 1962, the All Stars were filmed doing “The Saints” for a Goodyear jazz short. Here, Brown really tries taking the spotlight, to the point where she seems to annoy Pops with her high notes towards the end. However, the real reason to celebrate this clip is Pops’s decision to take a couple of choruses in the middle. Pops is full of new ideas, including a quick “Dixie” quote and some scorching high notes in the second chorus. It represents one of the last great surviving solos Armstrong ever took on “The Saints.” Here it is, courtesy of a YouTube video that’s seen more than 6.5 million hits:

As I said, that was a pretty padded version. Here are the All Stars in May 1962, just one month later, performing “The Saints” in Sweden, a good representation of how Armstrong approached the song in the 1960s:

Thus, that became the normal routine for “The Saints” from about 1961 to 1964: Pops plays two up front, sings, trombone and clarinet solo, the band is introduced and Pops encourages one last sing-a-long. It’s pretty good, but I always get annoyed at Billy Kyle’s overly-church-ified piano comping, playing static inversions on the first and third beats, which usually clashed with Danny Barcelona’s straight swinging drums.

In 1964, “Hello, Dolly” became all the rage, a bigger sensation than “The Saints.” Starting around 1965, “The Saints” was moved back to the first set closer, setting up intermission and that’s where it usually remained. If the All Stars did a one set show, then “The Saints” might still close it, but after the band introductions, Armstrong would head back to “Dolly” for one final chorus.

Yet Armstrong wasn’t ready to retire “The Saints” just yet. In late 1964, Louis appeared at an Australian TV and actually opened with "The Saints." That wasn't the only surprise: he also took two entirely new trumpet choruses at the end! Like the Ed Sullivan version, Louis seems to be stretching to fill a TV demand, but who cares about the reason, he sounds FANTASTIC! Dig it:

In April 1966, Armstrong recorded a version of it for Mercury, his first studio recording of the song since the 1938 original. It’s an okay record, but please don’t compare it to the original. Armstrong’s opening monologue is fun as he recounts seeing a bunch of “soul brothers” who wanted to sing and blow “The Saints.” Then Armstrong picks up his trumpet and plain and simple, sounds fairly weak. His tone is still there, if a bit dimmed and though his variations on the melody are somewhat beautiful in their subtle nature, the tower of the strength we were used to hearing in the 1940s and 1950s simply isn’t there. And this doesn’t mean he was dead; Armstrong still had some great blowing in front of him. But 1966 seems to be a rough year for Pops on record and from then on, the status of his chops could be erratic from night to night. And sadly, after that first, weakened chorus, Armstrong’s trumpet is silent for the rest of the record. He still had his voice and he puts on a good show introducing the members of the band, but it’s not quite the same. Here's the audio:

But as usual, don’t shed any tears for ol’ Pops yet. In 1968, Armstrong’s chops sounded quite strong again. On top of that, “The Saints” was sometimes moved to the closer status, now once again sporting a faster tempo. This is how it was played on a BBC television show in the summer of 1968 and I’d like to share that recording right now. Pops takes two up front and sounds better than he had in years, though he has to go low a few times where he once went high. Nevertheless, it’s a good one (a similarly fine version from 1968 can be seen on the Bell Telephone Hour special, "Jazz: The Intimate Art," which I discussed here in March):

After illness forced him to miss more than a year of performing, Armstrong became a ubiquitous presence on television in 1970. In my collection, I have a great version of “The Saints” from the “Mike Douglas Show,” with Pops singing and leading a band that included Pete Fountain, Eddie Miller and Sammy Davis Jr. on drums! Zutty Singleton’s in the audience and everyone has a ball. Later that year, Armstrong sang it on the “Flip Wilson Show,” looking resplendent in a tuxedo and as happy as ever. In between, Armstrong recorded Boy from New Orleans, a new autobiographical tour of Armstrong’s life set to the familiar strains of “The Saints.” He would perform it on the “David Frost Show” in February 1971, just months before his passing.

But to close, I can’t think of a better clip to wrap everything up than this one: Louis Armstrong, taking “The Saints” back to church and back to New Orleans, where it all began for him. The occasion was a Newport Jazz Festival 70th birthday tribute to Armstrong. For the finale, Armstrong and gospel queen Mahalia Jackson duetted on “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” So there’s the church aspect for ya…but midway through, the Eureaka Brass Band of New Orleans comes marching out, filled with musicians Armstrong grew up listening to and playing with. They give “The Saints” the second line treatment Armstrong remembered hearing as a youngster. Pops marches around the stage like a kid again before stepping up to the microphone, clapping his hands and singing from the heart, ol’ Reverend Satchmo, still leading the congregation after all those years.

The full clip has been pulled from YouTube but is now availabe on the DVD "Good Evenin' Everybody" (more on that in a future post). Once again, Franz Hoffman has uploaded it in this clip, opening with the aforementioned "Just a Closer Walk"; "Saints" starts at 2:48:

And that, my friends is that. I don’t know if I can possibly say anything more about Louis Armstrong’s long and fruitful association with “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” but I know I had a helluva lot of fun taking a tour of all these different versions. “The Saints” has become pretty beaten to death over the years, but any and all Armstrong versions still sound fresh as a daisy. As always, comments and e-mails are always welcome…any additions? Corrections? Questions? Answers? Feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line at Thanks for taking this tour with me, celebrating the 75th anniversary of when the head saint himself—Pops—first came marching in, taking the whole music world with him…

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dusky Stevedore: 80 Years of Louis's April 1933 Victor Sessions

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Track Time: 2:57
Recorded April 24, 1933
Written by Andy Razaf and J. C. Johnson
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; Charlie Beal, piano; Mike McKendrick, guitar; Bill Oldham, tuba; Big Sid Catlett, drums
Originally released on Victor 24320
Currently available on CD: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (as well as a number of RCA compilations)
Available on Itunes? Yes

I know this series hasn't exactly been "11 posts in 11 days" as originally advertised, but I'm not going to quit now! (Though this will take longer than expected; next Monday is the 75th anniversary of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" and that must be celebrated!) When we last left Pops, he had just followed the priceless "Laughin' Louie" with the more forgettable "Tomorrow Night (After Tonight)," a song that featured some sloppiness from the band. It was the fifth tune recorded that day and almost everything that survives from the April 24 session has an alternate take, so you know it was a long day (they were also high as a kite, if Budd Johnson's testimony is to be believed).

"Dusky Stevedore," the fifth and final song recorded that day, was kind of an odd choice. Louis had recorded plenty of numbers written by Andy Razaf an J. C. Johnson, including "Honey, Do!" in January 1933, but "Dusky Stevedore" was from 1928. Why revive it five years later? Don't know. I'm sure Louis knew Razaf and maybe Andy pitched it to him after "Honey, Do!" After all, Louis's Uncle Ike Myles was a stevedore so maybe Louis took a liking to the song's thematic content (that's the only time the words "thematic content" and "Dusky Stevedore" have been used in the same paragraph). The tune has a catchy melody but oh, those lyrics, all about the happy dusky stevedore, who just loves his job so much, he can't stop singing and dancing. Sure he is.

Fortunately, Louis was ready, ready, so help him, he was ready for this one, turning in quite an exciting performance. But before we dive in, let's here how it was done in 1928 courtesy of the magic of YouTube. There's plenty of versions to choose from so let's start with one by Nat Shilkret and His Orchestra:

I like that record! It's a pure 1920s dance band recording, with duet vocal and a spot of hot trumpet ripped straight from the Beiderbecke playbook. But keep the melody, the feel, everything in mind for when we get to Pops's version. And here's something similar, Irving Mills' Merry Makers with Harry Reser and Tommy Dorsey and a vocal by Tom Stacks, also from 1928:

Al Bernard sings the verse on his version, mentioning how happy the "dusky" is singing and toiling away in the hot "Dixie" sun. Goodness, I hope they paid Razaf a lot to write this one!

One step closer to Louis, here's one of my favorites, Charlie Johnson's Orchestra, recording as "Jackson and His Southern Stompers," from 1928 and featuring the likes of Leonard Davis and Sidney Deparis, trumpet, Jimmy Harrison trombone, Ben Whittet, Edgar Sampson and Benny Waters, reeds and George Stafford, drums. Great band!

And finally, the non-Louis version most jazz fans know, Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra with Bix Beiderbecke, recorded July 5, 1928. This is fun, relaxed version (love the "Swanee River" intro), with nice Bix and Tram, some booting bass sax work by Min Leibrook and a vocal quarter made up of Trumbauer, Dee Orr, Harry Barris and Marlin Hurt. I'm sure Louis knew this record!

With those out of the way, let's flash forward five years to hear what Louis did with "Dusky Stevedore."

The music sure changed a lot in a short period of time, huh? Of course, Louis's introductory cadenza is worth the price of admission alone; it's kind of the history of jazz (music?) in 13 seconds, setting the tempo with those repeated F's, gradually alternating it with C's, his phrasing swinging, before uncorking that remarkable double-timed run. He pauses, glisses to a high C, marches his way down, explores the lower register briefly and sets everybody in motion at a high intensity level. The rest of the record could have been three minutes of a tuned tympani playing "The Man on the Flying Trapeze," and I'd be satisfied.

As I've written so much about these Victor recordings, I keep coming back to the idea that this was a transitional period for Armstrong, moving away from the faster, more frantic playing of the 1920s and into the grander, more operatic style of the 1930s. You can hear it all in that 13-second cadenza; in facts, that double-timed run might be Armstrong's swan song to that kind of uptempo playing. Of course, later critics would point to such flashy things as examples of the brilliance of the young Armstrong, drawing the conclusion that since such playing ceased to exist after 1933, Armstrong became a lesser trumpeter. Balderdash, I say....but you know that. Anyway, Miles said, "You can't play anything on the horn that Louis didn't play, even modern," and that into to "Dusky Stevedore" is a good example of Louis playing anything and everything.

But from there, the band is off and running with the verse. I've mentioned this before but it's worth repeating: Bennie Moten (with Count Basie) had just recorded those seminal December 1932 tracks for Victor, paving the way for all future jazz rhythm sections. Though Armstrong's section on this particular session is a little outdated with the tuba and banjo-like guitar from McKendrick, the feel is still light and swinging and a world away from what we heard on those 1928 tracks, even the jazzier ons by Bix and Charlie Johnson.

But back to "Dusky Stevedore," the tempo is UP, which Louis was always comfortable with. After tossing off the bridge, listen to how he transforms the melody. As you heard in the 1928 versions, the melody is actually quite catchy, with the words "he's just a" pitched up high before going down low for "stevedore." Louis, knowing that at this tempo, the tricky melody might sound jumbled, instead chooses a more abstract representation, sticking with just the higher first part of the phrase and turning it almost into a riff tune. He turns on the heat a little more during the bridge and finally starts working out in the upper register in the final 8, holding that A over the F chords for a long while, almost giving it a bit of unfinished tension; you expect him to resolve it to the F, but nope, he holds that A for all it's worth (and then some).

Next, anytime you want to kill a chorus with some first class improvisation, just call on the Johnson brothers! Tenor man Budd kicks it off with half a chorus, with his driving, Hawkins-inspired horn; he wouldn't smooth it out a little more until he heard Lester Young. Keg Johnson swoops in for the bridge, always his own man, and of the shouting variety Louis loved (see Trummy Young and J.C. Higginbotham) before brother Budd closes the chorus.

Pianist Charlie Beal takes the transition and then Pops sings a chorus. Like his trumpet playing, he doesn't touch the high-and-low aspects of the melody, instead choosing to shout it out over a pitch or two, taking a more rhythmically creative approach in his behind-the-beat phrasing and the words he chooses to hold and emphasize.

So far, we're off and swinging, everyone sounding great and putting the flaws of "Tomorrow Night" behind them...until the 1:55 mark when once again, everything nearly falls apart. Louis finishes his vocal, trombonist Keg Johnson steps in to take a wild break to allow Pops to get his chops together. But listen for when Louis returns with one dramatic note. More than half the band realizes this is stop-time so they hit a chord and wait. But Beal forgets and keeps laying down an oom-pah stride backing. Budd Johnson, oblivious, starts riffing. The rhythm section, panicking, joins Beal for a couple of beats, but then they realize it's stop-time so they, in effect, stop time...leaving poor Budd Johnson out there, still playing his riff! He finally wakes up and they all fall in line with the stop-time. The whole thing lasts only five seconds but it's pretty embarrassing, and I say that as someone who usually defends Armstrong's much-maligned early-1930s bands.

Fortunately, it's all in the background and it's not enough to stop Pops. He jumps out with three F's, each one turning into a falling gliss, before some operatic high stuff. But then it's almost as if he realizes he has two choruses to tell his story, so he puts on the breaks, turns down the volume and finishes the stop-time interlude by playing low and soft. It's only momentary, as he kicks it second gear in the bridge, playing some repeated notes, pausing, then diving into a break the finds up around high C. The band catches him with more stop-time for the final eight and Louis responds with more of that double-timed phrasing we heard in the introduction. Like I said, it wouldn't be around for much longer so it's nice that "Dusky Stevedore" has a few helpings of it.

He then holds an F for drama's sake, building into the final shout chorus (play your riff now, Budd Johnson!). He has the motif set that he wants to deliver, a two-note phrase from F to a high A, but that first A is a little cracked and a little on the sharp side. He follows it up with more A's, hit right on the nose, then starts floating over the beat--or should I say the cymbal backbeat of one Big Sid Catlett, certainly not the last time Catlett's heavy two-and-four inspired Louis. Catlett varies his rhythms during the bridge, which also seems to drive Louis to some wonderful playing. The band swings like mad throughout (never mind the lyrical content, the song's rather basic changes are great for improvising--and swinging) and Louis takes his F-to-A motif a step high, closing out the last eight by going from A to high C, once again almost losing the first C, but regaining his footing to close it out in style.

"Dusky Stevedore" has some great Pops but at times, it sounds like his chops are just hanging on, especially with those two sharpish notes in the last chorus. Remember, Pops's chops were in dire shape throughout this period and this was the fifth song he recorded that day, recording at least two takes of almost everything! Thus, even with the stop-time botch, I think everyone agreed day was done and it was time to call it a day. Another great, productive Victor session was over but there wouldn't be time to rest; two days later, they were back at it again to record SIX more numbers.

I originally wanted to do everything at once but I'm not calling a time out on this series to focus on "When the Saints Go Marching On." See you back here for that one on Monday!