Louis's January 1938 recording of Chappie Willet's arrangement of "Struttin' with Some Barbecue" has always been one for the time capsule. For years, it almost seemed like it came out of nowhere, performed just that one single time and then retired because it would never be surpassed. But wrong! Again, my late friend Gosta Hagglof issued a live performance of the chart from the Cotton Club in New York from an April 15, 1940 radio broadcast. It might not top the original but it comes damn close (especially since it has better clarinet and the drumming of Big Sid Catlett). Listen for yourself:
From that same April 1940 stand at the Cotton Club, here's a jumping "Song of the Islands," which I originally blogged about here. Again, all Pops nuts know the classic 1930 original and the epic 1956 remake for the "Autobiography" but multiple versions of this great, unrecorded arrangement survive, meaning it was a favorite of Louis's during the Swing Era, too. Watch out for some great J.C. Higginbotham, too:
Next up, something from out of left field, the New Orleans classic, "Panama." Remember, Armstrong was fronting Luis Russell's big band and it was Russell who waxed one of the greatest versions of this tune back in 1929. Thus, even in the poor quality, it's interesting to hear the updated arrangement and to hear Pops blowing on it years before giving it the usual traditional treatment with the All Stars. This is from a broadcast from the Grand Terrace in Chicago, November 27, 1941:
Now, possibly the main event, a sensational "You Don't Know What Love Is" from the Casa Manana in Culver City on April 1, 1942. Hagglof issued the entire surviving contents and believe me, it's so good, I blogged about it by arguing that it might be the trumpeter's greatest surviving broadcast. Check out that link for the entire half-hour set, but if you only have five minutes, click the little triangle below and don't move for five minutes.
When I wrote my original blog on As Time Goes By, I lamented on how so many people on the internet have searched for an Armstrong version of the tune because so many people on the internet can't tell Louis from Dooley Wilson or Jimmy Durante. Ugh. Well, one broadcast version does survive from sometime in 1943 and it's wonderful. The recording ban was in full swing but if Louis had been able to record his arrangement of it, chances are people would be searching for it for all the right reasons.
I wrote a long blog series on Armstrong's many different versions of Dear Old Southland. Actually, almost all the versions aren't very different as Pops usually did it as a duet with various different pianists. But like "Song of the Islands," Armstrong had a jumping big band arrangement he performed of it during the war years. Here it is from an early 1943 "Jubilee" broadcast, featuring a vocal and three choruses of ever-swinging trumpet at the end:
Last time out, I shared an uptempo arrangement of "Ain't Misbehavin'" that Armstrong was performing in 1935. By 1944, he had slowed it down a little closer to the tempo of the 1929 original, but the thing still swung like crazy. Armstrong sounds great, as usual, with his always interesting vocal and dynamic set solo but watch out for the tenor spot by "Brother Dexter".....Gordon, that is. I originally blogged about this one a few years ago if you wanted to check it out.
Also from the 1944 Dexter Gordon era comes this fantastic version of "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody," again never recorded in the studio. (This band had a large book and if you come to visit me at the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College, I can prove it as we have about 300 arrangements from the time Louis broke it up in 1947.) This one is all Louis from start to finish it's a favorite of mine (as well as the late Joe Muranyi, who hipped me to it when I first interviewed him at his apartment in 2006). It was also the subject of one of my first blogs back in 2007--they were a lot shorter then!
Moving on to 1945, a big favorite of Louis's that year was "Accentuate the Positive," which survives in three versions from a single year span. I blogged about all three here and have chosen my favorite one from a September 1945 "Jubilee" broadcast to share now. Righteous stuff!
And finally, a true rarity, something that's never been issued and something that I've never shared before. No broadcasts have turned up from 1946 and by the time we get to 1947, the writing was on the wall as Armstrong kept getting roped in to doing special small group performances: Carnegie Hall in February, broadcasts on WNEW and WOR in April and the famous Town Hall concert in May. The latter was such a smash, it officially cased Louis and Joe Glaser to pull the plug on the big band. But before doing so, they still had a final engagement to fulfill at New York's Apollo Theater. And on July 9, the final Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra big band performance was privately recorded, a version of "I Believe," recorded for Victor a few months earlier. The All Stars might have been around the corner but the big band knew how go down swinging:
So there you have it, 20 live performances from 1935-1947 that hopefully will make a case that Armstrong's big band has been undervalued for entirely too long. And if it hasn't, well, I'll share 20 more! Hope you enjoyed this little excursion and thanks for reading--and hopefully listening--along.