Thursday, December 26, 2013

Best of 2013!

Hello, dear readers, and here's hoping you all had a wonderful holiday. It's the end of another year and somehow, though I'm in the running for busiest person on the planet, this is my 70th entry of the year on the ol' blog, up dramatically from 47 in 2012. I still love writing these, though finding time isn't always easy (that's why Facebook was invented, for me to get my spur-of-the-moment Armstrong-related thoughts/news/videos/pictures out as quickly and succinctly as possible).

I'm in the middle of 17 days off from work and I'm kind of overdosing on my wife and kids right now, thus, I'm stepping aside from the blog for a week or so (I should have more Mosaic news in January so I won't be going too far). But this year, while some entries were short and sweet, others had some more meat to them. Thus, though I've never done this before, I present a little "Best of 2013" list of my 15 favorite blog entries from the past year. Again, that's leaving 55 on the table but they're all easily accessed on the column to the right of your screen. If you missed any of these the first time or just want to go down the Pops wormhole again, sit back, relax and enjoy the rantings of a crazy man:

The Story of a Photo: Copenhagen 1967
My first entry of 2013 was inspired by a photo I saw on Facebook of a worn-out looking Pops backstage at a concert that was tough on the chops.

75 Years of Louis Armstrong's Unbelievable January 12, 1938 Decca Session
An in-depth look at a session that resulted in "Satchelmouth Swing," "Jubilee," "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" and "The Trumpet Player's Lament."

The Story of Louis Armstrong's Last Tape
Oh, this was an emotional one, spurred on by the opportunity to transfer the contents of the very last tape Louis Armstrong made the night before he passed away.

Louis Armstrong's Final Tapes
Inspired by the previous entry, an examination of the series of tapes--and collages--Louis made from February-July 1971.

Barrett Deems Centennial Celebration
My friend Bernard Flegar, an ace drummer man, shared stories and commentary on his friend and hero, Barrett Deems, on the centennial of Deems's birth.

Laughin' Louie: 80 Years of Louis's April 1933 Victor Sessions
I wrote a LOT about Louis's 1933 Victor sessions but this was one of my favorites, featuring more info on the silent movie cue Louis played during his solo.

75 Years of "When the Saints Go Marching In"
Everything you wanted to know about "The Saints" (but were afraid to ask....or sit through about three hours of audio for).

New Mosaic Records Boxed Set Coming Soon!
Bursting with excitement to break the news of the upcoming Armstrong boxed set. I still send people to this entry because it breaks down exactly what's going to be on the set.

Live Louis - Jammin' at the Cotton Club - December 11, 1939
Out of the blue (really, the Netherlands), three previously unknown live performances popped up in startling sound.

85 Years of "West End Blues"
Yeah, this was basically a rehash of an older entry but still, a worthwhile (I hope) examination of Louis's history with the tune.

The Beautiful American
For July 4, I wrote an editorial about Louis Armstrong and baseball that I hoped would get picked up in an NY paper. When it didn't, I turned to the blog and posted it in full here.

That's My Home - Live in Tokyo, Japan, April 25, 1963
Every time you think there's nothing more left from the All Stars, something incredible pops up, like this emotional version of "That's My Home" from pretty late in the game.

Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography - Avid Reissue
I was honored to get the opportunity to write the liner notes for one of my favorite album, Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography. This post contained my complete notes for the terrific Avid reissue.

The Definition of DEEP - Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, September 29, 1957
Footage of Louis incorporating "The Star Spangled Banner" into "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" knocked me on my ass in November. I tried to put it all into context here.

Satchmo in East Berlin, March 22, 1965
And finally, the great discovery of the year, the complete All Stars concert of March 22, 1965, finally broadcast on German television and shared around the world online. My blow-by-blow account.

Thanks, all, for reading and here's to what I feel is going to be another great year for Pops in 2014!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Night Before Christmas

Well, today is the day before Christmas, so what better way to celebrate than by listening to Louis Armstrong's reading of "The Night Before Christmas." (I caught up with the East Berlin concert so I didn't have time to post my usual round-up of Louis's Decca Christmas recordings, but you can still read last year's version here.) I've shared this in previous years, but I think it's only an appropriate annual tradition. This was Armstrong's final record, made February 26, 1971 in his home in Corona, just a few days before his last extended engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria, an engagement that pretty much sealed the fate of the frail trumpeter. He passed away on July 6, 1971.

But enough sadness! Louis Armstrong was the personification of joy and the man was terrific around children, two attributes that come to the forefront of this reading. And I recently learned some new information about this record that I'd like to share. One of Louis's private tapes housed at the Louis Armstrong House Museum (aka my employer) featured a tape contents sheet inside of the box on which Louis wrote, "Louis Satchmo Armstrong talking to all the kids from all over the world - at Xmas time." Here it is, from the Armstrong House Online Catalog (as you'll see, the rest of the tape featured a 70th birthday tribute to Louis given to him by his friend Millie Hoffman, as broadcast by Chuck Cecil on December 26, 1970):

Lo and behold, when I played the CD, it opened with TWO versions of "The Night Before Christmas"! What's crazier is the sound quality was better on the tape then on the final released record. I listened to them both and it struck me: they were two different readings. Louis's first reading is delightful, but he's a tad hesitant at the start and at one point has trouble turning the page (causing him to ad-lib, "Good old Santa!"). The second take was mostly used for the master though, they edited out Louis's clearing his throat early on.

Thus, we may never know how this recording came to be. Did Louis do it on a whim and someone--maybe Lucille?--brought it to the attention of Continental Records? Or did Continental ask him to record it (in February, two months after Christmas) but Louis, ailing a bit and probably unable to go to a recording studio, just recorded two versions in his den and sent it over to Continental to edit together the best parts? My assumption is that it was spurred on by the record label because why else would Louis read "The Night Before Christmas" two months after Christmas?

According to the October 9, 1971 issue of "Billboard," though Continental produced it, it was actually distributed by the tobacco firm, Lorillard. If you bought a carton of cigarettes, you'd get a free record! (Where have those promotions gone?) Lorillard printed up one million copies to start selling for Christmas of that year and they even awarded Lucille with a gold record, which we have at the Armstrong Archives.

Both surviving takes are very special and if you were to make an appointment to visit the Armstrong Archives at Queens College, I'd definitely recommend a listen. And thanks to the Louis Armstrong House Museum Online Catalog, here's the very cute collage Louis made for the tape box, probably made right before the Waldorf gig:

Louis, Lucille and a trumpet....who can ask for anything more?

Now, let's listen to the original released version (call the children to the computer!):

Later, when Brunswicky issued it, they added some silly sound effects and background music. To hear that version, click here:

Thanks for listening and I wish all of you a wonderful holiday...and that goes for Satchmo, too!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Satchmo in East Berlin, March 22, 1965 - COMPLETE!

You know, friends, even though I live for Louis Armstrong and have been blessed to have been part of so many worthwhile Pops projects, there are times when my faith wavers a bit and I think, "Am I the only one out there who feels that way?" Okay, I know I'm not the ONLY one out there but anytime I glance at the mainstream jazz press, Pops is absent. I remember when I first started this blog in 2007, I lamented about how it had been years since a major jazz magazine did a cover story on Louis. That sure as hell hasn't changed six years later.

Case in point: the results of the 2013 NPR Jazz Critics Poll were just released. I was curious about the reissue category since I had two ponies in the race: Satchmo at Symphony Hall 65th Anniversary, which I co-produced and wrote the liner notes for, and The OKeh, Columbia and RCA Victor Recordings, 1925-1933, which I also wrote the liners for. Both came out to almost humorously little fanfare. My man Skip Heller covered Symphony Hall almost immediately over at All About Jazz but it took about eight months before Downbeat and Jazz Times picked up on it. I had spent about a year putting together a complete version of a historic concert by one of the music's undisputed geniuses....and it was met by a shrug for the most part in the jazz press.

Thus, it really wasn't a surprise when I checked the NPR poll's results in the reissue category: Miles in first with 81 votes, followed by a lot of the usual suspects: Woody Shaw, Jack DeJohnette, Clifford Jordan, Miles again, Paul Motian, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, etc.

And Pops? Two votes for the Okeh/Columbia/Victor set, putting it in a tie for 53rd place. And dear old Symphony Hall? One lowly third place vote, putting it in a tie for 73rd--and last--place.

So it's those moments when I think, "Why? Why does the jazz world go into hysterics over Miles and Coltrane reissues but completely ignores Pops? Why I am I killing myself day and night on this Mosaic set when a Clifford Jordan set is going to get more respect, coverage and yes, votes, when all is said and done?" Those are low moments.

Fortunately, those are fleeting moments because they are usually consumed by other, larger moments when I am told without a doubt that love for Louis Armstrong is alive and well around the world and not only am I not alone, but there's a bunch of Pops nuts out there who feel just as deeply about this man and his music as I.

Why the dramatic (partially depressing) opening to what should be one of the more exciting blogs I've ever written? Because of what I've experienced the last few weeks since the compete video of the All Stars' March 22, 1965 East Berlin surfaced. Let me quickly take you through the story, if you don't mind. A couple of days after Thanksgiving, I was contacted by the fantastic German drummer Bernard Flegar (and a true All Stars fanatic), telling me that German television showed this concert the previous night...and it was streaming online!

I freaked out. I was very familiar with the concert. The Jazzpoint label released it on two separate CDs (Volume 1 and Volume 2 are here but the order is all scrambled) and many years ago, my friend Ingo Ruppert sent me a one hour edited copy of the footage, which proved extremely helpful in the writing of my book (seeing Louis perform "Black and Blue" gave me the climax of my narrative). The one-hour version finally surfaced on YouTube on January 24, 2013 and in less than a year, has amassed over 70,000 views. Great!

But I knew, I KNEW, the footage of the complete concert existed and thanks to Bernard, I was now watching it at home on my computer, my jaw on the desk. I quickly opened Facebook, posted the link and watched Armstrong fans around the world, joyously digging it along with me. Michael Cogswell and Jennifer Walden-Weprin from the Armstrong House, Daniel Andersen from Israel, the descendants (Tyree Glenn Jr. and Dana Barcelona), Zan Anderle of Slovenia, Sven-Olof Lindman of Sweden, Sharone Williams of California, Dave Laczko of Austin, Phil Person and Dave Whitney of the Boston area, Simone Dabusti of Italy, the swinging Bateman Brothers of the UK, the Louis Armstrong Facebook page (more than 1 million likes), Brent Broussard of New Orleans, Nou Dadoun of Canada, Michael Steinman of Long Island, Robert Klein of North Carolina, the swinging drummer Hal Smith and MANY others joined in, spreading the Pops love from around the world.

I knew I had to write the blog of the century about this concert but I just didn't have any time. Finally, I found my opening, went to the website to get the link....and it was gone. Panicking, I decided to revise an old blog on "Basin Street Blues" but in my opening paragraph, I expressed my lament about not being able to write about the 1965 concert because the link was no longer there. That was it, one little paragraph....and all of sudden, the comments, e-mails and Facebook messages started pouring in. Some people saved the concert; others wrote the German station; others offered to send me copies. It was a Christmas miracle! It was so incredibly touching because it definitively demonstrated that not only am I not alone in my Pops fandom, but there's others out there who want to share this stuff as much as I do. Many, many thanks to Daniel Andersen, Daniel Stein, Sebastian Claudius Semler, Claus Uwe Zanisch,  Sven-Olof Lindman, Ron Cannatella, Horatio Vasilescu, Ole Mathiasen, Len Pogost, Stefano Zenni and everyone else who wrote in, inquiring about the concert, offering to help and wanting to help in getting it back up.

The link DID start working again and there was rejoicing (it was up during a dinner party at David Ostwald's house and he showed it to his guests, Quincy Jones and George Avakian. Wrap that around your heard.). But I checked again this morning and it's gone. But not to worry. Thanks to one of the above-named people (he knows who he is), I was able to upload the concert on YouTube! Now, if you notice, I have not named the German network and the YouTube link doesn't mention Louis's actual name. I don't know why I'm so scared since the one-hour version, aired by the same network, has 70,000 views, as I mentioned, and doesn't seem to be going anywhere. But I don't want to tip the wrong people off, who might demand it be taken down. And that will be a dark day. I will use my connections to attempt to pitch this as a DVD to some of the labels I've worked with but until that lucky day, enjoy the complete concert!

Now, with my Christmas epiphany out of the way, let's get to the music. I don't want to go too much into the backstory, as I have almost an entire chapter in my book about this tour and if you speak German, Stephan Schulz wrote an entire book about Armstrong's 1965 visit to Germany. It was a historic tour as it marked the first--and only--time Louis cracked the Iron Curtain. Controversy was also swirling around as earlier in March, the bloody violence of the march on Selma, Alabama, caused Armstrong to lash out in the press, saying, "They would beat Jesus if he was black and marched," a line that made headlines. Armstrong was too smart to talk about it once he got behind the Iron Curtain, but he did start playing "Black and Blue" every night on the tour, a song he hadn't played regularly in years and one that carried quite a strong message.

This, to me, was also one of the finest editions of Armstrong's All Stars. Billy Kyle on piano and Danny Barcelona on drums had been playing together since 1958 and with the addition of familiar face Arvell Shaw on bass in 1963, the group sported a top-notch rhythm section. In the front line, Tyree Glenn had just joined a few weeks earlier but as can be seen, he fit like a glove from the start. I've always liked Tyree but I'm more of a Teagarden-Trummy man. However, watching--and listening--to him in this concert, he impressed me more than ever before. What a musician! (And a great showman to boot.) Clarinetist Eddie Shu is sometimes listed as one of those "also-ran" All Stars but I think he acquits himself marvelously here (the late Joe Muranyi was also a fan). I think it was Joe Darensbourg who mentioned that Shu's father was friendly with Joe Glaser and Glaser got him into the All Stars for a one-year (almost to the day) stint. Shu was something of a bopper but he could also swing, as he often proved during his long partnership with Gene Krupa. However, Shu wasn't much of a showman and it could be a little disturbing at first to see Louis and Tyree smiling so broadly and having a ball and Shu next to them unable to even muster a fake grin. In the end, it's his playing that matters and he plays great.

And then there's Pops. What can be said about Pops? Well, for one thing, this is one of the great last stands of his chops. A month later, he had dental surgery and some new bridgework put in his mouth. He took six weeks off to recover but his chops were never quite the same. He might have been in some pain in East Berlin, but my goodness does he blow like a man possessed. He also looks tired when he's not in the spotlight with good reason: he was tired. Any footage--or even concert recordings--of Louis in the 1950s, man, he's a ball of fire. But in the 1960s, he started having more trouble hiding how tired he was, something a few reviewers spotted in this period, especially since in certain venues--like in East Berlin--his resting spot consisted of three chairs ON STAGE behind the piano! But when he steps up to  his spot, stand back....

A few words on the songs is due:

When It's Sleepy Time Down South - I don't think I've ever seen the All Stars get introduced so it was pretty neat seeing them come out and take their positions (each one to  different drum pattern from Danny Barcelona) before The Man arrived to lead them into "Sleepy Time" without saying a word (though dig the way he appears from behind that curtain!). As always, "the warmth is there," as Pops liked to say about his longtime theme song.

Indiana - I've used this clip in presentations before because by this point, two of the normal complaints about Louis were, "Oh, no, not 'Indiana' again!" and "These poor fans are only coming to see him do 'Hello, Dolly,' but they have no idea that he was a great trumpeter!" I think this version refutes both of those statements. Yes, Armstrong had been leading off with "Indiana since around 1951 but my goodness is it an exciting opener and his trumpet sounds superhuman. I remember the first time David Ostwald saw this at a Satchmo Summerfest presentation I did in 2008, he remarked that because of the camera angle, Armstrong's trumpet looked like a bazooka on his shoulder, as he launches those high notes to the heavens. Safe to say that if you did come for "Dolly," it would only take a few bars of "Indiana" to KNOW that this man was still a great trumpet player.

Black and Blue - As I mentioned, this is the climax of my book so this performance has special meaning to me. I've been showing it at lectures for six years and it almost always makes the room tear up. The tempo is so slow, his vocal is so full of hurt ("I'm RIGHT inside") and the trumpet lead at the end is so emotion, I don't know what else to say about it. On the hourlong edit of the concert, the end would always cut to the Louis clapping for Billy Kyle's feature, which always took some of the steam out of it. The complete concert finally allows us to appreciate Pops taking a very deep bow. He knew what he accomplished.

Tiger Rag - It's tough to follow something so heavy and "Tiger Rag" might seem like it's coming from another planet but it's still fun. Louis's 1950s versions of the old warhorse were epic but after his heart attack in 1959, he cut it down to about 90 seconds of fury, usually featuring his clarinetist. Here, Shu (who lowers the mike just in time!) shows off some of his boppish, fancy fingering but Pops still brings it home with that freakish high F. He looks VERY happy to be able to still hit it on the nose!

When I Grow Too Old to Dream - Time for the first All Stars feature with Billy Kyle in the spotlight. Kyle usually did "Perdido," which I love, but I'm happy to not have it here as it got a little TOO fast by 1965 (and there's a fine version of it on the Australia DVD from 1963). This is one of my favorite Kyle features because when he dug into these medium-tempo pieces, he could really swing like a mother, pumping out some bluesy, two-handed offerings (I'm no Billy Kyle but his medium-tempo features have always been a big influence on my own piano stylings). Shaw and Barcelona are in the pocket and when Barcelona switches from brushes to sticks, watch out!

However, Kyle is overshadowed on this video by what's going on directly behind him. Armstrong, Glenn and Shu occupy three chairs to take a little break, have a sip of water and some smokes. Goodness knows they deserve it but there's something about seeing Pops decompress like that that's almost unnerving at first. There's no smile, no reacting to the music. He looks down, he wipes his brow. He looks like a boxer in between rounds of a ferocious fight. This is hard work. He's not "coasting" as some critics claimed (and still claim) and for a few minutes, the toll of it all is right there for us all to see. The director obviously felt the same way as most of "When I Grow Too Old to Dream" is focused on Pops relaxing than Kyle. For the rest of the broadcast, the director occasionally flashes over to the band relaxing but on this number, it's almost an obsession. And a valuable one at that, too. Also, much has always been made of Louis looking weary backstage, then walking through the curtain and coming alive. You can see that time and again throughout the concert and it's really something to marvel at.

Hello, Dolly! - Case in point: how does someone who just looked so beat pick himself up and get it together to deliver a performance that is six minutes of nothing but joy? I already wrote about this in my 50th anniversary post on "Dolly" earlier this month as it's long been one of my favorites. Everyone's having a ball, the trumpet playing is as full-toned and spectacular as you can imagine and each successive encore is more and more infectious. Also, remember that no Louis Armstrong records were even available in East Berlin before Pops got there so the reaction of the crowd is fully the reaction to the man on the stage. Most of those in attendance probably didn't know about "Dolly" but once you watch a performance like that, how could you not flip out?

Memories of You - Eddie Shu time and it's a knockout. When I celebrated Louis's history with this tune a few years ago, I got more reactions to Shu's version than Louis's. I'm not saying it's better than what Pops did on it, but it will surprise you if you don't know what to expect from Shu. He's got his own sound, he knows how to play the melody, he gets to show off his technique on the double-time section and at one point, he gets so bluesy, you can hear Arvell Shaw groan in approval. And as a bonus you get Pops shooting the lights out with that gorgeous Eubie Blake melody he immortalized 35 years earlier. Doesn't get much better from a feature standpoint and again, the tremendous ovation Shu receives is completely earned.

Lover Come Back to Me/Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man - Next up, female vocalist Jewel Brown is featured on a few standards. I know some Armstrong devotees who are a little cool on Jewel because she was so young, beautiful and polished, it was a striking contrast to the earthy nature of Velma Middleton. Also, she never did anything with Louis so she always seemed like her own woman. I'm a Velma nut but I never minded Jewel as she could clearly sing and had a lot of fun on stage. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to see a LOT of Armstrong fans revising their opinions on Jewel in the comments on the video on my Facebook page. Sometimes, you have to see someone in action to really appreciate the total package. The way she reacts to Kyle's too-fast kickoff tempo on "Lover" is funny and if "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" is a bit theatrical, no one can deny that she sings the shit out of it.

When the Saints Go Marchin' In - To close the first set, Armstrong calls his big pre-"Dolly" closer, "The Saints." The tempo of this number really slowed in the early 60s but it gradually began rising as the decade played out, hitting a happy bounce here. Jewel's cheerleading was a little obnoxious on the famous 1962 Goodyear version but she's much more tolerable here, getting everyone to clap along. Eddie Shu also loosens up, hitting a home run with his clarinet during Tyree's solo. Pops sounds wonderful at the start but like almost all post-1959 versions, he chooses to end with a singalong vocal, still effective if not quite as exciting as the old three-chorus solo.

Interestingly, at the 43-minute mark, Armstrong calls an intermission. In the early days of the All Stars, Pops would do two sets, usually an hour each. By the mid-50s, he's make the first set top heavy, usually coming in at 80-90 minutes and then doing a short 30-40 minute second set. In the mid-60s, he reversed it, doing 43 minutes here and 75 minutes in the second set. Take a break, then, because it's intermission!

OK, ready for more? Let's commence with the second set:

Struttin' With Some Barbecue - This number had been Armstrong's second set opener for years, an exciting instrumental way to open round two. This was another number Armstrong spent years crafting a "set" solo and once he got it, he didn't change it. But by the 1960s, as he started having difficulty executing some of the more fleet-fingered phrases, he'd begin to improvise. This solo is almost has lots of different touches than the others (save the usual "That's My Home" closing quote) and it's a knockout, another one fans mentioned to me in the various messages I received about this concert this month. And the rideout has Louis reaching for--and hitting--some higher notes than normal. He's ready to blow!

The Faithful Hussar - Of course, being in Germany, it was a natural for Louis to call his favorite German folk song. This is a fun performance, with a great vocal from Pops, some riotous trombone from Tyree (he wasn't as blustery as Trummy but he could whoop it up) and that ridiculous upper register final lead playing from Pops. This one stayed in the book until at least 1967 but he wasn't able to go that high after the dental work, making this the last peak version of "Hussar."

Royal Garden Blues - Man, you KNOW he was feeling good, calling three demanding trumpet numbers in a row. The tempo is turbospeed but doesn't throw Louis off as he just sounds as relaxed as ever, focusing on hitting the high hard ones on the nose rather than any flashy phrases (Eddie Shu barely gets out of the way after his solo with Pops breathing down his neck!).

Blueberry Hill - With those trumpet specialities out of the way, it was time for Pops to treat himself to an all vocal number, "Blueberry Hill." This was another one he had been singing for 16 years, so critics would roll their eyes and look at the their watches. I admit, sometimes if I'm not in the mood, I'll skip "Blueberry" when listening to a concert recording (rare, but it has happened). But please, if you feel that way, take the time and watch this performance. Again, there's something about seeing him in action that makes one appreciate what he brings to a performance like this one. His phrasing, the gestures, the love in his face....again, how could you not give him the ovation he gets?

Without a Song - After nearly twenty minutes in the spotlight, it's time for Louis to finally take a break and hand it over to the All Stars for the two of the longer features of the night. In fact, you might have noticed that in the 40s and 50s, the sidemen like Teagrden, Young and Hall used to take three-to-four minute features; why is everyone in Berlin stretching theirs out to six and seven minutes? Well, to give Pops a rest, of course, but this was a practice that actually started around 1959, when Louis began having the All Stars play two short features each night. By 1965, the thinking must have been why play two short ones when one long one takes the same time? After a humorous extended introduction, Glenn goes into one of his best specialties, featuring that unique plunger sound of his. Glenn was like Pops in that when he had a set that, that remained his thing. The Wolfgang's Vault website has a recording of Glenn's set as a leader at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960 and his closer was "Without a Song," breaking it up in the same arrangement we hear here, right down to the party-like, rumbling latin-vamp at the end. Yeah, Tyree!

How High the Moon - And speaking of set solos, here's Arvell Shaw with "How High the Moon" which he originally introduced in 1947 and never stopped playing. For years, it remained the same but he after staying away from Louis between 1956 an 1963, he came back to the band with a new, more modern--and more violent--conception. He's bowing, scratching, going out and really dominating the that bass for about eight minutes. One of the most "modern" solos in All Stars history, but there's a also a good amount of "show business," as Shaw calls out, down to the quotes, the high notes and his roundhouse kicks and almost Elvis Presley-type moves at the end! Again, the crowd eats it up. Really, EVERY sideman feature completely breaks it up on this concert, something that wasn't always the case in earlier incarnations. I'll say it again but the youngsters coming to see the old man who did "Hello, Dolly" in this period saw a LOT of great music!

Mack the Knife - From the beginning, "Mack the Knife" almost always followed the bass feature (just in case the bass solo put the audience to sleep, what better to follow than with a big hit?). This is a swinging performance with Louis improvising some new ideas in his second chorus. From there, he takes it out as a vocal, the rhythm section really swinging behind him midway through (Danny Barcelona's snare drum rim hits are right on).

Stompin' at the Savoy - And speaking about Danny, here's his moment in the sun...and what a moment! "Savoy" had been the drum feature of choice for the All Stars since the Cozy Cole days. Cole and his successor Barrett Deems usually took much shorter solos, with Armstrong calling them back for encores if needed. When Barcelona joined the band, he took over and started playing five and six minute versions, always breaking up the crowd. Well, Louis must have approved because here we are in 1965 and Danny almost has ten minutes to himself! I love Danny but again, like "Blueberry Hill," if I'm not in the mood for a ten-minute drum solo, I'll sometimes skip his 1960s features when I'm listening to the band. But watching him in action is a whole different story. It's a marvelous solo technically but there's something so infectious about Barcelona's joy in playing. And for the first time all night, we see the All Stars--led by Pops--put down their cigarettes and really enjoy a sideman's feature. Barcelona plays to them and when he flings those bell-sticks over his shoulder, it's one of the big laughs of the concert (kudos to the director for catching Arvell Shaw's bent-over-in-laughter response). Yeah, Danny! And God bless him, the only guy who doesn't break the entire night! He looks spent when he's done but he keeps swinging to the end (Pops, too, showing no quit with those high notes when he re-enters at the end). People sometimes wonder how Barceona lasted for 13 years in the All Stars; there's your answer.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco/My Man - Jewel Brown's back, opening with another of her big ballads. I've always liked this one, especially the reentrance on the eight bars, which she completely kills. She sang this on The Mike Douglas Show in 1964 and Douglas was so moved, he said that after hearing Jewel sing it, "No one's going to touch that song any more!" "My Man" is Jewel's version of a Velma-type blues but again, she updates it with some hip scatting (no split, either). However, Pops finally sounds like his tank is almost empty as he sounds hesitant and uncomfortable during his two-chorus spot. He does get it together for the final high note.

Mop Mop - Pops also sounds strong for this short version of "Mop Mop" that plays Brown off,  also allowing Danny Barcelona one more chance to wow the crowd. In the Catlett and Cole days, "Mop Mop" was an extended feature but by this point, it was super short and usually led right into the final theme of....

When It's Sleepy Time Down South - Phew, we've made it to the end. (Rest those chops, Pops.) Louis sings eight bars and then goes around thanking each All Stars, each of whom gets a deserved large ovation. And then, at the 1 hour, 45 minute mark, "Ol' Satchmo takes a bow." The All Stars modulate and the ovation start...and keeps going....and keeps going....and keeps going....and doesn't end for two full minutes. The only way to properly close would be one more chorus of "Hello, Dolly!" with the audience clapping along. And when it's over, the curtain comes down, but the ovation only gets louder.  After receiving flowers, it comes down again. The ovation only gets louder. Pops comes out with his jacket off and tie undone. The curtain closes. The ovation only gets louder. He comes out one more time in nothing but a checkered bath robe. People shriek. The ovation only gets louder. And he's gone.

I don't know about how, but I still want to keep that ovation going here at the end of 2013 and judging by the aforementioned outpouring of love I experienced recently for Pops and this concert in particular, I know I'm not alone in keeping that ovation going, definitely into 2014, which will be another big year for our hero. The jazz critics will continue to focus on "The Complete Miles Davis Farting and Coughing at Columbia (in Mono!)" but I know the world will be with me in celebrating Pops day in and day out and especially with that Mosaic set around the corner. Thanks for watching with me....and thanks, Pops!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Armstrong, Waller, Teagarden and Friends: 75 Years of the Martin Block Jam Session!

For much of this year, my anniversary posts have centered on single songs: 85 years of “West End Blues,” 85 years of “Basin Street Blues,” 50 Years of Hello, Dolly,” 80 years of “Laughin’ Louis” (and those other 1933 Victor gems), 75 years of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” etc. But today’s the anniversary of an event, a kind of once-in-a-lifetime meeting of the giants that fortunately took place in front of some microphones, allowing us all to revisit the music made that day.

The occasion was an episode of Martin Block’s WNEW radio broadcast, which usually featured an assortment of stars from the world of swing. Block threw a number of incredible jams in his studio, but none quite like this. In reverse order of importance: Bob Spergel on guitar, Pete Peterson on bass, George Wettling on drums (excellent choice), Bud Freeman on tenor saxophone (one of the tops), Jack Teagarden on trombone (oh man, it keeps getting better), Fats Waller on piano (are you sweating yet?) and of course, Louis Armstrong on trumpet (smelling salts, please!).

I don’t think I have to give much backstory on these musicians and their backgrounds. Armstrong and Waller were old pals from their days in Harlem in 1929 during the run of Hot Chocolates at Connie’s Inn. Since then, both men had climbed to the upper ranks of the entertainment field, appearing on radio, film and of course, on records, with Fats holding down a Victor contract while Armstrong recorded many of the same pop tunes for Decca. Jack Teagarden became enraptured with Armstrong after hearing him during Armstrong’s riverboat days and the two shared a recording date once on 1929’s famous interracial jam, “Knockin’ a Jug.” Freeman, as part of the Austin High Gang, marveled with the rest of his cronies at Armstrong’s genius during his days with King Oliver in Chicago and went on to make a bunch of timeless records with Teagarden. Teagarden and Waller also
teamed up for some excellent records, including a hot and humorous “You Rascal You.” No need to keep going, they were all legends and I’ll just leave it at that.

Interestingly, though Waller was incredibly popular at the time, he clearly took a backseat to Armstrong on this occasion. Waller got to sing one blues chorus, he bellowed out some of his famous asides and got to play a quick version of his signature tunes, “Honeysuckle Rose,” but otherwise, it was the Louis Armstrong Show Featuring An Incredible Cast Of Supporting Players.

Fortunately, some enterprising swing fan recorded the broadcast (more on that) and since the dawn of the LP era, it has never exactly been hard to find. Well, perhaps I should rephrase that; it’s kind of a pain in the neck to find it complete as dozens of cheap, bootleg issues of both Armstrong and Waller sometimes include some of these performances without calling attention to the historic nature of the date or even who the participants were. Fortunately, Gösta Hagglof, the late Swedish Armstrong devotee and a hero of mine, released it in complete form on volume five of his indispensable Ambassador series, which I will have an announcement about in the near future.

When I originally celebrated the 70th anniversary of this historic broadcast in 2008, there seemed to be disagreement about the original track order so I used the order on Gösta's CD. But then I got an e-mail from the great Belgian Armstrong discographer, Jos Willems, telling me that not only did he have damn near the complete broadcast but he had just dropped a copy in the blog hadn't even been up for 24 hours! Sure enough, Willems's care package arrive about a week later and there it was, not only all the music I had known for years but even bits of chatter. I went back to my original blog and rearranged the track order but I didn't include any of the extras because 2009 had already started and I was moving on. Now, for the 75th anniversary, I'm going to revisit Willems' CD. Unfortunately, neither Gösta or Jos are with us any more, something that makes me sad every time I think about it, especially since they worked tirelessly for years on stuff like constructing a complete version of Satchmo at Symphony Hall or trying to figure out the discographical maze that was Louis's mid-1950s Columbia recordings. I'm happy that I've been entrusted with sorting out such mysteries in recent years but boy, do I wish they were here to share it all with me. I dedicate this post--and pretty much everything I do--to them.

Thus, for the first time ever (unless you were close with Willems), let's listen to the beginning of the broadcast with host Block introducing the participants. Everyone's in good form, Fats joking about being a "fullback" after Block alluded to his making a "comeback" on the show and I'm a sucker for Freeman's pompous British accent (immortalized on the Commodore classic "Private Jives"). Pops can be heard getting off a deep laugh at a line about Tegarden being a gentleman and then we're off with "On the Sunny Side of the Street," after much laughter about setting the tempo. With the introductions out of the way, let’s begin!

Armstrong originally gave “Sunny Side” a ballad treatment and was still playing it that way on the Flesichmann’s Yeast Broadcast of 1937. But later in that year, he recorded a new uptempo take the tune and that’s how he would approach it until the days of the All Stars (but even then, the tempo would flip flop depending on the mood of the audience, and probably the trumpeter himself). Here, you can hear him say Teagarden suggested it and Louis lets him set the tempo, but clearly he was comfortable playing it at just about any clip. Armstrong sounds great and, though I have an obsession with Fats Waller, it’s interesting hearing his backing as Armstrong rarely felt comfortable with stride piano players (Joe Sullivan lasted less than two months with Armstrong and sounds terrible on the few surviving live recordings from his stint). The ensemble cautiously stays out of Armstrong’s way before Pops gets a full improvised chorus to himself, Fats giving him great backing (love some of the voice leading stuff throughout, especially on the bridge). Teagarden solos well, phrasing like Louis by the end while Freeman gets bluesy before an incredibly joyous vocal from Pops, with some almost stuttering scat at the end.

Fats announces his solo with a hearty “Hello” and even throws in a little “Stop it, Joe” aside to comment on his tickling. James Lincoln Collier later wrote about how serious Waller was during this session as opposed to Armstrong’s off-the-wall personality but I honestly think he must not have paid much attention to the actual music. Fats is subdued here and there but that’s because Armstrong’s in the spotlight and, as just mentioned, during his own solos and his later vocal, there’s plenty of the Waller good humor in evidence.

Armstrong’s reentrance is wonderful as he rhythmically plays with just two pitches, driving them to the brink of swinging insanity. From there, more or less plays the set solo he used on his ballad interpretations, though, after his patented "Faded Love" quote, he finds a new way out of the bridge. We’re off and running, Fats shouting "Well all right then!" and "That's what I'm talking about!" upon its conclusion.  Block then makes a request for an impromptu blues with vocals by Waller, Teagarden and Armstrong. A bit of the original broadcast is lost as you'll hear the tape speed up during Block's speech (don't worry, he didn't have a stroke) but what follows is incredible: “The Blues.”

In some ways, this is the highlight of the session as the opportunity to hear Waller, Armstrong and Teagarden trade blues choruses--vocally and instrumentally--is sublime. Everyone’s having a good time, with Waller obviously improvising his on the spot. Armstrong’s chorus about grabbing a picket off of somebody’s fence would resurface on his Columbia recording of “St. Louis Blues” in 1954, while Teagarden borrows a chorus he sang on the classic Commodore record “Serenade to a Shylock” in April 1938. Waller’s chorus is quintessential Fats, digging into an atypical boogie bass line with aplomb, and just listen to the little motive he uses to back Armstrong’s first chorus. Armstrong meanwhile really felt like dipping into his blues bag, opening with a quote from “Savoy Blues” before devoting his second chorus to King Oliver’s “Jazzin’ Babies Blues” solo, which I’ve written about before because it frequently came up in Armstrong’s career, including 1928’s “Muggles” (and dig Fats’s boogie bottom). Teagarden wails for two, with Armstrong encouraging to take another, before Pops shows the way out with another old solo from his bag, “Terrible Blues,” which, ironically, also reappeared on that 1954 “St. Louis Blues” recording. I should mention that Louis had acetates of the performances from this session in his private collection and dubbed them to tape; it's not out of the question that he would have dubbed it around the time of the "Handy" album and put some of his work here in the back of that steel-trap mind of his. Seriously, think about how much blues Louis Armstrong played in his life, especially when he was hired to play nothing but the blues in some of the New Orleans honky-tonks. He obviously minted some choruses that were so perfect, he'd file them into his ridiculous memory, to dip into whenever he felt like it. And on this jam session, Dipper did plenty of dipping.

"The Blues" is pretty great, but still perhaps not as wonderful as my personal highpoint of the session, “I Got Rhythm.” Here ‘tis:

This four-minute jam really showcases Pops is at the peak of his powers. After an ensemble chorus in the front, Pops steps up with the first solo, very flowing and melodic, with phrases that stick in your mind long after he puts down his horn.  Freeman then follows with a typically funky chorus, getting downright "Eel"-like in places. Teagarden brings the Gershwin's melody back to the forefront a few times before Fats adds some blues to the proceedings with his authoritative outing (adding a happy “Hello” just for the hell of it).

But the main event comes with the final minute and 13 seconds as Pops leads the ensemble through two rideout choruses. Every phrase he plays is sculpted perfectly and his upper register rarely sounded better. As Armstrong steams to the end of first ensemble chorus, it sounds like he’s building up to an ending, but Fats isn’t ready to let him go, shouting “Come on” and spurring Pops into one more chorus. Pausing for a beat to collect himself, Armstrong calmly continues his charge, bouncing off a few glisses to Bb’s, playing a nimble little phrase then hitting the climax of the entire performance, a gliss that starts somewhere below the equator and rises up higher and higher to a freakish high F! I know an exclamation point might seem gratuitous but it’s the only way to properly convey the excitement of this F. Ever so slowly, Armstrong climbs back down for more fleet-fingered phrases throughout the bridge, throwing in some more quick glisses toward the end and finishing with a three note high C-D-Bb phrase. Again, not to diminish what he did in the 1920s, but this is Pops at the peak of his powers and those final two choruses scare the hell out of me. "The jam session to end all jam sessions" is the way Block describes it when it's over and I don't know anyone who would argue that.

Next though, matters calmed down a bit for “Jeepers Creepers”:

Interestingly, “Jeepers Creepers” was written for the film “Going Places,” which was done in September 1938 and featured Armstrong introducing the tune. The film wouldn’t open until December 31 and Armstrong wouldn’t get around to officially waxing it for Decca until January 18, 1939. So this must have been a debut performance and it wouldn’t surprise me if the other musicians were playing off of lead sheets because no one in the world would have known the tune except for Armstrong and the musicians in the film. Teagarden gets the only real solo and he does sound like he's sticking to the melody pretty closely at times, perhaps playing it safe because of unfamiliarity (he does great in his obbligato behind the vocal, though he's a little too far away. It’s a jolly performance and everyone sounds like they’ve been playing it for years, the true mark of professional musicians. Armstrong’s vocal is a lot of fun but I would have loved a little more trumpet. However, I can’t make that same complaint about the next tune, “Tiger Rag”:

Scorching stuff. The tune starts out fast enough, at almost the tempo Armstrong took it on his 1930 original recording and everyone plays beautifully (the rhythm guitar can finally be heard and appreciated), with Armstrong taking some great breaks early on. It's interesting hearing this because with his own bands, Armstrong usually let the clarinet lead off. He played lead on "Super Tiger Rag" in Paris but still didn't take any breaks, like he does on this one. After great solos by Freeman, Teagarden and Waller at a righteous tempo, Armstrong stomps off a tempo that remarkably is even faster, which shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with Armstrong's long history with this song (which I chronicled in a TEN-part serious back in 2010. I'm nuts.). After a few seconds of confusion, Louis hands it off to Geroge Wettling to take an exciting, snare-fueled solo.

Once Louis picks up his horn, he goes into, what, by now, was his set opening, the two-note, repeated stuff. But immediately into his second chorus, he uncorks a quote from "I'm Confessin'" that works like a charm (and one he would come to in his 1950s versions). He works "Confessin'" into a motive and improvises it for a while before holding a note. By third chorus, Louis is back in set territory: a quote from "The National Emblem March," follow by the gliss followed by a held Ab. The fourth chorus is made up of high C's before Louis starts knocking out those Eb's again in his fifth and final chorus. It's an incredibly exciting test of strength, those Eb’s simply shrieking out of his horn, building up to the last soul-shaking concert F. This is prime stuff, my friends.

With time running out, the band stormed through 79 seconds of “Honeysuckle Rose,” a number Armstrong previously hadn’t recorded and wouldn’t until the 1955 “Satch Plays Fats” recording.

The opening chorus seems like two solos in one, as Teagarden and Waller offer an assortment of swinging ideas on top of each other. Then Pops comes on and for one, leading the ensemble beautifully (dig that gliss towards the end) but all of a sudden, it’s over before it started. You know, they would have loved to keep that one going for a while, but Block comes back on and makes it clear that the broadcast is over (hey, Fats has to get back to the Yacht Club....wish we could go with him!).

The broadcast ends right then and there but now for a bonus. I hope you enjoyed it but now for the aforementioned bonus. In August 2010, the jazz world was turned topsy-turvy by the news that the Jazz Museum in Harlem, spearheaded by my friend Loren Schoenberg acquired the collection of the legendary engineer Bill Savory, capturing hundreds of hours of previously unheard of Swing Era radio broadcasts recorded professionally. In all of the hours of material that was rescued, Schoenberg told me that there's really not a lot of Louis. But what does survive in there is the complete Martin Block broadcast as recorded by Savory himself. Remember when I said that this material had probably been recorded by some enterprising swing fan sitting home by the radio? Well, Savory wasn't sitting at home; he did his recording in the studios, using the professional microphones and setup available to him.

When the news of the Savory collection broke in the New York Times, that paper's website hosted a bunch of 30 second clips of material that had never been issued before. But they also put up the COMPLETE "Blues" from the Armstrong-Fats jam session and it is simply stunning hearing it in this fidelity. All of a sudden, you're no longer struggling to listen through the cracks to make out the bass or drums. No, now you are in the studio with these giants thanks to Savory, a giant himself. Go here and scroll to the bottom right to hear it. It will be the highlight of your day.

And that's that for this 75th anniversary celebration of one of the great nights in radio. Will the Savory version be commercially released by the time of the 80th anniversary? Fingers crossed...

(And before I close, many thanks to a LOT of you who wrote in when I complained that the complete 1965 Louis Armstrong East Berlin performance was no longer up on the MDR website. I'm happy to report that it's back and I hope to have something on it later this week. Thanks to all of you who wrote from all over the world....Pops is Tops!)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

85 Years of Basin Street Blues

Louis Armstrong And His Orchestra
Recorded December 4, 1928
Track Time 3:11
Written by Spencer Williams
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Fred Robinson, trombone, humming; Jimmy Strong, clarinet, humming; Earl Hines, piano, celeste; Mancy Carr, banjo; Zutty Singleton, drums
Originally released on OKeh 8690
Currently available on CD: It’s on many compilations, including any complete Hot Five/Hot Seven box sets
Available on Itunes? Yes, on about 40 different albums, so take your pick!

Shoot. Pardon me for starting a blog in a bad frame of mind but I sat down yesterday morning to start writing about footage from a complete All Stars concert from East Berlin in 1965 that had online on the MDR website for the past week. I posted it on Facebook and it seemed to explode a bit there, but I've been so busy, I was waiting for the weekend to blog about it. Well, I just checked the link....and it's gone! Oh well, I can't get too mad; bless MDR for even hosting it on the web for a full week. Maybe they'll do it again in the future--or better yet, maybe it'll come out on DVD--but for now, we're stuck with the memories. It was an incredible piece of history.

So stuck for an entry, I'm reaching into my back catalog to spruce up an old anniversary post on "Basin Street Blues," which was recorded 85 years ago on December 4, 1928. I have some new stuff to add but for the most part, it will still focus on the major studio releases, a bunch of early All Stars versions to show how it took shape, then some highlights of a few later versions, with some videos thrown in for good measure. How’s that sound? Can’t go wrong with Louis and “Basin Street,” that’s for sure.

The tune was written by the great Spencer Williams and, as far as I can tell, Armstrong was the first person to get a crack at it in the studio. Armstrong hadn’t recorded for OKeh since the busy run of five sessions in late June/early July 1928, a run that included “West End Blues.” Back then, Zutty Singleton was using hand cymbals but by the time the band reunited for a series of December sessions, Zutty was using his kit. Earl Hines and Armstrong had an incredible partnership during this period, perhaps never better illustrated than on the 13 numbers they recorded together between December 4 and December 12, 1928. I should probably do 85 year anniversary posts of all them, but alas, that would probably kill me.

Anyway, the Spencer Williams tune was pretty bare bones when Armstrong got to it. There was no famous verse and no lyrics, just those very simple, very pretty 16 bars. Before playing it, why don’t we listen to DJ Louis Armstrong introduce the record?

Isn’t that nice? In 1956, the Voice of America asked Armstrong to play disc jockey for five one-hour programs, spinning his favorite records and talking about them. Only his voice is heard, not even that of an interviewer, though surely he had some guidance. David Ostwald lent me the tapes back in 2008 and they've become some of my most prized possessions. So with the introduction out of the way, let’s go back to Chicago, 85 years ago this week, to see what Armstrong and the gang cooked up on the very first “Basin Street Blues”:

Magic. From the start of the record, with Hines on the celeste, the whole record has the feel of something special. Hines solos like himself while the band plays the standard “Basin Street” harmonies behind him, without ever explicitly playing a melody (I love Zutty’s throbbing drums, too). After a note-perfect celeste break, Armstrong plays a pure 12-bar chorus of blues that has nothing to do with the “Basin Street” we all know and love, but seems to be a trademark of many early recordings of the tune. Armstrong’s very sober here, riding the pulsating wave of rhythm behind him. A swaying, stride interlude sets up the vocal as Armstrong scats brilliantly while trombonist Fred Robinson and clarinetist Jimmy Strong harmonize behind him, a throwback to Armstrong’s days singing in a quartet as a kid in New Orleans. It’s a very hornlike vocal, especially in the breaks, which are pure Armstrong.

Hines strides through another interlude before the main event, one of the greatest solos of Armstrong’s entire career. Armstrong was such a master of rhythm and often on this blog, I’ve discussed his uptempo work, where he seemed to float over the beat, playing as few notes as possible. But on something slower, like this one, Armstrong goes 180 degrees in the opposite direction, double-timing like a madman and showing the way towards jazz’s future. His opening arpeggiated phrase, followed be a few beats of silence, is perfection personified, while that break is as daring and wonderfully executed as anything else one can find in the jazz world of 1928 (not to mention 2013). The whole solo is so passionate and though much of it is double-timed, there’s a very vocal quality to it all; one can easily hear him scatting each and every note of the solo.

But even with the propensity of notes, the most spine-tingling moment comes when Armstrong simply plays one note, a searing high Bb that he uses in his final break, repeating it rhythmically before barely grazing on a higher D. Armstrong loved using the device of hitting and holding a high one in a break, going back to it again in later years on “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” and “What is This Thing Called Swing” to name two examples. The ensemble joins him for the final 16 bars, getting quieter as they progress and finally playing the tune’s signature melody before Hines’s celeste puts the finishing touches on this masterpiece of a record.

Back to DJ Pops. Let’s listen to him wrap up the OKeh record, as well as discuss some of his other versions. I know it’s jumping the gun but he ends by perfectly singing the scat ending to his next studio record of “Basin Street Blues,” to be discussed here in a moment. But here’s Pops to tell you all about it:

I love the way he remembers that scat ending perfectly, 23 years later. As he says, you can approach “Basin Street Blues” in a bunch of different ways, something that will become apparent the longer and deeper we get into it. Armstrong remade the tune for Victor on January 27, 1933 with his band at the time, led by Zilner Randolph and featuring some very nice musicians, including pianist Teddy Wilson, drummer Yank Porter, reedman Scoville Browne and the great Brown brothers from Texas, tenor saxophonist Budd and trombonist Keg. This wasn’t the world’s greatest band but Armstrong was happy to front them.

I’ve argued time and again in this space for the importance of Armstrong’s Victor recordings, which really capture him in arguably his all-time peak form as a trumpet player. He could do no wrong, settling into the dramatic, operatic style of his mature years, yet still able to toss off daring, almost reckless phrases without missing a note. Victor signed Armstrong in late 1932 and though he was with the label for less than a year, they still knew his importance and had him remake many of his OKeh standbys, including two medleys of “Hits,” “High Society,” “Mahogany Hall Stomp” and “St. Louis Blues" (search the Archives of this blog from earlier this year to find individual blogs on each of these tunes, and more!). The remake of “Basin Street” was the made the day after an incredible session that found Armstrong doing some of the greatest blowing of his career on “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues,” “Sittin’ in the Dark” and three others. But enough from me, let’s listen to the astonishing Victor “Basin Street Blues”:

Wow. One can start a fight between Armstrong nuts about which version they prefer, the OKeh or the Victor. I’ll take ‘em both, but if forced at gunpoint, I might go with the Victor. The tempo is a shade brighter than the OKeh, for one thing. The Victor opens with a sparkling Teddy Wilson introduction before Keg Johnson plays the melody, interrupted only for a bubbling clarinet break. Then Armstrong once again plays a 12-bar chorus of blues, starting off with the exact notes used on the OKeh, before he settles into a riff that he can’t shake until the chorus is over (this part always reminds me of the non-vocal take of “Dallas Blues” from 1929). Then the band plays an arranged 12-bar chorus, the rhythm section almost marching, rather than swinging. For the vocal, Pops once again sticks to purely scatting over vocal harmonies from the band. His first vocal break is similar to the first one on the OKeh, but is delivered with more urgency.

Then, a glance at the clock shows 1:20 left for Pops to make his final statement. Once again, it’s a festival of double-timing, but it’s even wilder than the original with a break that knocks me out, highlighted by a massive gliss to a high D (please keep that break in mind). Armstrong calms down a bit to do some very hip swinging in the lower register (eliciting a “Yeah” from someone in the background) before he repeats the high Bb break from 1928. Oh, and remember how I said Armstrong “grazed” a high D on the original? Well, somebody must have been practicing because he absolutely kills it on the Victor! A clarinet trio joins Armstrong as he gradually winds down before ending the record with some more scatting, setting up the slow coda we already heard the Armstrong of 1956 sing. The closing “Yeah, man” pretty much sums it up. I’m sweating over here!

Armstrong wouldn’t make another studio recording of the tune for 20 full years but he did perform it live. We might have never known what it sounded like during his big band years without the one and only Gösta Hägglöf who issued not one, but two swinging versions of the tune on his Ambassador label. (And keep watching this space in the coming weeks for an announcement about those wonderful Ambassador discs!)

After the original OKeh recording, “Basin Street Blues” became something of a jazz standard. A 1929 version by the Lousiana Rhythm Kings included almost as much 12-bar blues playing as it contained solos on the “Basin Street” changes. It even included a humorous blues vocal by Jack Teagarden. By two years later, Teagarden took another crack at it for a Charleston Chasers record date. The tune had no lyrics to speak of so Teagarden and Glenn Miller wrote new ones, including a brand new verse, the famous “Won’t you come along with me” stanza. They never received credit but from then on, the Teagarden-Miller verse and lyrics became an integral part of the song.

The two surviving Armstrong big band broadcasts come from the early 40s and are very similar in that they’re unusually fast and feature Armstrong singing the new verse. However, the trumpet solos differ greatly on both and are really worth listening because, to me, they really remind me of the kinds of things Armstrong would start doing in the late 40s and 50s with the All Stars. Here, after a snatch of “Sleepy Time,” is “Basin Street” from the Grand Terrace in Chicago, November 17, 1941:

Great stuff, especially the line about “beating up your chops on ‘Basin Street.’” Armstrong’s four-chorus solo is a textbook example of the art of storytelling, getting wonderful accents from drummer Sid Catlett as he builds up a head of steam. The closing high Bb is very nice and all in all, it’s a great solo. That is, until you hear what he did on the tune on April 1, 1942 at the Casa Manana in Culver City, California, a broadcast that I rate as one of perhaps the five greatest recorded nights in Armstrong’s entire career. The vocal is delicious again, but feel free to fast forward just to hear the monster solo:

Unbelievable! He’s super-charged on this one, in complete command, even quoting something that sounds like an ancestor to “La Vie En Rose” at one point. Catlett responds with even more emphatic drumming, spurring Armstrong to even greater heights before an ending that finds Armstrong landing on an impossible concert F! Smelling salts please...

The next time Armstrong encountered “Basin Street Blues” was in 1944 when it was time for the legendary Esquire All American Jazz Concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Many jazz fans might be familiar with that evening’s performance, featuring a dream band of Armstrong, Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford and Catlett. But two days before the show, a select small group of Armstrong, Teagarden, Hawkins, Tatum, Casey, Pettiford and Catlett did a promotional appearance on ABC’s “Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street,” another jewel we have Gösta Hägglöf to thank for. Since Teagarden had a hand in writing the words, the song had become a natural feature for the trombonist in the ensuing years. Thus, it made sense for Armstrong to share vocal duties with Big T. Give a listen to this rare performance:

Art Tatum is a monster throughout the beginning of the performance, drawing attention away from Teagarden’s vocal with his piano pyrotechnics. Teagarden then plays a chorus, sounding beautiful as always before Pops scats one, digging out his old records for the first break. Hawkins then roars in, in peak 1944 form (what a year he had) before a very good Armstrong solo, though he partially cracks a note or two. He’s full of new ideas, melodic throughout, getting spurred on by Catlett backbeats as he progresses. Teagarden’s vocal shows the way out for this very fine run-through. Two nights later, on the stage of the Met, it was even more exciting, as can be heard here:

Basically, it follows the broadcast version to a T (no pun intended...okay, maybe slightly), though I think Teagarden had a better solo on the earlier version. Pops got maligned for his performance that night by some critics, but I think he sounds great, both vocally and in the trumpet solo, which generates more heat than the version from two days prior. He clearly disturbs Hawk by coming in early, but after that, he gives another master’s class, his tone stronger than on the broadcast. Nothing earth-shattering, but some terrific playing by a dream band.

The following year, Armstrong played the Second All American Jazz Concert from the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans with a band that included Sidney Bechet, J.C. Higginbotham, James P. Johnson, Richard Alexis and Paul Barbarin. It was a contentious set with Armstrong often doing his damndest to play over Bechet but at the end, a very nice ceremony took place. Years earlier, to do away with the memory of Storyville, New Orleans’s red light district, Basin Street was renamed North Saratoga Street. However, after the popularity of “Basin Street Blues” and the ensuing New Orleans jazz revival, North Saratoga was once again renamed “Basin Street.” To officially commemorate it, the group played a way too-short version of “Basin Street” with Bunk Johnson joining in on second trumpet. Armstrong dominates everything, but turns in a great vocal though sadly it fades out on the slightly chaotic closing ensemble. It’s barely a minute but it’s worth a listen:

The following year, Armstrong took part in the filming of New Orleans, a movie that originally started out with the intention to tell the story of the birth of jazz but ended up being a pretty rotten melodrama. Still, much good music was made and Armstrong was often the center of it, leading a small group that consisted of Kid Ory on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Charlie Beal on piano, Bud Scott on guitar, Red Callender on bass and the original OKeh drummer Zutty Singleton. This is a terrific, relaxed version, with Armstrong singing the verse, the the main strain and even scatting a full chorus (asking for the band’s permission with a kind “One more, Faces, one more") while the band gives him some slightly pitchy vocal harmony in the background. After a blustery Ory and a somewhat alive Bigard (I’m used to the bored stiff version of circa 1955), Armstrong enters for one chorus, summoning the wild spirit of his earlier versions. His chops were in seriously good form for the film and he blows with abandon here, playing a mind-bending gliss before some scintillating phrases. You have to hear it to believe it:

Thus, “Basin Street Blues” became a symbol of Armstrong’s New Orleans days, the kind of number he trotted out on special occasions but probably didn’t play with his big band anymore. On April 26, 1947, the occasion of the opening of New Orleans in the city of the same, Armstrong appeared with another all-star group of old-timers on Rudi Blesh’s This is Jazz radio program. Surrounded by Wild Bill Davison, George Brunies, Albert Nicholas, Art Hodes, Danny Barker, Pops Foster and Baby Dodds, Armstrong performed this excellent version:

Armstrong’s two vocal choruses are a highlight and the loose nature of the program is illustrated by Armstrong’s impromptu instruction to clarinetist Nicholas to take a break. Armstrong only plays one chorus of trumpet but is in peak form. And dig that break: it’s “The Gypsy,” the Ink Spots hit that Armstrong would have a love affair with in the mid-50s.  Even when Armstrong was playing a New Orleans warhorse, he still had a pop tune close to his mind (and as I discovered a few years ago at the Armstrong Archives, his big band had an arrangement of "The Gypsy" that was never recorded, but must have been in live shows of the period). Baby Dodds really lays in the backbeat towards the end as Pops powers it home. A great one.

All these small group dates paved the way for the historic Town Hall concert of May 17, 1947. After the success of that date (which apparently didn’t feature “Basin Street Blues”), Armstrong ditched his big band and formed a small group, the All Stars. Before doing so, Armstrong fronted a small group for the New York premiere of New Orleans at the Winter Garden Theater in June 1947. Once again, Teagarden was along and, being respectful of the trombonist, Armstrong didn’t solo on “Basin Street,” though he turns in a helluva scat solo. He does play beautiful lines in the background, but otherwise, it’s the Teagarden show. You don’t HAVE to listen to this one but if you’re a big Teagarden fan (and who isn’t?), you’ll dig it:

The All Stars were officially born in August and by the time of a Carnegie Hall concert in November of that year, the routine was set. “Basin Street” was officially a Teagarden feature as Pops would introduce, “Mr. Teagarden is going to take over.” Armstrong no longer sang on the piece, leaving Teagarden to take the entire verse and chorus, as well as a trombone solo, vocal reprise and “tram-bone coda” or “cadenza,” depending on how the Texan felt. However, in between it all, Armstrong would take one chorus with a break (sometimes going back to "The Gypsy") and often stole the show from the trombonist! The first surviving All Stars version comes from an ultra rare Carnegie Hall performance on November 15, 1947....that won't be ultra rare come February, when it is released as part of the 9-CD All Stars boxed set I'm compiling for Mosaic Records! But don't worry, there's MANY more versions to share. Let's instead listen to a complete performance from Paris, March 2, 1948 (now with Earl Hines back in the band), just to get a feel for the early All Stars versions:

Terrific stuff. No, you might be thinking that I said I wasn’t going to share EVERY version yet here I am, so much time later, and I’m only on version 10 out of the 85 in my collection  (that's an estimation; my iTunes tells me I have 95 but some are duplicates). But don’t worry, here’s where we speed it up. Now that you’ve heard the basic routine, you can be assured that it never changed while Teagarden was in the band. However, Armstrong usually always changed some of his solo, including the break. So let’s take a tour of Armstrong’s solos, listening again to that unreal outing from the Salle Playel in Paris:

How about that break??? He starts with “The Gypsy” but soon goes all over the place, an incredible flurry of ideas. A few months later, at Ciro’s in Philadelphia, Armstrong abandoned “The Gypsy” and instead almost reverted back to his Victor break before stopping on a dime and again, assaulting the listener with a wild stream of notes. Here’s this solo:

By the time of the Dixieland Jubilee in Pasadena in October 1948, Armstrong’s “Basin Street” solo was slowing turning into a concrete statement, especially with those searing Bb’s after the break. Armstrong was now backed by shouts of “Go!” and “Wail!” while “The Gypsy” came back for this version, too:

An almost identical version was played at the Blue Note in Chicago in December of that year, complete with “The Gypsy” but something new and exciting cropped up in Armstrong’s solo by the time of a broadcast from The Click in Philadelphia in August 1949. I won’t spoil it:

Did you get it? It’s the Victor break! Somewhere along the way, Armstrong decided to abandon “The Gypsy” quote and instead started playing the original set-up and ridiculous gliss he played on the 1933 Victor (though admittedly, his descent isn’t as “wild” as it was on that one). Still, Armstrong now had a new break and it was this one that he played for the remainder of Teagarden’s time with the band. I’ll now skip over a bunch of versions since Pops pretty much had his chorus “set” by this point but once more, in great sound, here’s the solo from a December 1951 concert in Pasadena, a kind of last hurrah for Teagarden in the All Stars (he officially left the band a couple of months earlier but came back for this one show):

How about a video? From the film The Strip, here's a stripped down version of "Basin Street," only clocking in at 2:08 but giving a nice visual of the All Stars of the period. Pops's solo is way too short but he's on fire! (To the point where he's not even close to miming along with his pre-recorded track....)

In early 1952, Armstrong performed “Basin Street” on the Colgate Comedy Hour, a fun performance with a new trumpet solo and Armstrong’s first vocal on the tune in years. Here 'tis (I won't be offended if you stick around for the scorching "Bugle Blues" at the end of this clip!):

Soon after, Armstrong’s All Stars entered a rebuilding period with Russ Phillips replacing Teagarden on trombone. Phillips didn’t last very long as he was replaced by Trummy Young in September 1952. Armstrong immediately gave Young Teagarden’s feature on “Basin Street Blues,” as captured at this Stockholm concert from October 1952:

I love Teagarden, but I think that’s pretty wonderful. Trummy made the feature his own by playing a helluva lot of trombone, including a mini-tribute to Pops, playing segments of the trumpeter’s 1928 OKeh solo verbatim after the heartfelt vocal. Armstrong’s solo is still pretty much the same as it was during the Teagarden years but he gets an extra two bars because Trummy doesn’t come in with a vocal, but rather more trombone playing, including a quote from Rigoletto that Armstrong introduced to the jazz world. It’s a marvelous feature but perhaps Trummy wanted to make it even more his own, which would explain the following version from Italy just a few weeks later. This broadcast is not a strong point in the Armstrong discography as his chops were pretty erratic, especially in the upper register. Also, the sound quality is terrible; you really have to listen to feel the rhythm section and sense that the tempo has doubled since Stockholm, allowing the bopper in Trummy to get in some more modern double-timing. Also, Armstrong revives his old scat solo for the first time since 1947. The new approach forces Armstrong to improvise some fine new ideas but he also struggles mightily at other times, though he recovers nicely at the end. Here’s this completely different “Basin Street”:

The following summer, Louis Armstrong filmed a scene for The Glenn Miller Story, a major Universal picture starring Jimmy Stewart as the trombonist. Armstrong and the All Stars appeared along with tenor saxophonist Babe Russin, trombonist Joe Yukl (who dubbed in Stewart’s non-playing) and two drummers, Cozy Cole and Gene Krupa. The soundtrack prerecording was issued on Mosaic Records years ago and it’s very, very good but why listen when you can watch? The film edited out about a minute of music but otherwise, it’s a great clip of (a very fat!) Louis Armstrong in Hollywood:

The Miller arrangement was completely new with two tempos. The first is relaxed, yet swinging, allowing Armstrong to play a strong lead, complete with break and take a tour de force vocal. Armstrong calls some guests up to the stage and, after a short drum solo by Krupa, the tempo doubles for the most exciting Armstrong “Basin Street” since the big band days. Armstrong’s lead is glorious before Bigard, Russin, bassist Arvell Shaw and Yukl/Stewart pass the solo ball around. Armstrong’s lead is once again something to marvel at before he gradually turns down the volume setting up a drum battle between Cole and Krupa. A wonderful clip (and on a personal note, the one that made me pay attention when I was 15-years-old and say to myself, "Oh, I need to see more of this guy!").

Even after filming, The Glenn Miller Story wouldn’t be released until January 1954 so “Basin Street” remained a trombone feature for Trummy Young. An incredible concert from the summer of 1953 was issue on LP many years ago and needs to be put out on CD NOW (it was originally on two albums on the Rarities label as being from Cornell in 1954, but both the date and the location were wrong). Interestingly, the Italian experiment must not have worked out so the tempo was slowed down once more, Pops didn’t sing and Trummy quoted all of Armstrong’s old licks. Here, though, is Armstrong’s solo, one last time, complete with the Victor break and a dazzling ending, setting up Trummy’s return:

The Glenn Miller Story was released in 1954 and was a hit. For the soundtrack, Armstrong and the All Stars recreated “Basin Street Blues,” this time with only one drummer (Kenny John) and Bud Freeman on tenor saxophone. It’s a wonderful version, one that would later be used on Decca’s Autobiography project. Here ‘tis:

The tempo is still relaxed and Armstrong still kills it with both his horn and voice (dig that scatting). Billy Kyle had recently joined the band and this was his first studio solo with the group. You can hear him singing along with his solo and even playing steady left-hand chords a la Erroll Garner. John didn’t last long as a drummer (terrible personality and bad offstage habits) but he sounded phenomenal on this four-song date from 1954, especially on his solos on this tune. Again, the tempo jumps and the parade of solos begin (nice one from Freeman), including some roaring Trummy. The tempo is really kicking but Armstrong is in complete command, especially after John’s slightly extended solo. It’s a great version, yet another wonderful studio attempt to go along with Armstrong’s earlier ones.

“Basin Street Blues” now became a regular part of many Armstrong stage shows, always featuring the trumpeter as vocalist and the two tempo arrangement. Many terrific performances exist from the mid-50s but my favorite comes from a Colgate Comedy Hour broadcast from February 2, 1955. It appropriately takes place in New Orleans and is my favorite clip of the “W.C. Handy/Satch Plays Fats” band with Young, Bigard, Kyle, Shaw and drummer Barrett Deems. Enjoy!

I love it. The quality is subpar but the energy of the band comes through, especially during the uptempo part where they seem to be bouncing and breathing together in tempo.

From here out, I have a ton of versions of the tune, all great, but there’s really no need to share many of them because they’re so similar. Also, Armstrong stopped soloing on the tune, though his lead playing was always something to marvel at. For the die-hards, I must share at least one version from Edmond Hall’s tenure in the band. As a clarinetist, Hall was a much better fit than Bigard and for me, the group with Hall was the greatest edition of the All Stars. Naturally, “Basin Street” was a big part of the repertoire, often the second song of the second set, after “The Saints,” so I have a lot to choose from. Here's a great one from Stockholm in October 1955, about a month after Hall joined the band:

A great one, still sounding fresh after all those years, even with a few new touches: Billy Kyle now quoted the “The Campbells are Coming,” complete with a Scottish, bagpipe-like drone in the left hand (Pops always loved pointing it out) and the horns would quote “Jingle Bells” in the first ensemble after the tempo change. Hall was a great fit--my goodness, did you hear him going nuts in the final ensemble?--but he left in the summer of 1958. A few months later, in October, Decca called Armstrong in to once again rerecord his two numbers from the Glenn Miller Story soundtrack. This time, the All Stars were augmented by Al Hendrickson on guitar and Eddie Miller on tenor saxophone, while the personnel was almost completely different from the time of the original movie: Trummy Young was still there, but now Armstrong was surrounded by Peanuts Hucko on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano (Marty Napoleon was in the movie), Mort Herbert on bass and Danny Barcelona on drums.

Unfortunately, the fall of 1958 was a rough time for Armstrong’s chops. Just two days prior to the Decca session, Armstrong struggled a bit at the inaugural Monterey Jazz Festival, a concert I wrote about in great length about four years ago. The problems spread to this Decca session, which found Armstrong doing the two numbers from the Miller movie, as well as two dopey tunes with a vocal group, “I Love Jazz” and “Mardi Gras March.” I’ve listened to the session tapes for this date and can attest that Pops worked himself pretty hard, almost burning himself out on the two novelty numbers. Thus, when it got time to do “Basin Street,” a song the All Stars could have played in their sleep, it required two complete takes, a breakdown and two inserts. It’s interesting because almost everyone goofs: Kyle sloppily wraps up his piano solo, rushing at the end; Barcelona speeds up the tempo during some of his breaks, causing producer Milt Gabler to warn about doing that because then he couldn’t splice segments of different takes if the tempos varied; Trummy botches an entrance; one of the reeds plays a wrong note in the opening section, etc. Pops doesn’t do anything wrong, per se, but he’s at less than full strength here and there. However, he did rally for some of the outchoruses and in the end, Gabler managed to do some editing and produced a very worthwhile recording, Dan Morgenstern’s favorite of the three Decca studio attempts. Here it is:

Now, I didn’t want to spoil it out beforehand, but how about that tempo? For the first time since its days as a trombone feature, the first half with the vocal was slowed down dramatically. In some live versions, it would almost be a crawl. I think Pops liked the slower tempo a little more, as it allowed for a more stately lead and a relaxed vocal where he could really draw out the scat breaks. The second half more or less stayed at the same tempo and always featured some stunning lead but for all intents and purposes, this was it til the end.

Pops’s chops were back in prime form for his marathon tour of Europe in 1959 and “Basin Street Blues” was played at nearly every concert, usually the third tune of the show after “Sleepy Time” and “Indiana.” One of the finest versions was played in Stuttgart, Germany in February of that year at a concert that televised. This has become a very popular YouTube clip and after watching it, it’s easy to see why as it demonstrates what a captivating experience it was to watch and listen to Louis Armstrong play “Basin Street Blues” in his later years (it used to have hundreds of thousands of views but must have gotten taken down at some point because all the versions I found tonight in 2013 had about 5,000):

In my collection, I have a load of other versions of “Basin Street” but I’m not going to play them all because, well, I think there’s only so much one human being can take! But there’s one that I have to play because, just when you think Pops settled into a comfortable routine, he’d throw some curveballs. In the summer of 1960, the All Stars played at Ravinia Park in Highland Park, Illinois, an occasion that found Armstrong doing some absolutely spectacular playing. A fan in the audience had a tape recorder going (smart enough to not record the inaudible bass solos!) and though the sound isn’t ideal, it captures a wonderful version of “Basin Street” with some of Armstrong’s freshest playing. If you don’t have much time, just go to the rideout choruses after Trummy’s trombone solo: it’s completely different! There’s a dazzling sequence during the turnaround in bars seven and eight and somehow Armstrong begins playing with a three note motif that he turns into a full-blown quote of “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” Listen for yourself:

Who knows how many times Armstrong had a night like this? The Ravinia material only came to light about five years ago and isn’t even listed in Jos Willems’s published discography. So anytime you’re confident that Armstrong grew content and simply played the same stuff the same way every night, think of Ravinia’s “Basin Street” and know that even he could freshen it up when you’d least expect it.

I have a few more versions from the early 1960s, but by this point, "Basin Street" was starting to become a more infrequently called number. However, there is a dynamite version from the otherwise sleepy Live in Australia DVD from 1963 that is definitely worth sharing because it's getting to be pretty late in the game, but Pops knocks it out without a problem in this beautifully filmed clip:

But as I wrote in my “Hello, Dolly” blowout the other day, Armstrong’s chops took a turn for the worse in the summer of 1965 and a lot of demanding pieces had to be retired. Armstrong sung “Basin Street Blues” a few times on television in ensuing years (including an unforgettable version on the Mike Douglas Show from 1970 that I've screened at the Satchmo Summerfest in the past), but as far as I can tell, the last times he really played it were on the historic tour of Iron Curtain countries in Europe in 1965. There's a fine version from Prague from March 1965, but instead, I'm going to close with the last surviving full version of the tune, from a historic outdoor concert in Budapest on June 9 of that year, historic because I believe it set a record at the time for most people at an outdoor concert.

Unfortunately, Pops had just gotten back from his layoff from dental surgery and the chops are a bit erratic. Not down, like the aforementioned Monterey concert from 1958, but he's having trouble executing ideas he was knocking out without a batting an eye just a few months earlier. You can actually listen to the entire concert on YouTube, a fine one, but not one of my favorites (bassist Buddy Catlett had also just joined the band and without a rehearsal, you can hear some pretty strange bass lines in the back as he's still trying to pick up some of the routines on the fly). Anyway, let's listen to this final "Basin Street":

I know I’ve made this reference in the past, but “Cootie Williams Syndrome” creeped into Pops’s playing in the mid-60s, meaning he started to lose some velocity, but his sound somehow got bigger. You can definitely hear that in the string of stomping quarter notes after Tyree Glenn’s trombone solo. But from then on, it’s the mid-50s all over again as he still blows the hell out of that rideout. One of the highlights of a sometimes shaky concert.

Armstrong struggled with his declining powers for a few months, saw no days off in sight and grew a bit dark and depressed offstage, something I tackle in my book. Eventually, the only way to deal with it was to start retiring numbers from the book and I can't find a trace of "Basin Street" in an All Stars show after the summer of 1965. Of course, I may be--and probably am--wrong (who saw that 1963 version of "That's My Home" coming that I posted a few months ago?). Crazy stuff keeps popping up all the time and it's possible that at a 1966 or 1967, Louis was feeling good and called it. But for our intents and purposes, our look (and listen) at "Basin Street Blues" ends in Budapest.

If you’re still sitting in one place, you’ve probably heard over two hours of music...but it’s Louis Armstrong and “Basin Street Blues” so is that really a bad thing? Almost anyone with a recording contract has tackled the tune--just a glance at Itunes shows versions by Julie London, Sam Cooke, Willie Nelson with Wynton Marsalis, Miles Davis, Jimmy Smith, Ray Charles, Dean Martin, Bob Wills and hundreds of others--but for me, no one else quite owned it like Louis Armstrong. That’s because few songs better embody the city of New Orleans just as no one else has ever embodied that city as much as Louis Armstrong.

You know, nothing else embodies the city of New Orleans than the concept of lagniappe, that little something extra when it comes to food. Well, there's two more terrific video performances of "Basin Street Blues" from the early 1960s and I thought it would slow down the narrative so I axed them from above...but have to at least mention them and share them as bonus material. The first is another full version from one of my favorite pieces of Pops on film, the "Satchmo Story," filmed in Germany in 1962. I screened this at the Satchmo Summerfest last summer and more than one person said Louis looks higher than a kite. I can't deny it. He usually didn't get tall before playing, but he does seem a little more groovy on this one than the others from the early 60s. Check it out (and don't get excited by the title, there's no "Mahogany Hall Stomp" on this clip:

And finally--finally--from the Bell Telephone Hour in early 1965, Louis and the All Stars did a medley of five songs in about 12 minutes, shortening each one for the sake of television. "Basin Street" closed the medley, a 3-minute version with the tempo back at the more medium 1950s pace in the beginning, while the uptempo portion swings like hell thanks to Arvell Shaw's propulsive bass work. And two of Louis's more underappreciated front line partners--Russell "Big Chief" Moore and Eddie Shu--sound great, too. So let's go out swinging with one more version of "Basin Street Blues"!