Saturday, January 30, 2016

65 Years of "Back Home Again in Indiana"!

Recorded January 30, 1951 (and about a million other times)
Track Time 5:30 (other versions range from 3:50 to 5:48)
Written by Ballard MacDonald and James Hanley
Recorded in Pasadena, California (and everywhere else around the world)
Louis Armstrong, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Earl Hines, piano; Arvell Shaw, bass; Cozy Cole, drums (as well as versions with every succeeding edition of the All Stars)
Originally released on Decca DL 8041 (plus dozens of others, bootleg and legit)
Currently available on CD: The original “Indiana,” as well as an even better later version, can be found on The California Concerts. And if you’re looking for other versions, really, it shouldn’t be so hard!

“Ahhhhh, we’re going to jump the good ol’ good ones for you tonight, opening up with ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’....”

I originally tackled "Indiana" back in 2008 and updated my entry in 2010. Today, for the 65th anniversary of the first recorded version (as performed on the album Satchmo at Pasadena), I'm revisiting it again, this time with a few newly discovered audio sample and more crazy analysis. This might take you a day to get through but I think it's one of my most important blogs.

Attempting to scale Armstrong’s numerous versions of the tune is a bit like trying to scale Mount Everest; I have probably over 100 versions of “Indiana” in my library, while Jos Willems’s “All of Me” discography lists the song on 82 separate pages, with some of those pages containing multiple versions. The tune must have literally been performed by Armstrong thousands of times without a recording device present. It’s one of the most exciting tunes the All Stars ever performed. And it’s also one of the most maligned songs in the entire Armstrong repertoire.

Critics have been using “Indiana” as a springboard for years to launch a steady stream of attacks on Pops: he played the same songs every night, he played the same solos every night, he was too old-fashioned, he didn’t know how to improvise, etc. To some degrees, these statements have slight bits of truth in them, but in no way are they 100% accurate. And if you have a couple of dozen hours, let me take you through the history of Louis Armstrong and “Indiana” and perhaps when I’m finished, you’ll have a new appreciation for Armstrong’s invariable and invariably exciting opening number.

For once, I don’t think I need to go into any backstory. The tune was published in 1917, stealing a bit from “On the Banks of the Wabash” in the process, and was immediately seized by jazz musicians, especially after the Original Dixieland Jazz Band chose it for their first Columbia recording session. In the ensuing decades, everyone took a stab at it; even the more “modern” factions used its changes for tunes like “Donna Lee” and “Ice Freezes Red.” But Louis Armstrong had no prior flings with “Indiana” until an All Stars concert in Pasadena on January 30, 1951.

“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “I thought Louis Armstrong opened EVERY show in the history of the All Stars with ‘Indiana.’ What gives?” Well, imaginary reader, that’s just the first of many myths that have to either leave the scene or at least be seriously revised. There are countless surviving All Stars documents, including many broadcasts from the late 40s. There are zero versions of “Indiana” from before 1951. He didn’t play it at Town Hall, he didn’t play it at Symphony Hall, he didn’t play it in Europe nor at a Philadelphia nightclub. In my extensive research, I have come across many concert reviews and magazine articles and there are absolutely no mentions of “Indiana” until that 1951 live performance.

So what did Pops open up with? It always changed, but it was usually an instrumental like “King Porter Stomp,” “Panama,” “Royal Garden Blues,” “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” “Muskrat Ramble” or “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.” It didn’t matter what song it was, Pops just liked to open with something uptempo and instrumental, a vehicle to make sure the chops were in shape. At a Vancouver concert recorded just four days prior to the Pasadena outing, Armstrong opened with “Rose Room,” a tune that would go on to become a Barney Bigard clarinet feature.

So we’re already four years into the history of the All Stars and we haven’t come across any mentions of “Indiana.” But at Pasadena, Armstrong called it and an opener was born. Now, I highly doubt that Armstrong, knowing that Decca was recording this, would call a tune he had never played before for the first one of the evening, so he probably had played this at least a couple of times. But every time I listen to this first version, I’m always struck by the looseness of it all. Please give a listen:


Anybody who knows any later versions will immediately notice that the tempo is a little slower than it would become just a couple of years later. But here’s piece of evidence number one that this had to be one of the band’s first shots at the tune: Earl Hines’s piano intro. It’s kind of rambling and hesitant and he doesn’t even play the horns in. He only plays the first 16 bars, which sounds to my ears a little odd as the song’s built-in “C” section is a natural for a piano introduction. But then it’s Armstrong leading Teagarden and Bigard through two opening ensemble choruses. Armstrong once gave his improvising philosophy as follows: “The first chorus I play the melody. The second chorus I plays the melody round the melody, and the third chorus I routines.” Armstrong only plays two up front on “Indiana,” but I think playing “the melody round the melody” just about sums it up.

After solos from Hines and bassist Arvell Shaw, Armstrong enters with the very first “Indiana” solo he ever recorded. Now before I get carried away, I'd like to interrupt myself and share a solid version of the "set" solo, taken from the "Chicago Concert" of June 1, 1956. This is the "Indiana" solo after all the tinking was finished. I think it's illuminating to hear it first, get it inside your head, then go backwards and hear how Armstrong added up all the pieces. So here's the "set" solo from 1956:



Got it? Okay, back to 1951. Armstrong always liked to follow bass solos, perhaps because the juxtaposition between the quiet bass and loud trumpet made for a more dramatic contrast. Regardless, here is just that first solo again:


It’s a damn good one and please take note that almost none of what Armstrong played here would appear in his later, “set” solo. I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the opening of the solo because Shaw’s not back in place yet, so the bottomless sound is pretty empty. Armstrong also slightly cracks two early notes but he soon settles in for a solo that practically defines relaxation. Rhythmically, he’s his usual free-floating self, though I like how he ends the first half with a Pops-ian “doddle-doddle-da-da” phrase. The only part Armstrong would retain for later versions are the triplets in the last eight bars, giving the solo a touch of a 3/4 feeling, as well as the very last phrase of the solo. Nice stuff.

Bigard’s up next and Pops immediately lays some background riffs on him. Piece of evidence number two that this is one of the first versions, if not the very first: Teagarden’s following him, but they’re by no means tight. Armstrong’s leading the way and Jack is doing his best to follow his lead. After Teagarden’s solo, Armstrong reenters for the final charge, giving Cozy Cole a neat eight-bar drum break. Teagarden and Bigard are very reticent in the background; great players but this is not my favorite version of the All Stars. Pops ends on a high one and sounds happy with the results. Decca must have been happy, too; on the original “Satchmo at Pasadena” album, they cut out five or six numbers performed, but they did include “Indiana.”

So, you’re guessing, “Indiana” became the standard opener, Pops played the same solo on it every night and there’s no reason to ever listen to another version, correct? WRONG-O! In fact, it’s not even for certain that “Indiana” became the immediate opener after the Pasadena concert. Only one (still unissued) version of "Indiana" survives from the 1951 edition of the All Stars from the Palomar Theater in Seattle. Here, for the first time, is just Louis's solo, very different from Pasadena with Louis going for a two-note/blue-note riff at the end instead of triplets:



After that, a return to Pasadena in December 1951 found “Royal Garden Blues” in the leadoff spot while a trip to Boise, Idaho in February 1952 began with “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.” But a May 13, 1952 concert in New Orleans found Armstrong opening up with “Indiana” and after that, there was almost no turning back. “Indiana” was IT and that’s a good thing.

But surely, Armstrong ceased improvising in his later years and started playing the same solos over and over, right? Damn you, rhetorical voice, you don’t know what you’re talking about! Here’s the New Orleans version, featuring an almost entirely new line-up: Bigard and Cole are still around but now Russ Phillips is on trombone, Marty Napoleon is on piano and Dale Jones plays bass.:


Marty Napoleon’s intro is right on the money, very swinging, though like Hines, he, too, chooses to play only the first 16 bars. From there, the routine is identical to the earlier version and would remain so until the end: two ensembles up front, one piano, one bass, one trumpet, one clarinet with riffs, one trombone and a closing ensemble with drum breaks. Because of the sameness of the routine, the rest of this blog is going to focus on the development of Armstrong’s solo.

Now this is where things get complicated. From the beginning of the All Stars, Louis Armstrong began coming under attack for what critics called “playing the same solos every night.” Again, there’s an element of truth to this, but it’s not completely accurate. The only way to combat hasty conclusions is to listen, listen, listen. And that’s what I’ve done since Armstrong’s music hit me right between the eyes 20 years ago. The great Gary Giddins once wrote about the repetition of tunes in the Armstrong discography, saying something to the effect that even it one could listen to every recording Louis Armstrong ever made, one might not necessarily want to. Well, I do! And in doing the listening, I can tell you honestly that yes, Louis Armstrong did have some “set” solos but that doesn’t mean he didn’t change them when he felt like it and it doesn’t mean that always played them exactly the same way.

Mezz Mezzrow once was asked about this and I’d like to echo his response: “People who say that don’t really listen. Sometimes the variations will be in the phrasing rather than the notes, but those solos are always changing, depending on the tempo, the atmosphere, or who’s playing with him at the time.” Amen, brother Mezz.

You see, tackling this issue leads to some very complicated thinking. It’s almost philosophical in a way: Louis Armstrong IS jazz. Without him, jazz would not have followed the same path. However, Louis Armstrong also worked on solos and often didn’t change them. Louis Armstrong didn’t freshly improvise every note he played every night. Thus, if Louis Armstrong is jazz, shouldn’t we accept jazz musicians who don’t freshly mint every note they play?

This is where it gets dicey, because jazz is always practically defined as “improvised music.” If you’re not improvising, you’re not playing jazz, right? Isn’t that how it goes? You’re playing the same solos every night? Get out of here, stop wasting my time. This is a central line of thinking in jazz circles.

But with Louis Armstrong, things are different. People view him as an improvising genius in the 1920s who “changed” and began taking the easy way out, playing set solos in his later years. But what the hell do we know about Armstrong on a day-to-day basis in the 20s? He had features with Erskine Tate, songs like “Poor Little Rich Girl” that he played every night. He had features at Connie’s Inn, standing up to play “Ain’t Misbehavin’” every night. On some Fletcher Henderson alternate takes, you can hear him barely play a different note from his solos on the issued master. After decades of hailing “Cornet Chop Suey” as an improvised masterpiece, a Library of Congress deposit was found showing that Armstrong had written and copyrighted every note of that solo a few years before he even waxed it in the studio.

Of course, he improvised like a maniac on the Hot Fives and Sevens. But those were record dates, a slight diversion from Armstrong’s steady gigs. Sure, he improvised; he was creating some of those tunes on the spot. He also improvised like hell on his record dates in the 1950s and 1960s. That didn’t affect what he played on a nightly basis. And perhaps the same went for the dashing, heroic Louis Armstrong of the 1920s. Sure, when the musicians were in the house, he’d play 300 high C’s. And even in later years, he often came up with fresh ideas on tunes like “Royal Garden Blues” and “Muskrat Ramble,” so clearly he never lost the knack for improvising.

But listen to “Chinatown” in 1931, then listen to it in Stockholm in 1933 and on the Fleischmann’s Yeast broadcast from 1937. Do the same with “Tiger Rag.” Or the various “Dinah’s” from the 1930s. Sure, there are subtle differences, but those are show pieces and for the most part, they settled into pretty set patterns. He almost blew his lip out on the first “Swing That Music,” but on his second record of it, he had a new solo, one that he played live for years to come without much difference. And take “Sunny Side of the Street,” a tune that Taft Jordan recreated Louis Armstrong’s solo on ...years before Armstrong even had the chance to record it himself! Clearly, the pattern of Armstrong playing these set solos wasn’t something that happened only during the All Stars period.

But as Mezzrow said, there ARE differences in these versions, but sometimes they’re subtle, the kinds of things only nuts like me can discern. But just because Louis Armstrong did play these set solos, should we criticize him for it? Again, this can lead to some pretty fierce debating. As for me, I look at his contemporaries. I’d exclude Sidney Bechet, because Bechet was an improvising marvel until the day he died (though even he had pet phrases and routines on songs like “China Boy” and “St. Louis Blues”). Many trumpet players from Armstrong’s generation didn’t live as long as he did: King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Freddie Keppard, Tommy Ladnier, Mutt Carey, all dead before 1950. We know Oliver sure as hell minted that “Dippermouth Blues” solo to the point where every trumpet player today still plays it. And of course, Oliver was Armstrong’s mentor so that must have had an effect. And take the trombonists: Big Jim Robinson, one of my heroes, seemingly had about six different solos. Ory, too, while a master at tailgating, didn’t exactly provide a wellspring of different ideas in his solos.

The entire history of early jazz is featured with great solos that became set parts of the tune. I’m thinking of George Brunies’s trombone solo on “Tin Roof Blues” or Bix’s “Singin’ The Blues” masterpiece, soon copied by the likes of Rex Stewart. Man, in the 1920s, if you had a great solo, it was something to be proud of. Play that damn thing every night! You worked on that solo, you came up with those variations, they sound great, now stick with it. That was the mentality for a long time, probably until Lester Young came around and promised to not be a “repeater pencil,” whatever the hell a repeater pencil is (I’ve checked on eBay; they don’t exist).

(But even Pres played many similar versions of “Lester Leaps In” in the 1950s. And speaking of “Indiana,” that was one of the seeming dozen or so tunes that remained in his later repertoire and he always ended it with the same last eight bars or so on every live version I’ve ever heard him do.)

So Pops was of that mentality from the earlier generation: you work on your solo until you’re satisfied, then you stick with it. My book includes quotes from a 1952 interview with Pops in the All Stars period talking about how he specifically tells the other musicians in the group to learn their solos and try to play them the same way night after night because he felt it made them better musicians.

Now wait a minute, wait a minute, waiting a minute!!! Louis Armstrong IS jazz. Yet, he’s telling his musicians to learn how to set their solos. This might make some people’s mind completely melt down but it’s true so you just have to learn to deal with it. And how do you do that? The best way I know of is to always keep in mind something Joe Muranyi told me: Louis Armstrong is a great composer. Yes, he’s the greatest trumpeter, greatest singer, greatest entertainer, greatest personality that jazz has ever seen (arguable, but really, what did you expect me to say?). But do not ever underestimate his ability as a composer.

And I don’t just mean writing tunes like “Some Day You’ll Be Sorry.” I’m talking about those incredible, mind-blowing solos. It’s so easy to roll your eyes and say, “Oh dear, another version of ‘Indiana’ with that same damn set solo. Ho hum.” But it’s entirely different to think about Louis’s thought process, knowing how hard he worked on those solos. Think about it: the man was a nut about tape recording. And what did he tape record? His own concerts. When I originally published this in 2008, I hadn't started working for the Louis Armstrong House Museum yet; after years of studying his tapes I can now say that he didn't tape EVERY show as I once thought but he tape enough of them and constantly studied them. Surviving members of the All Stars told me that they would sneak away at night and ask the hotel for a different room on another floor because Pops would play his own stuff so loud! He’d listen to his own solos. See what he could keep and what he could change. He’d listen to the reactions his jokes got or the kind of receptions certain songs received. He studied every concert like an individual jewel yet so many people continue to write-off the entire All Stars period as if he was going through the motions, a commercial entertainer content to play it safe with the same songs and solos night and after night. It’s not fair.

So with the diatribe now over, let me get back to the topic at hand and demonstrate some of my beliefs the only way I know how: with cold, hard audio facts. We’re going to examine the process that Louis Armstrong took in the 1950s to “set” his “Indiana” solo. We’ve already heard the two different 1951 solos and we might as well hear the original Pasadena version again:


Now, here’s the May 1952 New Orleans solo:


Again, the epitome of relaxation, but it shares almost nothing in common with the January 1951 solo...though the genesis of the set solo can be heard in bars 20-23. Armstrong also clearly likes the “When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash” melody in the last eight bars as he almost always plays it straight. He comes out of it with a nice gliss downward, which also would crop up later. Finally, the very singable phrase that Armstrong plays in the last two bars obviously struck a chord with him. The wheels were turning...

So now let’s flash forward to October 1952 for a solo from a concert in Sweden:


Again, almost a completely new solo, complete with a “My Sweetie Went Away” quote borrowed from Lester Young’s “Sometimes I’m Happy” solo. Again, bars 20-24 are the same, as is the melody playing of the “Wabash” line, though this time it’s broken up by an earlier gliss. But now, the singable phrase that I said struck a chord with Pops is gone. Instead, he goes back to the triplets of the 1951 solo and hammers them home for four full bars, ending with a giant gliss.

Just a month later, Armstrong turned in a completely different solo in Lausaane, Switzerland. His chops were a little down on this occasion, so there's a conspicuous absence of high notes, but there's definitely no lack of ideas:


Here's another new one from a still unissued Symphony Hall concert from April 1953. The opening is fairly set but in the second eight bars, he reaches back and uncorks something he originally played behind Bessie Smith on "St. Louis Blues" in 1925! And after that, it's an almost entirely improvised outing:


By the summer of 1953, Armstrong was starting to turn up the heat on “Indiana,” with the tempo rising several degrees on this and subsequent performances. At an undisclosed location in that summer, the All Stars played a concert that featured Pops in absolutely peak form. However, on “Indiana,” he’s almost too excited and overblows a little bit:


He now officially has an entrance, perhaps feeling a little more comfortable diving right in at this tempo, leaving some of the relaxation of the earlier attempts behind. He sounds strong as hell but it sounds like he runs out of ideas at the halfway point a bit, reverting to some quarter notes. Also, the smoothing out process of the second half of the solo has begun. It’s a little shaky and he misses a note here and there, but he has almost set the back end of the solo. Notice the mixture of elements from the earlier versions: the “Wabash” melody, the gliss, the triplets and the perfectly concluding singable phrase.

But now he needed something for the first half and that could take some work. This next solo, from Japan on New Year’s Eve 1953 is unlike any other “Indiana” that I’ve ever heard:


He really charges out of the gate on that one. And what rhythm! The triplets, the fleet-phrases, the dramatic glisses, he’s all over the place and the result is thrilling. The second half of the solo is more improved than the previous example, with a killer chromatic run (you can hear bassist Milt Hinton yell, “Go Pops!”). He’s getting there...

Five months later, in May 1954, Armstrong played it an afternoon concert at the University of North Carolina. This concert, which I’ve blogged about in the past, features a heroically strong Armstrong but on “Indiana” he runs into a little trouble. Again, it’s at the halfway point as you’ll hear him attempt this long winding "Bessie Smith obbligato" phrase. Here's the lick:


Armstrong loved that lick (it became part of his "Back O'Town Blues" routine) but in Carolina, he gets tangled up for a half-second and has to resolve it with three quick quarter notes. After a moment to pause, he plays the second half beautifully, sounding stronger every time:


Also, you can hear the faster repeated triplets in the beginning of that solo, something that Armstrong clearly liked to play on the tune. Next, a version from Basin Street East in New York City in August 1954:


As you can hear, it’s very similar to the North Carolina one but now Armstrong plays the "St. Louis Blues" phrase without any problem, resolving it with a bluesy little flick of the valves, followed by some of those quicker triplets.

After my 2010 edition of this entry, my good friend Hakan Forsberg sent me a rare version of "Indiana" from October 1954...with another completely different trumpet solo. By this point, he abandoned the "St. Louis Blues" lick and turns in some wild playing in the second eight bars! Here's the solo:



Isn't that terrific? He's really squeezing those blue notes. Here's the entire "Indiana," which unfortunately was butchered by whoever did the original recording (it was done for the U.S. Saving Bonds Division of the Treasury Department) with choruses missing and other odd edits. But it's still an exciting performance:



And continuing with the new treasures, in 2015, a superb digital release of two Melbourne, Australia performances was issued without any fanfare. On it was yet another piece of the "Indiana" puzzle, with Pops again turning in a super exciting, super different second eight bars:


Armstrong was now experimenting more and more,  blowing with hellish fury anytime he was confronted with those second eight bars. Here’s another example from New Year’s Eve 1954:


I love how he just steamrolls everything with that gigantic gliss up to a freakish high Eb, which I don't think he intended to hit. Arvell Shaw yells “Go, go” and Pops does. The high note is exciting but once up there, it’s a little bit of an awkward ride back down to terra firma. Nevertheless, remember Mezzrow’s words when listening to the second half. Just when we thought we had a set second half, he clearly changes some of the phrasing and ends with a series of triplets into a gliss, something we haven't heard since the Stockholm version of October 1952. Interesting...

Weeks later, in January 1955, Armstrong recorded another live version for Decca, this time from the Crescendo Club. Again, in the problematic second eight bars, Pops uses brute force, alternating high C’s and Db’s before skipping downward right into a daring chromatic turn of a phrase that always takes me by surprise. In fact, even before that Pops plays some new ideas. This might be one of the very hottest “Indiana” solos Pops ever took:


By the summer of 1955, Pops had it worked out. In those second eight bars, instead of a gliss to an impossible high note or alternating high notes of the Crescendo Club version, Armstrong now played a completely logical phrase building up to two high Db’s and a C. He then worked his way back down with those quick, repeated, almost ragtime-esque three-note phrase, as he had been fooling with for a while. Between June 1955 and March 1956, this is pretty much the "set" solo. I'll pick one example to demonstrate, from Sweden, October 1955:


So is that it, the set solo? Not quite! The longer Pops worked on his solos, the more they would sometimes get infiltrated with quotes (by the mid-50s, his "Muskrat Ramble" playing featured an astonishing collage of quotes strung together seamlessly). Thus, in March 1956, Armstrong elminated those bubbling three-note phrases in the first half and instead inserted a quote from "I Cover the Waterfront." On March 17, Armstrong played this solo at a Carnegie Hall concert. Here 'tis, the set solo:


Great stuff (though John S. Wilson gave the All Stars a bad review that evening and complained that Armstrong was playing the same stuff and putting on the same vaudeville show as usual). How set was that solo? Nine days later, a recording device captured it in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Using the magic of editing, here are both March 1956 solos being played at the exact same time:



Pretty consistent, eh? So think about it: “Indiana” didn’t enter the All Stars’s book until 1951, year four of their existence. Pops didn’t have a concrete set solo on it until 1956. That’s the ninth year of the All Stars! He spent FIVE YEARS tinkering with that thing, only to have people write it off today, “Oh, he always played the same solos.” That, my friends, is a masterpiece of composition. Listen to that solo again. Really study it. It’s a perfect solo. If I was to play a trumpet solo on “Indiana,” I would want it to be that one. When Hal Leonard printed a book of Armstrong trumpet transcriptions a few years ago, they included one of “Indiana.” They had a thousand to choose from but they chose one from Chicago, June 1, 1956 featuring my favorite front line with Armstrong, clarinetist Edmond Hall and trombonist Trummy Young. I already started this tour by playing the solo but I think the entire performance deserves to be heard in full:


Incredibly exciting stuff. And listen to how much Pops plays on the tune: it’s an eight-chorus song and Pops plays on five, leading two in the front, taking his own solo, setting riffs behind Hall and coming back for the rideout. He’s all over the damn thing. But it’s great solo, isn’t it? I just love when he refers to the original melody in the last eight bars, then hits that bluesy-as-hell concert B-natural and turns it into a falling gliss, sliding to a lower G. He’s in complete command: the high notes are popping, he’s very flexible, his rhythm is exemplary (dig the repeated Ab’s in bars 5 and 6, each one landing in between the beats), he’s just in great form. Even the contrast between a grandiose phrase like the build-up to the high Db’s in the eighth bar is immediately resolved by Armstrong happily skipping back downward with some swinging quarter-notes. There’s a lot of meat in a solo that so many people have taken for granted for so long.

It’s interesting because that Chicago version was performed at quite a time in Armstrong’s life. His popularity was hitting new highs: touring Europe as “Ambassador Satch,” being profiled by Edward R. Murrow, scoring a hit record with “Mack the Knife,” conquering Africa, etc. He was arguably more popular than ever before. Yet with that came the most scathing reviews of his career. 1956 is one of Armstrong’s greatest years as a player but man, you don’t want to read the reviews. Armstrong was no being called an “Uncle Tom” in places like Metronome magazine, “Down Beat” gave his set at the Newport Jazz Festival a scathing notice, John S. Wilson claimed the All Stars were more vaudeville than jazz...trust me, it got ugly. But I listen to that “Indiana” and can’t help but feeling pity for those critics and for anyone else who didn’t get riled up by such a wonderful group.

So now that we’ve reached the set solo, you might think it’s time for me to pack it in, but of course, I can’t do that yet. There’s some other versions I’d like to share (if you’re still with me) beginning with Armstrong’s only full-on studio version of the tune. It’s August 1957 and Armstrong was doing a date backed by the Oscar Peterson Trio and Louie Bellson on drums as part of the second album of duets with Ella Fitzgerald. Producer Norman Granz needed a balance and obviously the musicians wanted to warm up. Pops called “Indiana” and he was off, sounding hesitant in spots (this was a warm-up after all) but uncorking a lot of new ideas before finally settling into the set solo at the end. Here ‘tis:


One year later, Armstrong performed “Indiana” at the Monterey Jazz Festival, as issued on C.D. in 2007. Here’s this solo:


Wait, where’s the solo? Exactly. This is a red flag, my friends. Whenever you find a version of “Indiana” that goes from bass solo to clarinet solo, that only means one thing: Pops’s chops were down and he needed to pick his spots. Thus, there are multiple “Indianas” where Armstrong plays the ensemble choruses but has to bypass his solo spot because of chop troubles. It wasn’t easy being Louis Armstrong, that’s for sure...

But please don’t think Pops was a finished man in 1958. His European tour of 1959 was filled with wondrous moments and many great versions of “Indiana.” Here's Pops and the All Stars (Trummy, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Kyle, Mort Herbert and Danny Barcelona) doing “Indiana” in Amsterdam, February 7, 1959:


Armstrong sounds great, he’s having fun (listen to him singing behind the clarinet solo) and the solo is crackling with a new gliss in the second eight bars and some different phrasing in the second half. However, did you notice what happens after the solo? Along with Trummy Young, Armstrong plays the first few notes he had use to back up the clarinet solo since that first 1951 version. However, he then stops and he and Trummy begin laughing and slapping five like it’s a kind of inside joke. According to the great Dave Whitney, he heard that Peanuts was not fond of background riffs and asked for Armstrong not to play them behind him. Armstrong obliged both on this and "Struttin' with Some Barbecue." When Peanuts left, the riffs returned on "Barbecue" but not "Indiana."

As the 1960s dawned, Pops was still an incredible force, though slowly but surely, he was beginning to lose a little flexibility in his horn playing. Those delightful little fleet-fingered phrase became somewhat harder to execute as he began the next decade of his punishing career. Amazingly, at the same time, his tone actually appeared to get larger. I have dubbed this phenomenon “Cootie Williams Syndrome” (this is not an actual medical condition) as it reminds me of the great Ellington trumpet player who often sounded like he was playing in slow motion in the 1960s, yet had a pure sound that could move mountains. Though “Indiana” had some tricky moments, Pops managed to keep much of his set material in place except for one spot: the always singable closing phrase of his solo, one that he had toyed with since 1952 and had kept playing since mid-1953. Now, he needed a new way to close the solo, often trying out different things. For example, in July 1960, Armstrong sounded like Hercules during some concerts in Highland Park, Illinois, outside of Chicago. Because of the location, Armstrong decided to conclude his solo with a three-note phrase that’s reminiscent of the standard “Chicago” before embarking on a huge gliss(he also quoted this at the June 1956 Chicago concert during “Ko Ko Mo”):


That same month at the Newport Jazz Festival, Armstrong reached all the way back to that Stockholm 1952 solo, ending with a series of slow triplets before another powerhouse gliss:


Armstrong came up with yet another way to end the solo at the 1961 Newport Jazz Festival:


Video time! Pops continued experimenting with the end of “Indiana” throughout 1961 and 1962. Here’s a full version from Sweden in 1962. Notice, he ends with some neat falling glisses ("Indiana" begins at 3:30):
On the same tour, Armstrong seemed to have a remedy: end the solo with some fierce high notes and a gliss. Here’s an example from a German concert in April of 1962:


Of course, some nights were a struggle for Pops. At a Paris concert 12 days after the above German clip,, Pops’s chops obviously had a rough time getting warmed up. But then again, that’s the point of opening with something familiar like “Indiana,” right? Listen to him heroically push his way through this solo, playing through the pain, and ending with one of the most suspenseful glisses he ever took. Does he make it!? Find out:


He made it! Phew... And to prove that he was back, here he is killing those last eight bars at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1962:



When I originally wrote this, I didn't have any "Indianas" from 1963 but now I have one from Tokyo and can attest that Louis knocked it out of the park, as he also did during an Australian television appearance late in 1964 (do you really need audio evidence? Haven't the above 200 clips been enough for ya???). In March 1965, Armstrong embarked on a historic tour of Europe, conquering the Iron Curtain a bit by playing places like Prague and East Berlin, garnering some incredible ovations. He responded by doing some of the best blowing of his later years. Seriously, if you ever see a C.D. with stuff from this tour, grab it, because you won’t believe the form Armstrong was in.

Now keep in mind, by this point, “Hello, Dolly” put Armstrong back on top of the world. This gave jazz critics a whole new line of jive to complain about: Armstrong’s new fans were coming to see some old buffoon sing a showtune and had no idea that he was such a great trumpet player. Well, pretend you know nothing about Armstrong other than he’s a funny old cat you saw singing “Hello, Dolly” on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” So you get tickets to see him play and after a gentle “Sleepy Time Down South,” he plays “Indiana” and takes a solo like this one, taken from an East Berlin concert in March 1965:


Thanks to my man Austin Casey, let's watch the entire East Berlin "Indiana":

I don’t know about you, but I would think that was a pretty damn good trumpet player up onstage, banging out those high C’s and glissing like that at the end! And really, that was what Louis Armstrong was all about: pleasing the public, knowing that every time he played a one-nighter, he wanted to give that audience his best, knowing it was comprised of many people who had never seen him before. So sure, the jazz critics could complain about the same songs and the same solos but if I was going to see him live for the first time, I’m sure the effect would have been electric. Hell, it still is for me and I know what’s coming half the time!

I know I’ve taken up entirely too much time but there’s not far to go because of the 10+ versions of "Indiana" I have from after 1965, there are zero that feature Armstrong taking a solo. Joe Muranyi joined the band in the summer of 1967 and he told me that Pops rarely played the solo and that one time he did and faltered badly. Again, Armstrong was still playing well but now the effects of age and decades of fierce blowing were taking its toll: the solo on “Indiana,” handcrafted over a period of five years in the 1950s, would have to be retired.

But he continued opening with the tune, still blowing two choruses up front and leading the charge during the rideout. Again, the chops could go up and down, as evidenced by a series of recorded performances in late July 1967. In Copenhagen on July 25, Louis struggled like hell to get through the opening two ensemble choruses:




After the solos, he also sounds pretty out of gas on the rideout:




I once wrote an entire blog on a sad photo of Louis in the wings that evening. But two nights later, not only were the chops back, but Louis, for the last time (as far as recorded evidence goes), went back to the 50s (!) during his ensemble playing. Check out the second ensemble chorus!


And he's even stronger at the end, alluding to his old fleet-fingered ways and going way up to high C at the end:


And if you like watching rather than listening, here's video of that great performance (starts around 2:40):



I'm sure there were more nights when he summoned the magic like that, but they haven't surfaced (yet!). Still, there's a bunch of very good versions from the late 60s, most featuring a nifty new quote of "Memories" (or maybe “Sidewalks of New York”).  So let’s listen to the last recorded example of Louis Armstrong playing trumpet on Indiana, from England in July 1968:





He still sounds pretty good, right? He’s not Superman anymore but he’s still a pretty good lead trumpet player from New Orleans. Though notice how often he plays little runs to keep his chops up: there’s a note during the piano intro and he noodles behind both the clarinet and trombone solos, always testing his chops at every chance. But he still can play that thing, holding the high Ab at the end, glissing up to a C for good measure.

And that’s all I’ve got. I know it was exhaustive but if it makes you, dear reader, approach “Indiana” with a different mindset, I’ve done my job. Now it's off to listen to something else--anything!--because if I don't get this solo out of my head in the next 24 hours, I'm checking into Bellvue!

1 comment:

Uncle Jack said...

Fascinating. A wonderful piece of scholarship. I am delighted to have discovered your blog (through Facebook yet!) and look forward to reading many more of your excellent blog entries. Jack Sandberg, Baltimore.