Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra
Recorded October 9, 1930
Track Time 3:16
Written by Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton
Recorded in Los Angeles, CA
Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; George Orendorff, Harold Scott trumpet;
Luther Craven, trombone; Les Hite, alto saxophone, conductor; Marvin
Johnson, alto saxophone; Charlie Jones, tenor saxophone; Henry
Prince, piano; Bill Perkins, guitar; Joe Bailey, bass;
Lionel Hampton, drums.
Originally released on OKeh 41468
Currently available on CD: It’s on the JSP two-disc set The Big Band Sides, 1930-1932, as well as about a hundred other discs
In his essential tome Stardust Melodies, Will Friedwald begins his chapter on "Body and Soul" with what he refers to as an "outrageous statement: 'Body and Soul' is probably the most-played melody in all of jazz." I don't think it's outrageous at all. "Star Dust" was up there for a while but I don't think it's a tune that everyone still plays; yet everyone in the jazz world, young and old, seems to still know "Body and Soul." "Rhythm Changes" are heard everywhere but how many folks actually play the song "I Got Rhythm"? "St. Louis Blues" was the song for much of the 20th century but again, to many in the younger generation, a blues is a blues and I don't think W.C. Handy's habanera-tinged masterpiece gets called like it used to. But "Body and Soul" won't die, published in 1930, becoming a Swing Era favorite, put through its paces in the world of bop and still called by most masters of "modern" music.
And like everything else, Louis Armstrong introduced it to the jazz world.
I highly recommend seeking out Friedwald's aforementioned book for the full story on how "Body and Soul" came together, with music by 21-year-old (!) Johnny Green and lyrics by Edward Heyman (with partner Robert Sour also getting credit, as well as Frank Eyton, who helped get it recorded). The short version is "Body and Soul" was written as a torch song for singer Gertrude Lawrence, who brought it to London, where it became a sensation in early 1930, first recorded by Jack Hylton on February 7 of that year.
Hylton and other popular British artists such as Ambrose, Elisa Carlisle and Carroll Gibbons recorded it and it was the hit of England (Hylton even re-recorded it in a "concert" arrangement). It eventually reached America, where it was shoved into the score of the upcoming Broadway production of Three's a Crowd, but not before undergoing a new set of lyrics (possibly with the aid of Howard Dietz). It was copyrighted in the States on October 14, 1930 and was featured in the opening of Three's a Crowd on October 15.
Between Gertrude Lawrence and Libby Holman, who introduced it on Broadway, "Body and Soul" became a favorite of female torch singers such as Ruth Etting and Annette Hanshaw. Here's Etting's version:
The buzz around the song was so strong, dance bands such as Paul Whiteman and Leo Reisman began recording it in September 1930, Reisman's version featuring the great Ellington trumpeter Bubber Miley:
It was a matter of time before the jazz world discovered "Body and Soul" and like most future standards, the man who introduced it to that world was none other than Louis Armstrong. Armstrong was still in the middle of his California residency at Sebastian's Cotton Club, fronting a band organized by alto saxophonist Les Hite and featuring young Lionel Hampton on drums. Louis started a remarkable run of recordings in California in July, waxing "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy (from Dumas)" and "I'm in the Market for You" in July and "Confessin'" and "If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)" in August. (Who am I fooling: I wanted to keep the California series going with "Body and Soul" in October but was just too busy to do it for the anniversary. Better late than never!)
Armstrong and the Hite band showed up to OKeh's Los Angeles studio on October 9--still a week before Three's a Crowd opened--to record their own interpretation, using an arrangement by Russ Morgan. Here's Louis Armstrong's "Body and Soul":
Over a yearning chord by the band, Armstrong foreshadows the melody before playing an eighth-note rhythmic pattern that's echoed by the reeds. Pianist Henry Prince sounds off two repeated octaves and Louis is off and running with the melody. I love these types of moments because Morgan's arrangement calls for the reeds to play the melody just as Green wrote it. Meanwhile, a muted Armstrong plays it in his own fashion, sticking fairly close (the song was so brand new I doubt he had been playing it before the session) but making enough changes to illustrate his own unbeatable genius at interpreting a melody. (I might have mentioned this before, but my "Music of Louis Armstrong" students were really blown away by this back-and-forth of playing the melody and improvising around it at the same time....truly a lost art!)
After another double-timed run in the turnaround, Armstrong really relaxes in his second eight bars, simply floating over the rhythm (hmmmm, floating? Pops was smoking a lot of marijuana in those California days). For the famous bridge, the band gets away from the melody, playing simple half-note harmonies while Louis takes the lead, kind of cracking one note in the middle, but recovering strongly in the second half. The band takes the last eight bars in best dance-band style (oh, how Louis loved those Lombardo-esque reeds), allowing Armstrong to get up to the mike.
Once there, he sings the original set of lyrics, again phrasing it in his own inimitable way and and sounding like he's from another planet when compared the other contemporary versions shared above. Here's those lyrics, with an approximate translation of his additions (and subtractions):
My days have grown so lonely / for I have lost my one and only
My pride has been humbled / for I'm hers Body and Soul (oh babe!)
I was a mere sensation, babe / my house of cards had no foundation
Although it has tumbled / I still am her Body and Soul
What lies before me, the future is stormy / the winter that's gray and old
Unless there's magic, the end will be tragic / and echo the tale that's been told so often
My life revolves about her / what earthly good am I without her?
My castles have crumbled / but I'm hers Body and Soull.....UH!
Wee! Now that's a vocal. There's the usual little additions (two "babes") but really it's the phrasing that does me in, such as that magical bridge, most of it delivered on one pitch. Even if he never picked up the horn, my goodness what he did for singing!
After his declamatory shout, trombonist Luther Craven takes the first part of the bridge to allow Pops to get his chops together. The band is swinging now, with Hamp really starting to rattle the drums. Louis enters with two notes, almost shouting "Ba-by" through his horn, now open. He goes into the upper register strongly and gets out of the bridge with once again with a double-timed run of repeated notes, but this time ending with some hip note choices. To bring it home, Armstrong turns up the drama, reverting back to the melody with the band pulsating behind him. Morgan's arrangement then has a dramatic ending with the band stopping to allow Louis to take his time getting to the final high note. It's a great glimpse at the types of endings Louis would begin tacking on to the end of almost all of his recordings just a few years later.
Well, that was all the jazz world needed to hear; contemporaries such as Red Allen, Benny Goodman, Roy Eldridge, Chu Berry, Coleman Hawkins (who had the biggest hit), Billie Holiday and others picked up where Pops left off in turning "Body and Soul" into one of the all-time great standards (and most performed ones, too). Louis, however, doesn't seem to have kept it in his repertoire during the 1930s and 1940s. It eventually returned to his life when he formed the All Stars in 1947, but only as a feature for two of his pioneer sidemen, Barney Bigard and Jack Teagarden.
Barney had the first crack at it. Numerous live versions survive but it's still tough to top the famous one from Symphony Hall on November 30, 1947:
Barney sometimes gets beat up for his features--hell, I've done plenty of beating him up for them, too--but "Body and Soul" has always been one of my favorites. It opens as a ballad with Bigard playing a soulful reading of the melody while Armstrong and trombonist Jack Teagarden offer gorgeous playing behind him (nice stuff from pianist Dick Cary, too). Barney sounds great, too (dig those swooping phrases in the bridge). At the 2:15 mark, drummer Sid Catlett drops a bomb and they go into a swinging tempo, Bigard playing it in "long meter," a popular way to treat the tune after Roy Eldridge did it that way with Chu Berry. Catlett really shows off his great touch with the brushes here, working together with bassist Arvell Shaw to swing like hell. After a full chorus in the lead, Louis finally re-enters to play the melody, Teagarden filling in the cracks and Bigard swinging over them both. It's a wonderful moment and Louis sounds terrific. For the bridge, Bigard takes the lead and Catlett turns on the heat with those heart-pounding backbeats. Eventually they return to the original ballad tempo for the final eight bars, Pops playing so soulfully, with Teagarden, too, joining him in the upper register of his own horn. Bigard gets to do a closing cadenza as only he could, going on for just the right amount of time (some of Bigard's features had "endings" that went on for five minutes--or longer). Bigard at his finest and some really great playing by Louis.
By January 1951, perhaps Bigard got bored "Body and Soul" as his feature because at the famous Satchmo at Pasadena concert of January 30, it was now the property of none other than Mr. Jackson Teagarden. All those superlatives I just heaped on Barney? All true, but his version doesn't compare to the glorious performance Teagarden gives of it in Pasadena:
Earl Hines's piano intro starts off a little too jaunty but Teagarden enters right where he wants it and provides another master's class in how to make a melody your own (Louis can be heard saying, "Play it pretty, Jack," early on). After Teagarden's clinic, Hines takes a half-chorus in his own unique style. It's an effective outing with a gorgeous beginning, a surprising middle and something of a rushed, sloppy ending. Teagarden restores order (and tempo) on his way out, Louis supplying some quiet harmony but otherwise allowing his friend to stay in the driver's seat, right through a jaw-dropping cadenza of his own. No wonder Armstrong named Teagarden as his favorite musician.
Though Armstrong had stayed out of the spotlight regarding "Body and Soul" for so many years, he found himself recording not one but two studio versions within nine months time in the mid-50s. The first attempt was part of that towering achievement Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography. This project kicked off on December 11, 1956 with a six-song session, "Body and Soul" bringing up the rear. Here's the remake, with a new arrangement by Sy Oliver:
Oliver follows Morgan's original arrangement (that opening note sounds a little more ominous though) but instead of having the reeds playing the melody the entire time in the background, they just offer some pads for Armstrong to caress it in his best 1950s style. Older and wiser (and at a slower tempo), Louis takes his time, really bringing out the beauty of Green's melody but still phrasing it his own way. Trummy Young steps up to take the lead on the last eight bars (Louis can be heard singing "Oh yeah" quietly behind him) before another interlude by pianist Billy Kyle finally sets up the vocal.
Now, Louis sings the alternate set of lyrics, still adding some Pops-isms when appropriate:
My heart is sad and lonely / for you I sigh, for you dear only
Why haven't you seen ittttt (mmm) / I'm all for you Body and Soul.....yes
I spend my days in longing....babe / and wondering why it's me you're wronging
Ohhh, I'll tell you I mean it / I'm all for you Body and Soul....yeah
I can't believe it, it's hard to conceive it / that you turned away romance...eeeeee
Are you pretending, it looks like the ending / unless I could have one more chance to prove it.
My life a wreck you making / you know I'm yours for just the taking
Ohhhh, I'd gladly surrender / myself to you, Body and Soul......YEAH!
Again, what a killer vocal. When Louis remade some of his 1930-31 California songs later in life, he usually offered more sober vocals but this one is pretty damn close to the original in terms of mood, feeling, inventiveness (again, the repeated notes on the bridge) and even humor (one "babe" this time but that final "Yeah!" is righteous!).
Trummy then plays the role of Luther Craven in the bridge, the reeds playing on one-and-three, before Louis enters, this time setting the mood with a four-note setup phrase. He flexes his muscles on the second half of the bridge (again, this is the SIXTH song recorded that day) before referencing the original eighth-note descending phrase he played on the original turnaround. The tempo is so much slower than the original, so Louis really milks it for all the drama its worth, even throwing a blue-note in before the slow climb to the final high Bb, nailing it just as if it was 1930. Bravo!
Nine months later, on August 16, 1957, Louis found himself recording "Body and Soul" one more time, this time for Norman Granz's Verve label and the eventual album Louis Under the Stars. Armstrong was now backed by the orchestra of Russ Garcia, getting a lovely bed of strings to play and sing over. However, he was pretty taxed in the summer of 1957, performing in Vegas at night and recording for Granz in Los Angeles by day; some of the trumpet playing on Louis Under the Stars and its companion, World on a String, suffers when compared to the work he did while fully rested for Milt Gabler and George Avakian at the same time. Here's his final go at "Body and Soul":
Armstrong sounds strong at the start--the August 16 date was one of his finest--but his playing grows a little more coarse as he goes on. He's in pain but has too much pride and too much damn talent to turn in a subpar performance. It's a lovely reading of the melody, followed by an even lovelier vocal. Armstrong eschews the humor of the previous performances, singing in a most heartfelt style for one-and-a-half choruses, right up to a slowed-down ending with his vocal replacing where his trumpet usually closed the show. It's a truly beautiful, nearly five-minute performance but I must admit, it's overshadowed by the superhuman Autobiography rendition, not to mention the 1930 one that put the song on the map.
Regardless, there's no use picking favorites. If you've devoted the roughly 25-minutes listening to all the Louis Armstrong-related versions of "Body and Soul" found in this blog, your spirit should be lifted.....not to mention your mind, body and soul. Happy Valentine's Day!