45 Years of "Hello, Dolly"

Louis Armstrong and His All Stars
Recorded December 3, 1963
Track Time 2:28
Written by Jerry Herman
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Trummy Young, trombone; Joe Darensbourg, clarinet; Billy Kyle, piano; Tony Gottuso, banjo; Arvell Shaw, bass; Danny Barcelona, drums
Originally released on Kapp K-573
Currently available on CD: Close your eyes and pick an Armstrong C.D. and most likely, you’ll find one with “Dolly” on it
Available on Itunes? Yes, more versions than you can count

45 years ago this week, Louis Armstrong walked into a recording to studio for the first time in over two years. He hadn’t needed records for a while as he consistently sold out his live shows around the country and around the world. But on December 3, 1963, Armstrong and the All Stars recorded two Broadway showtunes as a favor for a friend of Joe Glaser. Much focus was put on one song, “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” from Bye Bye Birdie, a song Armstrong’s friend Jack Bradley predicted could become a hit with the proper push on the radio. The other song, “Hello, Dolly” was for a Broadway show that hadn’t even opened yet. Armstrong wasn’t too impressed but gave it his all. The date was over and that was that.

Well, of course, you know what happened. Armstrong forgot all about the tune until people in the audience of his shows began shouting for it. He had no idea what it was all about until he was reminded that it was from this forgotten record date. Using a record as a guide, the band worked out a routine and began featuring it. The result was bedlam and soon enough, Armstrong’s Kapp single began climbing the charts, entering on Cash Box at number 68 on February 22. The following week it was number 35. Slowly it climbed, even with the Beatles looming large at the top of the charts. That didn’t deter the “Hello, Dolly” express which hit number one in Billboard on May 9 and number 1 on Cash Box on May 16. Once again, Louis Armstrong was on top of the world.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Jesus, Rick, you write six pages on the history of ‘I’m in the Market for You’ but ‘Hello, Dolly’ gets two paragraphs? Are you feeling okay?” The truth is I’ve never felt better but there’s a few reasons for my unexpected backstory brevity. First, the story of “Dolly” has been told dozens of times. I have a very detailed account of it coming out in my upcoming book...if you could wait two years. Also, Terry Teachout did some sleuthing and cemented some very interesting details, which I promised to let him debut in his upcoming Armstrong book...if you could wait one more year. So trust me, if you pick up our books, you’ll know more about the making of “Dolly” than you ever could have imagined.

But only here, my friends, will you get the traditional Riccardi blowout examination of all the versions of “Hello, Dolly” in my collection, numbering over 20. Now before you immediately close down this window and switch back to Facebook, let me state that I’ve done my usual editing job so don’t worry, you won’t have to sit through a bunch of six-minute versions with a ton of encores. Instead, I’ve pulled out a lot of the trumpet solos because the truth is, “Dolly,” though not a tremendous piece of songwriting, featured a different set of chord changes that Armstrong responded to with great affection. He loved changing up his solo on this one, even if it was only a few notes at a time. We’re going to look at a bunch of those solos but first, to all get in the mood, let’s listen to the classic 1963 recording in all its splendor:

You’ve got to admit, it’s a pretty great record. The jazz world loves to crap on it, with people crying outrage when it was included in Ken Burns’s Jazz documentary. It’s no “West End Blues” but damn, it’s a lot of fun, starting right off with Tony Gottuso’s banjo introduction, which Gary Giddins once likened to an alarm clock. Then there’s the ingenious touch of “This is Louis, Dolly,” one of Armstrong’s all time greatest lyric changes.

The record is like an audible Red Bull, so peppy and infectious. Trummy Young, making his last recording date with the band, sounds great playing a muted trombone obbligato while the rhythm section makes the two-beat feel bounce appropriately before swinging hard during the trumpet solo (notice, an almost perfectly edited splice before the trumpet comes on, allowing Armstrong time to get his chops in his horn). If you listen carefully to the version I posted, you’ll hear soft strings and a pounding tack piano, two additions made in post production by producer Dave Kapp, though thankfully you really have to listen to hear it. Don’t strain yourself and instead enjoy a wonderful, seamless ensemble chorus by the All Stars, an incredibly professional unit til the end.

Armstrong’s trumpet is a gem though it’s clearly he’s working on about 95% power. Still, he swings with relaxed ease, turning up the heat in the second half. And for someone who apparently didn’t think much of the song, he sings the hell out of it in the reprise, a muted Trummy powering him along. Classic stuff.

On March 22, 1964, with “Dolly” in full flight, Arlene Francis asked Armstrong to sing a chorus during his appearance on What’s My Line. Armstrong happily obliged, turning in a full a cappella outing do huge applause, a clip that is excerpted in the Giddins documentary Satchmo but somehow is not on YouTube. Just two weeks later, Kapp brought the All Stars into the studio to record an entire album to be titled, you guessed it, Hello Dolly. Armstrong got to record some of his old stand-bys (“Blueberry Hill,” “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” “Someday,” “Jeepers Creepers”) while Kapp saddled him with a few more showtunes from the okay (“You Are Woman, I Am Man”) to the timeless (“Moon River”). It’s a very, very good album and naturally, it sold very well. On top of the world, Armstrong and the All Stars debuted “Hello, Dolly” on national television on The Hollywood Palace, an episode taped in April and aired in May, but one that I have never seen. He also performed it in Houston on May 4 and at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 2, two more performances that are not in my collection.

Armstrong eventually did it on the Ed Sullivan Show on October 4 and finally, it’s a version I have so we can begin the musical tour right here. Again, Armstrong sounds great but not quite 100% but still, it’s the only “Dolly” to get an introductory cadenza, so it gets points for that. Dig it:

I love Armstrong’s yell after the trumpet intro. He clearly loves the tune and delivers it with even more enthusiasm than the studio record. The trumpet solo is pretty spectacular, too, hitting some notes higher than any approached on the single. For those who want to just follow the trumpet solos, here it is again:

In early 1965, Armstrong and the All Stars embarked on a historic tour of Europe that finally found Armstrong breaking down the Iron Curtain by playing in places such as Prague and East Berlin. Numerous shows exist from this tour, all of them capturing Armstrong in peak form for one last extended period. In my collection, I have three complete versions (with encores) from the 1965 tour, as well as a video of another and one more extended performance from Paris in June of 1965. Examining all these versions is proof that Armstrong hit on a “set” solo for “Dolly” and rarely deviated from it during this period. But before we get into the nuts and bolts of the trumpet playing, why don’t you settle down for six minutes and enjoy “Hello, Dolly” in all its post-stardom glory. They play it once, then take an encore led off by trumpet, followed by two all-vocal encores, complete with audience hand clapping and some different nicknames by Pops. It’s hard to choose between them all but here it is in East Berlin, March 22, 1965:

Pretty infectious stuff. It’s just six minutes of joy personified, with the band swinging like crazy and Armstrong sounding happier than ever. But pay attention to that trumpet because Armstrong played some wonderful stuff on “Dolly.” As I said, his solos didn’t change much, but there are some subtle differences and there. I’ve edited them all out, 43 seconds at a clip so here they are, beginning with Prague:

Isn’t that great? It’s one of those solos where Armstrong placed each note perfectly, treating them like individual diamonds in an elaborate setting. There are no quotes except something that’s very similar to “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” leading into the second half. Still, even Superman occasionally goofed as could be heard in this solo from Armstrong’s last Prague performance. He muffs an early phrase but actually finishes a little stronger than the first solo (sorry, it’s pitched a little too fast):

Now here’s the Berlin solo you just heard in the complete version:

And a version from Paris a few months later:

Those are both pretty damn strong. But what about the encores? Even they stayed pretty much the same during this period. Let’s go back to the first Prague:

Quote city! He starts with “Here Comes the Bride,” plays a snatch of “Dixie,” improvises a bit, then quotes “Stormy Weather,” leading perfectly into “Japanese Sandman.” Four quotes in 40 seconds? You’ve got to give the man credit for that. Needless to say, with something so worked out, there’s very little variation in the other versions from this period. This is SOME variation, but not enough to waste a couple of minutes of your time. But how about a video? During the same tour, Armstrong did a TV appearance with tenor saxophonist Max Greger’s big band. Armstrong did “Dolly,” naturally, playing his normal solo once then coming back for an encore, which consisted of a vocal first before a trumpet solo of monumental strength. I have the full clip at home and can attest that Armstrong quickly fluffs a note in his first solo and finds time to have a quick sip of water to soothe his dry chops. However, of the five (!) different versions of this clip on the Internet, each and every one of this has this first solo edited out, which is a shame. But here’s the encore, and as you’ll here, it’s different than the encore played above (no “Here Comes the Bride”). I like to play this during my Armstrong video presentations because few clips better capture the ridiculous large sound of Armstrong’s horn in the mid-60s. He lost a little velocity, but geez, what power, especially when backed by the big band. Here ‘tis:

Naturally, Armstrong continued to perform “Dolly” each night, but in my collection, I don’t have another version after the June 1965 Paris one until a Chicago concert date at the Arie Crown Theater in December 1966. Armstrong still had his sound but in the interim period, a bunch of punishing songs took their final bows in the All Stars repertoire. It seems that there would be no more “Basin Street Blues” or “Royal Garden Blues” or “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Some songs stayed but with differences: he began editing out his solos on “Indiana” and “Muskrat Ramble” and though he continued to play brilliantly on something like “The Faithful Hussar,” he had to come down a few notes from the crazy endings he played on it in 1965. “Dolly” was still around and it still had its encores but now all the encores would be sung, leaving Pops with a one chorus “Dolly” solo each night. Interestingly enough, it’s here where we’ll begin to hear Pops changing things up a bit. First, here’s the solo, in rough sound quality, I know, from Chicago, December 1966:

The entire first half is almost completely new and he even throws “Japanese Sandman” into the second half. He sounds great from top to bottom. In 1967, pneumonia kayo’d Armstrong for a bit but when he recovered, he proved that he was ready to blow by making an appearance on The Tonight Show that found him turning in strong solos on “Dolly” and even “Mame,” a song on which he never took a solo on otherwise. Here’s the driving “Dolly,” with two All Stars (Tyree Glenn and Marty Napoleon) and some personnel from the Tonight Show Orchestra, including Tommy Newsom on clarinet, Tony Mottola on banjo, Ed Sanfranski on bass and Ed Shaughnessy on drums, all terrific musicians:

It’s almost completely different from Chicago, opening with what sounds like a touch of “Idaho” while, later, he throws in both “Stormy Weather” and “Japanese Sandman.” But in between all the fun quotes, there’s a lot of different phrases. Just a few nights later, Armstrong and the All Stars were ready to go back out on the road, this time with a new clarinet player, Joe Muranyi. Muranyi told me about how the critics brushed off this edition of the All Stars, saying, “Oh, he’s just playing ‘Hello, Dolly’ all over again.” I’ll let Muranyi take over:

“Now granted, yeah, he was playing ‘Hello, Dolly’ but he varied it. He varied it. I’ll tell you something interesting. I joined the band, we’re playing ‘Hello, Dolly.’ Okay, it’s not a bad song when you get down to it. Better than most rock that goes on today. But we got it so the ensemble worked very good. Tyree sort of led the way. He had been playing it, he had worked out these things. And I tell you, it’s an interesting thing, some people learn their own chorus and repeat it. Louis had some of that, but that’s a very deep sort of thing. But I didn’t, I kept trying. So we had a version of ‘Hello, Dolly’ that just by night after night after night was pretty good. I was smart enough to know that he leaves holes. There are many great things about him, that he did first or was very good at it, was the best, and one of them was that he was a perfect natural in terms of phrasing. He would leave holes for the clarinet and trombone to fill. And it was just a wonderful thing. And when he played, a lot of times, he makes a phrase, there’s a pause, and he does something. He sets himself, like call and answer, he’s doing both parts! I never knew if it was intuitive—I think there was a lot of that—or if he worked it out but I think he had a very profound mind in a way. I mean, I don’t want to make a god out of him. So we have this ‘Hello, Dolly’ down and I’m saying, ‘Okay, Hello, Dolly….uh! He’s changed!’ There’s another one. With little subtleties. I said, ‘Oh, isn’t this interesting.’ So I got that one down and one night, he goes back to one! But he’s got to know what he’s doing. And then we go right back to one and two, one and two, one and two and then one night, three! And I don’t know we ever got more than three but I’m not sure. So maybe for an audience, it was just ‘Hello, Dolly’ again, but I never got bored with it.”

So Pops had his three or so variations of the “Dolly” solo, of which can be heard on the following series of clips. Here’s the band at Ravinia Park in Illinois, June 30, 1967, Muranyi’s first week with the band:

It’s a good solo but the first half is almost identical to the Tonight Show version. But dig the second half: no “Japanese Sandman” and some new stuff. A few weeks later, Armstrong did a broadcast from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City on July 22. He wasn’t having one of his best nights and you’ll hear that he sounds awfully weak in the beginning. But in the middle, he eschews both “Stormy Weathe” and “Japanese Sandman” and comes up with different ideas, including a short descending motif that he works over brilliantly with his unfaltering sense of rhythm. Here it is:

Later that week, Armstrong embarked on a tour of Europe that featured some very erratic moments. But he always thrived on “Dolly.” Here it is from Juan-Les-Pins, France, July 26, 1967:

Now that’s a helluva solo. No quotes and he’s in command throughout. I love the stuff he does in the middle, always changing. He even toys with the descending idea he played in Atlantic City four days earlier, but quickly discards it in favor of something fresh. 24 hours later, still at Juan-Les-Pins, he turned in this solo:

Just one day later and it’s completely different with both “Stormy Weather” AND “Japanese Sandman” back in there. Now do you see what Muranyi meant? You never knew what Pops had in mind on this tune. Six months later, on December 20, 1967, Armstrong tore it up on “Dolly” again during an Operation: Entertainment ABC broadcast from the Fort Hood Army Base in Kileen, Texas, playing a solo similar to the one we just heard. But fortunately, this one exists on YouTube so we get to see how Armstrong worked over the crowd on the song:

In June 1968, Armstrong headed to England for a relaxed stay that actually found him staying put for an unusual length of time, playing nightly at the Variety Club in Batley, Yorkshire, England for a couple of weeks. Two “Dollys” survive from the run, recorded within a day of each other. Here’s the first, again in shaky sound, from June 18:

I know what you’re saying: that was very similar to the two we just heard, with both quotes in the middle. But here it is the following night, June 19:

Look ma, no quotes! So Pops continued switching things up each night as he played the tune (there’s a tremendous version with a lot of different playing from a February 1968 documentary, Jazz: The Intimate Art but alas, it’s not on YouTube so I can’t share it).

Right before Armstrong left for England, he filmed a short role in the 20th Century Fox film of Hello, Dolly, starring Barbra Streisand, one of Armstrong’s favorite singers. Armstrong only appeared in the film long enough to sing one chorus but he received nearly top building and is an unquestionable bright spot in the film. Here’s the clip:

Unfortunately, by the time the film was released, Armstrong was suffering from a variety of a ailments that kept him away from performing for the entire year of 1969. When he returned to the public eye in 1970, he made a lot of television appearances but always as a singer, often doing “Dolly” (a version with Flip Wilson is no longer on YouTube and he once did it on the Mike Douglas Show as a duet with Pearl Bailey...via phone!). July 1970 found Armstrong celebrating what he believed to be his 70th birthday around the country. On July 3, he appeared at a tribute at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and he couldn’t resist closing the show with “Sleepy Time,” “Blueberry Hill” and “Hello, Dolly.” I love this version because the band (which included Clark Terry, Tyree Glenn, Barney Bigard and Louie Bellson) originally kicked it off at a fast, corny, two-beat Dixie pace before Armstrong halted them in their tracks. As the track begins, you’ll hear Armstrong count it off in the proper tempo and when they get it, he yells, “Hold that shit right there, Pops!”

By the end of 1970, Armstrong was playing trumpet again, sometimes incredibly well. However, sometimes his stamina went on him, such as a one-night Command Performance he did in England in October, an event that was filmed for a documentary, Boy From New Orleans. In the rehearsal for the show, Armstrong sounded very strong on “Dolly” but after a full day of rehearing and warming up, he was out of gas when showtime hit, playing quietly on “Dolly” before smiling and handing the ball over to Tyree Glenn to finish it out, kind of a sad moment.

But there’s nothing sad about my final clip. On January 29, 1971, less than six months before his death, Armstrong appeared at a function for the National Press Club. He brought along Tyree Glenn but otherwise, the band was made up of local musicians. Armstrong played a little trumpet on “Sleepy Time” but saved the best for “Dolly,” one of my all-time favorite versions. The first time I heard this, I cheered because I couldn’t believe my ears. Here it is:

Isn’t that something? The first half is almost exactly like it was in 1968 but then he goes on an entire new direction including a beautiful tribute to another fallen king by quoting “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say,” right down to the “your nasty, your filthy, take it away” line. Then he comes up with this ingenious little chromatic device, which he places brilliantly. The tone isn’t as strong as it was on those 1965 clips, but it’s still him and clearly the mind is still sharp. A great way to close out this look at the musical content of one of Armstrong’s best-known songs.

I’ll be back in a few days with another major anniversary post but for now, I’m going to leave Armstrong with the final word. “Aw, I am paid to entertain the people,” he told Larry King in 1967. “If they want me to come on all strutty and cutting up—if that makes ‘em happy, why not? For many years I blew my brains out. Hitting notes so high they hurt a dog’s ears, driving like crazy, screaming it. And everybody got this image I was some kind of a wild man. Joe Glaser told me, ‘Play and sing pretty. Give the people a show.’ So now I do Dolly how many times? Six jillion? How ever many you want to say. Do it every show. And you got to admit, Pops, it gets the biggest hand of any number I do.”


Anonymous said…
"A few weeks later, Armstrong did a broadcast from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City on July 22 1967"

I was there! and Armstrong sang to me Hello Dolly! I was 20 years old, very short blond hair. If somewone has pictures of this show, PLEASE contact me at:

Thank you from Montreal, Canada.
Dan said…
Anybody out there ever notice the lick from "That's For Me" directly after the chromatic descending stuff in the National Press Club solo? Amazing that a song that Louis loved but yet oddly discarded from his performing repertory quite early makes a shadow appearance very near the end of his life!

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