The "Muskrat Ramble" Mystery Solved!

I knew I could count on my readers out there! A few weeks ago, during my never-ending series of posts on "Muskrat Ramble," I grew fixated on something Louis played during this solo, beginning in 1952 and lasting for a good decade. It was something that obviously sounded like a quote, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I asked for help and received some good guesses but nothing 100% on the mark. I convinced myself that it must be some long lost commercial jingle and forced myself to move on...

...until today, when Dan Farber of Portsmouth, RI, wrote in with the following comment:

"The lick at 3:40 of the Amsterdam Muskrat Ramble is the first phrase of Sigmund Romberg's "Over Hill the Moon is Beaming from the operetta, THE STUDENT PRINCE. (Near the end of the solo, Louis quotes a phrase from the ballet music in Verdi's AIDA.) As I'm sure you know, he had a musical mind like a vacuum cleaner!"

Could it be? I scurried to Google and found out that this phrase is part of the "Serenade" from "The Student Prince," composed by Sigmund Romberg. I couldn't get to YouTube fast enough. Sure enough, Dan nailed it...get that man a cigar! For those who don't know what I'm talking about, here's Louis playing this quote in 1952:

And here is "Serenade" from "The Student Prince," courtesy of Mantovani:

Fantastic, right! So I wasn't finished at this point; I knew this wasn't a fluke. So I hit up the Online Catalog of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, aka my baby (the catalog, not the House). If you're still not using it, you're missing out. Here's the link; literally thousands of new things have been added since we launched it in December. Anyway, in the Keyword Search, I typed in "The Student Prince" and sure enough, four results popped up. Two are on Louis's private tapes; on one, he's with Zilner Randolph and Randolph's family, spinning records, and he chooses "Serenade." On another, Louis recorded the audio of an appearance on a 1953 television program "Nothing But the Best" (on which he duetted with Lee Wiley on "On the Sunny Side of the Street), including a performance of "Serenade" by James Melton and the Firestone Orchestra.

The other two results are even more interesting: a 10" commercial LP of "The Student Prince" by Paul Baron, issued on Mercury in 1950. And an ancient 12" 78 of "Selections from The Student Prince," issued on His Master's Voice and performed by the Victor Light Opera Company. Google tells me that this was recorded on April 17, 1925, so Louis must have had it for some time. And the record features one of Louis's personal "Recorded" stickers, meaning he had already transferred it to his tapes.

Thus, this was obviously a light operatic theme that Louis loved and he must have been tickled to be able to quote it in "Muskrat Ramble." And as Dan pointed out, Louis quotes from "Aida" later in the same solo and "Immediately following the Romberg phrase is a quotation from Bizet's CARMEN (the Habanera)." So after writing so much about "Muskrat Ramble" and seeing how many quotes of pop tunes Louis inserted--"Bye Bye Blackbird," "Louise," etc.--now I have to thank Dan Farber for pointing out how many quotes of classical works Louis inserted into the same solo. Listening to it is like having a window into Louis's musical mind. All I can say is, thank you Dan...and listen to those "Muskrats" all over again!


I think I speak for all of us in thanking Dan -- now we can sleep better tonight and in nights to come! What a pretty melody -- no wonder Louis remembered it. In my mind's ear I hear him playing it over Gordon Jenkins' strings. It reminds me also of an anecdote I heard on a radio program in the late Sixties -- Steve Smith, the man who produced Bechet sides for Victor and the early HRS masters, wanted Louis to record the Second Brandenburg Concerto, which has a taxing trumpet part -- he was convinced that only Louis could do it justice. Perhaps you'll find the lost Verve masters for LOUIS PLAYS ROMBERG with the Russ Garcia Orchestra. And you mean that a visitor to the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College could hear Lee Wiley and Louis singing SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET together? Must get back there ASAP. Thanks Ricky, thanks Dan, thanks Sigmund, thanks Louis!
Håkan Forsberg said…
A lot of applause to Dan! And now Ricky - maybe it's time for an 5-6-10 (?) part essay on "Louis and his quotes" which in many ways could tell us much about Louis' listening habits.
By the way - has someone found quotes from the works of some of Louis' early favourites: Luisa Tetrazzini, Henry Burr, Amelita Galli-Curci or "the Irish tenor John McCormack - beautiful phrasing" as Louis said?

Best wishes Ricky, keep the good blogging up! / Håkan

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