Listening to the Book: Chapter 2

Time to listen along with Chapter 2 of my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years. This chapter introduced Earl Hines into the fold. Jazz purists and critics went crazy at seeing Louis and Hines again, reunited from their days as an unbeatable team in the 1920s, but time had marched on and things weren't quite the same this time around, with Hines reluctant to play a supporting role. Their attempt to play duets on "Dear Old Southland" was proof of the sometimes messy work that resulted from these two stubborn egos at work. Here's a blog I wrote about it, complete with audio: Dear Old Southland Blog

Now, a little something from the cutting room floor. In Nice, Louis played one of the all-time great versions of "When It's Sleepy Time South." In an earlier draft of the book, here's what I wrote about it:

"On February 28, Armstrong played and sang his theme song, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.” At this point in his career, it was usually used as just a short theme statement but on this occasion, he decided to stretch out. Unfortunately, he still sang the word 'darkies,' a word that had become horribly out-of-date, though it was written in the original lyrics by the song’s black songwriters. But the trumpet solo Armstrong plays on the piece is simply breathtaking with a bridge that rates as one of the finest musical sequences to ever come out of his trumpet. Proving that his sense of time was completely steeped in rhythmic freedom, Armstrong begins his bridge by repeating the descending concert notes G, F# and E a total of 15 times in four bars! But without ever sounding boring, Armstrong changes the rhythm of each descending phrase, starting slow, building up speed as the tension rises, then slowing down one last time before a tremendous gliss up to a stunning high concert B. After a pause for a breath, he continues with a dramtic holding of the same high B. His final eight bars are a paraphrase of his classic 1941 Decca recording of the piece but overall, the trumpet playing surpasses all other Armstrong versions, except maybe the 1932 Victor one. Nevertheless, it was further proof that Armstrong still had plenty of surprises left in his playing and could change things up at a whim whenever he felt like it. "

That whole passage got cut out of the book but I didn't sweat it because I knew I had the blog, so here 'tis, a fantastic moment from Nice 1948:

Then it was off to Paris. Here's "Muskrat Ramble"; you can hear Earl Hines get admonished for started it too fast but after that, stand back (Sid!):

And a full blog on "Muskrat Ramble" from this period: Muskrat Ramble Part 3

In the book, I mention a version of "That's My Desire" where Louis sings in "surrealist pidgin French," to quote "Downbeat". Here's that version:

And finally, the chapter ends with me describing a super-rare "St. Louis Blues" from Ciro's. My argument is Louis plays with such fury, he was trying to prove a point to Hines that he was the real star of the band. Here's my proof. Here's "St. Louis Blues" on June 2 at Ciro's, a feature for Hines as "Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues." Louis and Earl joke around at the beginning, Louis lets Hines introduce his own feature and Earl tears it up. Here's how it came out that night:

Now flash forward two days later to June 4. No announcement, no nothing, the band launches into "St. Louis Blues" Louis plays like an animal. His solo is vicious, he sets background riffs I've never heard him play ("Rug Cutters Swing" anyone?) and goes out on top like it's 1934. I seriously believe that Hines must have angered him in some way and Louis was out to prove that he could own this song. It went right back to being Hines's feature but I think Louis made the point:

S'all for now...back in a few days for chapter 3 with material from the King of the Zulus parade, an Eddie Condon floor show and some of Louis's first Decca pop hits. Til then....thanks for reading!


drizzz said…
Just finished reading your book...What a Wonderful Read! I was thinking it could have used a cd to accompany it (it prompted me to take "Plays W.C.Handy" out of the library, his 1930's recordings are still my favorites). I'm looking forward to hearing your clips- congratulations on a job well done!

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