Listening to the Book: Chapter 5

Chapter 5 of my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years, is mostly about the various personnel changes that took place in the All Stars during the rebuilding phase after the sudden departure of Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines and Arvell Shaw. With Russ Phillips replacing Teagarden, Joe Sullivan replacing Hines and Dale Jones replacing Shaw, the new edition of the All Stars performed a beautiful show at Kitsilano High School in Vancouver. Not beautiful from a strictly musical standpoint, though. For the show, Louis and some of the All Stars decided to sit in with the Kitsilano High jazz band! Needless to say, the group was strictly amateur but Louis treated them like the All Stars and the crowd screamed like they were the Beatles. Here's the opening song, "Shanghai," which I doubt Louis ever played before or after. He's listening hard, watching out for the odd key change and stuff, but he keeps the whole thing together and obviously gave the musicians an experience they never forgot.

Joe Sullivan was a legend but was also a drunk. He was a sloppy player, which could be heard in this version of "Back O'Town Blues" from Boise in late February 1952. Though it's a simple 12-bar-blues, Sullivan isn't listening and changes in all the wrong spots for the first half of the tune. Two nights later, he apparently fell off the piano bench in the middle of a performance and that was that. Here's "Back O'Town Blues":

Sullivan was immediately replaced by Marty Napoleon, still going strong at the age of 90! Marty didn't have Sullivan's hall-of-fame resume but his turbo-charged style made him, to my ears, the most exciting pianist the All Stars ever had. Here's his fantastic feature on "St. Louis Blues":

[NOTE: I originally posed "Limehouse Blues" instead of "St. Louis Blues," which some loyal readers pointed out. I never want to deprive anyone out of Marty, so here's "Limehouse," too!]

In this chapter, I also describe a terrific concert the All Stars did in May of that year in Louis's hometown of New Orleans. The entire concerts survives in great sound but has never been issued commercially. Here's a hot sample, an appropriate "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans":

It was also in this concert that Louis told his favorite "hamburger" joke, which I transcribed faithfully. Here's how it came out that day:

Skip ahead to the fall of 1952 now as Arvell Shaw returned to the group and Trummy Young replaced Russ Phillips on trombone. I have a lot of background on Trummy, including Louis's influence on his playing. That influence can be heard on this version of "Basin Street Blues" from Stockholm in October 1952, almost immediately after Young joined the band. The song had always been a feature for Teagarden so Louis threw it at Trummy, who responded with a charming performance full of Louis-isms:

The 1952 tour was a grueling one but God bless the Europeans for keeping their tape recorders on and catching so much of it. For proof that the All Stars changed things up more than they were given credit for, here's a breathtaking "On the Sunny Side of the Street" from September 1952, slow and steady and clocking in around seven minutes:

Just a few weeks later, here it is again in Italy, a faster, more swinging version to prove that not only did Louis pull from a large repertoire during this trip (which I'll prove again in another upcoming "Anatomy of an All Stars Show" post) but he could also approach songs in different ways depending on the mood of himself and/or his audience:

If you want to know more about these versions of "Sunny Side," here's a blog I did on the subject.

And finally, I could pull plenty of performances from this 1952 tour as there were plenty of great ones (and even some erratic ones as the never-ending pace--and Pops's rapid weight gain--sometimes strained the chops), but I'll quit now and leave with one of my all-time favorite Louis moments: a live-by-request version of "Pennies From Heaven" from Stockholm in 1952. I did an entire blog on this performance that can be found here. But if you just want to listen to it, click here:

Now if that doesn't brighten your day, nothing will. And I know that for many readers out there, there might be some dark days ahead courtesy of Hurricane Irene. I live in Toms River, NJ, right on the Jersey Shore, and though my town hasn't been asked to evacuate, we're fully prepped to be spending a few days in our basement, all stocked up with food and water. So may all my East Coast readers emerge safely in the next few days and as soon as I do the same, I'll be back with more great Pops.


Hi Ricky,

Hope you and your family are okay. From what I saw on the news Irene seemed to hit hardest upstate. So I'm hoping that the only effect of 2 days in the basement is a bumper blog for your loyal readers!

Cheers, Peter
P.S. The Universal boxset just arrived and it is a thing of beauty! Not cheap, but worth every penny.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for continuing the 'Listening to the Book Chapters" posts !

Shangai & Back o' Town Blues are incredible (rare) examples of musically not successful presentations on stage, just like an amateur jam session. Interesting to see that even to Satchmo occurred such moments (which, to be fair, happened due to his respective sidemen).

PS: The audio clip featuring Marty Napoleon posted here ist not 'St. Louis Blues', but 'Limehouse Blues'.

best regards from Germany

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