Listening to the Book: Chapter 8

Hello all. I'll start right off by saying that today's my birthday, number 31. My 30th year will go down as one of the biggies, with the arrival of my daughter Melody, the publication of my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years, traveling around to Italy, New Orleans and elsewhere, continuing my dream job as Archivist of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, etc. I don't know if I'll ever top it but it'll be fun trying!

For my last few birthdays, I've shared audio "gifts" on this blog. But since I'm already in the middle of my "Listening to the Book" series, which is filled with nothing but audio gifts, I thought I would just continue on with a post relating to chapter 8 of the book, "Columbia Masterpieces."

The principle masterpiece hinted at in the title of the chapter, of course, is "Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy." As I once said in one of my lectures, a copy of that album should be sold with every home (it might not prevent a recession, but it will definitely prevent depression). The opening track of that album, "St. Louis Blues," is really the one single song that rocked my brain and started me down this path of Louis worship. Here's the audio if you've somehow never heard it:

A couple of years ago, I did a blog on that song and my relationship with it, a blog that can be found here.

Now, if you've read my book, you know that I had access to all of the surviving outtakes and rehearsals from these sessions, given to me by George Avakian and David Ostwald. They are my prized possessions but through an agreement with them, I am not to share them....sorry if I got your hopes up! But if you purchased Sony/Legacy's 1997 reissue of the album, you've already heard some of that great material. To give you a taste, here's "Hesistating Blues," a complete warm-up take that was never meant to be released (Velma sings quietly through it) but my goodness, does Pops play with fury:

Soon after the "Handy" sessions, Louis enjoyed a record-breaking gig at Basin Street in New York City. His popularity was getting larger all the time, but this is when the critics really began hammering him. I quote some devastating reviews of this engagement but Pops paid it no mind. Here's "Butter and Egg Man" from Basin Street:

And if you're interested, I once did an entire blog on the tune: Butter and Egg Man Blog

The same month as the Basin Street gig, the All Stars took time to appear in an episode of "You Are There" that I write about in this chapter. The gist is the network didn't want an integrated band but Louis wouldn't part with drummer Barrett Deems. The solution? Have Deems wear blackface! Needs to be seen to be believed...and here 'tis:

Louis Armstrong All Stars-When the Saints-1954 by redhotjazz

Though the "Handy" album was so glorious, Decca continued their attempts to get Louis a pop hit. Rock-and-roll was in the air and they tried Louis on some early rock ballads, such as "Sincerely":

For more on "Sincerely," here's my blog on the subject: Sincerely Blog

I like "Sincerely" but obviously it's not in the same ballpark as the "Handy" album. Still, Milt Gabler at Decca knew to turn the All Stars loose at times and in January 1955, he captured one of the all-time best documents of a there-set All Stars nightclub evening with "Louis Armstrong at the Crescendo" (reissued on C.D. and MP3 as "The California Concerts"). I have never done an entire blog on this marvelous evening of music but it's tunes have been peppered throughout many of my blogs. So let's run 'em down, shall we? Here's the first of two versions of "Old Man Mose" perfomed that night:

And the second, with Louis flubbing the lyrics!

(For futher explanation, here's the link to my "Old Man Mose" blog.)
Here's "Velma's Blues":

And again, the complete blog on that tune: Velma's Blues Blog

A jumpin' version of "Muskrat Ramble":

A killer version of "Shadrack" and "When the Saints Go Marchin' In":

A rare live version of "When You're Smiling" at a swinging tempo:

That's all from the Crescendo but if you like what you heard, do check out The California Concerts (though it looks like only the download is affordable).

A few months later, it was back to George Avakian's supervision at Columbia for the magnificent "Satch Plays Fats" tribute to Fats Waller. The high point of the album (and possibly of all humankind) is "Blue Turning Grey Over You." For the audio and the complete story, I'm just going to send you over to the blog I wrote about it in 2010: Blue Turning Grey Over You Blog

And the album also featured a fantastic remake of "Ain't Misbehavin'." Here's the audio:

And a link to the complete blog on this version, complete with rare alternate takes:
Ain't Misbehavin' Blog

Wow, that's a lot of audio to get through. But I do hope you enjoy it, especially if you're listening along with the book. Thanks for spending this great year with me and here's to 31! (Geez, Louis recorded "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" when he was 31...I'll be lucky to pump out a blog on "You Run Your Mouth and I'll Run My Business"....)


Scott Merrell said…
Happy Birthday, Ricky and thanks for all you do for Louis Armstrong.
Al Pomerantz said…
On behalf of Planet Earth, THANKS FOR BEING BORN! (and special thanks and belated Happy LABOR Day to your mom!)

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