Listening to the Book: Chapter 9

Forgive the delay, good friends, but things have been nuts lately as I just had a weeklong flurry of events relating to my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years, including a signing at Rutgers where my musical accompaniment consisted of Randy Sandke and Marty Napoleon! (Stay tuned for pics and more from that one.) In the meantime, has everyone memorized the All Stars's set lists from 1952 to 1955? You have? Good, then let's continue listening as we read with some of the relevant audio discussed in chapter 9 of the book.

This chapter jumps right out with one of Louis's biggest hits, "Mack the Knife." I can't tell you how many people have expressed shock during my book lectures and signings that Louis recorded this song before Bobby Darin (and "Blueberry Hill" before Fats Domino). I've never done a blog about it but if you'd like to listen to the original now, look no further:

Just days after that tune was recorded, Louis and the All Stars--now with Edmond Hall aboard on clarinet--embarked on a three-month tour of Europe, the one that really solidified Louis as "Ambassador Satch," thanks to a Columbia LP of that name featuring material recorded during this tour. One of those songs was a relentless version of "Muskrat Ramble" from Amsterdam. During my epic series on "Muskrat" I shared audio different from the Columbia LP, recorded direct from the original sound system. Here it is, one of my all-time favorite versions of this song:

And for more on this version and the other versions of "Muskrat" from this period, check out my blog on the subject here.

Much of "Ambassador Satch" was actually recorded in an empty movie theater in Milan in the wee hours of the morning after Louis had just played two shows. (Well, near empty....a bunch of enthusiastic Italian fans were invited and definitely made their voices heard!) In the book, I quote Louis, very proud of this version of "West End Blues," a version that grows in my opinion every time I hear it:

And Louis was even prouder of a wild version of "Tiger Rag" also recorded in Milan. I did an entire blog on that subject, complete with audio of the rehearsal. Check it out here: Tiger Rag Blog.

One more from Milan, perhaps the finest version of "Royal Garden Blues" in the Armstrong discography:

If you like that and want to compare it to some other "Royal Gardens" from throughout the All Stars years, here's yet another link: Royal Garden Blues Blog

Louis and the All Stars had about one day off when they got back to the States before heading to California for "High Society," one of Louis's most memorable screen appearances. Courtesy of YouTube, let's have an impromptu film screening. Here's the fantastic opening with the All Stars doing "High Society Calypso":

The legendary "Now You Has Jazz" with Bing Crosby:

Unfortunately, YouTube has blocked my favorite song from Cole Porter's score, "I Love You, Samantha," but no one's on to me yet, so here's the audio. Bing never sounded better but Louis's obligato and solo just about steal the show:

While in Los Angeles, the All Stars cut a version of "The Faithful Hussar" with lyrics by George Avakian (writing as Dots Morrow) called "Six Foot Four." In this chapter, I detail how a flap between Avakian and Joe Glaser about which publisher would control "Six Foot Four" and who would receive composer credit for the tune played a part in the premature demise of Louis's relationship with Columbia. I realized as I was writing the chapter that the majority of human beings on Earth had probably never heard this song. Well, let's turn that majority into a 'tis:

As I've mentioned before, my cutting roof floor has enough material for about three other books. In this chapter, I realized that the Glaser-Avakian stuff was the focus and any time I tried to butt in and insert the All Stars, it disrupted the flow. So I didn't get to write about a tour the All Stars did with Woody Herman's big band in February and March. A concert was recorded in Grand Rapids, Michigan and released on the GHB some years ago. In addition to being a typically wonderful evening with the All Stars, it also featured a killer closing version of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In'" with both bands marching and swinging together:

A few weeks later, the All Stars embarked on a hugely successful tour of Australia. A fantastic broadcast was offered up on the web for download back in 2008. I wrote about it in this blog and I believe you can still download it. Grab it!

Finally, I had to put Glaser and Avakian aside to cover Louis's May 1956 tour of England and Africa, as documented by Edward R. Murrow's camera crew in "Satchmo the Great." I still don't know how this film isn't on DVD but a few clips have trickled onto YouTube. For all the grisly details, consult the book but for now, here's some videos. Here's "Mack" in London:

And "Black and Blue" in Africa:

And that'll do it for chapter 9. Just about halfway there (and I promise to start cranking these out a little faster and getting back to my old one-song-at-a-time posts once things calm down a bit in October). And a quick plug for those in the NYC area, I'll be doing a presentation and signing at HueMan Bookstore in Harlem this Wednesday, September 28, at 7 p.m. Hope to see some of you there...thanks!


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