New Year's Eve 1953 - Louis Armstrong and His All Stars Live in Yokohama, Japan

Well, it's that time again: faced with another New Year's Eve upon us, I must share a complete broadcast of Louis Armstrong from a New Year's Eve of long ago. This is fourth time I've done this in case you're new here. If you want to read my 2008 post about Louis's 1967 Las Vegas New Year's Eve gig (featuring "What a Wonderful World" and a fantastic closing "Sleepy Time"), click here. In 2009, I shared a 15-minute broadcast from 1954 that ended with Louis playing a very straight, touching "Auld Lang Syne." Click here. And I closed 2010 with a broadcast from December 31, 1962 featuring Louis and the All Stars in fine form on a short set filled with the hits, a set that can be heard here.

The previous broadcasts I shared ranged between 15 and 30 minutes but today I'm going all out. 2011 was a helluva year for me, I think hands down the greatest of my life, and as it comes to a close, I'm just feeling thankful for all of you out there who have come to the blog, bought a book, e-mailed me, whatever, just to connect over Louis. So let's close the year out with a bang with a 47-minute broadcast of Louis and the All Stars from Yokohama Japan, December 31, 1953.

And these aren't any ordinary All Stars. The front line is Louis, Trummy Young and Barney Bigard, always a potent team (Barney hadn't quite given up yet but he was already starting to be overshadowed by Louis and Trummy). And the rhythm section features the recently joined Billy Kyle on piano and Kenny John on drums, as well as the legendary Milt Hinton on bass. Throw in Velma Middleton with two vocals and you can't go wrong.

This material (except for "That's My Desire") was actually commercially released not too long ago but after a quick internet search, it looks like it's only available in Europe these days. (Here's the link to find it on If you want the individual tracks for your personal collection, seek that release out. For our purposes, I've thrown everything together as one long, long track; it's all here from start to finish. Here's the audio:

So, what's on the broadcast? Well, after the announcer's introduction (this was broadcast around the world on NBC), Louis naturally opens up with "When It's Sleepy Time Down South." At 5:05, Louis kicks into "Indiana," and even if you think you're sick of "Indiana," check this one out because this is one of my favorites. Louis was still in the process of setting his solo and he really uncorks some different ideas here. At 9:35, Louis changes the atmosphere with a slow, yet swinging version of "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" (the tempo would really slow on this one in later years).

Normally Louis would do a few more numbers but because this was a shortened broadcast, Louis probably wanted to let some of the other All Stars shine. So Barney is up first with "Tea for Two." This is usually one of my favorite Bigard features as the turbo-charged tempo usually let Barney generate some heat. But interestingly, when Kenny John joined the band, for some reason, Bigard's features on "Tea for Two" and "S'wonderful" decreased almost in half in terms of tempo. The groovier tempo swings (there's some great Hinton walking back there) but it also meant that Bigard's interplay with the drummer lasted twice as long. Thus, this feature goes on for almost nine minutes! It's still worth a listen and begins at 14:20.

At 22:40, Louis takes everyone to New Orleans for a stomping version of "The Bucket's Got a Hole In It." This song was still coming into its own in Louis's repertoire; surviving versions from the previous year are still on the slower side. But the 1953 versions elevated the tempo and the with the addition of Trummy's roaring trombone, this piece became one of the group's most exciting numbers.

At 26:00, Trummy steps into the spotlight for his feature from the Jimmie Lunceford days, "Margie." This number always broke it up, so much so that Louis gives Trummy two more encores to work the crowd into a frenzy. Listening, Louis just about steals the show but visually, I can attest that on those last encores, Trummy would play with his foot and eventually collapse on his back at the song's conclusion, always breaking up the crowd! We can't see that, but it's a lot of fun to listen to.

Velma Middleton comes on at 30:00 to do her blues (listen to the crowd go berserk at 31:30 as she does her split!). Then a real rarity at 33:15, "That's My Desire," which has never been commercially issued. It's a fine version and even if most of the people in the audience probably didn't understand every word, Louis and Velma's mannerisms clearly conveyed what the song was about.

Velma turns it back over to Louis at 38 for a quick run-through of Louis's Decca hit, "C'est Si Bon." This is probably the fastest surviving version of this tune and while it's a good one, it almost goes back too fast. At 40:15, Louis hands it over to Kenny John for the usual All Stars drummer feature, "Stompin' at the Savoy." John proved to be a problematic personality (as detailed in my book) and was ultimately let go in May 1954. But at this point, everything was still going well. In fact, on one of Louis's private tapes, he and Velma discuss this Yokohama broadcast. One of their friends recorded it (I think Velma says "Jack," so it could have been Jack Teagarden) and they discuss it backstage at the Chicago Theater in early 1954. Velma mentions how great Kenny's feature on "Savoy" was and Louis brags about how it broke it up. The good times wouldn't last long so this is a valuable, rare surviving feature for John.

And finally, at 45:50, the closing "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," with Louis wishing everyone around the world a Happy New Year (a moment that really touched Velma Middleton when they talked about it later). And that's the end of this terrific New Year's Eve broadcast. For Louis, though, it was the beginning of a pretty stressful couple of weeks: he, Lucille and the band left Japan that night and flew to Hawaii. On New Year's Day, they landed in Hawaii, where Lucille was arrested for marijuana possession. But for that story, well, it's in the book (sorry, I'm shameless!).

I hope you enjoyed this and again, thanks for making 2011 so memorable for me. Here's wishing a happy, healthy, safe, swingin' 2012 to all you Pops nuts out there!


Susan said…
Thank you, Ricky, for this delightful audio, it's a real treat to hear New Year's wishes from Pops. Satchmo Fest 2012 will be a highlight of the New Year for us! We're looking forward to seeing you there. Thank you for you fantastic work! And Happy New Year to you all.
Filipe Castro said…
I am convinced that when I was a kid I saw a movie where Louis Armstrong played "When it's sleepytime down south" and "Chinatown, my Chinatown" in a bar, and another trumpet player popped in. It made a big impression on me, but I never found that movie again, and it's been more than 30 years... do you know if such a movie exists?

Thank you!

Filipe Castro

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