Six....Well, Really Twelve Minutes With Satch: Some Of These Days / When You're Smiling

After our last foray into the world of Seger Ellis, it's nice to have Louis front and center for two more classic sides with the Carroll Dickerson band, recorded on back-to-back days in 1929. Wait a minute--make that FOUR more classic sides. I'll explain.

First up was the good old, good one "Some of These Days," which according to contemporary newspaper accounts, had been in Armstrong and Dickerson's repertoire since at least 1928, making it probable that every note of this routine was originally minted and perfect on the bandstand of the Savoy in Chicago. Victoria Spivey was present and wrote a wonderful account of watching Louis in action--which I will shamelessly mention is in my upcoming book so I'll save it til then (sorry folks, but I have to save something for the book!).

Anyway, the master take is as a good as it gets, with a red hot vocal and a perfectly constructed, concluding trumpet solo that was a great favorite of Whitney Balliett. It marks the first time we hear Louis enter on a break with a single note--a perfect little way to create some mystery and tension before telling the story that climaxes with that screaming high concert D towards the finish line.

Excellent.....and then OKeh's Tommy Rockwell did something peculiar: he called another take, but this time without the vocal. Trombonist Jimmy Strong filled in the chorus and Louis followed with some somewhat looser playing before another exciting rendering of his two-chorus closing solo. Now Rockwell had a vocal and non-vocal version of the song in the can.

The following day, Armstrong returned to the studio to record what became one of his most iconic and inspirational numbers, "When You're Smiling." Of course, Armstrong arrived at it by being pretty inspired himself. For the rest of his career, he bragged about how the first chorus sounded just like Guy Lombardo. Plus, by closing the record by playing the melody an octave higher than expected, Armstrong was tipping his cap to trumpet B. A. Rolfe, whom he heard do the same thing on "In Shadowland" back in New York City in late 1924

(Louis always said that after hearing Rolfe, he went to the studio "the next day" (sometimes "the next week) and recorded "When You're Smiling," but as I proved in an old blog of mine, he actually went to the studio soon after and attempted the octave higher routine on "Pickin' On Your Baby" with Clarence Williams in January 1925. But Rolfe's influence must have been a big one and it clearly hangs over "When You're Smiling.")

With perfection captured for posterity, Rockwell once again asked for a non-vocal version. For this attempt, Louis took a dazzling half-chorus, telling a story with a simple, yet super swinging, descending motif, coming up with one surprising variation after another.

Now that Rockwell had two versions of each song, he made a most interesting decision: he released the two vocal versions on OKeh's pop series as OKeh 41298 and put the non-vocal versions out on OKeh's race series as OKeh 8729.

What could have led to this? All we have are conspiracy theories. If you were with me last week, Rockwell did release back-to-back instrumental singles on the race series--maybe they sold better? We've also heard two singles with Armstrong vocals this week, one of which I mentioned was pretty indecipherable--could the sales have dipped for those? That's my gut, even without concrete proof.

Whatever the reason, it was enough for Rockwell to continue recording non-vocal versions of Armstrong's "After You've Gone," "St. Louis Blues," "Dallas Blues" and "I Ain't Got Nobody," all in November and December 1929. But by that point, the sales figures must have told another story; or perhaps, there was a buzz surrounding Armstrong's sensational vocal style. Either way, those stayed in the vaults until the 1990s and won't be discussed as part of this series.

But because the vocal and non-vocal versions of "Some of These Days" and "When You're Smiling" were indeed released simultaneously, here's a bunch of links to hear them both. Enjoy!

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Homer Hobson (tp), Fred Robinson (tb), Jimmy Strong (ts), Bert Curry, Crawford Wethington (as), Gene Anderson (p), Mancy Carr (bj), Pete Briggs (tu), Zutty Singleton (d), Carroll Dickerson (cond).
OKeh recording session - New York City, NY September 10, 1929

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Homer Hobson (tp), Fred Robinson (tb), Jimmy Strong (ts), Bert Curry, Crawford Wethington (as), Gene Anderson (p), Mancy Carr (bj), Pete Briggs (tu), Zutty Singleton (d), Carroll Dickerson (cond, vln).
OKeh recording session - New York City, NY September 11, 1929

YouTube links for the vocal versions of both songs:

And YouTube links for the non-vocal takes:


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