Six Minutes With Satch: Home (When Shadows Fall) / All of Me

Two days after Louis recorded "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and "Kickin' the Gong Around," he and his band were back in OKeh's studio to record two more brand new songs that when released, would form the biggest selling Armstrong 78 of his career to this point.

We'll start with "All of Me," written by Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks of Detroit and already popularized by Mildred Bailey (with Paul Whiteman) and the crooner Russ Colombo. Both versions--and more (it's easy to go down the YouTube wormhole on this song) were recorded in  in December 1931 meaning America was already in love with the song when Louis was asked to work his magic with it.

And work it he did. The vocal is simply from another planet, but then again, so is the trumpet playing. As discussed yesterday, when Louis had that Solotone (or cup) mute in, it gave him a license to double-time like he rarely did with an open horn;  just hear what he does in the middle of that first chorus. Otherwise, he's very relaxed and swinging from the start, playing the melody straight for the first few bars and then going for himself almost immediately after, floating through the bar lines like Pres and the later soloists of he 1930s and beyond. It all comes from Pops....

Then there's the vocal....seriously, this man did it with the trumpet AND the voice? I know, I know, I'm gushing like it's the first time I realized this but I guess I feel the same way every time I listen to Louis, even if it's something I've heard a million times (like "All of Me"). Louis's insinuating "Mmmmm" moan sets the scene and then he's off with his own melody, an improvement on the written one (which also doesn't feature any utterances of "babe" or "Oh bay-bee," as heard here). The second half finds Louis in declamatory mode, barking out "Your good-bye" with so much passion, he sounds like he's about to explode. I could take this thing apart word for word but I'll quit before they have to hose me down. I will point out the other worldly moan that connects "eyes that cry" and "how can I"; Louis pronunciation of "dear"; and the joyous abandon of the final eight bars. Seriously, if I had to take eight bars of music to illustrate the genius of Armstrong the singer, those might be them. What a vocal!

Then it's time for a modulation and an open horn Armstrong takes the lead, still in a relaxed frame of mind but also with a touch of that operatic storytelling. He passes it to one of the saxophonists for the bridge but then swoops in to close out the record with some passionate high-register playing of the melody. A perfect high note at the end ends a perfect record. No wonder it went to number one, right?

The flip side of "All of Me" was "Home," a song written by the Dutch composer Peter Van Steeden along with (I’m supposing brothers) Harry and Jeff Clarkson. Van Steeden also led a dance band orchestra, becoming the first to wax his tune, recording it for Victor on November 25, 1931 in a lovely pop arrangement complete with a vocal by the always-busy singer, Dick Robertson. The song quickly became a hit and soon was being covered by the likes of Rudy Vallee and was covered in the jazz world with a version by Dorsey Brothers on December 9.

For those used to the sweeter pop versions, the opening of Armstrong’s record of “Home” must have come as a jolt. The record opens with the band swinging, in New Orleans polyphonic fashion, the John Howard Payne chestnut from 1823 (now THAT’S a standard!), “Home Sweet Home.” A very pretty interlude by pianist Charlie Alexander sets up Pops’s heartfelt vocal. The saxophones croon out the melody behind him in their best Lombardo fashion, which helps illustrate Armstrong’s genius as he phrases the beautiful melody at his own pace, from the very opening phrase where he inserts a couple of extra beats between “when” and “shadows fall.” He immediately sings the following line—“trees whisper day is ending”—in a completely different fashion from how it’s written. A better fashion, I should say as that next line always sounds unusual when sung straight.

Armstrong puts a lot of feeling into the titular word, but even he can’t resist a little “oh babe.” The intonation of the saxes might not be to everyone’s liking but dig bassist John Lindsay’s popping bass in between the A sections. Armstrong continues his conversational pace by inserting a spoken “now” before singing the next line, “when crickets fall” almost on one pitch, his voice literally falling on the word “fall.” And just listen to the ridiculous place he inserts “my heart.” While analyzing this record for blogging purposes, I paused it right before Armstrong sings those two words. When I un-paused it and heard the placement of those two words, it immediately led me to think of his trumpet playing which always featured phrases floating all over the bar line.

Armstrong continues onward, singing “once more to be returning” one pitch before singing the title word again, filling up the built-in space after with a slightly humorous, “Mmmm, Home.” Van Steeden’s bridge is the gem of the song and Armstrong clearly digs the minor harmonies. Really listen to the saxes playing the melody during this section and just try to hear if Armstrong is singing anything that remotely resembles it. His first phrase follows the arc of the melody, but he begins it a few beats late and he practically bubbles over when he gets to the “one by one” line, repeating it much as he would if he was playing the trumpet.

Again, like a typical Armstrong trumpet solo, Armstrong hit a climax of sorts with that “one by one” so he can’t retreat now. Thus, he approaches the final A section by singing all high notes, continuing the longing mood of the bridge, and really wringing a lot feeling from the word “all.” He winds down for a very sweet ending to the totally heartfelt and moving vocal. One could probably guess that Armstrong was thinking of New Orleans while singing the tune and goodness knows, that was always a recipe for beautiful music.

Alexander’s piano modulates setting up Pops’s entrance over a foot-pattin’ New Orleans beat laid down by the rhythm section. Lindsay’s thumping bass locks in with McKendrick’s tenor guitar sound and, together with Tubby Hall’s simple but steady drumming, creates a loping feeling that might not exactly sound like Count Basie, but is nevertheless pretty irresistible. Pops rides it beautifully, starting high and simple before some nice double-timing in bars six and seven. Armstrong heralds the second A section with two giant quarter notes, always an effective trick, coming after some busy playing. At the 1:57 mark, Armstrong goes high where the written melody goes low, hitting a bluesy, passionate high note that somehow meshes perfectly with the same note being played by one of the alto saxes. It could have clashed but it’s such a perfectly chosen note, it just adds to the drama of the proceedings.

Armstrong continues playing around the melody, as stated by the saxophones, before hitting the bridge. Unfortunately, instead of digging into the minor changes, Armstrong passes the ball to a saxophonist (Lester Boone?) who takes us from pathos to bathos. The saxophonist is all over his horn, showing up some very fleet-fingering but it disrupts the mood and every time he holds a note, it’s so corny, it’s almost laughable.

But have no fear, Pops is here, trampling over the saxophonist with three high A’s, announcing his presence and pointing the way for very passionate final eight bars, reaching its climax with a gliss to another high A at the 2:35 mark. Armstrong then takes off on a spectacular cadenza with shades of 1927 stop-time playing before the band drops out and Armstrong concludes with an operatic conclusion that’s brimming with bravado. Bravo, Pops!

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Zilner Randolph (tp), Preston Jackson (tb), Lester Boone, George James (as), Albert Washington (ts), Charlie Alexander (p), Mike McKendrick (g), John Lindsay (b), Tubby Hall (d).
OKeh recording session - Chicago, IL January 27, 1932

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Zilner Randolph (tp), Preston Jackson (tb), Lester Boone, George James (as), Albert Washington (ts), Charlie Alexander (p), Mike McKendrick (g), John Lindsay (b), Tubby Hall (d).
OKeh recording session - Chicago, IL January 27, 1932

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