Six Minutes With Satch: I Hate to Leave You Now / You'll Wish You'd Never Been Born

When we last left our hero, he had just blown beautifully on "That's My Home" before contributing a short, but potent solo on "Hobo, You Can't Ride This Train." But Mezz Mezzrow, a guest at the session, was nervous about Armstrong's delicate lip, which had been overworked by a series of live performances and broadcasts before the session. How long could he keep going?

“I Hate To Leave You Now” was the third tune up and it must have been a special choice for Armstrong since it was written by his good buddy, Fats Waller (though interestingly, as Dan Morgenstern pointed out in his liner notes to the Complete RCA recordings set, it was never registered for copyright until 1957).

The Webb band takes a four-bar introduction and it’s clear by just those four bars that the Swing Era hadn’t quite begun—the tuba already sounds out-of-date and Webb’s static brush hit on the snare drum on each beat of the bar doesn’t even hint at his potential as a drummer (he must have missed his bass drum, which he was told not to use because it would push Armstrong too hard). So when did the Swing Era begin, you ask? Interestingly enough, just five days after this session, Bennie Moten’s band headed into these same Camden studios, and the fury and swing of that landmark session, which featured the likes of Count Basie, Hot Lips Page and Ben Webster, is THE moment the Swing Era came alive for this writer.

But even though the orchestration doesn’t exactly swing like Moten, no one could exactly swing like Armstrong, who makes the listener completely forget about the surroundings as soon as he picks up his trumpet, complete with a unique leather Solotone mute in the bell (thanks to my old friend Herbert Christ for the info). That Armstrong’s chops were dying down is no surprise when you hear the little cracked note in the very first bar. However, he recovers and manages to caress the very pretty melody beautifully. This has to be one of my favorite muted Armstrong moments. His sound combined with the sound of that Camden church results in a positively heavenly experience. He’s ultra-relaxed, keeping his improvisation to a minimum, just singing the melody. Gorgeous stuff.

After a modulation by pianist Don Kirkpatrick, Armstrong takes the vocal in his charming tenor of the period. He sounds so damned happy, how can you help but smile? A highlight for me is the way he enters the bridge: “Oh dear your eyes,” each a quarter note, landing on the first beat of the bridge with the word “eyes,” phrasing much like his trumpet playing. He nearly explodes with the soulful, “And dear,” which carries into the cute little laugh during the last A section. Armstrong even screws up the last line, singing “I hate to lose you now,” but the message still works and what preceded it is so good, it doesn’t matter. Throughout the vocal the rhythm section relaxes a bit, with Webb’s brushes nicely prodding matters along.

Another Kirkpatrick interlude sets up Armstrong’s delicious entrance, playing five repeated C’s not on the beat but rather between each quarter-note, creating tension that resolves with the leap up to a high G. After this adventurous beginning, Armstrong calms down, probably not wanting to blow his chops out. He disappears for a few beats at a time, then jumps back in with a gliss or something powerful before retreating again.  When he gets his footing, he plays two quick F’s before a gigantic gliss to a high A, showing off a little power. He reminds me of a boxer in round 12; perhaps a little out-of-gas, but with enough smarts and pure power to flurry when it counts. Summoning up everything he has left, Armstrong continues by playing the melody in the upper register, an octave higher than written, pulling it off though one split-second note is cracked at the 2:59 mark. With the end of the fight looming, Armstrong pours it on, emptying the tank with a series of bone-chilling high A’s before resolving to a high C at the bell. Winner and still champeen….

The originally issued take of “I Hate to Leave You Now” is a gem, for the muted beginning, delightful vocal, and powerful conclusion. But Armstrong wasn’t done yet. Victor’s A&R man, Eli Oberstein, recorded two takes of all four numbers recorded that day, which has led to a total of eight surviving takes from that December session. I'm not really covering alternates in this series but I do think Armstrong sounds stronger in the muted in the opening, though weaker at the end. My man Austin Casey posted the alternate so you can listen here and decide:

With three songs--six takes down--Pops only had to survive one more tune: "(You So and So) You'd Wish You'd Never Been Born." This was Armstrong's second credited original on the date--OKeh hadn't recorded one of his originals for years--but in this case, "original" might not be the best word since the song is pretty much a complete rip-off of "(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You." One can't blame Louis or the label since "You Rascal You" was his most signature tune at the moment, even featured in two Paramount shorts released before the session. The vocal is a lot of fun, I'll admit, and did contribute at least one immortal line in "Boy, I thought you were kind and loving until you stole meat from my oven!" (and come on, who else hears Louis singing "fart" instead of "part," which is totally in character).

But again, because of the drama at hand, all ears are focused on the trumpet playing. The test results come back quickly as the record starts with an unaccompanied cadenza and Louis sounds in paid--yet also strangely glorious. This isn't "West End Blues," folks. No, he is very deliberate in his pacing and his choice of notes, taking his time and creating something quite beautiful and dramatic, getting up to a high C, pushing himself up to a D, followed by another C and yet one more final high D, losing the last one a little bit but still hitting it.

During the vocal, there are spots for solos, which he mostly filled up on "You Rascal You." That's not the case here; as on "Hobo, You Can't Ride This Train," Louis turns the solo duties over to tenor man Elmer Williams, trombonist Charlie Green and clarinetist Pete Clarke. But if you listen carefully during Clarke's solo, Louis is way out in the background, playing a line on his trumpet and even pushing out another high D. This is something he would do in the All Stars years when his chops were down; numerous recordings exist where just before his solo, he'd play some notes in the background to detect his levels of pain and strength.

With about 30 seconds left, he enters gingerly, dipping his toes in the water, getting situated, but also sounding playful. A few of notes sound frayed but finally he hits a concert A on the nose and holds it into the final chorus. He adopts a slashing attack for the final chorus, sticking with the A, ascending to a Bb, back to the A and around the horn with an urgent sense of rhythm. Feeling comfortable with that A, he hammers it repeatedly, using an F as a springboard--F-A! F-A! F-A!--before emptying the tank on a final climb to high C.

Eli Oberstein had his master take but another take exists poor Louis sounds even more delicate but still manages to unleash another mind-bending gliss in the first chorus and more staggering high notes towards the end. I don't know how he did it but he survived--for now. He was now struggling with his chops in the studio like never before and those struggles weren't about to end.

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Louis Bacon, Louis Hunt, Billy Hicks (tp), Charlie Green (tb), Pete Clarke (cl, as), Edgar Sampson (as), Elmer Williams (ts), Don Kirkpatrick (p), John Trueheart (g), Elmer James (tu), Chick Webb (d).
Victor recording session - Camden, NJ December 8, 1932

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Louis Bacon, Louis Hunt, Billy Hicks (tp), Charlie Green (tb), Pete Clarke (cl, as), Edgar Sampson (as), Elmer Williams (ts), Don Kirkpatrick (p), John Trueheart (g), Elmer James (tu), Chick Webb (d).
Victor recording session - Camden, NJ December 8, 1932

YouTube links (sorry about "I Hate to Leave You Now" as the master simply doesn't exist on YouTube in decent sound quality):


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