Six Minutes With Satch: On the Sunny Side of the Street Parts 1 and 2

After yesterday's marathon post on "Super Tiger Rag" and two takes of "St. Louis Blues," I can relax and cover a single song today, Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields's 1930 composition, "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Newspapers report Armstrong performing it in a revue at Connie's Inn in late 1932 with Chick Webb's Orchestra; his concept must have made an impression on Taft Jordan, who joined Webb soon after. On September 10, 1934,  Webb recorded a version of the song featuring Jordan playing and singing a la Armstrong, more or less waxing Armstrong's routine before Armstrong had the opportunity!

Perhaps Armstrong got wind of Webb's recording while over in Paris and decided it was time to finally record his own version on "Sunny Side." By this point, it clearly was a routine, as every note of it had been worked out on the stage. Because it was a long routine in live performances, Armstrong recorded it in two parts, totaling six minutes and two seconds of playing time. Thanks to the magic of CDs and editing and such innovations, most issues magically splice the two parts together into one seamless track.

After the band sets the scene with eight bars of melody, Armstrong enters for the first of two sublime vocal choruses. This is pre- Joe Glaser and pre-Decca, but his vocal quality is already similar to the recordings that were about to take place just a short time later. Armstrong's voice is crystal clear, conveying all the warmth of the tune's message in the first chorus ("I'll be rich as Rocky-fellow"), before he begins his dramatic variations on his second go-around. Armstrong's declamatory "Grab your coat" at the start of his second chorus always elicits a "Yeah, man" from me. He completely rephrases the melody, utilizing only a few basic pitches, but infusing everything with a gripping urgency (listen to the way he sings the word "leave"). The scatting asides are terrific, but it's the show-stopping bridge (literally) that gets me every time, with the most passionate uttering of the word "rover" to ever be found on a record.

The vocal ends at almost exactly the three-minute mark, at which point--in 1934--you'd flip your 78 record over onto the second side to hear the band playing the melody once again. Pianist Herman Chittison, who really shines on these sessions, takes a Hines-esque eight-bar bridge, ending with some whole-tone chords in a very hip way. He also supported Louis beautifully during the vocal.

After eight more bars of melody (I think the arrangement was only eight bars long, repeated ad infinitum), Armstrong finally enters for the main event. A live performance survives from Stockholm in October 1933 in which he took two choruses but now he's whittled it down to one outing, 32 bars of perfection. The declamatory alternating of C's and E's was there in Stockholm, but Armstrong has a new bridge, opening up with a quote from the country standard "Faded Love." If you've been following this series, we already heard it on "Some Sweet Day" from January 1933 so it was clearly rattling around his brain but how and when did he pick it up? Mystery....

After the "Faded Love" quote, Armstrong completely nails his break, a series of searing repeated triplet phrases before a slippery, sliding descent back to solid ground. From there, it's more passionate C's and E's (so much drama, so few pitches) before another extended, dramatic ending. A six-minute masterpiece. No wonder the song became one of Armstrong's most famous (and this always did remain his most favorite version)!

One more to go tomorrow before "Six Minutes With Satch" takes a hiatus--til then!

Louis Armstrong (tp, voc), Jack Hamilton, Leslie Thompson (tp), Lionel Guimaraes (tb), Peter DuCongé, Henry Tyree, Alfred Pratt (reeds), Herman Chittison (p), Maceo Jefferson (g), German Arago (b), Oliver Tines (d).
Studio Polydor recording session - Paris, France November 7, 1934

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