Saturday, February 13, 2010

Louis Armstrong: Mame (1964-6)

In 1964, Louis Armstrong scored an incredible hit with his recording of Hello Dolly, written by Jerry Herman for the Broadway show. Pop's last big record was Mack the Knife in 1955, although he had many albums that sold well. The success of Dolly gave Pops almost a second career as his already busy schedule was filled with demands for personal appearances and numerous TV variety shows. The recording knocked the chart-topping Beatles off the Top 10 for a few weeks and made Louis the oldest performer to score such a hit. Recording companies kept looking for similar show tunes for Louis to record in hopes of a sequel.

A lot of Livin' to Do , So Long, Dearie, Cabaret and Wilkommen all did well but
Mame(another Herman composition) came the closet in popularity and like Dolly warranted an album. The Mercury Mame lp has been forgotten a bit over the years. It was a mixture of 4 different sessions spanning the years 1964-6.(Louis was a free agent as far as recording labels go, so it took a while to produce an album) This post will take a detailed look at the album. First, let's give a breakdown on the sessions and personnel. All sessions were recorded in New York.

9/3/64: So Long,Dearie and Pretty Little Missy .
Along with Louis the lineup was Eddie Shu, clarinet- Russell "Big Chief" Moore,trombone- Billy Kyle, piano- Arvell Shaw, bass and Danny Barcelona, drums. Everett Barksdale was added on banjo.
Moore(1912-83) had joined the band in Jan. of 1964 replacing Trummy Young. He was a big band veteran (had worked in Louis' big band from 1944-7) and had played a lot of jazz sessions with the likes of Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff ,Papa Celestin and his own groups He was a Pima Indian and a fine player and showman, he stayed with the band until Feb. 1965.
Shu(1918-86) was a former Gene Krupa sideman with modern leanings who adapted nicely to the All-Stars brand of jazz. He was a talented muti-instrumentalist , comfortable on tenor, trumpet and harmonica. He was with Pops from July '64 to July '65. (On the album, Joe Darensbourg is listed as clarinetist but this is a mistake).
Billy Kyle(1914-66) of John Kirby fame had joined up in Oct. of 1953 and stayed with Pops until his untimely death in Feb. of 1966. He was a consumate soloist and contributed some tasty charts to the band.
Arvell Shaw(1923-2002) was with the All-Stars during their maiden year of 1947. (he also played in Louis' big band from 1946-7). He had several long stints with the band , had rejoined in Jan. 1963 and stayed till May 1965.
Danny Barcelona(1929-2007), a Hawaiian discovery of Trummy Young signed up in Feb. 1958 and stayed 'till the end.
To get the Dolly sound, various studio banjoists were used. Everett Barksdale (1910-86)was an old pro and popped up on many of Louis' studio dates.

11/3/64: Bye N' Bye and Faith.
Same personnel with Walter Raim on banjo.

9/10/65: Short but Sweet/ The Circle of your Arms/ I like this Kind of Party/ The Three of Us.
Louis, Tyree Glenn, trombone and vibes- Buster Bailey, clarinet- Kyle, piano- Buddy Catlett, bass- Barcelona, drums. John Gray added on banjo and guitar.
Some new faces since the last session.
Tyree Glenn, veteran of Cab Calloway and Duke Elington bands. Exellent trombonist with beautiful sound who was very adept at plunger work and doubled on vibes. He joined in late Feb. 1965 and stayed with Louis to the end.
Buster Bailey went as far back with Louis as the King Oliver and Fletcher Henderson bands. He was a top clarinetist and spent many years with the bands of Henderson, Mills Blue Rhythm, John Kirby (he and Kyle were bandmates) and Red Allen.
Buddy Catlett had just joined up in May of 1965 and had worked prviously with Quincy Jones, Cal Tjader and the Count Basie Band.

April, 1966: When the Saints Go Marchin' In/ Cheesecake/ Tyree's Blues.
same personell with Marty Napolean, piano and Al Di Lernia, banjo.
Napolean had been with the band in 1952-3 and rejoined after the passing of Billy Kyle. He was a fine swing soloist with numerous credits to his resume including Gene Krupa, Red Allen and his uncle, trumpeter Phil Napolean.

May, 1966: Mame/ Tin Roof Blues.
Now on to the tunes as they were recorded.

So Long, Dearie- Also from the Hello Dolly score and a nice tune in it's own right. I'm sure that Mercury was looking for a follow-up hit to Dolly. There's no trumpet here but Pops really swings on the vocal. His great time really makes this version and the All-Stars swing nicely behind him.Louis must have liked the tune because he performed it on the Ed Sullivan show in Oct. 1964 then on Australian TV in Nov. While on tour in Czechoslovakiain March of 1965, a film caught him playing it at a casual rehearsal.(Eddie Shu is playing tenor at this session). He also played it on the Dean Martin show in Sept. 1965. After that, it seems to have disapeared from the repertoire. (Joe Muranyi recalls playing it at his first rehearsal with Pops- for more on the tune check out Ricky Riccardi's great blog, The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong).

Pretty Little Missy- This tune was in the All-Stars book since the 50s. Louis and Billy Kyle wrote it, it's based on a lick Billy used to use on his Perdido feature.(the changes are the same).This is a great version, Pops' chops were in great form during the 64-5 period. He really wails on this version batting out a dozen or so high Es on the bridge. The outgoing riff came from a Ralph Flanagan hit called Hot Toddy. The Chief and Shu also get short solo spots.

Bye and Bye- An old New Orleans spiritual that Louis first recorded with his Big Band in 1939, he also made a great recording with Gordon Jenkins in 1954.(issued on the Satchmo in Style lp).I can't recall the All-Stars playing it, although in later years Louis used the melody on the Ol' Miss out chorus.(again, the changes match up). There's more solid trumpet from Pops and he splits his vocal with choruses by Moore and Shu. The closing rideout is solid as usual.

Faith- This came from a short-lived Broadway show, I Had a Ball starring Buddy Hackett. It's a pseudo gospel tune and Pops always excelled at this type of tune.( His Decca lp Louis and the Good Book was one of his most popular albums). There's only room for a half-chorus of trumpet but Pops makes the most of it, really wailing including a scorching trumpet break A nice side.

Short but Sweet- A pretty original by Louis. Tyree opens with a vibes arpeggio on Pops plays a lovely 8 bar passage of the melody. Following a tasty vocal, Pops goes up high for the bridge and sings it home. That bridge, complete with Pops' patented shake is a masterpiece. John Gray's rhythm guitar is a plus.

The Circle of your Arms- Another pleasant medium-tempo tune. The intro by the horns has a bit of Memphis Blues in it. Louis trades some great scat with Tyree's plunger horn and then takes a sublime trumpet bridge before swinging home.

I Like this kind of Party- A semi-talking novelty tune, although not much of a tune, Pops has a lot of fun with it. Louis' half chorus on the A strain is a lovely improvisation full of typical Pops licks. Hughes Panassie in his book , Louis Armstrong singled out this solo.

The Three of Us- This side didn't make the Mercury lp, but was given some European distribution. Panassie called it Me, Myself and I (those words pop up in the lyrics) in his book, he was thinking of the Billie Holiday classic. Tyree gets some more vibes work in, trading with Pops' mellow muted horn and Bailey has some nice low register backup. This is a lovely side that deserves more hearings.

Louis didn't get back to the Mercury studios until April of 1966. His playing during this period is up and down, various physical ailments brought his chops down a bit since the fierce blowing of 1964-5. However, Louis could always state a beautiful melody and even at half speed sounds great.

When the Saints go Marchin' In-The Saints had long been a part of Pops' live shows(he first recorded it in 1938) and this version is pleasant, if not spectacular. Pops does some humorous banter up front then blows a cautious melody chorus. All the boys get to solo including "Brother" Al Di Lernia, the studio banjoist. A fun version, although fun from the best Saints in Pops' discography.

Cheesecake- A silly novelty co-written by Pops. Louis, like Fats Waller could make something of these trite tunes and he has a lot of fun on this number along with Tyree and his "Cheesecake "line.Pops gets in a quick trumpet trade with Tyree and Buster. He also performed it on the Hollywood Palace that year(with Bing Crosby getting into the act) and at a Chicago concert in December.(both trumpet spots are stronger).

Tyree's Blues- A straight ahead blues with Tyree's mellow bone up front , followed by a lovely scat vocal by Pops. Napolean and Bailey get a spot before Pops takes a sober lead out.

Mame- The album's title tune, also from a Jerry Herman show was a fairly sucessful follow-up to Dolly. It's mostly all vocal with Pops trading lines off of Glenn and Bailey. Pops swings mightily on his vocal , another tailor made tune for him. On the Grammy show of April 1967 and Tonight show of June 1967, Pops inserted a trumpet spot where he answered Glenn's melody. His other live versions are strictly vocal.

Tin Roof Blues- Another long standing All-Stars number. Here Louis plays the verse then sings a new vocal full of traditional blues lines. Bailey and Glenn get in some nice obliggatos to the vocal before Pops leads the traditional out chorus. His playing here is direct but devoid of the power in the earlier sessions.

Thanks to Armstrong aficiando Ricky Riccardi, I was able to sample studio outtakes from the lp. Here are some interesting highlights. On listening to other studio outtakes, I can tell that Pops did a consumate job all the time and never let fluffs or breakdowns effect his good humor. He rarely sounds miffed or impatient and that good work comes out in the finished product. Billy Kyle is always a big part of the recording sessions, setting tempos and devising riffs and routines.

So Long Dearie- This version sounds like a run-thru. Pops' vocal swings as hard as the issued version. In place of some missed words he scats a bit and fills a hole with the line "right in there".
The band swings along nicely. An interesting comparison with the original.

Pretty Little Missy- Louis' vocal mike is off, so this may be another run-thru. His opening chorus is a little more behind the beat than usual, but then his chops were getting warmed up. The vocal is distant so you can here the horns playing one of the "Perdido" alternate riffs. The Chief's solo is a bit off but Shu is right on and Pops sounds real solid on that out chorus, again nailing all those high Es. Another interesting alternate.

Short but Sweet- Quite a few of the issued masters have been edited and inserts used. On the first take Pops misses a few words and makes some goofs on that high register spot. (It's hard nailing those notes take after take). There are some more breakdowns including the vibes and vocal. (You can hear Pops testing out some high ones) The next take is pretty close to the album take although Pops has some trouble on the bridge, but laughs it off. They try a few inserts, the first being the album version. An interesting mixture to make up the final take.

The Circle of Your Arms-Before the first take we here some chatter and laughter, Pops kept things loose. After a breakdown another take is put down, Pops phrases the melody a little different (he's still getting comfortable) then has fun on the trombone/scat duet. (he closes with a patented vocal line). His trumpet bridge is relaxed and different from the master take. Pops sings it out a bit off mike. After a few warm up notes, another take is tried with a nice vocal despite some goofs. The duet with Tyree has some new scat lines along with the patented break and the trumpet solo is still subtly different. This time the vocal closes with an extra tag, as on the album. We hear Louis warming up the bridge again , the next take is a breakdown followed by a clean take with a great horn solo (as on the album) and a mixup on the length of the tag. An insert cleans that up and Louis makes the long tag with a voice crack on "For Me" which he laughs off. This last take and insert make the version on the album.

The Three of Us- Pops blows a bit during the warmup and the first take is smooth despite a goof on the vibes. Pops' solo is relaxed but different. The next take is good but Pops hits some bad trumpet notes. Take 3 sounds like the issued version although there is a vibes goof. (probably edited out). The obligattos by Bailey and Glenn on plunger trombone are lovely on all takes. That last trumpet solo is full of lovely middle register notes.

I Like this Kind of Party- A lot of work went into this rather forgettable novelty. The first take had some vocal goofs and the "Charlie Boy" piano lick was not used. Pops' horn solo is different but strong and includes a favorite quote of "Turkey in the Straw". The vocal out chorus is good with a great break. The intro Tyree and Buster play is tricky and it gets better with each take. Take 2 is pretty clean save for a few trumpet goofs but Pops redeems them going up high. Take 3 is a breakdown and on take 4 Pops blows a line mixing swim with spin and the take ends, but Pops keeps things light. Takes 5 and 6 are breakdowns and 7 has another vocal goof with more laughter. Take 8 is pretty much the album version save for a different vocal coda(the "Charlie Boy" piano bit is heard) . Take 9 has a few vocal goofs and a few missed trumpet notes but a good recovery with the closing vocal the version on the album. Finally after some studio chatter Pops does an insert for his horn spot which is solid but not used on the album. The final product is a mix of takes 8 and 9.

The Mame album is currently not available on CD although some tracks appeared on a Verve compilation, The Essential Louis Armstrong. The Three of Us was issued on a European CD.
Here's hoping the future brings all the tracks to CD. As always, Amazon and Worlds Records are the best sources. Despite the turnover in sessions and personnel , Mame is a very entertaining album and a good example of prime later Louis. Addendum- A recent CD release on Hippo Records entitled Hello Louis- The Hit Years (1963-9) has collected the Mercury sessions along with the Hello Dolly, Wonderful World lps and some singles.

Till next time, Red Beans and Ricely Yours.

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