Saturday, December 22, 2012

Waxing Nostalgic: A Rare Batch of Satch

 This new series will highlight various lps that left an impression of a young trumpet student and jazz fan. Most of my purchases were made at retail stores such as Jordan Marsh, J.M. Fields and Lechmere Sales along with records shops Briggs and Briggs, Harvard Coop (Cambridge) and the Concord Music Shop.
I was learning about the jazz greats Louis, Bix, Fats, Jelly Roll and the Big Bands. The reissue series of RCA, Columbia and Decca gave me a great education.

One such album was A Rare Batch of Satch by Louis Armstrong (RCA LPM-2322 printed in 1961).
This album featured the Victor sides Louis made in 1932 -33 backed by his own band and those of Chick Webb and Charlie Gaines. These sides have been reissued since in many forms complete and exerpted. We'll cover their history later in the post.
At this point of his career, Pops was at full power-inventive, full of great tone quality and great command of the upper register , one of Louis' strong points all thru his career. His vocalizing too was something else- the nimble horn-like scatting, Bing-like crooning and of course his great humor and comic asides (so much a part of Fats Waller's repertoire.) Let's look at the tunes on the album that turned this young jazzer's head.

I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues (1/26/33). The Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler standard was a new tune in 1933. It would soon be the theme of Louis' friend and colleague Jack Teagarden, but in '33 Pops owned it.
Pops opens with a humorous spoken intro followed by a nice intro by future star Teddy Wilson. Pops' vocal(backed by nice clarinet by Scoville Browne-an underated player) is full of crooning and great shifts in time. No one could swing a few notes like Louis. The band plays a short melody passage (this was a working band with trumpeter Zilner Randolph,musical director) and in comes Pops with a grandiose melody statement, high note glisses and a rise to the top for a climax. A great opening to a classic album.

Medley Of Armstrong Hits part2(12/21/32). The two "hits" medleys come from a session that was issued as a 12'' two sided 78. Louis is backed by the band of trumpeter Charlie Gaines, a Philadelphia unit that was backing Louis at the time. Playing in the sax section was future star and bandleader Louis Jordan (I'm sure he was listening carefully to Pops).The band sounds a bit under-rehearsed but does it's job.
First up is When You're Smiling (already a staple in Pops' repertoire) just sung by Louis with some interesting obligatto by Gaines.The band segues into St. James Infirmary(introduced by Pops in 1928) . We get more of Pops' great vocalizing and time placement. Piano leads into some commanding Louis trumpet-Pops blows some unaccompanied high ones and plays us into Dinah (first recorded in 1930) . The band takes over the lead and Louis sings two great choruses full of amazing moans, scats and a horn-like break. He picks up his horn for the ride out including his patented "Arabian" bridge going out high. (An alternate take later surfaced-more on that later).

There's a Cabin in the Pines (4/26/33).Back to the Randolph band and a pretty but obscure tune written by one Benny Hill (not the British funnyman).
The band plays a melody intro in pit band style bringing Pops in for a lovely crooning vocal with a few gravelly,low asides. Ellis Whitlock's lead trumpet sets up a classic Armstrong solo full of fleet runs and high note glisses.The final bars retard to a classic Louis ending on a high note gliss.

Basin St. Blues (1/27/33). Introduced by Pops in 1928,this became one of his staples(also another Teagarden standby). This recording is perhaps the greatest of all Basin Sts.
Starting with Teddy's intro we hear the trombone of Keg Johnson, perhaps saluting Teagarden and a nice low register spot by Browne.Pops plays the verse(not the "Won't you come along" intro) with a nice burnished tone and some double time before letting the band swing a bit. Louis' vocal chorus is a gem-all scat with the boys singing backround. Then the Armstrong horn takes over for two searing choruses full of fleet phrasing and high note wails before Pops returns to the vocal melody still all scat backed by the glee club and ending on a horn-like vocal coda-complete with a spoken "Yeah,Man!" An all time classic.
A word on the band- Over the years the critics have crucified Louis' backing bands. This unit albeit a bit staid could swing and did their job nicely. The soloists including Wilson,Browne, brothers Keg and Budd Johnson and guitarist Mike McKendrick were all capable players. Louis enjoyed working with this band.

I Hate to Leave You Now (12/8/32). This session saw Louis backed by Chick Webb's great band. The tune was written by Fats Waller and one Dorothy Dick (never recorded by Fats).It's a lovely melody and Louis' opening trumpet solo is very poignant,played on a cup mute that he rarely used. After a piano interlude by Don Kirkpatrick Louis comes out wailing over the band, climbing up to the top for the coda.
Pops' chops were supposed to be in rough shape on this date, but he gives out classic solos on all the titles.
An alternate take also exists.

Mahogany Hall Stomp (1/28/33). Side One ends with one of Louis' favorite "Good Ol' Good Ones" written by Spencer Williams (Pops first recorded it in 1929).
This is a swinging chart and the band sounds great. Zilner Randolph may be the arranger, but it's probably a "stock" that the band improved on.After solos by Johnson and Browne(alto) Louis plays his already patented 3 chorus spot. Sounds like he's using a harmon mute here. (these sessions saw Louis experimenting with mutes more than usual).After a spot by Keg, Pops rides over the band with the stock A great performance.
Louis kept Mahogany in his books for years including the All-Stars period.

High Society(1/26/33). Side Two opens with another "Good One" going back to Louis' parade days in New Orleans and the King Oliver band.This sounds like a "stock" arrangement.Louis makes a cute sintro about the "street parade" coming up. Pops is all over the place here, leading the ensembles with power and high note glisses. Zilner Randolph plays a straight muted solo with the clarinets quoting the famous Picou solo, under him.Pops rides the band home with more power ending on a top F. He cracks the note a bit, but it's great to see the human touch in Louis' Superman playing.
This is another item that would stay thru the All-Stars days.

That's my Home (12/8/32).Back to the Webb session and another lovely ballad written by the Rene Bros. who penned Louis' theme,When It's Sleepy Time down South. The clever band intro includes quotes from Sleepy Time, Pops enters with a pleading,crooning vocal with the band picking up an interlude. Louis enters with horn trading the verse with tenor man Elmer Williams. Pops takes over the last chorus with some great searing melody and some fleet passages culminating in one of his classic high note retards. Perfection!
Some of the later reissues included a bit of chatter between Louis and the band at the end of the tune.
A lovely alternate take also exists.Louis remade it in 1956 as part of Decca's Autobiography album.

Medley of Armstrong Hits Part One (12/21/32). The first "hits" medley starts with the band playing You,Rascal,You(from 1931) and Pops singing and scatting his way thru. The joyous mood turns pretty with Pops singing his theme song When It's Sleepy Time down South (first recorded in '31). A beautiful vocal is followed by a poingnant trumpet solo going up high on the bridge with patented slurs and passing notes before a lovely high note ending (this recording was so great that it was later issued as a separate 78).
A drum break leads us into a fast ride out of Nobody's Sweetheart with Pops on lead. This tune wasn't part of Louis' repertoire but was probably included for completeness, he never played it much in his career. All in all, a beautiful medley.

Snow Ball (1/28/33). This little known Hoagy Carmichael tune has lovely acting and blowing by Pops. The tune is quite politically incorrect-about a "pickanninny baby"- but Pops endears it with his great acting skills. some vocal inflections and a very sweet and fleet trumpet solo. Keg and Browne also contribute nice solos.
I believe only Louis and Hoagy,himself have recorded this selection.

Laughin' Louie (4/24/33). One of Pops' most unusual and inspired recordings. Louis and the band have fun with this novelty tune, the boys keep breaking up Pops as he tries to blow a solo. (shades of the famous Okeh Laughing Record). Then Louis uncorks an amazing unaccompanied solo of brilliant phrasing and high note work. For many years the tune Louis plays was unknown. Producer George Avakian even asked if any listeners could write RCA with the identity. Years later archivist/bandleader Vince Giordano identified it as Love Scene-a piece used for silent movie accompaniment. Pops probably remembered it from his theatre days with Erskine Tate. Although Louis is straining a bit on the high ones, it's still an astonishing piece of improvisation. An alternate take shows subtle differences.

Hobo, You can't Ride This Train (12/8/32).A novelty tune that Louis composed (he remade it in 1956 on the Autobiography session).The Webb band sounds great with solos by Williams and Charlie Green on trombone. Louis gives us some jivy singing and preaching before launching a short but impassioned solo,before he closes out with some "cute" narration. An alternate take contains fresh solo and vocal routines.

This lp gave me countless hours of enjoyment and a look at an interesting period of Louis' career.The album cover had a strange looking trumpet coming out of a cooking pot on a stove and the reverse cover had a nifty sketch of Pops from the 1944 film,Jam Session where he sports a derby.

These Victor sides have had a long history of reissue. Around 1964, RCA issued Louis in the 30s/40s with more of the 1933 sides backed by 40s Big Band sides. The 1971 2 lp set Louis Armstrong Memorial, collected all the 1932-3 sides along with choice 40s Big Band/combo sides and a rare 1956 studio session.
 A late 70s lp, Young Louis Armstrong brought forth all the sides plus some alternate takes.
In the CD age, Laughin' Louis brought the material to CD and used the alternate take of the title song.
The RCA set Complete Victor Recordings put all Louis' 30s and 40s sides plus newly discovered alternates on CD along with his 1930 Jimmie Rodgers side and the '56 session.Not to mention France's Classics series-great for completists, but usually not including alternate takes.

Whatever way you listen to these sides, you can't go wrong with the One and Only, LOUIS.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Happy Holidays 2012

Hi Friends- It's been a long time between blogs. I plan on getting more out in the New Year. I want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday season in 2012.
You might enjoy last years' post-"Some Jazzy Stocking Stuffers" (11/28/11).
Some of my planned posts for 2013 include profiles on Nate Kazebier, Babe Russin and Una Mae Carlisle.
In the comedy department,Vernon Dent and Bud Jamison-those mainstays of the 3 Stooges shorts.
And as always we'll salute another forgotten Big Band.
Stay Tuned.
Pete Kelly will Return.