Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Doubt My Love?

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra

Recorded March 12, 1947

Track Time 3:21

Written by Louis Armstrong and Helen Mercer

Recorded in New York City

Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Ed Mullens, William “Chiefie” Scott, Thomas Grider, Robert Butler, trumpet; Russell “Big Chief Moore, James Whitney, Wadder Williams, Alton Moore, trombone; Arthur Dennis, Amos Gordon, alto saxophone; John Sparrow, Joe Garland, tenor saxophone; Ernest Thompson, baritone saxophone; Earl Mason, piano; Elmer Warner, guitar; Arvell Shaw, bass; James Harris, drums

Originally released on RCA Victor VPM 6044

Currently available on CD: Available on The Complete RCA Victor Recordings of Louis Armstrong.

Available on Itunes? Yes, on the same set.

Today’s entry must begin with another tip of the hat to the Swedish oracle of Pops, Gösta Hägglöf, for without his tireless work, we might not have ever gotten to hear this beautiful performance. It stems from Armstrong’s final big band session for Victor, the label he signed with in 1946. Armstrong had been recording with a big band almost exclusively for years, but as the music world changed, so did Armstrong’s orchestra. Where it once boasted three trumpets, three trombones and four reeds in 1937, it featured four trumpets, four trombones and five reeds in 1947. Stan Kenton became popular in the in-between years and if you were going to lead a hip big band in the mid-40s, it had to be loud and brassy. Because of this, many of Armstrong’s big band performances from this period leave me kind of cold. Naturally, Armstrong never disappoints, but the once “hip” arrangements now sound dated, while the band is simply ponderous on some of their other Victor sessions from this era.

However, Armstrong’s final session as a full-time big band leader featured some of his finest performances from this second go-around with Victor. Armstrong’s vocal positively swings on “I Believe” and his trumpet is scorching on the novelty blues tune, “You Don’t Learn That In School.” Today’s song, “Why Doubt My Love?” was the third tune recorded during this five-song session and it’s a treat in every way. First off, it’s a Louis Armstrong original, something that had become quite rare in 1946 (and except for a few collaborations with Billy Kyle and Marty Napoleon, just about extinct after that year). The melody is pure Armstrong and the lyrics, by a Helen Mercer (couldn’t find any more information on her) are very sweet. Please listen along and stay for the discussion.


The muted trumpet introduction sounds like something from one of the “sweet” bands that Armstrong might have loved, as the rhythm section, with Arvell Shaw, swings very lightly. It’s a perfect introduction for a soft dance number. Soon Pops enters, playing his own melody, embellishing the very notes he helped copyright. Part of the melody reminds me of “You’re Lucky To Me” but otherwise, the melancholy melody definitely sounds like something Armstrong would have written and not just attached his name to. It also reminds me a little bit of what was then called a “rhythm and blues” ballad, something like Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night” or “I Wonder,” a song Armstrong had covered beautifully for Decca in 1946.
Armstrong’s trumpet tone in the mid-to-late-40s was different than any other time in his career. Slightly burnished with an “orange” hue, as Ruby Braff might have described it, it falls somewhere between the bell-like clarity of the 1930s and the pulsating power of the 1950s. The repeated C’s he plays in the middle register to start the second eight bars is a very soulful touch and the descending phrase he plays immediately after is incredibly reminiscent of some of the “Love Scene” phrases he played on “Laughin’ Louie,” as discussed here last week. For another example of his tone, listen to those smears and rhythmically tricky asides. It’s not bop, but it’s not exactly “Dixieland” either; Pops always had big ears. Then, even though it’s only the second eight bars, Pops takes his own melody an octave up, playing a descending chromatic phrase that begins on a high Bb. He ends his introductory solo with a high Ab, holding it, as the band drops out, with absolutely masterful control of his vibrato.

Then it’s time for the vocal, which is charming, to say the least. Here’s my transcription:

Remember, the foist [first] time I held you close in my arms
Oh I knew, that I was yours, Why Doubt My Love
Mmmm, your lips, lingered long, sealing my love in a kiss
Mmmm, I knew, that I was doomed, Why Doubt My Love?
When I look into your eyes, I realize, that life could be, one ecstasy,
Mmmm, if I only knew you felt the same, dear.
Ohhh, please, let me know, if my heart is aching in vain,
Ohhh, because, I love you so, Why Doubt My Love?

It’s hard to believe this is the same singer who just lit “I Believe” afire earlier that day with his irresistibly bouncy vocal. Pops is very tender here—perhaps he was thinking of Lucille? Regardless, his vocal is the very definition of soul, as he digs into the blue notes of the melody, appropriately conveying his longing. Behind him, pianist Earl Mason plays some tasty “cocktail” runs and glisses, adding a further touch of elegance to the already elegant proceedings.

“Why Doubt My Love” is also another testament to Armstrong’s vocal range. On the titular word “Love,” Armstrong hits a low Bb, while the main motive of the bridge is a series of high Eb’s, almost an octave-and-a-half higher. That’s a span of 18 notes, which is pretty impressive for a guy who most people simply laugh off as the singer with just a “funny, gravelly voice.” In fact, the bridge of the tune is marvelous and it’s a shame we only get to hear it once. It makes a nice use of a repeated motif, it effectively has a major-to-minor chord change, features even more blue notes and a freakishly low Ab on the word “felt” that has to be the lowest note of Armstrong’s vocal range (adding that one in, that makes it an Ab to Eb range of 20 notes on the bridge alone!). The “felt” is almost funny because so much of the bridge is spent in the tenor range and then BOOM. It sounds like someone else ran in to just deliver that one word.

Armstrong sings the final eight bars from the heart, with no trace of scatting or joking, impressively holding the final word “love,” backed by simple inversions by pianist Mason. The band plays for a few bars with (I’m guessing) tenor saxophonist and music director Joe Garland getting a short, pretty spot (I hear a faint echo of Chu Berry in this tiny cameo) before Pops comes back to reprise the final line, rephrasing it differently and singing the title phrase an octave higher and on one pitch forfor dramatic effect. It’s a lovely record but when it’s over, I’m usually saddened there wasn’t a “Part 2” on the flip side. Oh, what Pops must have been able to do with that bridge…

Nevertheless, someone at Victor didn’t care for the record and it wasn’t issued at the time. Flash forward to 1965 when Gösta Hägglöf made his first trip to New York City. Always on the hunt for rare and unissued Pops, Gus, as we call him, made a tour of the record studios Pops recorded for, hoping to find some gems. At RCA, the well-known A&R man Brad McCuen helped Gus locate “Why Doubt My Love,” but, as Gus remembers it, McCuen, declared it “Ghastly” and complained that “everything went to pieces.” McCuen was the man responsible for many legendary sessions, including Ellington’s And His Mother Called Him Bill, but I have to doubt his hearing if he considered “Why Doubt My Love” to be ghastly!

Sadly, Louis Armstrong himself never lived to see this beautiful recording of his own composition get issued. Once he died, RCA finally dug it out and issued it on a two LP memorial album simply titled Louis Armstrong July 4, 1900-July 6, 1971. In the C.D. era, it was released on the Complete RCA Victor Recordings box set, as well as a compilation of love songs titled, Falling In Love With Louis Armstrong. However, after perusing the Internet, it looks like no one else has ever recorded this tune. So come on, fellow jazz musicians, get out that pen and music paper and start transcribing! “Why Doubt My Love” is truly a lovely song and as one of Armstrong’s last compositions, it should be better known.
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Just a quick note: if you had been getting used to my snail’s pace of about one blog each week, you might want to see if you’ve missed anything lately because after getting through my crazy gig stretch, I’ve pumped out six new ones in less than two weeks. I hope to have one more ready by the end of the week, then a massive look at “When the Saints Go Marching In” next Tuesday. As for me, I’m going to Town Hall tonight in New York City to see the New Zealand folk-rock/comedy duo (there’s not much non-jazz/blues that I listen to but for the hilarious Conchords, I’d travel to the end of the Earth!). I’ve walked past Town Hall dozens of times but this will be my first time inside the great building when Pops’s career changed forever after one concert in May 1947. The Conchords are going to be wonderful but I have a feeling I’m going to look at that stage and try my damndest to picture Pops and Teagarden doing “Rockin’ Chair”!

1 comment:

"Jazz Lives" @ WordPress.com said...

Ricky,

Nice to meet you at the Land of the Birds on Wednesday, soaking up the good sounds. Your comment about Louis's vocal range deserves a short addendum. I've been doing presentations on him to senior-citizen groups this week, and I've been closing with the 1952 Decca WHITE CHRISTMAS. Listen to those low notes and the lovely Gordon Jenkins strings. Cheers! Michael Steinman
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