Thursday, July 31, 2008

Checking In From New Orleans

Hello, good readers and greetings from New Orleans! It's 10:00 on Thursday night and the wife and I are shot from our first two days in the land of the red beans. Things have been wonderful and it's safe to say that, even after only 36 short hours, there's no place in the world quite like New Orleans. Here's a photo tour of some of the things we've done on days one and two:


We woke up at 3:50 a.m. to catch our flight. Hence, I look like I partook in some of Pops's "mezz" while Margaret got just plain goofy.

We arrived at Louis Armstrong International Airport at 9:00, greeted as soon as we walked off the plane with a version of "Sleepy Time Down South" being pumped in over the airport's speakers. It was followed by a cover of Wynonie Harris's "Bloodshot Eyes." Yes, I was home...

The cab ride to the hotel was wild because it felt like driving through a virtual discography: Bourbon Street, South Rampart Street, Canal Street, St. Philip Street, Decater Street...it was almost impossible to find a street that hasn't been claimed by a New Orleans jazz tune. But finally, we ended up at the beautiful Hotel Provincial, a completely unique New Orleans experience, and much better than the cold Sheratons and Mariotts we passed on the way in. Here's some photos:

This is the first door that made me feel short.

This is one of two pools, located in gorgeous courtyards (yes, this is still a Louis Armstrong site and not a travel blog...I'm on vacation so deal with it!)

Then it was time for lunch and like the pied piper, the sound of live jazz led us to the Market Cafe, where I indulged in a roast beef po' boy sandwich, the kind Pops used to write about. I wanted to take a picture of it but it was gone before I remembered. Here's the aftermath:

There was a nifty little jazz quartet, playing favorites like "Lazy River," "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans," "Undecided," and "Sweet Georgia Brown"...not unlike an All Stars set from the Edmond Hall years! As the picture shows, they played for tips...

Then it was time to walk around, catching all the neat old French Quarter buildings, like this one:

And this palace located in Jackson Square:

And I guess there's no place else in the world where you can find children's toys and voodoo dolls sold...in the same store:

That's all well and good. Me? I immediately wanted to make a beeline for the Louisiana Music Factory since they house the kinds of New Orleans jazz CDs that you just don't find in stores anymore, even in New York. Naturally, I made a killing:

If you look closer, those are two Captain John Handy discs, two from Kid Ory and Red Allen, a reissue of Kid Ory's 1946 Columbia album, a Billie and DeDe Pierce set from 1967 and a George Lewis concert from 1959. It is heaven, right here on earth, I tell ya...

More sightseeing led us onto one of the streetcars Armstrong wrote about in his autobiography. In fact, the New Orleans streetcar system is the oldest running one in the United States (touristy information, I know):


Here's a street sign for Bourbon Street, in honor of Pops's version of "Bourbon Street Parade" with the Dukes of Dixieland:

My first New Orleans dinner? Red beans and rice, of course:

And a trip to the aquarium led to me needing to take a picture of this "big ol' rusty alligator," as Pops would have said:

I was scared of it as it was of me, so yes, that water would not have been fit to drink!

Tonight was the welcoming reception and it truly felt like heaven for a nobody like me. Here are some pictures my wife took so I can tell my grandkids. Since I won't have grandkids for at least another 25 years, my blog audience will have to do for now!

Armed with a nametag and a welcome bag filled with Italian fig cookies (they know my reputation), I was armed to mingle with my heroes.

That's me, the great trumpeter Randy Sandke and his son, little Bix (great name).

That's me, Michael Cogswell of the Armstrong House and Museum and Gary Giddins, author of Satchmo, the book on Armstrong that sent me on my mission over a decade ago (Giddins is down here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that landmark work).

An action shot that finds myself surrounded by Michael Cogswell, George Avakian, David Ostwald, Yoshio Toyama and festival organizer Jon Pult. The Toyamas of Japan were an absolute pleasure and I cannot wait to hear Yoshio play trumpet tomorrow. Here's another shot from the same scene, this time with Yoshio's banjo-playing wife Keiko to the right:

And finally, a shot of myself and the legendary George Avakian, one of my heroes. Avakian delivered a touching keynote address on his relationship with Pops that will definitely go down as a highlight of the weekend:


After the wonderful reception and address (they practically had to throw us out of the building, there was so much Pops talk going on), my wife and I joined Michael Cogswell for dinner at Mona's, a wonderful little spot specializing on Middle Eastern food (great gyro). If you're a hardened Armstrong fan and supporter of this blog and you've made it this far through my travelogue, then here's some breaking news for you: MIchael announced that the Fleischmann's Yeast Broadcasts double-disc set is finally going to be able for actual purchase online and as a download in August! No more need to join any C.D. clubs or anything. A press release was published on the official Armstrong House website today, Satchmo.net. You can read it in full there, but here is an excerpt:

"This set, released by Jazz Heritage Society, is currently available on CD exclusively via retail at www.JazzStore.com, and via membership in the Jazz Heritage Society at www.jazzheritage.org . Visitors to the Louis Armstrong House Museum can purchase the CD at the Museum’s shop. On August 12, this unique recording will be available digitally at iTunes, and on August 19 all digital downloading sites worldwide will be authorized to sell this title. (Note: many international sites will determine their own release date.)"

Victory for Pops! And victory for all the listeners who will now get to experience all the glories of this set.

And that's all for now and probably for a while as the next two days are packed with seminars, parties, eating and anything else you can think of. There's a Satchmo Club Strut tomorrow night that will have some of New Orleans's finest musicians playing all night long downtown and on Saturday, the wife and I are making our pilgrimage to Preservation Hall. Thus, I'll try to write more on Sunday or sometime after my return on Monday. And the subject for my return blog will be an easy one: "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans." Til then!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Orleans Stomp

King Oliver’s Jazz Band
Recorded circa October 16, 1923
Track Time 3:00
Written by Louis Armstrong and Lil Hardin
Recorded in Chicago
King Oliver, cornet, leader; Louis Armstrong, cornet; Ed Atkins, trombone; Buster Bailey or Jimmie Noone, clarinet; Lil Hardin, piano; Johnny St. Cyr, banjo; Baby Dodds, drums
Originally released on Columbia 13003 D
Currently available on CD: The best version be heard on the recent Archeophone release, Off The Record: The Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings
Available on Itunes? Yes, if in inferior sound to the above C.D. release.

As already mentioned in this space last week, tomorrow, the Missus and I head off for New Orleans for the Satchmo Summerfest. It will be my first trip to the Crescent City and I can’t think of a better way to make my entrance, celebrating Pops’s life and music and delivering lectures in the company of Dan Morgenstern, George Avakian, Gary Giddins, Michael Cogswell, Randy Sandke and Peter Ecklund. Because I won’t be back home until next Monday, regular blogging will be put hold...emphasis on “regular.” If all goes according to plan, my wife is bringing her laptop and I’ll have my digital camera so I’ll attempt some live blogging as the trip unfolds.

But to send me off, I figured I had to blog about something in Pops’s discography that was related to New Orleans...I know, I know, that’s like saying I want to blog about Muhammad Ali, but only something that’s related to boxing. Pops did so many tunes about his hometown, that it’s hard to pick one, but I decided to pick one of his own compositions, a tune he recorded in three distinct variations, “New Orleans Stomp.”

Well, before I get too carried away, did Armstrong really write “New Orleans Stomp”? Jos Willems lists Armstrong and his future wife Lil Hardin as composers and that makes perfect sense as the tune has a distinct, Armstrong-ian melody and multiple strains were nothing out of the ordinary for him (see “Weather Bird Rag”). Armstrong joined the band in 1922 and when they started recording in 1923, Oliver had no problem recording the his protégé's original compositions, including “Dipper Mouth Blues,” “Canal Street Blues,” (both co-credited to Oliver), “Where Did You Stay Last Night” and “Tears” (the last two co-credited to Hardin).

However, in the notes to their definitive “Off The Record” two-disc reissue of the 1923 Oliver material, David Sager and Doug Benson list it as a composition by Oliver and New Orleans clarinetist Alphonse Picou. In fact, doing a Google search for the tune and Picou’s name lead to 337 results, including the official website of the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park, which mentions it in sentence form.

Thus, who to believe? I’m sure someone has done the digging and come up with the right answer, but I still go with Armstrong and Hardin as the composers. Of course, Oliver and Picou weren’t exactly strangers, having written at least two other songs recorded by Oliver in 1923, “Alligator Hop” and”Chattanooga Stomp.” The latter tune was recorded a day prior to “New Orleans Stomp” and perhaps led to some confusion when the original Columbia index cards were filed.

Regardless, the tune is a swinger. I love and treasure the Red Hot Jazz Archive, but not as much as Benson and Sager’s set, so here is their transfer of Oliver’s “New Orleans Stomp,” in the correct key and sounding incredibly good:


Fun stuff, huh? The record opens with a couple of go-arounds on the main strain, one that sticks to the listener’s brain like glue. People who saw the band live always used to complain that the Oliver records didn’t do the band justice. Perhaps, but I think the records represent kind of a pinnacle of improvised, polyphonic small group improvisation. The opening ensembles are so flowing, even with so much going on. Truly an art form.

40 seconds in, the next strain is introduced and though he’s somewhat hard to hear, Pops can be heard playing a discreet, improvised countermelody behind the King’s lead. There’s room for breaks, as well, from the unknown clarinetist (Willems says Jimmie Noone, Benson and Sager say Buster Bailey), though sadly none from the trumpets. After playing this strain twice, Ed Atkins’s trombone leads the way for the third strain at the 1:32 mark, ushered in by Hardin’s piano and backed by some simple, static one-note riffs by the trumpets. Finally Armstrong rears his head at at 1:39 and takes the lead for a while, before giving it back to Atkins, who gets some gets propulsive support by future Hot Five stalwart Johnny St. Cyr. Once again, the pattern repeats itself as Armstrong takes the ball from Atkins, though he plays in a very subdued fashion, as not to upset or disrespect his mentor, the King.

After playing each strain twice, the band returns to the main strain at the 2:11 mark. I really like what Sager writes about this passage: Notice at the end of the trio strain where the band returns to the A section--they all stop on a dime and play the pick up half note with the kind of authority that makes one aware of how effective the simplest musical device can be.” This was always something I took for granted, but after reading Sager’s description, I can never listen to this record without paying attention to the precision of that perfectly timed stop. When they swing into the rideout, the whole thing really takes off. Sager points out Oliver’s use playing three notes “squarely and righteously swung on the beat,” a definite hallmark of Armstrong’s style.

Speaking of Pops, though he stays in the background, he can’t resist the urge to raise a little hell at the 2:31 mark, playing a vicious lip trill reminiscent of his work on the Erskine Tate sides I wrote about last week, as well as a Hot Five record like “Sweet Little Papa.” Pops outgrew this device as he matured, but it sure suited his take-no-prisoners 1920s style. St. Cyr’s banjo really gives the band a lift as they continue steaming towards the finish. It’s almost as if everyone and no one is playing the lead simultaneously; the joy of New Orleans jazz!

Oliver’s “New Orleans Stomp” is a great record and the last 45 seconds of ensemble playing over the main strain is the epitome of excitement. However, there are no solos to speak of whatsoever. Naturally, this began to change as Armstrong’s solos on records by Fletcher Henderson, various blues singers and his own Hot Five, forced jazz to make the transition from an ensemble-driven form to a soloist’s art. For a great example of this, look no further than Armstrong’s next recording of “New Orleans Stomp” (this time credited to Hardin and himself).

On April 22, 1927, the Vocalion label gave clarinetist Johnny Dodds a record date. Armstrong had already played on one Vocalion date under Lil’s name and got in trouble for it. As the legend goes, Armstrong’s bosses at OKeh played him a Vocalion record and asked him who the cornet player was. “I don’t know,” replied Armstrong, “but I won’t do it again!” Well, Armstrong did do it again, but he kind of learned his lesson and decided to hold back a little bit. His playing on “Weary Blues,” “Wild Man Blues” and “Melancholy” is fantastic, but nowhere near as rambunctious and fiery as his own Hot Seven versions, all of which were recorded in the following month.

But on “New Orleans Stomp,” Armstrong didn’t hold anything back. Give it a listen for yourself:


So much for ensemble improvisation! After the short “Charleston”-infused introduction, it becomes the Louis Armstrong Show! He takes off on the main strain, playing the melody, but improvising like crazy around it, backed only by the rhythm section for the first 20 seconds of the record, something that would have been unheard of on an Oliver record (naturally, there are solos on Oliver’s records but even on something like the famous “Dipper Mouth Blues” solo, you can hear the other musicians noodling behind him). And his two double-timed breaks are daring, yet incredibly sure-footed, each one resolved with utmost logic and swing. The band jumps in for some spontaneous playing during the second strain, but really Armstrong’s still the main event. He’s in the front of the mix and everybody seems to be cautiously trying to stay out of the way as the ideas continue to unfurl out of his horn.

Finally, after those 38 whirlwind seconds, a breather, as banjoist Bud Scott takes a single string solo on the third strain, struggling a for a second here and there, but overall contributing a fulfilling outing. Next is future Armstrong clarinetist, unfortunately on the tenor saxophone, which suffice to say, was the not the instrument he was born to play. Bigard’s sax playing is ponderous to say the least. It’s interesting to point out that he plays a lot of those three quarter-note phrases, too, a la Pops and Oliver but his placement of those phrases has absolutely none of the swing and timing of the great trumpeters (or cornetists, if you’re really that picky). Bigard’s ending makes me laugh, but somehow I don’t think he had that in mind.

Finally, Pops, Dodds and trombonist Roy Palmer rush in to save the day, swinging the trio strain with incredible verve before they hand the ball over to pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines, who takes a too short spot, but managed to convey his asymmetrical genius, something he would go to demonstrate with Pops in the series of the records they would make the following year (this was their first session together).

Dodds is up next and being the leader (even if in name only), he takes a longer outing than everyone else, starting out high and flighty, taking a real hot break the first time around, before displaying his lower register chops in the second half of his solo.

But then Dodds scampers away to make room for Pops--the more subdued Pops, right? Not to my ears! Armstrong dives right into the main stream for a solo that literally dances across the bar lines. Three quarter notes get Armstrong into his solo, but he takes off from there, in complete command of his instrument. After a little double-timed flurry, he pauses, swings out with a held, singing high F and then takes a break that never fails to make me clap my hands in funky enjoyment. He plays the first two notes of the break on the first and third beats of the measure, creating a delicious starting off point for the swinging phrase that stems off of this perfect opening. There’s some very righteous about this break; I can hear it being scatted, I can hear it being preached, I can hear it in the on-the-beat phrasing of a piece like “Cornet Chop Suey”...there’s nothing technically dazzling about it but the rhythmic placement and the choice of notes give it a helluva down home feeling.

Of course, the great Armstrong isn’t finished. He continues bubbling right over the break, playing a nimble upward phrase that practically skips up to two high A’s before working its way back down a bit. After a brief pause, the operatic Armstrong bellows out a dramatic E before concluding his solo with a darting-in-and-out double-timed phrase that, like all Armstrong, confounds the listener with its logical note choice and devil-may-care execution.

Armstrong calls the rest of the band in with a series of frantic C’s, each one alternating being placed on the beat and in between the beats, before a dramatic rip up to the C an octave higher. It seems to take everyone a second to get their bearings, but Armstrong doesn’t mind as he continues steamrolling through the main strain right into his next break, a classic quote from Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” one of his favorite quotes (Trummy Young used to use it a lot with Pops, too). He executes it so deftly, it clearly demonstrates his familiarity and love of the opera. Armstrong continues steaming right through to the end of the record, including a patented short extended tag, the rage of 1927 jazz records. Phew, what a hot record!

I don’t know why Pops didn’t record “New Orleans Stomp” with the Hot Seven, especially when considering how he remade every other tune on the Dodds session. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t play it during the period. Around the same time as the Dodds session, Armstrong was approached by the Melrose Music Company to record some solos and breaks on many popular jazz tune’s of the day. Armstrong did just that, the solos and breaks were transcribed by pianist Elmer Schobel--of “Stomp Off, Let’s Go” fame--and Melrose released them in two books, “Louis Armstrong’s 125 Jazz Breaks For Cornet” and “Louis Armstrong’s 50 Hot Choruses for Cornet.” Unfortunately, the original Armstrong records of the solos and breaks, made on cylinders, have been lost for past 81 years (and the next 81 don’t look too promising!).

However, here’s where the one and only Gösta Hägglöf comes in. Beginning in the 1970s, Gus, as friends now him, began the massive project of having the great Swedish trumpeter Bent Persson recreate the original Armstrong solos and breaks from the Melrose book. Instead of just recording 16 bars at a time, Gus surrounded Persson with different sized bands to replicate the many different units Armstrong played in during the 1920s: small groups, medium-sized big bands, duets with pianists, etc. Persson played his own ideas throughout each performance, which is a wonderful thing since he comes so close to Pops’s sound and thoughts. But of course, the main event of each piece comes when Persson plays one of the original Armstrong transcriptions. Most are only 16, 24 or 32 bars long, but hey they give us worthy examples of the kinds of things the Louis Armstrong of 1927 did indeed play on material such as “Wolverine Blues,” “Dr. Jazz,” “Mobile Blues,” “King Porter Stomp,” “Libery Stable Blues” and many more jazz classics of the 20s. Gus has released three volumes of this material, spanning 1976 to 1996, on his own Kenneth label. You can find out more information and order them directly from Gus’s website, www.classicjazz.se, which is also the place to find the indispensable Ambassador series that I will never tire of talking about.

So here are 16 fresh bars of 1927 Louis Armstrong, as recreated by Bent Persson, on “New Orleans Stomp.” The 16 bars are included at the very beginning of the record, Persson’s playing of the 16-bar main theme. After that the record goes on for another five minutes and though there are no more Armstrong recreations, Persson does an incredible job driving the Swedish band, which includes, Tomas Ornberg on clarinet and soprano saxophone, Ulf Johansson on piano and Holger Gross on banjo. Enjoy!


Pretty hot stuff, huh? A bunch of Persson videos were recently uploaded to YouTube by Bob Erwig and I highly recommend checking them out.

But back to Pops. “New Orleans Stomp” disappeared from Armstrong’s career at this point, never making the transition to his big band, nor the All Stars. It wasn’t even recreated for the “Autobiography” project. However, he did have one more version of the tune in him and it’s a good one. From September 30 through October 2, 1959, Armstrong and the All Stars worked on an album for Sid Frey’s Audio Fidelity label. The title of the album would be “Satchmo Plays King Oliver” and if one were to judge the album based only on that title, it would be an utter failure. However, if they chose to called “Satchmo Plays Some Really Old Tunes,” maybe more people would take it seriously. Marty Grosz told me that Frey was a cheapskate who liked his artists to play as many public domain titles as possible, which left Pops and the All Stars peppering a supposed Oliver tribute with the likes of “Frankie and Johnny,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Hot Time Int he Old Town Tonight” and “St. James Infirmary.” When they did tackle an actual Oliver item, like “Chimes Blues,” “Snake Rag” and “Dr. Jazz,” certain members of the All Stars had to be taught the tunes from scratch. Of course, Pops’s memory faded a bit by this time and occasionally, entire strains were left out and on “Snake Rag,” Armstrong got the chord changes wrong on the blowing strain, as discussed here in an earlier blog.

But complaints aside, if one just judges the album for the music contained on it, and not for what it doesn’t include, it’s a actually a very good work. Armstrong, barely three months over his heart attack in Spoleto, Italy, is in peak form, blowing the lights out on “St. James Infirmary,” “Butter and Egg Man,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Panama,” “Jelly Roll Blues” and others. It’s not the All Stars’s greatest moment--oh, what George Avakian could have done with an Armstrong tribute to Oliver!--but it’s a damn fine work regardless of its shortcomings.

“New Orleans Stomp” was recorded for the album, but it wasn’t included on the original Audio Fidelity issue. Only years later, did Chiaroscuro discover it and “Snake Rag,” issuing them on an album that included alternate takes of the numbers from the original album. Oddly enough, many of the songs from “Satchmo Plays King Oliver” seemed to have dipped into the public domain themselves; they’ve been issued on more junky C.D. and MP3 compilations than I can count (I had a poor education and can’t count past 15).

For the remake, Armstrong’s memory probably didn’t remember the exact details of the second and third strains of “New Orleans Stomp,” even though he probably wrote the tune. Also, he lowered the key a step, playing it in Eb, down from the original F of the Oliver and Dodds versions. He also cut the tempo in half, creating a mellow atmosphere that makes the melody seem a whole lot prettier than it did on those earlier versions. And finally, he improvised a new vocal chorus, obviously making up the fun words on the spot. Here’s the 1959 version:


Lovely stuff. The more mature Pops doesn’t feel the need to do any razzle-dazzle with the melody, content to let a straight lead speak for itself. Naturally, I’m the one who is clapping his hands and cheering on the razzle-dazzle of the 1927 recording, but I can’t argue about the beauty of Pops’s lead playing here. As I said, he really puts a lot of feeling into the melody, making one hear things that seem to fly by on the earlier versions. The sound cuts out a bit when clarinetist Peanuts Hucko solos--perhaps this is why the tune was originally excluded (or perhaps I am losing my hearing). Hucko’s solo is a gem, keeping with the relaxed nature of the tune and playing many melodic phrases that stick with me after each listen. Then Pops steps up to the mike for his vocal. He improvised a lot of words on the Audio Fidelity sessions (I guess Sid Frey didn’t want to pay for sheet music) but his chorus on “New Orleans Stomp” is a classic:

(Yes) New Orleans, the land of beautiful Queens,
The prettiest gals you ever seen,
They’ll tell you yockety, yockety, yockety, yockety yock!
In New Orleans (my hometown, you know), the land of the red beans,
Don’t forget those ham and greens,
Down in New Orleans!

It’s a riot, especially the banjo-like “yockety” line. His phrasing of the second “In New Orleans” that immediately follows is vintage Pops, each note phrased on the beat and on a single pitch. A soulful, yet incredibly fun vocal.

As Pops finishes, trombonist Trummy Young takes the handoff, playing some real gutbucket muted horn, getting lowdown as Danny Barcelona digs in behind him on drums. Billy Kyle’s lyrical, elegant piano takes over, changing the mood of the record and probably preventing the police from breaking down the session after such a funky trombone solo. Then it’s Pops with more lead, though he now adds simple embellishments to the melody, keeping it in the forefront again, but taking a few more chances in and around its gaps. The record ends with Armstrong holding a lovely D, the major 7th of the key of Eb. Real, relaxing stuff that makes me continue to count the minutes until I arrive in the “land of the red beans.”

And that was that for Pops and “New Orleans Stomp,” though the number seems to be a favorite with Armstrong tribute bands and general modern day New Orleans revival-type units both here in America and abroad. Typing the tune’s title into YouTube revealed four live versions from Europe. One of my favorite newer versions comes from David Ostwald’s Gully Low jazz band, on an album produced by George Avakian for the Nagel-Heyer label, “Blues In Our Heart.” In addition to Ostwald’s tuba, the rest of the band features Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Ken Peplowski on clarinet, Mark Shane on piano, Howard Alden on banjo, Herlin Riley on drums and my Satchmo Summerfest comrade Randy Sandke on trumpet. The album’s incredible and this track should make you want to run out and buy it download it immediately (or if you’re in New York, check out Ostwald’s Armstrong tribute every Wednesday evening at 5:30 at Birdland).


And that’s it for me. The wife is yelling from upstairs for me to come up and help finish packing so for now, duty calls! I’ll try to post again later this week from New Orleans. Til then!

*******************
Post-script: Michael Johnston of the terrific “Sinatra Club” wrote in today to tell me that for only $9.99, you can download the essential, out-of-print “Louis Armstrong: The Complete RCA Victor Records.” That’s ten bucks for 75 incredible tracks...what are you waiting for!?!?!?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Five Pennies Saints: Live on Television!

Hello all. Taking a break from working on my upcoming New Orleans, Satchmo Summerfest seminars, I found myself typing Pops's name into YouTube...something I literally might do four times a day. The clip of "The Five Pennies Saints" featuring Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong has always been a popular one, with over 330,000 hits as of today (and that's only one upload; multiple people have uploaded the same clip with views ranging from 100 to 27,000 to 34,000). I've blogged about it, Doug Ramsey included it in his Rifftides blog, it's everywhere! So I was happy to see that someone just posted Armstrong and Kaye's remake of the tune, done on the CBS television show "An Hour With Danny Kaye" sometime in the fall of 1960. It's live and in living color and it's definitely as much fun, if not more, than the film's version. Enjoy!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Static Strut/Stomp Off, Let's Go

Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra
Recorded May 28, 1926
“Static Strut” Track Time 2:50
“Stomp Off, Let’s Go” Track Time 2:55
“Static Strut” written by Phil Wall and Jack Yellen
“Stomp Off, Let’s Go” written by Elmer Schoebel
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, James Tate, trumpet; Ed Atkins, trombone; Angelo Fernandez, clarinet, alto saxophone; Stump Evans, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Norval Morton, tenor saxophone; Teddy Weatherford, piano; Johnny St. Cyr, banjo; John Hare, sousaphone; Jimmy Bertrand, drums, washboard; Erskine Tate, leader, shouting
Originally released on Vocalion 1027
Currently available on CD: Both tracks are on a Johnny Dodds compilation on the Frog label, “New Orleans Stomp” - even though Dodds doesn’t play on either track!
Available on Itunes? Yes, “Static Strut” is on a compilation, “The Essential Louis Armstrong” while “Stomp Off, Let’s Go” can be found on “Louis Armstrong: The Ultimate Collection.”

As advertised at the end of my last post, I finally gave the ol’ Itunes shuffle a spin for the first time in a long time and it landed on a good ol’ good one: “Static Strut.” Since it’s one of only two songs Armstrong recorded with Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra, I figured I’d tackle both tunes in one entry.

As the story goes, Armstrong returned to Chicago from his somewhat unhappy New York stay with Fletcher Henderson in 1925. He immediately began working with his wife Lil’s band at the Dreamland Cafe. He soon got a second job playing with “Professor” Erskine Tate, a violinist, who had led an orchestra at the Vendome Theater since 1919. A fixture as a showband and as accompaniment to silent pictures, the Tate band had already recorded two sides before Armstrong even joined the band, waxing “Chinaman Blues” and “Cutie Blues” for OKeh on June 23, 1923. For proof that Tate’s bands usually featured the cream of Chicago’s jazz crop, this 1923 date included Buster Bailey on alto saxophone and clarinet and the great New Orleans cornetist Freddie Keppard. Here are links if you’d like to hear how the Tate band sounded pre-Pops:

Chinaman Blues
Cutie Blues

Pretty good, huh? I’m almost surprised they’re from 1923 when I listen to them. They’re jazzier than Henderson’s more dance band oriented records of the period, effectively blending written passages with some good, old fashioned New Orleans-style polyphony. Keppard’s playing is pretty good but nothing spectacular, though I really do admire the band’s spirit and arrangements. Remember, this was the exact same time Armstrong was recording with King Oliver, so the jazzish, arranged band style was already being ably demonstrated by Tate’s band in Chicago.

When Armstrong joined Tate in 1925, it was quite an honor. “I had become so popular at the Dreamland until Erskine Tate from the Vendome Theater came to Hire me to Join his Symphony Orchestra,” Armstrong later wrote. “I like to have Fainted.....And for anyone to play in Tate’s Band was Really Really Somebody.” Though it was a great offer, Armstrong was a little nervous about accepting it. Lil put an end to that quickly, telling him, “Boy---if you don’t get out of this house and go down there to Erskine Tate’s rehearsal, I’ll Skin you Alive.” Needless to say, Armstrong went!

“I went down there and the opening night was sensational,” Armstrong continued. “I remember the first Swing Tune we played--Called ‘Spanish Shawl.’ I wasn’t in Tate’s Orchestra 2 weeks before I was making Records with them for the Vocalion Recording Company. I became quite a Figure at the Vendome. Especially with the Gals.” Armstrong’s stay in Tate’s band made him something of a hero in Chicago. Audiences screamed at the mere sight of the young trumpeter, who was regularly featured playing tunes such as “Poor Little Rich Girl” or grabbing a megaphone to sing “Heebie Jeebies.” Armstrong’s abilities as a reading musician also were put to the test as he had to play overtures, backgrounds for the silent movies and even classical pieces. Reviews from the period make Armstrong out to be quite a sensation and when listening to the two surviving artifacts of the Armstrong-Tate collaboration, one can see why.

After arriving back in Chicago in late 1925, Armstrong had recorded a grand total of 31 tunes for OKeh, many as a leader. But on May 28, 1926, the Vocalion label wanted to get in on the Armstrong action, recording two tunes with the Hot Five (renamed “Lil’s Hot Shots” for contractual reasons) and two tunes with Erskine Tate’s band all in the same day. The matrix numbers, which are usually never wrong, make it appear as if the Tate numbers were recorded first, but Lil Armstrong and banjoist Johnny St. Cyr both remembered recording Lil’s session first, followed by the Tate tunes (Lil said she went home when she was finished, while St. Cyr agreed to stay and sit in with Tate). This is rather interesting when one considers one of the tunes recorded under Lil’s name, an original Armstrong composition titled “Drop That Sack.” This performance has always made Armstrong fans scratch their heads as it features their hero hitting some completely wrong notes in the introductory breaks, as well as some fluffed lead playing later in the piece--on both takes!

John Chilton argued that perhaps Armstrong’s chops were tired after the manic blowing of the Tate sides and this could very well be. But on the other hand, if “Drop That Sack” came first, could this be the first example of Pops struggling with his chops, perhaps not being warmed up enough to tackle “Drop That Sack”? Anyone can have a bad day and of course, Pops had plenty of days where the chops just refused to percolate. But when I listen to the scorching runs and fiery outbursts on the Tate sides, I can’t imagine that the same shaky playing on “Drop That Sack” was made the same day, regardless of what came first or second.

As usual, I can’t just allow Armstrong’s work to speak for itself. I’m all about context so as I tackle each tune, I’ll offer some other versions of the same songs from around the same period for your listening pleasure. This way, you’ll get to appreciate what hot dance music sounded like with and without Pops...a mighty difference!

First up, let’s examine the first tune recorded that day with Tate, “Static Strut.” This was already a popular number written by Jack Yellen (the man behind “Ain’t She Sweet” and “Happy Days Are Here Again”) and pianist Phil Wall. The tune was waxed by many different bands in early 1926, so let’s give a listen to some of these treatments. First up, courtesy of YouTube, is the Paul Specht Orchestra’s version, recorded for Columbia in January 1926. This band contained the tune’s co-composer Wall on piano, as well as Sylvester “The Gloucester Gabriel” Ahola trumpet (he tries to take a flashy break but kind of peters out). It’s a hot group and the arrangement is a good one (dig the whole tone break).


Next comes a record done by Armstrong’s old boss, Fletcher Henderson, recording under the name “The Dixie Stompers” for the Harmony label on April 14, 1926. I love Henderson’s band but this version of “Static Strut” kind of leaves me cold. It’s pretty much the same arrangement as the Specht band’s (right down to the whole tone break), but it’s a little sloppy at times and doesn’t feature the same feeling of joy and abandon as the earlier version. It does have a Coleman Hawkins solo, though, and that’s always interesting. Here ‘tis:
Dixie Stompers “Static Strut”

Two days later, the Original Memphis Five recorded a version for a Victor. Though a much smaller band, the OM5 successfully translates the big band arrangement into a swinging feature for the tight little group, propelled by Frank Signorelli’s piano and some swinging drums by Jack Roth. Trumpeter Phil Napoleon takes a short muted solo and though I like Napoleon’s work, this one, too, loses its steam midway through. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve listened to Pops’s version 20 times in the past couple of days...but don’t worry, you’ll feel the same way in just a few minutes. Here’s the Original Memphis Five’s version:
Original Memphis Five “Static Strut”

So I think you get the point about “Static Strut.” It’s a hot little tune with some built-in breaks and it was covered by a lot of popular bands in 1926 (the California Ramblers got to it in late April, while the Varsity Eight recorded it in June of that year). Thus, the tune was probably a relatively new one for Erskine Tate’s band, but one they probably enjoyed playing enough to immortalize it in wax. Thus, without further ado, here is Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra with Louis Armstrong on trumpet, Teddy Weatherford on piano and Jimmy Bertrand on drums, tearing apart “Static Strut” (I usually use the Red Hot Jazz Archive’s links, but their versions of the songs done at this session are pretty sorry sounding; I’ve decided to upload my own versions, transferred by John R. T. Davies for a Johnny Dodds disc on the Frog label...the sound is positively incredible!)


What a band! The spirit is there from note one as one can feel the influence of Bertrand’s propulsive drumming from note one (he was a mentor and influence on Lionel Hampton and it shows!). The band is tight and clearly adept at reading and though he’s kind of buried, Teddy Weatherford is a constant presence on the early part of the record as well (more on him in a bit). But the sun really begins to shine when Armstrong steps out front to take a stop-time break that modulates into a solo the is simply brimming with confidence and swing. Armstrong might have been playing some pretty revolutionary stuff on the Hot Five records, but this is the man in his element, playing with his working band, sounding comfortable and happy, pouring out a dazzling stream of ideas from out of his horn. Where do I even begin? The beautifully swinging opening part of the solo, which reminds me a bit of a fast “Song of the Islands”? The first break, where he almost gets trapped in a corner, only to fight his way out with a complex, dizzying array of notes? The singing high concert Ab that appears out of nowhere, a sign of things to come? The ridiculous break at the 1:14 mark, opening with a gurgling chromatic run, topped off four barking high Bb’s? The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rip that immediately follows? The breaks towards the end of the solo, with yet another piercing high Bb? Incredible!

And I love how, after that last break, the tuba steps in for a little humorous touch. Again, this was a tight, well-rehearsed show band and a little funny moment like that was probably good for a laugh. But Pops plays like a man possessed. I will never devalue the Hot Fives as long as I live, but more people should pay attention to “Static Strut” since this is probably how the man sounded on a nightly basis.

Armstrong is followed by the incredible Teddy Weatherford, another figure who is forgotten today, but that’s more of Weatherford’s fault since he barely recorded the left the United States in late 1926, spending the bulk of his too-short life in places such as Shanghai, Indonesi and Calcutta. But if you’d like to do a blindfold test on someone who has never heard “Static Strut,” they might identify the pianist as Earl Hines. Weatherford definitely had a Hines streak in him as his left hand rhythms were never content to simply provide a simple oom-pah beat. His dexterity in both hands is something to marvel at and, as a pianist myself, makes me want to take up the bagpipes.

Unlike the other versions of “Static Strut,” this one doesn’t rely much on the arrangement. Instead, it’s really a string of solos,demonstrating that even smallish big bands like Tate’s were turning jazz into a soloist’s art, much as Pops was doing on his own records at the time. Weatherford is followed by Angelo Fernandez’s alto and Stump Evans’s booting baritone, both fine solos, if not on par with Armstrong and Weatherford’s outings.

With the record winding down, why not hand the ball over to Pops one last time? He makes the most of his stop-time offering, contributing some more dizzying fluries, but also trademarks like the three quarter notes and the concluding “jada jada jing jing jing” phrase, for lack of a better term. And listen carefully to the phrase Armstrong plays at 2:33: it’s the same on that he would use to end the Hot Seven classic “Potato Head Blues” one year later. An incredible record, though one that’s not really well known.

However, the other Tate offering from that day, “Stomp Off, Let’s Go,” has been reissued a bunch of times and with good reason, as it’s one of Armstrong’s hottest records of the 20s (and beyond). This tune came from the pean of the pianist Elmer Schoebel, the man responsible for other jazz classics such as “Prince of Wails,” “Copenhagen,” “Bugle Call Rag” and “Nobody’s Sweetheart.” This seemed to be a big hit in 1925, as the Red Hot Jazz Archives lists four versions of the tune being recorded between May 1 and November 13 of that year. It was played in groups ranging from Vincent Lopez’s Hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra, to Tuschinsky Bercely’s Jazz Band of Amsterdam, Holland. Two of my favorite versions were done by the New Orleans Owls for Columbia and by a studio group, the Cotton Pickers, for Brunswick. Give ‘em a listen:

New Orleans Owls “Stomp Off, Let’s Go”
The Cotton Pickers “Stomp Off, Let’s Go”

I personally LOVE the version by the New Orleans Owls. It’s exciting, the solos are good and it builds up quite a head of steam by the end, making its 3:16 running time seem much longer. The band only recorded 18 sides and only Nappy Lamare seems to have gone on to bigger and better things but man, they were a hot group. The Cotton Pickers chose a slightly slower tempo, which works in the beginning but as the tune goes on, it starts to stiffen up. Also, the Tate seemingly played the same stock arrangement used on this version so pay attention to what you hear the trumpet and piano do and be prepared for Armstrong and Weatherford’s virtuosic displays.

Fortunately for us, two takes of Tate’s “Stomp Off, Let’s Go” survive. Armstrong is still a force of nature on both, but on the first take, he gets stuck a couple of times, which is probably why it wasn’t chosen as the master. But please, enjoy both takes right here, right now and I’ll meet you back in six minutes for the discussion





Never fails to put me in a good mood. Once again, my wife thinks I’m nuts as I sit here with one headphone from my Ipod in one ear and another headphone from the computer in my other ear, comparing the two takes, but hey, it’s the only way to accurately hear the differences in Armstrong’s playing from take to take. This might have been a commonly played tune by the Tate orchestra, but Armstrong didn’t have a set solo on it, though he did have some ideas he obviously liked to utilize. From the opening, Armstrong’s lead is more forceful on the issued second take, especially in that snorting chromatic run at the 13 second mark. At the end of the end of the first strain, Armstrong hits and holds a G on the first take, though he breaks it into two hotter notes on the master. At this juncture, Jimmy Bertrand switches over to his washboard for some tap-dance-like rhythms; the man was indeed a wizard of the washboard! Armstrong’s lead features more chromatic spurts on the master as he continues onward and upward after the short washboard interlude.

The next strain is highlighted by two completely different Armstrong breaks. On take one. Armstrong plays a characteristic phrase, highlighted by three quarter-note Eb’s before a rip up to a Bb. The master take break is much more flashy as Armstrong starts off with an “In the Mood”-like phrase before unfurling an exciting descending run made up of triplets played at a great velocity. Never mind Earl Hines’s “trumpet-styled piano”...this is piano-styled trumpet! Weatherford takes the next break, the same one on each take, ending with a showy glissando flourish. Armstrong’s next, extremely short break is also the same on both performances.

The next strain shows off the band’s great use of dynamics, bringing things down to a hush (though the rhythm section continues right on swingign) before yet another Armstrong break. This time, the one on the first take is the flashier as it features the same crazy “piano-styled trumpet” descending phrase he’d use earlier in the second take. Thus, this was something Armstrong clearly liked to pull out of his bag of tricks. The break on the issued take is fine but not as death-defying as his other playing on the date. What I love about these Tate sides is that they’re the perfect balance between arranged and improvised. Every time you hear a part of an arrangement, listen carefully and there’s always at least one horn improvising a countermelody. Even when he’s playing lead, Armstrong changes phrasing from take to take. This kind of loose, arrangement-based but still polyphonically driven big band style is truly a lost art.

Teddy Weatherford’s moment in the sun occurs in the middle of the piece and it was obviously a set solo as it barely changes at all on either take. Some discographies claim a second piano player to be present, which is a helluva compliment to Mr. Weatherford. There are times when I wonder if I heard one, too, as there seems to be a steady oom-pah at times while the left hand chords and rhythms are consistently shifting, all while the right hand is pumping out an octave-based improvisation. But I have read that professional pianists have analyzed this solo and came to the conclusion that it could indeed have been played by one person. So please, stand up and take your bow, Teddy, as that is a tremendous feat of pianistic gymnastics!

Next comes Pops’s moment in the spotlight, a delicious stop-time chorus. He enters on a break, the more daring of which comes on take one. In fact, the whole beginning of Armstrong’s first take solo is arguably the better of the two, but at the 2:09 mark, he hits a wall and struggles noticeably. He recovers, of course, and continues blowing well, but not quite with the fierceness of earlier in the take. Maybe deep down, he knew that he had botched the take and didn’t want to kill himself. The issued stop-time solo is quite interesting because it’s safer, mainly revolving around different inflections of an Ab, but at the halfway point, he attempts a rip up to an Ab an octave higher and barely gets the note out. Undeterred, he repeats exactly what he just played but on the second try, nails the high Ab. Having made it through, he improvises some new lines, duetting with Bertrand’s washboard, and playing with an incredibly melodic, lyrical ability; after listening a couple of times, you can sing along to this part of the song without any problem.

Both takes end with Armstrong playing a violent lip trill on a concert Eb, setting up a final rideout chorus where the entire band cuts loose, Pops leading the way out. It’s a tremendously exciting finish to a timeless recording. Unfortunately, that would be it Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra on records. It’s a shame, because he didn’t even get to bring his string section into the studio (not like an A&R man would have allowed it, obviously preferring a black band to play hot jazz, leaving the classics and dance tunes at home).


On my Ipod, my over 3,000 song Armstrong collection is arranged in a chronological playlist. When I’m in the right mood, I like to listen to Armstrong’s recordings in the order he made them to catch stylistic changes, the introduction of quotes and patented phrases, the days when his chops are a bit down, etc. Thus, when I get to 20s, I rarely listen to just the Hot Fives and Sevens in order. I have those records mixed in with the blues material, with the Butterbeans and Susie stuff, with everything else Armstrong was making during the period. But let me tell you, nothing sticks out more than those two Tate tracks. They sound unlike anything else from that period and are arguably more exciting than anything he did with Henderson. The importance of these records cannot be underestimated because they, more than any of the others, demonstrate the style of trumpet playing Armstrong featured on a nightly basis, the style that made him a star in Chicago once and for all time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

40 Years Ago This Week...

It’s been over a week since my last posting, which is somewhat deliberate since I wanted to let my Fleischmann’s Yeast opus linger a little longer to allow the maximum amount of readers to learn about these marvelous, historical recordings (e-mails are still coming in about them, so the more people that know, the better!). But also, I’ve been busy preparing as I am giving three seminars next week at the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans. I have never been to Pops’s hometown before so to be able to make my first trip during a celebration of the man’s life, sharing the bill with heavy hitters like George Avakian, Dan Morgenstern, Michael Cogswell, Gary Giddins and Randy Sandke--well, that’s just plain living the dream!

But I had to come back with something, so I grabbed my copy of Jos Willems’s “All of Me” and noticed that 40 years ago this week, on July 23 and 24, 1968, Louis Armstrong recorded seven tracks for ABC-Paramount in Las Vegas. None of the songs can exactly be classified as an all-time, essential classic, but they’re all very sweet and besides, an anniversary is an anniversary, even if this one isn’t on par with the “West End Blues,” “Laughin’ Louie” and “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” anniversary posts of this year.

So the backstory: in 1967, Armstrong had been making almost nothing but “Hello, Dolly” rip-offs when producer Bob Thiele got the idea to have Pops record a ballad, backed by strings and voices. The concept wasn’t exactly new--hello, Gordon Jenkins--but it worked, namely because of the emotion Pops invested in Thiele’s song, “What a Wonderful World.” The story of why this song wasn’t a hit in America is too complex to relate here, but suffice to say, it did become a hit around the world, especially in England. Armstrong recorded for tunes for Thiele that day, two with the orchestra, two with the All Stars but now, with a hit record on the market, it was time to build a full album around it.

The August 1967 “What a Wonderful World” session introduced a revitalized Armstrong to his audience after a somewhat shaky European tour from July of that year. 1968 would prove to have many, many great Armstrong moments: “I Will Wait For You” for Brunswick, the version of “Willkommen”on “The Tonight Show,” the Disney songs album, his performance of Italian tunes, including a showstopper in Italy and a triumphant tour of England in early July. Pops was feeling his oats and even his horn sounded stronger for the most part than it had in most of 1966 and 1967. He lost a ton of weight, appeared healthy and seemed like he could go on forever. However, on September 17, 1968, Armstrong entered Beth Israel Hospital, not to return until November. A variety of ailments, namely kidney-related, kept him in and out of the hospital, resting at home and unable to perform live for all of 1969. Yes, the mighty Satchmo was finally showing some human side effects after driving himself like a madman for almost 55 years.

Thus, Armstrong’s two recording sessions for Thiele in July of that year would prove to be his last two before his health crisis. As always, Armstrong never had the luxury of being completely at rest during a recording session, as Thiele had to book it while the All Stars were playing in Vegas. Thiele booked two sessions, one on July 23 featuring Armstrong’s small group and one on July 24 featuring Pops, the All Stars and some strings. Seven tunes were finished, making up the rest of the “What a Wonderful World” album, one of Armstrong’s most popular, mainly due to the overwhelming popularity of the title track.

Full disclosure: I avoided this album like the plague (no specific one, any random everyday plague) for years, until I was deep into my Armstrong immersion. I had never read a single positive review of it in a jazz album guide and when I heard the weakened, low wattage trumpet solo on “Dream a Little Dream of Me” on a compilation, it scared me straight. I had only known Pops as Superman and now he sounded like a mortal. Eventually, as my appreciation of Armstrong jumped from “huge fan” to “idiot completist,” I realized I needed to make peace with this album. I bought it and was very pleasantly surprised. No, it’s not a great jazz album. But it’s a great Louis Armstrong album. Not every track is a winner, but the batting average is quite high; definitely higher than Armstrong’s Mercury and Brunswick work from the same period. Thiele gave Armstrong nothing but pretty songs and Pops responded, sounded like he truly loved every single word he sung for that album. I don’t listen to it that often, but every time I listen to “What a Wonderful World,” I feel it improves. You can’t go in expecting another W.C. Handy album. It’s late 60s pop music, the natural extension of what Armstrong did for Decca in the 50s and OKeh in the earl 30s.

I’ve even grown to appreciate the burnished solo on “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” He definitely sounds tired, but the straight, less glowing tone almost gives the solo a more “modern” touch (something Armstrong really nailed on “Chim Chim Cheree” from a few months earlier). The spirit is there and there’s a lot of wisdom in his phrasing, even if he sounds a little subdued. Surprisingly, he’d go on to play some stronger statements on the 1969 studio record of “Pretty Little Missy” as well as some of the last examples of him playing his horn in late 1970 and early 71. But he sings the hell out of it and sounds happy:




Next up was “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home,” a 1946 hit for the Mills Brothers (and later associated with the great Doc Cheatham). This song sounds tailor-made for Pops; say what you want about Thiele but he had good taste. Armstrong’s trumpet reading of the melody is gorgeous, sounding a little stronger than on “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” His second vocal chorus, where he phrases it in the language of Satchmo, is as fine a vocal as he ever took on record. Give it a listen:


Next up was another lesser known standard, “There Must Be a Way,” recorded by the likes of Joni James, Dinah Washington, Perry Como and Charlie Spivak. This, to me, is the highlight of the session and one of Armstrong’s finest late recordings. The opening scat cadenza sets the mood and always makes me a smile. Thiele stripped away the 50s beat associated with James’s hit version of it (see YouTube) and instead just let Pops revel in the natural beauty hidden in the melody. It’s clear that Pops digs it, not seeing much need to phrase it differently. And the trumpet solo is quite lovely, though again, his chops seem to tire a little bit towards the very end. But it’s all soul. Such a pretty tune:


The session ended with kind of a throwaway, “Give Me Your Kisses,” a Thiele composition that seems to have been written with Pops in mind. The tempo is up and features the front line of Armstrong, Tyree Glenn and Joe Muranyi playing an arranged introduction. Again, Armstrong’s vocal is joy personified and there’s another fine, mellow trumpet solo, though its a little short. In fact, the whole thing goes by so fast, sometimes its over before I realized it even began! Pops’s horn leads the way out on his last studio record to feature this much horn (though, again, he did take 16 wonderful bars on “Pretty Little Missy” in 1969):


The following day, Armstrong returned to the Vegas studio, though this time he left his horn behind. Only three songs were tackled, pairing Armstrong and the All Stars with a studio orchestra conducted by Art Butler. First up was “Hello Brother,” a tune that would probably sound laughably corny and dated in the hands of any other vocalist from that period. Yet Pops sings it like it’s “Star Dust” and you have to be pretty cold to not be moved by his conviction. The song was composed by Thiele and fellow “What a Wonderful World” scribe George David Weiss. Armstrong’s vocal builds up to a crescendo on the line, “He wants a chance to give his kids a better life,” which, even as I type it, sound kind of saccharine. But again, Pops’s pure emotion sells it better than Weiss and Thiele ever probably could have imagined (then again, they did write it for Armstrong specifically, so I think they knew what they were doing). According to the album’s liner notes, it did make the charts for a bit at the time and seems to be quite popular today, judging by the comments on YouTube and elsewhere on the web, including a website, www.hellobrother.com, named for the tune. I can see this being used in a film or commercial today and catching on all over again.




“What a Wonderful World” was credited to Weiss and George Douglas, though Douglas was a pseudonym for Thiele. Using the Douglas name again, they were the team behind the next tune recorded that July 24 day, “The Home Fire.” Joe Muranyi had fond memories of this session, telling me how much he enjoyed playing the introduction of this song. Louis Armstrong singing about homes was always a can’t miss equation (see “That’s My Home” and “Home”) but this one is extra special. Those earlier tunes are classics because they have great melodies and some outstanding trumpet playing. But “The Home Fire” is wonderful because Armstrong seems to be singing specifically about his Corona, Queens home. In fact, this tune should be the official anthem of the Louis Armstrong Home Museum. You can hear Armstrong smiling as he sings about his neighborhood, while the closing slow, scatted ending is a “gassuh.” It’s sadly ironic that illness would force him to spend much of the next year holed up in that home, but he always had a love affair with his modest digs and that love shines through on “The Home Fire.”


Finally, the last tune of the day, and again, it features an irresistible melody: “Fantastic, That’s You.” This tune was composed by Thiele (as George Douglas again), George Cates and Mort Greene and was originally recorded by Johnny Hodges in 1965 on an album that paired Hodges with the Lawrence Welk Orchestra (Cates was Welk’s musical director) . The following year, Hodges rerecorded it with a small group on the Verve label. Few could work over a melody like Rabbit; dig his version:


That same year, Thiele produced an Earl Hines album for Impulse, “Once Upon a Time.” Hines performed on the above Hodges rendition, so Thiele had him perform the tune here in a quartet setting with Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet, Aaron Bell’s bass and Elvin Jones’s drums...yes, THE Elvin Jones. Here’s this beautiful recording:


Okay, with the preliminaries out of the way, let’s listen to Pops, sans trumpet, vocally caress the beauty out of the song. The arrangement is also pretty minimal and Tyree’s trombone spot on the bridge is a nice, sober statement. I know, I’m repeating myself too damn much, but really, how happy does Pops sound? He must have truly loved singing songs with such beautiful melodies, as opposed to silly, trite things like “I Like This Kind of Party” or “The Happy Time.” Here ‘tis:


And with that last, pretty fadeout, another chapter of Louis Armstrong’s recorded life came to a conclusion. He had one more last burst from October 1969 to October 1970, but for all intents and purposes, the July 1968 Bob Thiele Vegas sessions are the final portrait of Pops and the All Stars, in the middle of touring, business as usual, before Pops’s illness. Say what you want about them from a purely jazz perspective; from a musical perspective, they’re incredibly pretty songs, with a heavy dose of sentimentality and Pops, probably the only man who could make these songs work, sounds like he’s in love with the material. They might not be for everyone, but I have no trouble celebrating the 40th anniversary of these lovely performances.

Next up: I spun the ol’ Itunes shuffle and it landed on Erskine Tate’s version of “Static Strut.” Thus, I’m writing a blog on both that tune and “Stomp Off, Let’s Go” to be published on Friday.

*************
Final note: I’ve mentioned the great Massachusetts Dave Whitney many times before as Dave is probably this blog’s biggest fan. Once a week, we usually call each other up to talk about our shared love of Louis Armstrong, the Three Stooges, Louis Prima, Fats Waller, Shemp Howard, the Marx Brothers, etc. Well, Dave has been bitten by the blog bug (no relation to the love bug) and he has decided to jump into the foray with the wonderfully titled “Pete Kelly’s Blog,” located at petekellysblog.blogspot.com. Dave has warned me that he’s just getting the site off the ground, but I think he’s off to a flying start with entries on both Pops and the Three Stooges. Please check out Dave’s blog as it’s a lot of fun and couldn’t have been written by a nicer guy. And besides, Dave is a wonderful trumpet player...don’t believe me? Well, allow me to tie it all in with Dave’s lovely 1982 recording of “Fantastic, That’s You.”


Four recordings of “Fantastic, That’s You” in one blog? Damn, I’m not going to be able to get this one out of my head until Labor Day!

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Historic Fleischmann's Yeast Broadcasts

In April 1937, the popular crooner Rudy Vallee decided to head to England for the coronation of King George VI. He planned for it to be an extended stay, which led to one problem: who would take over Vallee's popular NBC radio show, sponsored since 1929 by the good people at Fleischmann's Yeast? Vallee had a suggestion: Louis Armstrong. Once Vallee convinced his sponsor and the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency to go for it, Pops found himself in the pioneering role once again, becoming the first black entertainer to star on a commercially sponsored network radio show. For 71 years, the music world has always known about the importance of these broadcasts--Pops himself listed it as one of the most important events in his career in a 1941 letter to Leonard Feather--but except for a bootleg of "Dinah" (heard on one of the marvelous Ambassador CDs), none of the music has ever been heard by the public since their original broadcasts.

Fortunately, Armstrong himself kept 12-inch 78 records of many of the complete broadcasts in his home in Queens. They were discovered there after his death, having been obviously played frequently by Pops himself. After some restoration by Greg Squires and Doug Pomeroy, a solid chunk of the Armstrong material from the Fleischmann's Yeast broadcasts was released recently on the Jazz Heritage Society label. Now, that's all the history I'll give since the peerless Dan Morgenstern tells the story behind the broadcasts in his typically definitive liner notes. However, I would like to discuss some of the music and the issue of where to find this major release since I feel it to be the most important new Armstrong discovery in years.

For me, the broadcasts are important in a number of ways. Of course, there's Pops, who is in freakish form throughout. I've written before that I've always felt Armstrong's peak as a trumpet player to be around the time of his Victor recordings in 1932 and 1933. However, after listening to these broadcasts and combining that with what he was recording for Decca at the time, I might have to stretch that "prime" period a little longer. The years 1935-1942 now have to go down as perhaps Armstrong's greatest period of blowing, an arguable opinion since the man had about six prime periods, but the more I listen to the live material, the more stunned I am at his playing in the late 30s.

So of course, the shape of Pops's chops is always important. But then you have the actual material performed on the Fleischmann broadcasts, a tremendous mix of Armstrong hits ("Sunny Side of the Street," "You Rascal You), trumpet showpieces ("Tiger Rag," "Chinatown"), updated arrangements of OKeh recordings ("Memories of You," "After You've Gone"), a smattering of Victor and Decca classics ("Hustlin' and Bustlin' For Baby," "Shoe Shine Boy") and some songs that were never commercially recorded by Pops in this or any other era ("Ida," "The Love Bug Will Get You," "I Know That You Know"). The wide range of material paints a strong picture of the kinds of things Pops played on a day-to-day basis during this period.

But most importantly, the release of these recordings should finally exonerate the Luis Russell band from the devastating criticisms they have received for over seven decades. As the story goes, after his European exile in 1934 to rest his chops, Armstrong returned to America in 1935, hired Joe Glaser as his manager and asked his former trumpeter Zilner Randolph to form a new orchestra for him in Chicago. When union problems prevented Randolph’s band from coming to New York with Armstrong, the trumpeter had to come up with a speedy solution. The problem was solved by having Armstrong front the Panama-to-New Orleans pianist Luis Russell. Russell’s big band featured many New Orleans musicians and cut some tremendously exciting records in 1929 and 1930, featuring one of the first great recorded rhythm sections in jazz history, consisting of Russell, guitarist Lee Blair, bassist Pops Foster and drummer Paul Barbarin. The Russell band even backed Armstrong up on some wonderful OKeh sessions in 1929 and 1930. Thus, the two men had a positive history together and one would imagine that they would make a perfect fit during Armstrong’s 1935 comeback.

And here's where things get sticky. Armstrong was just getting his career back on track and it took him awhile to amass some new and exciting arrangements. The Russell band had to get accustomed to working full-time with their new leader and truthfully, on a bunch of those early Decca recordings, they sound pretty sad. And that's where the criticisms begin. To wit:

"The big failing in the initial stages of the reunion is the band's performance. Time and again Louis plays his heart out whilst the rest of the ensemble seems to be trundling its way through the parts. We hear brief solos from Charlie Holmes, Greely Walton, Bingie Madison and Jimmy Archey, but the excitement and intensity that were synonymous with Russell's earlier bands is missing." - John Chilton, "Louis"

"With Armstrong, however, the band counted for little, and only minimum attention was given to interesting arrangements polished in rehearsal. Thus, although Armstrong appeared to the general public to be part of the swing-band movement, he was not really playing typical swing-band music, so he was at a disadvantage. Judged on the basis of his arrangements, his groups were bound to suffer in comparison with the disciplined playing of the Goodman, Miller, Lunceford, and other bands." - James Lincoln Collier, "Louis Armstrong: An American Genius"

"Oddly enough though, despite such a generally splendid record of achievement, the Russell band had great trouble finding a style that fitted their renewed role as Armstrong's sidemen. Proof that it was Armstrong that sked for the Lombardo saxophone sound lies in the fact that it shows up immediately on the Rusell band's recordings with Louis, whereas in the band's own 1934 recordings, for example, it is absent. But how truly awful the band could sound, often dragging Armstrong down with it, one can hear on 'Red Sails in the Sunset,' 'Thanks a Million,' and 'On Treasure Island.'" - Gunther Schuller, "The Swing Era"

"Most [critics] said this was the worst band Louis Armstrong ever fronted and that his years with Luis Russell, which covered most of the thirties, represented the nadir of his career. They also complained that he ran out of fresh musical ideas and was content to recycle his virtuoso trumpet solos from the late 1920s, and that the musical value of what he was doing now was just about nil." - Laurence Bergreen, "Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life"

Pretty rough stuff, eh? And three of those examples are from Armstrong biographies, thus, leading any new Armstrong fan to come away with the opinion that the Russell band was a pretty terrible outfit in their time as Armstrong's backing band in the late 1930s. Schuller and Chilton at least go on to defend the band a bit more after some personnel changes in 1937, but still, the general consensus to this day has clearly been that Luis Russell's orchestra was a substandard, inferior fit for someone of Pops's genius, but it didn't matter because Armstrong's trumpet was the entire show and the shortcomings of the band didn't matter too much in the end.

Well, it's time to put the general consensus to rest. All of the above writers formed their opinions solely on the Decca studio records. None of them ever heard the Russell band back Armstrong up live in the late 1930s. None of them ever heard the Fleischmann broadcasts either. Goodness knows Bergreen hadn't but that didn't stop him from writing that though Armstrong's hosting of the show was a milestone, "what is often overlooked is that his exuberant radio broadcasts bombed."

Wow, that's harsh. How does Bergreen know? He quotes exactly one bad review of the Fleischmann broadcasts from “Variety," which described Armstrong and his orchestra as having "sounded like a boiler factory in swingtime, and, as such, could only be recommended to the most incurable addicts of Harlem stomp music in its most blatant pitch....Family tuner-inners, except swing-bitten youngsters, will be startled by the noise, even though the bandsmen are acknowledged experts in their particular field. Armstrong's throaty, almost unintelligible announcements do not help, either, and he should refrain from singing."

THAT'S the review Bergreen quotes from!?!?! How about a little context, Laurnece? Armstrong gets killed in his Decca years for recording "commercial" pop tunes and aiming at a wider audience, but here's a review that said Armstrong's live broadcasts catered to "swing-bitten youngsters." It's a review that worries for the safety of the eardrums of "family tuner-inners." It's a review that concludes that Louis Armstrong, jazz's greatest vocalist, "should refrain from singing." And that's the proof that the Fleischmann broadcasts bombed? To me, if anything, it indicates that Armstrong was playing some scorching hot jazz during his live performances and though some straight-laced “Variety” critic might have been scared off, maybe that's a good thing!

Well, now we know. 24 songs taken from six different broadcasts over the course of two months in the spring of 1937. At the time of the first Fleischmann broadcasts, Armstrong had made exactly eight sessions with the Russell band for Decca. So what do you trust? Eight studio recording dates featuring some underrehearsed arrangements, stilted playing and wobbly intonation? Or six broadcasts that captured what this band was capable of doing night after night during the same period? I love those Decca studio sides, but the Fleischmann's Yeast broadcasts now paint a much fuller, brighter picture of what Louis Armstrong and Luis Russell did on a nightly basis.

And what did they do? They swung their asses off! After those creaky arrangements on the earliest Decca sides, Armstrong began getting a slew of new arrangements from the great Chappie Willet, a man who also arranged for the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, Jimmie Lunceford and Gene Krupa. Besides, the Russell band benefitted greatly from some new personnel changes in early 1937: Red Allen joined on trumpet, J.C. Higginbotham joined on trombone and Albert Nicholas joined on clarinet and tenor saxophone, marking the reunion of three of the charter members of that wonderful late 20s Russell band. The original Russell-Blair-Foster-Barbarin rhythm section was still going strong after so many years and as already stated, Pops was in peak form. So, how can you go wrong?

The answer is, you can't. On this release, you'll hear the band absolutely nailing some killer Willet arrangements, swinging with a looseness not always heard on the Decca sessions. You'll also hear the great soloists in the band, especially Higgy's trombone, but also Nicholas's clarinet, Bingie Madison's tenor and Charlie Holmes's Johnny Hodges-inspired alto. The records might have been strictly Pops affairs (with some Madison clarinet solos to forget) but in live performances, the combination of songs, arrangements, swing, solos and Armstrong made for a pretty potent force in the big band world. Armstrong might not have had any major hits in the big band era and he might have fallen behind the likes of Basie, Goodman and Dorsey in popularity, but do not write off his big band as just some also-ran. The Fleischmann’s Yeast broadcasts more than illustrate what a potent force Armstrong and his big band was during the Swing Era.

(And as I’ve written before, don’t forget about the essential tenth volume of the Ambassador series, “At The Cotton Club,” which features a number of broadcasts from the late 30s and early 40s. That disc, combined with the Fleischmann set, paint a definitive portrait of the wonderful music Armstrong and Russell band combined for during those swinging years.)

But enough from me. The C.D. is 27 tracks long, though it also contains a neat original sign off, a commercial and one program introduction, featuring Pops soaring on "Sleepy Time," (remember, he didn't sing it regularly live until he recorded it for Decca in 1951). But otherwise, there's 70 minutes of history-changing music and every ounce of it is something to savor. I'm not going to share the whole thing here, but I have to play some of my favorites. First up is the very first track on the disc, and something I have been trying to wrap my head around ever since I first heard it. The tune is an Armstrong original, "(I've Got) A Heart Full of Rhythm," and though Armstrong introduces it as a "good ol' good one"--a phrase critics would kill him for in his later years--he hadn't even recorded it yet! Even stranger, when he would record it a little over two months later, he slowed the tempo down almost in half. I've always loved the Decca record for Pops's powerhouse extended trumpet solo at the end, but this live broadcast version is pretty insane for the heat it generates. Armstrong's floats over the the rhythm, propelled by Barbarin's exciting drumming and though I'll always love the Decca, this is some hot stuff:


Onto category two, here's Armstrong remaking "After You've Gone," a tune he originally recorded for OKeh in 1929. All one has to do is compare the dated arrangement of the original with Chappie Willet's killer-diller one and you'll know that Armstrong (and the Russell band) were more than ready for the Swing Era. Armstrong calls attention to the arrangement and to the "cats" in the band, setting up solos from Holmes and Higginbotham--dig Higgy's break! I can never listen to it without rewinding it to hear it again. But then Pops enters and well, stand back! Though Pops is killing it, so is the band, riffing like crazy behind him. Armstrong's break is sick...in a good way. Here 'tis:


If you still don't believe that Armstrong's band could cut it with the other heavyweights of the Swing Era, dig "Rhythm Jam," another Willet composition/ arrangement that was also recorded by Gene Krupa and the Mills Blue Rhythm Band. The arrangement is full of all sorts of Willet trademarks, including the descending marching trombone passage, but the band plays it with ease. Bingie Madison's tenor solo is better than a lot of what he played on records but the rhythm section really makes this thing dance. Armstrong plays two choruses of "I Got Rhythm" changes, dwarfing what he played on his original OKeh recording of the tune, especially, as Dan Morgenstern points out, on that second bridge. Barbarin really boots it, the band riffs merrily and Pops goes out on top. Who knows why Decca didnt record this one (maybe because there's no vocal?) but if they had, it would have already been an Armstrong classic. Well, it's never too late for that! Give it a listen:


Okay, I think that's enough heat for the time being. Here's another OKeh remake, a somewhat ominous Wilet updated arrangement on "Memories of You." Again, the original has a marvelous atmosphere, especially with the historical importance of Lionel Hampton's vibes, and I've always been a huge fan of the 1956 remake for the "Autobiography." But this one is quite special and it's nice to see that it was part of Armstrong's repertoire, even though he never recorded it during the period. A beautiful flight:


Next, let's visit a pop tune of the day that Armstrong never got to wax for Decca. The tune is "The Love Bug Will Bite You," written by Pinky Tomlin and recorded by the likes of the Jimmy Dorsey, Mills Brothers and Louis Prima (growing up, I always knew it as being sung by Darla Hood in "Our Gang Follies of 1938," backed by "Cab Buckwheat"!). This would have been a natural Decca record as it has the scat breaks built right into the tune. Listen carefully to Pops's last scat break: it's a lick he played towards the end of the 1927 Hot Five record of "Ory's Creole Trombone" and it's going to come back a little later on in this entry. As much fun as the scatting is, the trumpet still takes the cake, again, with the breaks (I love the ascending and descending chromatic one) before a typical-for-the-period ending. Great stuff:


Back to Chappie, now, for "I Know That You Know," an arrangement so good that world-renowned Willet expert John Wriggle told me he is currently transcribing the whole thing as we speak. Again, there's not much I have to add other than just read those above criticisms of the Russell band and listen carefully as they dig into this one. Also, there are some nice solos from trombonist Jimmy Archey, Russell, Holmes, and, as Morgenstern points out, "a trumpet that may be Red Allen." I know Allen often got featured in live performances with the band but I'm not sure if this solo is Red's as it doesn't contain any of his wonderful idiosyncrasies, thus, it could be the very fine Louis Bacon. Regardless, it's Pops who leads the charge to the finish line, something to behold as always...the band is cooking!


Speaking of Louis Bacon, here's "Rockin' Chair," with Bacon playing the role of the "father." This is the only live "Rockin' Chair" to have survived before a version done at Carnegie Hall in 1946 and it's a special one for the amount of trumpet contained in the arrangement. In later versions, comedy ruled the day, as Armstrong and his foil would sing two choruses, eventually eliminating the trumpet solo. But here, we get one vocal chorus with Pops simply repeating Bacon's lines before Armstrong picks up the horn and takes it out, stopping for some righteous "Hallelujahs" during the bridge. Dig it:


Next is a track that after my first hearing, took me about 30 seconds to pick my jaw up from the ground: "Bugle Blues." One again, we get a swinging band, a hot arrangement (great work from the sax section) and more great solos from Holmes, Albert Nicholas, Higgy and Red Allen and Pops can't contain his enthusiasm. Remember, Pops did say, "I enjoyed all the moments I spent with Luis and his band, maybe because the boys were mostly from my home. The warmth, the feelings, the beat--everything was there. They were all down to earth also in that band. I loved them regardless of what the critics said about it." So critics be damned...THIS is the Russell band that Armstrong knew and loved to play with every night. Just listen to his inspired playing at the end; remember the aforementioned "Ory's Creole Break"? There it is at the 1:42, leading into a ridiculous gliss up to a high concert Eb. You can hear someone in the band break up and I think Pops sounds pretty satisfied, too. After the band swings out for two choruses, Pops rejoins them for a final rideout, building up to the scary final high concert F. Stunning! And as Morgenstern's notes point out, Armstrong was in California on May 26, flew across county, stopped over in Pittsburgh and arrived in New York on the 27th. This was played on May 28...does that sound like a man who just traveled so much in such little time?


From the same broadcast, here's a remake of the Decca recording of "Shoe Shine Boy," a beautiful tune that was tailor-made for Armstrong and I agree with Morgenstern that Armstrong's trumpet on this version definitely surpasses the original recording. Armstrong scats a descending minor run in the bridge, a phrase that would later become a favorite, ending his 1957 version of "Summertime" with Ella, as well as 1968's "I Will Wait For You." But the trumpet solo is enough to make me cry, especially the passion on the bridge. Like I said, this was clearly a prime period for Pops's chops--here's another high concert F, a note he barely made at the end ofn 1930's "You're Lucky To Me," but now he holds it with bell-like clarity:


And finally, one more example of the Russell band swinging like mad, performing another tune never recorded by Pops, "Prelude to a Stomp." Morgenstern hears Armstrong say the title as "Will You Do A Stomp," which is how it appears in Jos Willems's Armstrong discography, but careful listening shows that Armstrong does indeed say "Prelude to a Stomp"...twice, as a matter of fact. This was yet another tune recorded by the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and Gene Krupa and as Morgenstern accurately writes, "It is an up-to-date big band swing piece solidly places Louis's band way ahead of its critical reputation." Indeed. Once again, the band sounds loose and swinging, nailing every note of Willet's arrangement before Pops enters at the 1:22 mark. Armstrong solos on a simple eight-bar "We Want Cantor" vamp (the tune has no bridge) and his build-up to the climactic ending is positively thrilling. Again, pay attention to Barbarin, giving Armstrong some Latin rhythms before settling into the backbeat Armstrong loved the most. Sid Catlett joined the band in 1939 and became Armstrong’s favorite drummer, but this release makes a pretty strong case for Barbarin’s excellence in backing up Pops. Here’s “Prelude to a Stomp”:


So there’s nine examples of the wonders of the Fleischmann’s Yeast Broadcasts. And just think, there’s 16 more tracks that I haven’t even touched yet!

But that’s not all...(I sound like an infomercial). Michael Cogswell, the man behind the Louis Armstrong House Museum and the Armstrong Archives at Queens College, hand-picked 66 minutes of highlights from Armstrong’s private tape collection. I have referenced this collection before as I have listened to countless tapes myself in doing research for my book on Armstrong’s later years and can attest to their priceless nature. Cogswell did a tremendous job with his selections; you truly feel like you’re spending an hour in Louis Armstrong’s company. He practices, he plays along with records, he sings along with records, he talks about other musicians, he tells a jokes, he defends his music, he talks to kids, he gives advice to other trumpeters, he tells stories about his life to Max Jones...it’s all priceless.

(One note: Morgenstern’s notes mention that Armstrong never performed “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” one of the bonus tracks. However, Armstrong did perform it on the “Milton Berle Show” in 1952 and that’s what he is rehearsing for on the private tape excerpt that appears on this release. You can hear Armstrong reading his name and “everybody” in the script, getting the routine straight before doing it on the air.)

Excerpts of this material have appeared on Satchmo.net, the official website of the Armstrong Archives, but I’d like to share my three favorite moments. First is Armstrong playing along with the 1923 King Oliver record of “Tears.” Armstrong plays the original record and “noodles along,” playing his original cornet part. It’s a fantastic find, especially during the time-warp moment when the older Armstrong sets up the breaks by his younger self. Armstrong then swings out, going up for a patented 1950s ending, which sounds a lot stronger than the original stop-on-a-dime ending. This is great stuff:


Next is something for the critics who bemoaned Armstrong “leaving” jazz for commercial music. Some of them tried putting the blame on record producers without stopping to think that maybe Louis Armstrong liked all kinds of music and not just hot jazz numbers. As proof, here he is at home playing along with “Luna,” a ballad sung in Italian by Ray Martino. The original record is about as far from “hot jazz” as you can get but Armstrong plays with passion, contributing a lovely obbligato and even taking a solo. Gorgeous playing:


And finally, the most mind-blowing 46 seconds you’ll spend all day: Louis Armstrong in a hotel room in the 1950s practicing with “Over the Rainbow,” playing it an octave higher than written, leading to some of the highest notes I’ve ever heard Armstrong play, right down to a dramatic closing cadenza that borrows a bit from his 1933 record of “Laughin’ Louie.” Unbelievable:


So now you’re probably salivating about when and where you can purchase this historic document. And that’s where things get a little complicated. You see, “Louis Armstrong: Fleischmann’s Yeast Show & Louis’ Home-Recorded Tapes,” is put out by the Jazz Heritage Society. I know that sounds good but here’s the bad news: this is a subscription-based site. To order anything from this site requires you to become a member, which means you have to order a bunch of things from the start. What’s worse, you can’t even view the official website (www.jazzheritage.com) unless you’re a member! And apparently, last month, they offered the set for $24.99, but it looks like the price has gone up to $35.96 plus $6 for shipping.

And that, my friends, is what is wrong with the world today. Recent years have seen some wonderful new discoveries come out on C.D. in the jazz world: Mingus at Cornell, Monk and Trane at Carnegie Hall, Bird and Diz at Town Hall, Miles box sets for Columbia, you name it, all of it wonderful, well-publicized and easy to find. But when it comes to poor Pops, he gets the short end of the stick: historic newly discovered recordings that should be the talk of the jazz world...only available on a subscription based site where viewers can’t even read about it unless they’re members! No eBay, no Amazon, no Itunes, no nothing. It’s a crime, I tell ya....

Fortunately, the good people at the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation realize that this is a problem. Cogswell, Morgenstern and Phoebe Jacobs have been pushing Jazz Heritage Society to release this material to a wider audience and it just might happen. Cogswell wrote to me just last week to tell me that JHS is trying to get it into Barnes and Noble and on Itunes and if that happens, it’ll be cause for celebration. So stay tuned to this site and as soon as I know something, I’ll let you guys know. Because this release, coupled with the aforementioned “Louis Armstrong at the Cotton Club” on the Ambassador label are essential discs that all of the jazz world should know about. These releases should be much wider known than they are because they easily dispute the terrible reputation critics have given Armstrong’s big band of that period. If only Pops got more respect in the jazz world, these releases would be discussed and listened to by thousands of jazz fans around the world, but instead, most go on not knowing anything about Armstrong’s big band period because those releases are hidden. And this is a crime because it’s about time that the reputation of Armstrong’s big band is finally set straight and that’s only going to happen if people go out and find the Ambassador series and the Fleischmann’s Yeast broadcasts, the most historic discoveries to hit the world of Louis Armstrong in a long, long time.

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak at the Fleischmann’s Yeast broadcasts and don’t worry, as long as I know more about how to purchase them, I’ll post the information right here. Thanks for reading!

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the Fleischmann's Yeast double-disc set is available in the gift shop of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens (as are the Ambassadors I always talk about). So if you live in the New York area, head out to the house (always a treat) and stock up!