Sunday, April 18, 2010

Indian Love Call

Louis Armstrong And Gordon Jenkins And His Orchestra
Recorded November 28, 1951
Track Time 3:12
Written by Rudolf Friml, Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II
Recorded in Los Angeles
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Chris Griffin, George Thow, Bruce Hudson, trumpet; Eddie Miller, Dent Eckels, tenor saxophone; Charles LaVere, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Phil Stephens, bass; Nick Fatool, drums; Unknown strings, Gordon Jenkins (arranger, conductor)
Originally released on Decca 28076
Currently available on CD: It's on Satchmo In Style.
Available on Itunes? Yes, on something called "Classic Song Book, Vol. 4."

Man, do I love writing this blog. One great thing about writing about Louis Armstrong is the unpredictability of the Armstrong songbook. Just glancing over my last couple of months of postings, I've written about a pop song based on two spirituals ("Dear Old Southland"), some timeless standards ("Pennies From Heaven," "I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket"), a lesser known Hot Five number ("Irish Black Blottom"), a forgotten 1930s pop tune ("So Little Time"), a Cab Calloway hit about opium ("Kickin' the Gong Around"), a Fats Waller ballad ("Blue Turning Grey Over You") and some things that have been done to death ("When the Saints Go Marchin' In") and ABOUT death ("St. James Infirmary"). The fact that Louis recorded such different types of songs--and always managed to leave his imprint--is something I feel should be celebrated (hence, the blog).

Thus, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that Louis recorded "Indian Love Call" for Decca in 1951. Many hardened jazz buffs started preaching about The Tragedy of Louis Armstrong as soon as he began recording pop tunes in the late 1920s. I feel bad for those people. But those pop recordings of the late 20s and early 30s have still been regarded as classics. Louis's next batch of big band sides, recorded for Decca between 1935 and 1946, have long been favorites of the Armstrong "in crowd," but they've pretty much been glossed over by the jazz press for decades, something that's finally changed a bit thanks to Mosaic Records's essential box set of this music, released last year.

But Louis's pop records of the 1950s have continued flying under the radar since their original waxing. Not all of them, of course; the ones that struck it big, remain popular: "Blueberry Hill," "La Vie En Rose," "I Get Ideas," "A Kiss To Build A Dream On," etc. But a lot of other stuff--covers of Patti Page and Tony Bennett hits--has always kind of made the jazz world shudder with mild embarrassment. "Poor Pops," they lament, "Recording 'It Takes Two To Tango' and 'Ko Ko Mo' when he should have been making the next 'West End Blues!'"

But as anyone who has read my blog for any period of time probably knows, I love, love, love Armstrong's Decca output. For one thing, Armstrong always sang every single song Decca handed him with tremendous sincerity. He didn't lampoon this material a la Fats Waller. He "saw the life" of everything he was handed and always managed to create special vocal moments. But the trumpet...wow! The Decca studios already brought something magical out in Louis's horn work in the 1950s and anyone who ignores the pop records, really is ignoring some wonderful trumpet work.

Milt Gabler, Armstrong's Decca producer, threw all sorts of arrangers at Louis during these years: Sy Oliver, Jack Pleiss, Tutti Camaratta, Benny Carter, Bob Haggart. But one man loved Louis more than all the others and worked remarkably hard at creating perfect frameworks for his art. That man was also one of the most popular arrangers of the time and because of that, as his sentimental string sound, much of his work with Armstrong has been dismissed as commercial pap. Of course, I'm talking about Gordon Jenkins.

When Gabler first teamed Jenkins and Louis together in 1949, Jenkins was on the top of the music world, arranging, conducting and sometimes even writing numerous popular hits. Louis was also riding high (higher than some might want you to believe), with a remarkably popular live touring unit and numerous appearances on television and radio (not to mention the cover of "Time" magazine) under his belt. But one thing Louis hadn't had in years was a hit record and the Jenkins-arranged coupling of "Blueberry Hill" and "That Lucky Old Sun" gave him just that.

Louis might have been thrilled with the success of the record but Jenkins was the really in awe of just getting the opportunity to work with his idol. Gabler remembered Jenkins crying before the first session they did together, so overwhelmed was he. Naturally, Gabler would continue to go to the well a few more times in the ensuing years, throwing all sorts of odd material at the combination: popular songs ("It's All in the Game"), jazz classics ("Bye and Bye"), Louis specialties ("Butter and Egg Man"), showtunes ("You're Just in Love"), Christmas songs ("Winter Wonderland") and more.

But the real oddball choices usually revolved around ancient themes such as "Jeannine (I Dream of Lilac Time)," "Trees," "Listen to the Mocking Bird," "Chlo-E" and today's song, "Indian Love Call." These were not hit recordings of the 1950s and I don't think much of the listening public was clamoring for these tunes to be remade. Thus, I have no idea how they were chosen, but I'm not complaining. They're all sort of quaint tunes with very pretty melodies. Louis, a man who truly listened to ALL kinds of music, not just jazz, quickly found affection for all of these relics as he brought a warmth and sincerity to his performances of each of them. Again, to those who see the material and hear Jenkins's signature arranging hallmarks and immediately frown, I'm sorry, but you're missing some really beautiful music.

"Indian Love Call" was written at Armstrong and Jenkins's third Decca session. Interestingly, it was the first to feature Jenkins's famed string section. Their first date relied heavily on voices while their second pairing used a standard big band instrumentation. But on November 28, 1951, Jenkins brought out the strings in full force.

He also brought out the old songs: "It's All In The Game" (1911), "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" (1931), "Jeannine" (1928) and "Indian Love Call" (1924). "Indian Love Call" was written for the Broadway operetta "Rose Marie," which wa eventually turned into a film...and then another...then another....then one more (four filmed versions in all). Of couse, to loes of old pop culture, just the mere mention of the song title should conjure up images of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. And thanks to the glory of YouTube, here are those images, from the 1936 film version of "Rose Marie":


Now, if you just watched that and wondered, "How the hell could that possibly make for a good Louis Armstrong record?" have no fear. Without further ado, here's the original Decca recording of "Indian Love Call":


As can be seen immediately, the solution for making it palatable for Pops was to just plain swing it. The opening duet between Armstrong's muted trumpet and Nick Fatool's drums is pretty great, setting the stage for Jenkins's strings to play the melody as only they can. Pops plays perfect fills around it, getting off his favorite quote of Vasa Prihoda's "Drdla Souvenir" in his second fill. Then another Jenkins trademark, and something of a pop music cliche from this period, as pianist Charles LaVere plays the melody in single notes an octave lower than normal (more on this in a bit). A nice touch in the arrangement occurs when the strings sweep back in to play the melody over a stiff two-beat rhythm. As the chorus approaches its ending and Armstrong gets ready to make his vocal entrance, Jenkins loosens them up and the rhythm section begins swinging hard.

Pops immediately feels it, creating an entirely new melody that's two parts English and one part scat. Louis swings like mad, as does the studio group, with shivers of strings occasionally filling in the gaps. A brief interlude by the horns sets up the highlight of the track: Armstrong's glorious trumpet trading with LaVere's single-note piano business. One of the glories of the Armstrong-Jenkins recordings is finding all the secret Armstrong licks Jenkins manages to hide in his arrangements. Here, there's no hiding it; every note LaVere plays is right out of the Armstrong playbook! It's a humorous little exchange, broken up by some dizzying writing for the strings, but I love it for the pure relaxation of Pops's phrasing. He's so calm and in charge....that is until the end of the string escapade. Then watch out! Now, Pops pumps up the volume and approaches center stage like a great opera singer, his tone bellowing, his phrasing grand. He runs up to a high concert Bb and works his way down during a sure-footed cadenza of sorts. But instead of ending with that, Louis returns with a delightful vocal reprise, swinging and smiling and putting a terrific little ending on a terrific little record.

Obviously, "Indian Love Call" wasn't the type of song Louis was going to start performing live with the All Stars. Also, it doesn't appear to have made any waves on the charts, either. But on June 8, 1952, over six months after the studio recording, Louis performed it on "The U. S. Royal Showcase," an NBC television show with a studio band conducted for the occasion by Gordon Jenkins. This performance was never issued commercially but I think it's a fantastic little rarity. Here's the audio:


Isn't that great? Armstrong probably hadn't thought of the tune since the previous November but he still nails it, right from the opening trumpet-and-drum duet and early quote of "Drdla Souvenir." The vocal is still a lot of fun with, I think, some even better phrasing during the second half (love that "Mama"!). But stand back for the trumpet-and-piano duet! Pops is full of all sorts of different ideas and sounds completely at ease. Right before the strings come in, there's a little confusion as he sounds a little unsure about whether or not he's supposed to keep playing; he just steamrolls any uncertainty with a giant high note! But nothing compares to that high Bb after the strings do their thing, as I think he holds it even longer on this performance. The following cadenza is a knockout, as well. And if that little vocal reprise doesn't have you smiling, I'm sorry, but the Miles Davis blog is thataway...

So that's a little taste of Louis and Gordon Jenkins. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. It's not exactly the Hot Seven stomping out some New Orleans Jazz but as Louis used to say, there's only two kinds of music, good and bad and his recording of "Indian Love Call" is definitely some of the good stuff.

2 comments:

Peter said...

I totally agree. Gordon Jenkins arrangements for Louis were beautiful, I especially like his White Christmas.
Personally I love Louis in these settings. In addition to "Satchmo in Style", "Satchmo Serenades" and "Louis and the Angels" are personal favourates. Louis sounds great with strings and choirs and arrangers like Jenkins and Sy Oliver did an amazing and vastly underated job of writing for Louis.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! I think It's fantastic the way you do the up-front contrasting version(s), like Nelson and Jenette, then lay down Pop's version- The one you did with Delores Del Rio awhile ago was awesome, as well (Ramona was it?- "Yum! Yum Yum!" Thanks Ricky- Best ever, Mike Burgevin