Sunday, May 30, 2010

80 Years of "Tiger Rag" - Part Nine: Two More From 1959

Welcome back to the never-ending saga of Louis Armstrong and "Tiger Rag"! First off, Happy Memorial Day to all who have served our great country. And for those who choose to celebrate by consuming inhuman amounts of hamburgers and hot dogs (like yours truly), happy scarfing! And if you're having trouble getting your barbecue started, just hold some meat in front of the computer and blast today's versions of "Tiger Rag" and I guarantee you'll have some well-done burgers in just a couple of minutes (though I can't promise this will work).

I've left the two mammoth, four-encore versions from January 21, 1959 in Copenhagen up for about a week now because I wanted Pops nuts from around the globe to bask in them. As I mentioned in the backstory to those pieces, Louis was at the start of an incredible tour of Europe, one that lasted for five months and pretty much gave Louis a heart attack. As my good friend Hakan Forsberg reminded me, Louis did return to the United States for two weeks in June (playing a Sidney Bechet Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall on June 14) but then it was off to Spoleto, Italy, where he was stricken with a heart attack, one he tried covering up until the day he he died. As we'll see in my tenth, and final (!), installment on "Tiger Rag," Louis's routine on this number was one of the casualties of the heart episode. But for today, let's bask on two more doozies from Europe in 1959.

The two four-encore versions were recorded at the Falkoner Centret in Copehagen, Denmark on January 21. As great as those versions are, Louis wasn't quite done with Copenhagen. Four days later, on January 25, Louis played two more concerts at the Falkoner Centret. That evening, he still killing the Danish fans with another remarkable version of "Tiger Rag," this one featuring three encores instead of four. Once again, I have the performance broken down, encore by encore. Here's the first go-around, which is Louis's standard "Tiger Rag" routine of the period (feel free to skip to the encores since there's nothing too different here from stuff I've shared in previous entries):


Louis is clearly ready to blow, tearing through his set solo (complete with "Singin' in the Rain" and "Pagliacci" quotes before a series of high concert Ab's closes out the piece. So far so good. Then it's time for encore one:


Again, this one was usually also a given, with Pops starting with "I'm Confessin," using "Dixie" for the break and building his last chorus around two-note jumps from Ab to high C. (And Louis goes way off mike at one point, meaning he was really in the midst of chasing Trummy Young!). As we heard in the previous Copenhagen versions, that was usually enough for Billy Kyle to start playing the arpeggio to signal the start of "Now You Has Jazz." And as you should know by now, Pops wasn't quite ready to stop. So here's the second encore, which, to me, is the highlight of this performance:


Clarinetist Peanuts Hucko and trombonist Trummy Young sound a little tired in their spots, but they still contribute some good ideas. But Pops is still on fire, opening with a quote from "Gypsy Love Song." Then a "Honeysuckle Rose" phrase spirals into a wild improvisation before he lands on "Exactly Like You" for the break. He had played that quote on both of the previous Copenhagen versions but now he repeats it, turning it into an ingenious motive. For the final chorus, Louis sticks mostly towards high C's but he also indulges in some "talking" playing with Trummy as they shout at each other with funny "wrong" notes. Louis pays Kyle no mind again and calls for a third encore:


Peanuts this time quotes Pops by humorously opening his spot with a taste of "Confessin'." After Trummy, Louis once again starts improvising in an operatic bag, coming up with some very melodic ideas. However, he almost overblows a ridiculous high note during the break and it seems to throw him slightly off balance for a few seconds. He recovers and whips himself into a frenzy for the final chorus. Now, on the previous third encores I've shared, Louis usually started beating out a series of high Eb's. Here though, he must have sensed that he was running out of steam and instead came up with an alternate route, two-note phrases, one up to the Eb, the next up to the slightly lower C, then back to the Eb, then back to the C, etc. It's still freakish and a good demonstration of what Pops could do when his chops were in "A" form but maybe note A+ form. Still, he empties his reserve with three fat Eb's and tops it off with a final high F! Bravo, maestro...no need for a fourth encore that night.

Louis continued his European tour after Copenhagen but there wouldn't be as many "bootleg" recording of his All Stars shows in the coming months. However, on February 7, Louis and the All Stars found themselves at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam for another fantastic performance, one I blogged about with plenty of sound clips back on February 7, 2009, the 50th anniversary of the show. As I mentioned back then, my big regret about this show is that it has never been issued on video of DVD because it was filmed and two performances are still up on YouTube ("Sleepy Time Down South" and "Indiana"). Maybe one day, we'll get to see this truly great version of "Tiger Rag."

In the meantime, we can enjoy the excellent audio. Here Louis only takes two encores but that second is a gassuh. First, after the standard first encore, you'll hear the rhythm section play a cute "Good evening friends" line, a not-so-subtle way of of saying that the hilarity of the tune, which would end with Armstrong and Trummy Young chasing each other around the stage while playing, was over. Kyle then goes into the standard arpeggio for the next tune, "Now You Has Jazz," but as we heard in Copenhagen, Pops had the final decision on what to do next and what he did was call a second encore!

It's an incredible one, opening with his favored "Gypsy Love Song" quote but it's another quote that really knocks me out every time I hear it: on the break, he somehow inserts the 1924 pop song "When You Wore A Tulip (And I Wore A Big Red Rose)." From there, he skyrockets right up to high Eb's, hitting one after another like he was 30 years old again before ending on a sky-high concert F! Ridiculous playing. It's all the best moments from the versions with three and four encores but it's compressed into this dynamite, six-minute, two-encore blowout. Enjoy the whole thing here:



That was about a six-minute romp. For those who know the routine by heart and just want to hear the second encore, I made an edited version that begins with the trumpet playing during the first encore, continues through the "Good evening friends" bit and carries into the full second encore. Dig it!



As the European tour continued, Louis continued hitting home runs with "Tiger Rag." We'll never know how many times he busted out the three and four-encore versions but even the basic versions were something special. I have more audio I could share but I won't because they're very similar to what we've heard. I would like to point your attention to a video, however. In May 1959, just a month before the heart attack, the All Stars were filmed in La-Bussola Focette, Italy. It's a wonderful broadcast, worthy of DVD release, and features one go-around on "Tiger Rag." Louis was again in superhuman form and, perhaps knowing he didn't have time for encores, really blows out the light at the end, holding one high note towards the end for much longer than usual, and he manages to skirt up to a high F at the very finish. Even though we could probably all sing this solo note-for-note by this point, there's something about seeing him do it that's even more impressive. Unfortunately, embedding of this video is not allowed so I'm going to have to send you over to it, which can be done by clicking here.

Also, the Armstrong DVD in the fantastic "Jazz Icons" series has another exciting "Tiger Rag," this time WITH an encore, filmed in Antwerp, Belgium in March 1959. On this version, you can see Louis chase Trummy around the piano and also watch Louis in absolutely stirring form (I've actually shown this clip at lectures and it's always a favorite). Unfortunately, this version isn't on YouTube but the DVD is easy to find online at Amazon and other such places.

Hopefully you've marveled at Louis's miraculous playing on "Tiger Rag" during the European tour of 1959 (and applause for the Europeans who recorded so many of these shows....it's a shame that so little seemingly survives from countless All Stars American one-nighters of the 1950s and 1960s). But as we'll see next time, "Tiger Rag" was never the same after the heart attack. Come back in a few days and we'll kill this "Tiger" together...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

80 Years of "Tiger Rag" - Part Eight - Second Show, January 21, 1959

Stand back.

That’s the only appropriate way to begin today’s entry on a single live performance of “Tiger Rag” from January 1959, one that I previously blogged about in January 2009under the title "The Tiger Rag to End All Tiger Rags." I still standy by that title. As promised, this version was recorded the very same night as the mind-blowing, four-encore version I posted last Friday. Clearly, the crowd at the Falkoner Centret in Copenhagen, Denmark inspired Pops beyond belief!

After taking a break between shows, Armstrong opened his second performance on January 21 with the usual trio of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," "Indiana" and "Basin Street Blues" before it was time for “Tiger Rag.” Now, this entire performance is available on the fourth volume of Storyville’s Louis Armstrong In Scandinavia series and all nine minutes and 35 seconds (yes, you read that right) can be downloaded for just 99 cents on Itunes if you’d like to keep it in your collection and play it for your friends. I will post the entire performance uninterrupted towards the end of this post. But before writing this, I opened up my Mac’s Garage Band program and did some editing, separating the tune’s many parts so you can enjoy it with play-by-play commentary as the performance progresses. Again, if you don’t know what’s about to happen, stand back.

So here goes. The standard All Stars version of “Tiger Rag”:



Danny Barcelona’s drums set the ridiculous pace before the front line of Armstrong, Young and clarinetist Peanuts Hucko tackle the opening strains of the tune, Hucko taking the breaks. Armstrong loved taking “Tiger Rag” at inhuman speeds because he actually became more relaxed the faster the tempo. Armstrong tears through the famous “Hold That Tiger” strain with Young answering with some appropriate roars. Hucko doesn’t sound too comfortable with the tempo but he’s not bad by any means. For his solo, Hucko maintains a consistent relaxed flow, playing in half-time, which he didn’t always do. Young then follows with his boisterous set solo, complete with a quote from “Feniculi Fenicula.”

Then it’s Pops, charging out of the gate with some repeated notes before he begins dispensing with the 1930 vintage quotes of “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Pagliacci.” (Just listen to that dazzling, lightening quick, almost smeared lead-in to the “Pagliacci” quote during the break.) Armstrong then hits and holds a high concert Ab (he played “Tiger Rag” in the same key), showing off his endurance and calling the troops home for the final chorus chase...and I mean chase in the literal sense as he would sometimes chase Young around the piano (as we’ll hear in it a bit). Armstrong liked to use this last chorus to revisit the exhibitionistic side of his youth and here he works over a two-note pattern, leading off with the same high Ab and resolving it to either a lower F or G. For the end, he jumps up to high C and he manages to end with a stunning high Eb. Great playing but that was just par for the course, as was the encore that followed. Give it a listen:



The crowd can still be heard cheering and Armstrong can be heard laughing as Barcelona sets the pace for round two. Hucko leads off, still in relaxed half-time but after an instruction to “Blow” from Pops, Hucko turns on the heat for a wild finish. Trummy, still thinking of Italy, opens with a tiny hint of “O Sole Mio” before going for himself.

Pops opens with another quote, this time “I’m Confessin’” before taking a trip to “Dixie” in the break. Even the way he comes out of the break is straight out of his 1930s playbook, showing he still had the chops to pull off his younger solos. Slowly moving up the ladder, instead of holding a high Ab, Armstrong climbs up to a high Bb to bridge the gap to the start of the final chorus. This time, he really hams it up with Trummy, indulging in some humorous “shouting” at each other. He also goes off-mike, which means the chase has clearly spread to the rest of the stage. But clowning aside, just listen to those notes. The first time around, Armstrong used the Ab as a point of departure and went down, to either F’s or G’s. Now, he uses the Ab as a spring board to go up, hitting one high C after another. He finally holds a gigantic high C and makes his way up to another high Eb and another triumphant ending.

And that, my friends, was usually that. Incredibly powerful, exciting playing, some fun clowning and overall, a showstopper. It was then time for “Now You Has Jazz” and if you listen to the end of that last track--much as what happened earlier in the day--you’ll hear the pianist start playing his introductory arpeggio.

But not so fast. This crowd was clearly in bedlam and though Kyle’s setting up the next tune, Armstrong can’t help signaling for one more (though he does it in his signature stage yelling, which I can never translate!). So get ready....for round three, second encore:


Armstrong can now be heard laughing behind Hucko’s solo. He’s having the time of his life, doing this craziness twice in one day! Never mind Hucko and Young, who both sound good (Trummy’s excellent). This time Armstrong enters with another quote from his 1930s “Tiger Rag” solos, one Victor Herbert's "Gypsy Love Song," which Pops forgot about until his third encore earlier that day.

After Armstrong plays the quote, he begins improvising in a very operatic manner. In fact, almost everything he plays from here on out has an air of opera to it. But dig that break: he plays two high C’s, hits one high Db...then scampers away like a child who just found the ocean to be too cold. It’s so playful but the the high Bb he holds again at the end of the chorus is as serious as your life. For the last chorus, he uses high C again as his main note until the break. This time, he heads right up to the high Eb he usually ends the piece with and nails it. And nails it again. And again. And again. Seven times in all. Before ending the tune...on a high F!

I mean are you kidding? This is almost a 60-year-old man! Naturally, the crowd goes berserk and just as naturally, Billy Kyle starts playing the “Now You Has Jazz” arpeggio again. Enough is enough, right?

Ding, ding, Round four!



Now Hucko’s on fire. Something special’s happening. During Young’s solo, listen closely and you’ll hear Armstrong blow three quiet harmony notes, giving the chops a quick test before heading into uncharted territory, a third encore. I’ve heard this a thousand times, but I still get nervous! For this outing, Pops dispenses with the quotes but keeps the same operatic style of playing in mind. Really, sing back his phrases but put on a serious face and wave your hand dramatically; it’s opera! He nails another high C in his break and this time, instead of holding an Ab or a Bb, he holds a high C into the final chorus.

But wait, high C? That’s pretty high, right? Where else can he go but up? You got it...like he’s 30 years old again, Armstrong sets his aim for that high Eb again. And what am I saying, like he’s 30 years old again? These Eb’s I’m writing about are actually F’s on the trumpet. When he was 30, Armstrong would play a hundred C’s and top out at the F but even on records like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” from 1929 and “You’re Lucky to Me” from 1930, he just about gets that last high F (concert Eb) out. But now here he is in 1959, getting killed by critics for being out-of-date and for not playing like he did when he was younger, but demonstrating a greater range and a better command of his instrument.

So let’s count along, shall we? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 Eb’s ending on a high F. Insane. Great job, Pops, let’s do “Now You Has Jazz,” okay? But the audience is still losing its mind, doing that unison clapping-on-the-beat that’s always been popular when European audiences want to signal their approval. So even though he did more than anyone expected him to, Armstrong signals for a fourth encore:


Hucko and Young sound good but both sound like they’re running out of gas a little bit (though, a moment of credit for the rhythm section of Barcelona, Kyle and bassist Mort Herbert for keeping this thing afloat for so long at such a ludicrous tempo!). Pops, ready for battle, starts off with more operatic playing, a little descending scampering and, my highlight, a quote from “Exactly Like You” in his break, perfectly placed. He then holds the high C again and gets ready for yet another chorus of high Eb’s. However, like an arm-weary boxer in the 12th and final round of a bruising slugfest, Armstrong barely misses the mark on his first two attempts, the first one sounding more like a squeak, while the second one is about a half-step too low.

But don’t cry for old Pops, just yet. He rallies back and soon begins hitting the Eb’s again, one after another. Earlier that day, he spent the fourth encore lobbing those huge, slow glisses around from Ab to Eb. But this time he keeps repeating these quicker, shorter glisses up to the Eb, carrying on on through the break, though a little more space creeps in towards the finish line. Clearly tired and probably in pain, Armstrong gathers every last bit of endurance left in his body and in his lips and makes the climb to that final high F one last time. Bravo!

Nine minutes and 35 seconds of playing. One performance and four encores. Probably about a hundred notes, high C or above. So why do it? Armstrong explained in a little speech he gave right before he finally launched into “Now You Has Jazz”:



So there you have it. The audience was going wild and Pops couldn’t stop, much like earlier in the day. But one might be asking about today's entry and my last one, “Why all the encores? Why didn’t Pops just play seven or eight straight choruses as he did in the 1930s?” It’s a great question and to me, I can only assume that it was a concession to age. Think about what Armstrong did to his chops in the 1920s and 1930s. That he even had such a long career is something of a miracle. And in the mid-to-late-50s, he was blowing at an incredibly high level. The only thing he required was more time to rest. Thus, he became a master at pacing the All Stars’s live shows. He knew when to sing more, when to throw it to a sideman, when to play an encore. I think if Armstrong played seven choruses in a row on that 1959 version, he would have been out of gas before the ending. But the encores allowed him that little resting period every time Hucko and Young took their solos. Thus, every time they finished, he was properly refreshed and ready to shoot out the lights. Only on that last attempt did any tiredness creep in and he still finished on top. Incredible playing. In fact, using my Mac again, I edited together all the trumpet playing into a single 3:43 long track, ten choruses in all. Enjoy:



When you listen to that, it’s no wonder that Pops had a heart attack in Spoleto, Italy just a few months later. He was pushing himself harder than ever, both on his body with the frequent concerts and on his chops. And he continued doing crazy things with "Tiger Rag" throughout the trip. I'm going to share two more of my favorites from the 1959 European tour in my next part before finally wrapping things up with part ten early next week. But to close, I will shut up and allow you to listen to the full experience of today's version of "Tiger Rag," unedited, in all it’s glory. Again, I warn you...stand back:

Friday, May 21, 2010

80 Years of "Tiger Rag" - Part Seven - First Show, January 21, 1959

On January 20, 1959, Louis Armstrong played two concerts at the Spothallen in Umea, Sweden, site of the ferocious version of "Tiger Rag" I closed my last post with. Then it was time to travel 1,295 kilometers (805 miles for my fellow Americans) to the Falkoner Centret in Copenhagen, Denmark where Louis would continue during two shows a day for the next five days.

Armstrong and his All Stars must have already been exhausted but this was nothing new, having grown used to traveling across the United States on an endless series of one-nighters. But this was Louis's first European tour since 1955 and it was going to be a killer, nearly six months long, almost always two shows a day. Louis was pushing 60 but--for now--he was ready to keep pushing.

One thing that made the grind more bearable was the reaction of his fans, especially those in Europe, who routinely greeted and treated Louis like a superhero. The fans in Copenhagen were especially ecstatic and it was their response to Louis's routine on "Tiger Rag" that inspired Pops to do some of the most jaw-dropping playing of his career.

The All Stars had a huge book but when Louis would embark on these European tours, he usually came up a pretty strict set list, at least at the start. After he would do his opening five or six numbers, he could change the rest of the show depending on how he felt and how the crowd was reacting. But the 1959 usually featured the same opening of "Sleepy Time Down South," "Indiana," "Basin Street Blues" (sometimes with an encore), "Tiger Rag" and "Now You Has Jazz." Louis was clearly in inspired form from the get-go of this Copenhagen concert and the audience already stirred him enough to do an encore on "Basin Street Blues."

But nothing could have prepared anyone in attendence--including the other musicians!--as to what was about to happen on "Tiger Rag." The All Stars went through their usual high-speed workout on the number and, as usually happened, took a fun encore. That was usually that--but not this time. As Billy Kyle started playing the arpeggio to signal the beginning of "Now You Has Jazz," Pops called another encore. Then another. Then one more. Four encores in all, topping himself on each one.

I posted the audio to this version back in December with little explanation and was thrilled when Jon Faddis told me he was so knocked out, he sent it to a bunch of trumpet players he knew. This time, I'll dig a little deeper with my description but for now, buckle your seat belt and enjoy this "Tiger Rag":


If you were here for my last entry, you know the drill: Danny Barcelona drum break, Louis leads the opening strains, passes the ball to clarinetist Peanuts Hucko and trombonist Trummy Young for solos, then takes a spot himself, usually made up of many quotes he first came up with in his 1930s recordings of the tune. A few bars of Pops's solo has been lopped off but it comes back in time for Louis's "Pagliacci" quote. He then holds a giant Ab and repeats it in my different ways in the last chorus, ending on a high Eb. So far, so good.

The encore begins at 2:30 with another round of solos by Hucko and Young. Then Louis jumps in with a quote from "I'm Confessin'," leading into a "Dixie" break, a chorus completely lifted from his 1930s set solo. At this point, Louis and Trummy would start blowing at each other, occasionally resulting in a chase around the piano. Instead of repeated high Ab's, Louis raises the stakes to high C's, though he indulges in a little "talking" playing with Young as the humorously "yell" at each other for a few seconds. Another high Eb finishes off encore number one.

At 4:08, you'll hear Billy Kyle almost automatically start his "Now You Has Jazz" arpeggio. But Pops calls him off and instead starts a second encore of "Tiger Rag"! By this point, Pops had pretty much exhuasted his set list of quotes and such so it's time to start improvising. And he comes up with a gassuh, by starting his solo with "Whispering"! He works it over twice before uncorking a terrific break made up of the melody to "Exactly Like You." He then holds another high C and tops it off with another chorus of high C after high C, finishing on another Eb.

Well, by this point, the bedlam can clearly be heard. Kyle attempts the "Now You Has Jazz" intro again, but--you guessed it--it's time for encore three, beginning at 5:55. This time, Louis remembers he still had one more quote left in his old stockpile so he begins with it, Victor Herbert's "Gypsy Love Song." But then he's back to improvising some new ideas, completely in his own frame of time. He sounds like he almost gets turned around for a second but he soon relaxes and holds that high C to lead into the final chorus. After repeating Ab's in the first version and C's on the first two encores, there's nowhere to go but up. And that's just what he does with an astonishing chorus built on high Eb's. Even in his 1930s prime, high concert Eb is where Louis ended. On the 1937 Fleischmann's Yeast version had a similar final chorus and just like then, Louis goes one better and ends on a high F! Ridiculous...

More bedlam ensues and Louis can be heard shouting "The cats are gone!" Unable to stop himself, Louis calls for a fourth encore at 7:54. Give Peanuts and Trummy (jazz musicians don't have names like that anymore) credit for continuing to blow with such gusto (Trummy especially shows off some rapid playing). But it's still Louis's show and he uncorks a brand new chorus, pushing himself, creating new ideas with each passing bar--dig that wild break! Finally, towards the end, there's a hint that his lip might be giving out a bit. Instead of holding high C's or Eb's, he goes back to the Ab, which he held the first time through.

But don't let the momentary lower note fool you. From that Ab, Louis glisses all the way back to Eb! And he spends the rest of the final chorus taking batting practice, winding up and hitting these tape measure blasts, one after another, Eb to Ab, Eb to Ab. And once again, another high F. Amazing.

Louis, finally finished, tells the audience that when they have a crazy audience, they're crazy, too! He wasn't kidding. It was then time for "Now You Has Jazz" and the rest of the concert to proceed as planned. But that "Tiger Rag" was something special.

But the story is not over! Louis and the All Stars played two sets, Louis closing with more powerful playing on "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" and "Royal Garden Blues." Then it was time to relax...but not for long. Louis would have to give one more concert THAT SAME EVENING. And don't you know, he played four encores on "Tiger Rag" AGAIN!? And it's even better than the version we just heard? Don't believe me? See you for part 8....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

80 Years of "Tiger Rag" - Part Six - 1956-1959 Versions

And welcome back to this seemingly endless look at Louis Armstrong's history with "Tiger Rag." We haven't even hit the wildest versions yet, so I hope you've fastened your seatbelts and are enjoying the ride. And for my friends who appreciate the more lyrical Pops, please, help yourself to my older posts on "Blue Turning Grey Over You" or "That For Me"! But for those who want to count the high notes, stick around.

When we last left our hero, he had just cut a smoking version of "Tiger Rag" in an empty movie theater in Milan for the Columbia album "Ambassador Satch." When the record was released in early 1956, Louis was very proud of it and signalled "Tiger Rag" out for special praise. It still wasn't a regular part of his band's repertoire but that was slowly changing.

On June 1, 1956, Louis and the All Stars took part in a concert at Medina Temple in Chicago. This date, released by Columbia as "The Great Chicago Concert" is still around and it's a gassuh, still perhaps my favorite 1950s evening with the All Stars. The first half of the show featured Louis appearing in a history of jazz kind of production, narrated by Helen Hayes. To kick off his contributions, Louis and the band marched to the stage playing the New Orleans funeral medley of "Flee as a Bird" and "Oh, Didn't He Ramble."

Once they hit the stage, they played a medley of old songs as a means of starting this jazz history at beginning. After almost throwaway runthroughs of "Memphis Blues" and "Frankie and Johnny," Barrett Deems took a manic drum break and the boys were off and swinging "Tiger Rag." Through the magic of editing, I have removed "Memphis" and "Frankie" so here is the Chicago version of "Tiger":


If you were here for the previous part, you could probably realize that it's pretty closely related to the "Ambassador Satch" version, minus the hokum between Armstrong and trombonist Trummy Young, as well as the frequent drum breaks. But it is still mostly ensemble without a solo for Pops.

The front line tears it apart through the opening strains (the crowd breaks into spontaneous applause at the "Hold That Tiger" section) before handing it over for the only solo of this performance: bassist Dale Jones. Jones had replaced Jack Lesberg, who replaced Arvell Shaw in April. Armstrong loved Jones, who originally replaced Shaw in 1951. Back then, on one of his private tapes, Armstrong bragged to a group of friends that Jones brought the quality of the All Stars "up," praised his showmanship and said that Shaw would never get back in the band. That turned out to not be true but Jones did get the call again for about four months in 1956.

Armstrong might have loved Jones, but Jones had one bad habit: his solos often fell apart, especially at fast tempos. You can hear that on "Tiger Rag" as, after walking well for half a chorus and even incorporating a cute from "Yankee Doodle," he completely breaks down and stops playing for a beat or two before he finishes strong. But I'm going to knock him too badly. The man is only human--just listen to that tempo!--so we'll cut him some slack.

After Jones's outing, it's ensemble time. On the "Ambassador Satch" version, the band would play one chorus before turning it over to the drums. The glory of the Chicago version is Armstrong gets to power his group through TWO ensemble choruses. As I've stated before, this was the most high octane lineup in All Stars history so just sit back and let it wash over you. Pops, foreshadowing the outstanding playing he was about to contribute over the next two hours, sounds fantastic. And for the first time, he digs into his earlier "Tiger" bag and pulls out the quote from Victor Herbert's "Gypsy Love Song," right before squeezing the holy hell out of a high C that leads into the final chorus. One of my favorite moments occurs when Armstrong starts tumbling downward, a graceful, yet surprising little episode. Seconds later, he's back on top, ending on a big fat high Eb.

Armstrong was killing it on "Tiger Rag" but for some reason, it wasn't ready to enter the repertoire. There's at least three live shows and some broadcasts from the summer of 1956, but no "Tiger Rag." Then there's a long dry spell of live recordings that lasts into 1957. Armstrong still didn't play it at Newport in 1957 and he doesn't seem to have played it at an Orpheum Theater concert in Seattle either in September of that year.

But by November, "Tiger Rag" was back...annnnd how! In the intervening months, Louis must have done some studying. He was ready to solo again on this number, borrowing heavily from his 1930s set pieces (feel free to go back to parts 1 or 2 of this series as it will help refresh your memory). And he also found a way to insert a little of the clowning around of the "Ambassador Satch" version: in the final chorus, he would cast his eyes on Trummy Young like a hunter...and chase him around the stage! You can imagine how critics reacted but they also must have stopped listening because Armstrong now used those final choruses to turn back the clock and indulge in some 1930-vintage high note fireworks.

The first time we encounter the new-and-improved "Tiger Rag" is during Armstrong's November 1957 tour of South America. This version survives--admittedly in so-so quality--from a broadcast at the Teatro Opera in Buenos Aires. Armstrong's fans in Argentina were ecstatic in their appreciation of Pops, which made Louis push himself even harder than usual. As on the "Ambassador Satch" version, most of Louis's "Tiger Rags" from the late 1950s featured an encore but in Buenos Aires, Louis played TWO encores. And again, I hope you have your 1930s "Tiger Rags" memorized...here's the audio:


A Spanish-speaking radio announcer steps over a bit of Barrett Deems's drum intro, but soon enough, the All Stars are flying again, clarinetist Edmond Hall particularly firery (when wasn't he?). After Hall's solo, Armstrong steps up for his outing, charging in with some repeated notes before going back to 1930 and inserting "Singin' in the Rain." Then he replicates a head-spinning upward whirl of a phrase he used to play in the 1930s leading into his quote from "Pagliacci," also an old standby.

He then holds a high Ab and spends the last chorus giving that Ab a solid working over, hitting a C at once, but mainly sticking to the Ab until the final high Eb. It's all over in two minutes but it's enough to raise the blood pressure.

But then it's encore time, starting right in with another wild romp by Hall. Then it's Louis with "Gypsy Love Song" and another snatch of "Singin' in the Rain" before a break centered around a piping hot high Bb. He continues floating through the last 16 bars before he starts aiming Ab jabs at Trummy, ready to embark on their chase. Armstrong spends the final chorus alternating Ab's and high C's, just as he did 20 years earlier, while Trummy snarls right back at him. I've seen a photo of Louis on this tour wearing a matador's hat while Trummy played with a cape on. I don't have concrete proof, but it wouldn't surprise me if they put on the garb for "Tiger Rag"!

Whatever they did was obviously causing a sensation with the audience. One encore was the norm, but on special occaions, Louis would take more. You'll hear the music end and the spanish-speaking announcer return before he realizes that they're playing another chorus! He quickly stops just in time to catch half of Edmond Hall's encore. Louis then enters by quoting "I'm Confessin'," which he had only done on the 1938 Martin Block jam session broadcast. He turns this into a beautiful motif before he starts tossing more Ab's in Trummy's direction. I'll admit, the sound quality on the last chorus is a mess as Louis, in the midst of chasing Trummy, clearly went off-mike. But if you listen carefully, it's just more high C's and another high Eb at the end. Stunning endurance.

So that was the new routine for "Tiger Rag," one that Louis would officially play just about evening for the next couple of years. At Newport in 1958, Bert Stern's camera's capatured Louis performing it. Though he cut it off before the encore--and though Sony still refuses to release this set!!!--it's still vaulable because the image is gorgeous, the sound quality is perfect and Louis was having an extraordinary night. Peanuts Hucko is now on clarinet--oh, and let's give a hand to the rhythm section of Billy Kyle, Mort Herbert and Danny Barcelona for never letting these "Tigers's" drag! And you can finally see Louis and Trummy battle a bit. This is the the entire ten-minute clip of Louis so if you just want the "Tiger," it can be found from 3:10 to 5:15:

So far, we've heard some spectacular trumpet playing. But what would happen when Louis's chops would have an off-night? The answer can be found during a recording of Louis's October 1958 Monterey set with the All Stars, one which I blogged about in great detail last year. Louis was having a tough struggle from the beginning but he knew how to conserve his energy. He cut his solo on "Indiana" and followed immediately with the vocal only "Blueberry Hill."

Properly rested, Armstrong called “Tiger Rag." Like “Indiana,” Armstrong got through the racehorse opening ensemble choruses without much of a struggle before passing it on to Hucko for a hot outing. But then it's time for Pops. You can hear Armstrong play a few quiet notes behind Hucko to make sure his chops are together and then he’s off! This was another solo that Armstrong had pretty much set but this time, he doesn’t quite pull it off. His phrasing is a little slower than usual as he sounds almost too careful to not blow himself out. He makes it thorugh the "Singin' in the Rain" quote but on his first break, which usually featured a gliss into a high note or a fleet-fingered phrase, he instead flickers a valve quickly, producing a an exciting tremolo effect (reminds me of Red Allen), but it’s not as effective as what he played on a good night. After the break Armstrong goes into the “Pagliacci” quote but he actually mispitches one of the notes (a true rarity). It’s amazing listening to his brain work, though. He was a great editor and, knowing his limitations on that night, his phrasing has more of a legato feel and most of little quick phrases that dotted his solos are gone as he kind of floats through his statement.

But then comes maybe the saddest moment from that evening. Armstrong would usually hold an Ab as the band would reenter to play the rideout chorus but when he tries it here, he again falters and loses it for an instant. But then this is followed by maybe the most triumphant moment of the night: he continues to hold the Ab, slowly getting stronger before he gives his all in the ride out, hitting a series of high C’s. This was all part of the routine and Armstrong probably could have played it safe and improvised something in the middle register but on this night, in front of such a huge, adoring audience, he couldn’t. He keeps playing the two-note phrase, Ab to high C, over and over, glissing some of them, not exactly on top of the beat as he usually is, but he’s pretty damn close (chasing Trummy Young around the stage the entire time!). During the break he even glisses from high C, down to Ab and back up to C. As he continues driving home those high C’s, it’s clear that this is painful, punishing work. After listening to it a couple of times, tears actually welled up in my eyes, in awe of how much he gave his audiences no matter the shape he was in. He ends “Tiger Rag” on an even higher Eb, as the crowd roars its approval. Armstrong sounds pretty happy, too.

For the audio, here are the final two choruses from Monterey, consisting of Armstring's solo and those painful high C's. (I originally made this clip to demonstrate that Louis was back on top just a few months later so after the Monterey solo, you'll hear Armstrong nailing everything on a version from Slovenia in May 1959. But he's been nailing everything to this point and we're going to get to 1959 soon enough, so really, you just have to focus on the Monterey solo.)


Armstrong's chops continued to bother him throughout the fall of 1958 but by the beginning of 1959, he was in top shape. That can all be seen in the following clip of three songs from two different "Timex All Star Jazz Shows." The first is "I Love Jazz" from the November 10, 1958 show, just a month after Monterey and you can hear Louis still sounding weak at points. But by the next "Timex" show on Janaury 7, he was back. After a little "Now You Has Jazz" with Jackie Gleason subbing for Bing Crosby, Louis goes into "Tiger Rag," playing a full version, with solos from Hucko and Trummy before Louis takes charge, going from "I'm Confessin'" to "Dixie," another staple of those 1930s versions. Then Louis and Trummy do their thing which, this time, involves some "talking" instruments as they humorously yell and snort at each other, something they did from time to time. There's an annoying skipping quality to this clip but otherwise, it's pretty great. "Tiger Rag" starts at 4:40:
About a week later, Louis headed to Europe for a six-month tour that ended with him having a heart attack in Spoleto, Italy in June. But oh, those six months! God bless European fans for always having their tape recorders running as there's a lot of audio, and even video, from this tour.

"Tiger Rag" was a staple, played at every single stop directly after "Basin Street Blues" and before "Now You Has Jazz." At this point, I'd like to share one of these early versions from Umea, Sweden, January 20, 1959. This is the quintessential "Tiger Rag" from this period: drum break, opening strains, Hucko solo, Young solo, Louis solo (quotes), high notes, chase, end. Then an encore with clarinet, trombone, Louis and more high notes. Pops is perfect, the quotes are flowing and it's a lot of fun from start to finish:


I'm going to close with that version and end right there. Because when I return, it's going to be to demonstrate what Pops did just one day later, a very special day, January 21, 1959. He played two concerts...and during each show, played FOUR encores of "Tiger Rag." I've shared these before and they were some of my most popular posts (Jon Faddis even sent the links to a bunch of trumpeters he knew, he was so impressed with what Pops was playing). S'all for now...but be prepared for next time!

Friday, May 14, 2010

80 Years of "Tiger Rag" - Part Five - Ambassador Satch

Louis Armstrong and The All Stars
Recorded December 20, 1955
Track Time 3:38
Written by Nick La Rocca
Recorded in Milan, Italy
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, talk; Trummy Young, trombone, talk; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Billy Kyle, piano; Arvell Shaw,b ass; Barrett Deems, drums.
Originally released on Columbia CL 840
Currently available on CD: It’s on Ambassador Satch.
Available on Itunes? Yes

As discusessed at the end of my last entry in this never-ending series, "Tiger Rag" did not seem to be a big part of Louis Armstrong's live performances in the late 1940s and for the first half of the 1950s. That all changed in 1955 with the recording of a version of the tune for the album "Ambassador Satch." As always, a little backstory...

Louis's career was riding high towards the end of 1955: Beginning in September, George Avakian would control Louis's recordings for Columbia for nearly an entire a year. At a September 28 session, Louis recorded "Mack the Knife" and had a huge hit with it. That session was the first with new clarinetist Edmond Hall, who's firey playing catapaulted the All Stars into their peak edition. Plus, Louis was receiving momentous publicity for a three-month tour of Europe with articles appearing in the "New York Times," "Time" magazine, "U.S. News and World Report" and more. Edward R. Murrow, on the sugestion of Avakian, caught up with Louis during this tour and filmed some of it to be shown on a December 13 edition of "See It Now." Pops was hot!

The overseas stuff was really killer and Avakian wanted to make that the focus of Louis's next Columbia recording. He headed to Europe and on October 30, recorded an entire All Stars concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. As someone who is fortunate enough to have heard this show, I can attest that it's a fantastic evening with the All Stars. But George Avakian had a restless quest for perfection. Thanks to Chris Albertson, Avakian's handwritten notes on this concert have survived and they show his unsatisfied with many of the tunes, usually for small reasons (muffed note, too long of a bass solo, etc.).

At the same same time, Decca had released three live sets by Louis in the previous five years: "Satchmo at Symphony Hall," "Satchmo at Pasadena" and "At the Crescendo." Decca had a five-year restriction on other labels recording any numbers released on those sets. Louis had a pretty big band book but about half the material he played in Amsterdam was recorded earlier that year at the Crescendo and thus, would be unusable.

George knew if he wanted to get achieve the high standards he was noted for--perfect performances of different material--he'd have to do it the old-fashioned way and treat the rest of the album like a studio session. He was happy with "Tin Roof Blues," "Dadanella," "Undecided" and "Muskrat Ramble" from Amsterdam but he needed more.

On December 20, 1955, Avakian caught up with Louis in Milan, Italy where Louis was playing three--THREE!--shows in one day. Avakian decided to do his recording that evening...or should I say morning, since Louis remembered them recording at five o'clock in the morning. Avakian rented an empty movie theater that would give a live ambience and invited a group of enthusiastic Italian fans, as well as members of Louis's entourage, to act as an audience. Now, Avakian could take his time and treat this like a session, with rehearsals and time for multiple takes.

You'd think Louis was beat, but he was really just warmed up. After starting off with a run-through of "Indiana," Louis recorded a stirring rendition of "West End Blues" that made it onto the final album. Then after a bit of rehearsal, it was time for something new so they tackled a song Louis liked when he heard it in Germany, "The Faithful Hussar." The results were great, ending up on the album and giving Louis a pet favorite tune to perform live into the late 1960s.

Needing something else, clarinetist Edmond Hall suggested "Tiger Rag." Because the band hadn't played it in years, some rehearsing would be necessary. Seeing a chance for a gimmick of sorts, someone--probably Avakian, possibly Louis--came up with the cute idea to have Trummy Young's trombone act as the "tiger." With each roar, Louis was react verbally. Then later, Trummy and Louis would team up for some hokum about
the tiger biting them. It was all a lot of fun (later, after the record was released, Louis broke himself up with laughter in an interview recounting his lines with Trummy about "Where did he bite you?").

Through the kindness of my European friends, I have been able to obtain some of the surviving takes of the tunes recorded that evening in Milan. Avakian's custom was generally to only record full takes but on "Tiger Rag," he let the tapes roll to catch a bit of the rehearsal. Here it is, made public for the first time in 55 years:


Immediately, you can hear Trummy and Louis working on their routine featuring Young's growl. As soon as it's straight, you can hear the other muscians offer a "Yeah!" of approval. They were clearly digging it. Edmond Hall can then be heard playing the "Hold That Tiger" riff in Ab while Louis starts fingering the opening strain in Bb. (At this point, the first 15 seconds repeats itself; don't let it throw you.) There's a discussion about keys--"verse in Bb"--as Trummy keeps working on his growl. Louis imitates a wetter, wider growl and Young immediately responds. Louis sings his "Hold that tiger" bit while drummer Barrett Deems gives a taste of what's about to occur ("Yeahhhh, man," Pops says in approval).

Avakian then recorded another rehearsal take, this time with actual music. Louis and Trummy's bit leads into a roaring Barrett Deems drum solo before the band takes off with the verse. This take breaks down after two minutes but it's still fascinating listening:


After Deems's drum solo, the band plows through the opening strains with tremendous vigor. Arvell Shaw's bass lines sound a little hesitant and there's a couple of bad clashes, especially in the sequence before the main "Hold That Tiger" strain (though Hall sounds fantastic throughout). Once they get to the main strain, there's a little confusion over who's to take the first break, resulting in silence but otherwise it's tight with Trummy doing an excellent job with his slides. However, Louis's chops seem to slowly run out of gas towards the end of the ensemble chorus--remember, it's 5 a.m., he's played three shows and already recorded "Indiana," "West End Blues" and "The Faithful Hussar." Apologies to Robert Downey Jr., this is the real Iron Man!

Neverthesless, Louis bursts out of the ensemble into a cooking solo, full of great ideas. However, he sticks to mainly the middle register--the one highish note he attempts cracks a bit--and by the end, he sounds like he's running out the clock. Seconds later, as Hall picks up the ball, the take breaks down.

Though it was only a rehearsal take and didn't require Louis to blow like mad, he probably knew that he wouldn't be able to unleash exhibitionist side. Thus, the finished "Tiger Rag" from Milan is rare in that Louis never takes a solo.

However, for ensemble playing, this one is tough to beat. As I alluded to earlier, this is my favorite version of the All Stars. As Arvell Shaw once said, that front line of Armstrong, Hall and Young had the power of a big band. It really comes through on "Tiger Rag."

So with the rehearals out of the way, it was time to attempt a take. This one didn't make the final cut but if you're a European who bought certain Philips 45 rpm singles of this record, you've probably heard this take as that was the only way it was issued. Here's take 1:


Honestly, that's a pretty good performance for a first take; I see why Philips would have had no worries about releasing it. The Louis-and-Trummy bit is fine and everybody blows excitingly in the ensembles. Hall gets the only solo and it's a doozy, opening with a gut-wrenching (in a good way) swoon.

But perhaps rembering those drum-heavy 1940s versions I shared earlier in the week, the real spotlight shines on Barrett Deems with his various breaks and long solo in the middle. During the solo, Pops yells "Watch that tiger, boy!" and you can really hear the small crowd of rabid fans screaming themselves silly. The closing ensemble is wonderful, with Pops still sticking around the upper middle-register of his horn, though after Deems's break, he ends on a high one.

Take 1 came off beautifully but Avakian asked for one more just to have something to compare it to. Once completed, he asked for an encore chorus. Encores were a standard part of Armstrong's shows and I think it's something that came with him from his New Orleans days as he remembered Joe Oliver taking encores on numbers that received large hands. There are many unissued and issued performances from the 1955 tour and off the top of my head, I can think of Louis playing encores on "Twelfth Street Rag," "Royal Garden Blues," "Bucket's Got a Hole in It," "Basin Street Blues," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Margie," "The Man I Love," "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" and probably a few more. Thus, to make "Ambassador Satch" feel more like the real thing, Avakian asked for encores on "The Faithful Hussar," "Tiger Rag," "Royal Garden Blues, "That's A Plenty" and You Can Depend On Me" (though the later two never made the final album).

So for those of you accustomed to hearing this performance only on the final, issued album, here's how the issued take of "Tiger Rag" went down. You'll hear that the encore wasn't immediate as there's a bit of silence in between. And you'll also hear the crowd yelling for the drums, but not nearly at the volume of the issued version, thanks to Avakian sweetening the applause to make it seem more live.


Even without a solo from Louis, it sure is a hot recording, one of my favorite examples of that Armstrong-Young-Hall partnership. Louis's lead playing is especially forceful (his entrance after the drum solo always reminds me of "From the Hall of Montezuma"). The applause and laughter from Trummy at the end indicates that everyone was quite happy with that take. Avakian calls for the encore and it picks up right where the issued take left off as the band steams through another chorus, another Deems break and another high-note ending. Avakian was pleased and it was time to move on to "Royal Garden Blues."

Now, I sincerely hope all of the above has been a treat to my readers, but it's all been a build-up to the issued take. And though we just heard it in its primitive state, here's "Tiger Rag" in much better fidelity (with Avakian's added applause) as it appeared as the final track of "Ambassador Satch":


So there you have it. As I mentioned "Royal Garden Blues" was next and was a hit, making for a scorching opener. Avakian's attempts to record versions of "You Can Depend on Me," "Lonesome Road" and "That's a Plenty" all failed, however, though they all have some wonderful moments (enough to be issued by Sony....COME ON!). Pops was finally out of gas by the end of "That's a Plenty" and the session ended with a few attempts to nail down Edmond Hall's feature on "Dardanella" which didn't require Louis (and in the end, Avakian still ended up using an earlier version from Amsterdam).

Still not satisfied, Avakian called for one more session in Los Angeles in January, at which he recorded "All of Me" and "Twelfth Street Rag," the final two songs for the album. When "Ambassador Satch" was issued in 1956, Louis was ecstatic. When an interviewer complimented his live recording from the Crescendo Club, Louis told him that his new record, "Ambassador Satch," was even better and bragged about wailing on "West End Blues" at five o'clock in the morning. Then he added, "And ‘Tiger Rag,’ you ain’t never heard ‘Tiger Rag’ in your life like them cats, the longer they played it."

Louis was proud of this "Tiger Rag" and realized that it was maybe time for it to re-enter his band's live performances. At this point, I'll cut it off, wish everyone a happy weekend and I'll see you back here for part six next week!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

80 Years of "Tiger Rag" - Part Four: 1946 and 1947 Versions (Drummers, Unite!)

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, "Tiger Rag" wasn't exactly a hip tune anymore as the 1940s began. All of a sudden Louis Armstrong, who had been pounding out live versions as late as 1937 and 1937, just stopped playing it. On the many, many, many broacasts that survive from the war period, none feature "Tiger Rag."

But by the mid-40s, the jazz wars (no relation to the world wars) were in full swing and a determined group of mouldy figs placed Louis, along with Bunk Johnson, as the king of their cause--even though Louis hadn't played small-group New Orleans-styled music with any regularity in over 20 years. But nostalgia was blossoming and as Louis gave looking backwards a try, "Tiger Rag" made its reappearance.

First up was the atrocious film "New Orleans," originally an attempt to tell the story of jazz's origins that, by the time it hit the screen, was nothing more than some silly melodrama caked with painful stereotypes. But it did give Louis a chance to play in a small group setting, surrounded by old associates like trombonist Kid Ory, clarinetist Barney Bigard, pianist Charlie Beal, guitarist Bud Scott, bassist Red Callender and drummer Zutty Singleton. The film has some very good musical scenes but the soundtrack, featuring many songs that didn't make into the movie, is fantastic from start to finish.

When Louis and the aforementioned musicians began recording the soundtrack on September 5, 1946, they started right off the bat with "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" and "West End Blues" (verisons I've shared in previous blogs on those specific tunes). Up next was "Tiger Rag" and here's how it came out:


Interesting, isn't it? Especially if you recently listened to Louis's barn-burning, exhibitionistic versions from the late 30s. The tempo is back to a more "normal" up speed and Louis sounds content playing good ol' New Orleans lead trumpet. Kid Ory does his smears, Zutty works the snare...it's like the Swing Era never happened!

Barney's clarinet is up first, nothing great, nothing terrible, just Barney, though Zutty's endless array of sounds is fun to listen to. Zutty then takes a great break before the rideout with Pops soaring over the ensemble. I've read some cranks complain that when Louis finally returned to small group jazz in the 1940s, he no longer played authentic lead, but instead spent too much time in the upper register. Well, for Christ's sake, it's Louis Armstrong! You know what you're going to get and you're know it's going to be good; why yearn for Percy Humphrey when you've got Louis Armstrong taking that ridiculous break towards the end of this version of "Tiger Rag" (no offense to Percy, whom I love). Louis is in scorching form, playing all new ideas without leaning back on a single lick from his 1930s set versions. It's short, but pretty thrilling, wouldn't you say?

About six months later, Louis did a concert at Carnegie Hall in which he fronted Edmond Hall's sextet for the first half before leading his usual big band after intermission. The reviews were ecstatic about the small group portion, creating another step in the direction of Louis abandoning his orchestra. "Tiger Rag" was played once again but this time Louis introduced it as a feature for Hall's terrific drummer, Jimmy Crawford. Louis also lets Hall's men get in some solo time so for scoring purposes, in addition to Hall's clarinet, the group features Irving "Mouse" Randolph on trumpet (he takes the first solo), Henderson Chambers on trombone, Charles Bateman on piano and Johnny Williams on bass. Here's that "Tiger":


Notice Louis's first note is an A natural before he fixes it immediately and starts playing the correct series of concert Bb's. This might seem like a small thing but it'll crop up again. I think the band a little tentative but Pops reins everyone in with his tight lead, while Hall takes some great breaks. For the first time in all these versions, Armstrong trots out Nick La Rocca's three-note riff chorus behind Hall's solo.

Then Pops grunts, singalling trumpeter Randolph to take a solo. Man, to take a trumpet solo--on "Tiger Rag," no less--in front of Pops, that couldn't be an easy thing to do. Randolph sounds a little nervous--a few times his tone seems to mirror his nickname "Mouse"--but he gets through it unscathed. Chambers takes a stomping solo, something Louis must have remembered as Chambers got the call a few years later to take over in the All Stars when Jack Teagarden fell ill for a few years.

Then it's time for Crawford, one of my favorite drummers. I'm pretty sure that's Crawford yelling along with his own solo (who can forget his vocal exhortations of the Fletcher Henderson alumni record "The Big Reunion"?). Crawford then indulges in some visual showmanship that alas, we can only guess about. He starts playing a heavy four-on-the-floor, splashing some cymbals at will (Pops can be heard saying, "Face is gone!") Then someone says, "Better catch it now," followed by a thump, silence and a roar of approval. Clearly some stick juggling was going down and Crawford must have pulled it off successfully. In fact, there's a couple of seconds of silence (did he get up from the set maybe?) before he returns to beat the daylights out of his snare.

The closing ensemble is even more exciting, I think, than the "New Orleans" version with Pops full of more new ideas. Instead of taking the break, Louis lets Crawford have it and he fills it beautifully. Crawford drives everyone home with a fat roll and as usual, Pops goes out on top.

The success of the Carnegie Hall show led the historic Town Hall concert a few months later with Louis fronting a small group consisting of Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko, Bobby Hackett, Dick Cary and Bob Haggart with George Wettling and Sid Catlett splitting the drum duties. People have their guesses on which numbers feature Wettling and which numbers feature Catlett but I'm pretty positive the evening's only drum feature, "Tiger Rag," is all Big Sid. Here's Louis and Sidney:


Once again, Pops starts off unaccompanied by playing three A-naturals before again catching himself and starting again with the requisite Bb's. I don't know why he had brain farts with the beginning of this number but as we'll hear in the next installment, it took him a couple of seconds to get it right in 1955.

Once set, Louis and the entire band sound great, Catlett's drumming giving an extra kick. After the opening strains, Louis and Teagarden team up to play La Rocca's three-note riff as Hucko solos on top of it. Towards the end of the chorus, Louis could be heard giving some sort of direction as Hackett picks up the trumpet slack. Teagarden slides into his solo with one of his great licks as Pops leads the other horns in the familiar "Hold That Tiger" riff beneath him. Teagarden's plays a really hot solo. I should have mentioned that htis was the first full-band number after Louis opened the concert with four performances backed just by the rhythm section. Teagarden said it was a dream-come-true to be there and he plays like it on "Tiger Rag" (and throughout the rest of the night).

Then finally, in our third version today, we get a full-blown Louis solo and it's a good one, very fluent and again full of new ideas. It's like he completely forgot or just cast aside his 1930s showpiece version (though don't worry, it will be back...and how!). Louis can be heard going off-mike towards the end, obviously signalling Catlett to take it. Big Sid does what Big Sid does....just sit back and enjoy it. His snare work is flawless, not as choppy as Crawford's. He eventually makes a tour of the entire drumset before some of his patented quiet work on the toms (a drum solo that draws applause for getting quieter!?) before he drops a big fat conga beat. Catlett wrote the book on showmanship and like Crawford, clearly indulges in a bit of himself, probably doing some stick tossing and getting some cheers for his effort.

There's a second of confusion as the other musicians aren't sure when to come back--Louis's tiny, swallowed beep of a note still sounds like Louis--before everyone just goes for it, playing their hearts out for 16-bars as Big Sid lowers the boom and gives everyone a backbeat to go home on. A very exciting performance and only the start of what would be a historic evening.

About a month later, "New Orleans" had its New York premiere at the Winter Garden theater. For the occasion, Louis fronted another small group for an NBC broadcast hosted by Fred Robbins. Teagarden, Hackett, Hucko, Cary and Wettling were back from Town Hall, joined by Ernie Caceres's baritone saxophone, while Jack Lesberg replaced Bob Haggart on bass. Louis had some chops troubles that night but gradually warmed up as the broadcast progressed. The closer was "Tiger Rag" and as you'll hear Fred Robbins announce, a new drummer was brought in from the bullpen to replace Wettling: you know it, it's Big Sid again. Here's the audio:


This time, Louis quietly plays the first note by himself off-mike to make sure he has it...he does! Otherwise it's a fine opening strain, if not quite as intense as Town Hall. Hucko sounds positively polite during the first half of his solo (where's Edmond Hall when you need him?) but he gradually gets hot. Teagarden, though, does his best Kid Ory impression and I think he does it well, growling those smears for the "Hold That Tiger" chorus. Louis breaks free towards the end to signal Big Sid to do his thing. The sound quality is a little better hear than at Town Hall and the clasping of Catlett's hi-hat gives an added lift to his snare work.

With time running out on the broadcast, a bit of confusion takes over. As Catlett goes into another feat of stick twirling, Fred Robbins sees an opportunity to make the closing announcements. Sensing the broadcast coming to a close, Pops wanted to final say. He plays a quiet "Hold That Tiger" and Catlett gets the message, closing his solo with a the standard triplets that Louis loved all succeeding drum solos to end with (no matter who was doing the drumming). Louis sounds like he's playing at full power and completely washes away Robbins, who can only reply in euphoria, "Ohhh, Louie!" Realizing the man has to do his job, too, Louis backs off to let Robbins conclude his announcements. Louis could still be heard wailing as the broadcast fades out. Oh, to have 30 more seconds....

Well, two months later, Louis's All Stars were born, creating a small group platform Louis would stay with until he died. However, there are no surviving versions of "Tiger Rag" between the group's debut in August 1947 and December 1955! Louis gave a couple of interviews in the early 50s where he talked about playing different repertoire for different audiences, hitting older folks with light fare like "Tenderly" while the college kids always wanted to hear "Tiger Rag." So I'm sure it must have popped up every now and then. But then again, maybe not. There are so many surviving broadcasts and concerts and recordings from the first eight years of the All Stars and not a single one features "Tiger Rag," which has to say something.

But in December 1955, Louis was in the middle of recording his Columbia album "Ambassador Satch" when producer George Avakian was looking for something different to record. "Tiger Rag" was selected and the resulting performance would be a classic, one that almost immediately reinstated the tune into Armstrong's live shows. Come back in a couple of days for a REAL treat: we'll examine the "Ambassador Satch" version from every angle, including some completely unissued rehearsal takes to illustrate how this performance took shape.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

80 Years of "Tiger Rag" - Part Three: Super Tiger Rag (and 1930s broadcasts)

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded November 7, 1934
Track Time 3:07
Written by Nick La Rocca
Recorded in Paris, France
Louis Armstrong, trumpet; Jack Hamilton, Leslie Thompson, trumpet; Lionel Guimaraes, trombone; Peter duConge, Henry Tyree, Alfred Pratt, reeds; Herman Chittison, piano; Maceo Jefferson, guitar; German Arago, bass; Oliver Tines, drums.
Originally released on Brunswick A 500490
Currently available on CD: It’s on the CD Jazz in Paris: Louis Armstrong and Friends
Available on Itunes? Yes

Welcome to part three of our examination of Louis Armstrong's history with "Tiger Rag"...and we're still in the 1930s! As we left off last time, Louis was relaxing in Europe for much of 1934, resting his lip and trying to formulate a comeback after being plagued with mob troubles and manager-related headaches back in the United States. On November 7, 1934, Louis made his first official studio recording in a year-and-a-half (and he wouldn't record for 11 months after this session). Almost as if to prove that his lip was still made of iron, he opened with two showpieces, a blazing "St. Louis Blues" and a version "Tiger Rag" so exciting it was named "Super Tiger Rag" on the label. As I mentioned, this is Dan Morgenstern's favorite Louis version of "Tiger Rag" and it rates very, very high for me, too. Here's the audio:


The first thing you'll notice, if you've been with me this week, is that Louis has now dropped the tempo a bit to a more manageable, though still demanding, gait. Louis leads off with the first strain, playing it fairly straight with his own, customary changes in phrasing. I wish I knew who was playing what, but the clarinet player gets off some good breaks, including one from "Rigoletto" that was always a favorite of Pops's. A gruff tenor (leader Peter DuConge?) takes a final solo, steeped a bit in Coleman Hawkins, before a daring outing by the great American pianist Herman Chittison. Chittison really tears it up, offering
up some of Earl Hines's ambidextrous movements, along with some Tatum-esque virtuosity. Chittison should be better known but he never really broke through, dying in 1967 (though apparently, he appeared on a Boston television program playing three duets with Louis in 1960...I wish that footage would turn up!).

After Chittison's offering, Louis jumps in with what seems like a snatch of "When You and I Were Young Maggie." He's super relaxed and his playing is very daring; listen to how he approaches his first break and how he keeps that rhythmic motive going for a few extra bars, breaking the tension by turning it into an exciting upwards run. Armstrong's second chorus is a stunner; no quotes, no riffs, it's just pure improvisation, with more tension-filled rhythms. I mean, this cat is really on the high wire a couple of times but he never falls. Perhaps the slower (slower!?) tempo allowed Pops to relax and improvise more; whatever the reason, I'm not complaining!

But finally, with one more chorus in him, Louis pulls out all the stops....and how! He holds a supercharged high Ab before playing a final chorus chock full of high C's. This is as close to the 100-high-notes-Louis of the early 30s ever captured on records and I think it's pretty exciting. All in all, he hits 30 high C's in the final chorus, holding the last one to great effect, before building up to that final high Eb (again, F on the trumpet). And as he comes down the home stretch, he raises the tempo a few notches, the band speeding up with him.Chops trouble? What chops trouble? Super!

Back in America in 1935, Louis hired Joe Glaser as his new manager and began climbing off the deck, recording popular songs for Decca and appearing in major motion pictures and on radio. Glaser used to like to pat himself on the back and try to take credit for having Louis "sing and make faces" and not do too many wild things on the trumpet. I don't know about that, Joe; throughout the 1930s, Louis had plenty of trumpet showcases in his live shows. Broadcasts survive of special arrangements of "Dinah," "St. Louis Blues" and "Swing That Music" from throughout the decade, all of which don't exactly feature Louis's low register.

And for our purposes, "Tiger Rag" stayed in the book, too. And thanks to the essential C.D. release "The Historic Fleischmann's Yeast Broadcasts" (have you ordered your copy for Mother's Day, yet?), it finally saw the light of day in 2008. It was worth the weight. The tempo's back in the stratosphere and with an "audience" (presumably band members) cheering him on, it's a thrilling spectacle from start to finish. Here's this 1937 broadcast:


Wow, you know what? THAT might be my new favorite version! (That's the fun part of writing blogs like this one, analyzing multiple versions of the same song; always find new things to appreciate.) As I mentioned in previous posts, Louis was a master of tinkering and refining his solos in live performances. So far we've heard three marvelous improvised choruses on the 1930 recording, eight exhibitionistic offerings from 1932 and a combination, two-improvised/one-exhibitionistic "Super Tiger Rag" solo. By 1937, Louis had really worked it out to a tee, keeping everything that worked best and eliminating some of the, what some might call, "time killing" choruses. It's just five choruses of dynamite.

Albert Nicholas's clarinet is all over the front of this version of "Tiger Rag," always cause for celebration. Nicholas is momentarily interrupted by Pops for one of his introductory monologues--complete with a plug for an engagement at the Paramount! After Nicholas swings out for another one, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham grabs the "Tiger" by the throat and gives it a good working over. But then--Jesus, the tempo gets even faster! This rhythm section, with Pops Foster on bass and Paul Barbarin on drums, could handle this tempo but I'm sure it wasn't too much fun. Immediately, people start cheering, someone chanting for "Louie" as Pops steps back up to the mike to announce that it will take five choruses to catch this tiger.

To me, the reduction down to five choruses might have something to do with chops. I jokingly downplayed his lip troubles earlier when discussing the Paris version but he did indeed have a serious ailment. He always continued with his trumpet showpieces but no longer revisited his 100-high-C's days (and that, indeed, might have come from Glaser). Louis was in, I think, absolute peak form in the late 1930s but I just think he learned to pace himself a little better. Musicians in the early 30s remembered him taking over 10 choruses on "Tiger Rag" in public and that 1932 recording featured eight. With passing time, he cut it to five...but a more perfect five he could not have picked.

Armstrong opens up completely in his 1933 Danish film bag, repeating his two-note C-to-Eb call to arms in his first chorus before opening the second chorus with "Gypsy Love Song." The ascending little flourish he plays in the middle of his second chorus (leading into the "Pagliacci" quote) is a knockout, and something he would continue to nail in his 1950s versions.

Bathed in rhythmic hand-claps and shouts, Louis unleashes the "National Emblem March" quote twice, which was originally saved for the final chorus of the 1932 remake version. The gliss that follows is simply stunning, swan diving before gradually rising, held for about five seconds, before he holds a red-hot, searing high Ab into his fourth chorus. Now it's "Super Tiger Rag" time with those two-note jumps from Ab to high C. He hits 13 high C's before holding the 14th into the final chorus.

Final chorus? Yep, "Super Tiger Rag" ended with those high C's but Louis isn't quite finished yet! For his fifth and final chorus, Louis--come on, man, is he even human?--repeats the same trick but instead of going from Ab to C, he leaps from high C to Eb! In each preceding "Tiger Rag" that we've heard, Louis built his entire solo up to that final high note, always ending on a high concert Eb. But now, in 1937--and at the helm of a shorter solo--Louis starts swinging for those Eb's, knocking them out of the park like it's home run derby. All in all, he hits 17 high Eb's in that final chorus, holding a few for extra drama. So where to end? Well, on a high F, my friends, pretty much Armstrong's top note while performing (I think he sometimes went higher while practicing). If those five choruses don't get your blood pumping, I'll call an ambulance for you. (And please keep what you've heard in the back of your mind, especially when we get to Louis's remarkable live 1959 versions of the tune!)

Our final "Tiger Rag" for today is a special one, taken from a Martin Block jam session on December 14, 1938 and featuring this all-star group: Louis, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Bud Freeman on tenor saxophone, Fats Waller on piano, Bob Spergel on guitar, Peter Peterson on bass and George Wettling on drums. I wrote a long blog on this historic session back in December 2008, so if you don't mind, I'm going to borrow and tweak what I wrote back then. But here's the audio, as stunning as ever:


Scorching stuff. The tune starts out fast enough, at almost the tempo Armstrong took it on his 1930 original recording and everyone plays beautifully (the rhythm guitar can finally be heard and appreciated), with Armstrong taking some great breaks early on. It's interesting hearing this because with his own bands, Armstrong usually let the clarinet lead off. He played lead on "Super Tiger Rag" in Paris but still didn't take any breaks, like he does on this one. After great solos by Freeman, Teagarden and Waller, Armstrong stomps off a tempo that remarkably is even faster, which shouldn't surprise us by this point! After a few seconds of confusion, Louis hands it off to Geroge Wettling to take an exciting, snare-fueled solo.

Once Louis picks up his horn, he goes into, what, by now, was his set opening, the two-note, repeated stuff. But immediately into his second chorus, he uncorks a quote from "I'm Confessin'" that works like a charm (and again, remember that for his 1950s versions). He works "Confessin'" into a motive and improvises it for a while before holding a note. By third chorus, Louis is back in set territory: "National Emblem," follow by the gliss followed by the held Ab. The fourth chorus is made up of those high C's before Louis starts knocking out those Eb's again in his fifth and final chorus. Except for the "Confessin'" bit, it's almost identical to the Fleischmann's Yeast version, though it's easier to hear Louis without all of the shouting and because of the natural better fidelity (and it's also great hearing Fats Waller's two-fished, driving accompaniment, as well as Wettling's exciting drumming). Hmm, maybe this is my new favorite version? It just doesn't end....

Though "Tiger Rag" was an essential feature for Louis throughout the 1930s, it kind of became a passe, out-of-date song during the sophisticated "Swing Era." Perhaps for that reason, it disappeared from Armstrong's book. As usual, I can't be 100% certain that it disappeared but there are no surviving broadcasts of Armstrong performing it between 1938 and 1947. So let's take a break for the weekend and we'll resume in the early part of the week to listen to Louis's interesting, four surviving versions from between 1946 and 1947, with some great drumming by Zutty Singleton, Jimmy Crawford and Sid Catlett. Til then!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

80 Years of "Tiger Rag" - Part Two: New Tiger Rag (and Copenhagen, 1933)

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Recorded March 11, 1932
Track Time 3:20
Written by Nick La Rocca
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Zilner Randolph, trumpet; Preston Jackson, trombone; Lester Boone, alto saxophone; George James, alto saxophone, clarinet; Albert Washington, tenor saxophone; Charlie Alexander, piano; Mike McKendrick, guitar; John Lindsay, bass; Tubby Hall, drums
Originally released on OKeh 41557
Currently available on CD: The Big Band Recordings, a two-volume set on the JSP label that collects Armstrong’s OKeh big band material from 1930 to 1932
Available on Itunes? Yes

When we last left our hero, he had successfully slain "Tiger Rag" for the first time 80 years ago this week. His high-note studded, quote-filled version became a template for other trumpeters of period on how to tackle the tune. Many musicians and commentators would later remember Louis performing "Tiger Rag" live as his showstopper number, pulling it out to wow audiences and slay musicians, though the damage he did to his chops on numbers like this almost did him in for good. Between "Tiger Rag" and "Shine," Louis had two showpieces to choose from on which he would conclude by hitting at least 100 high C's, topped by a high F. Musicians present at such performances never forgot it though Louis himself later admitted that the public thought he was a maniac and that he was heading in the wrong direction.

But in 1932, he was still in his 100-high-C's mode. Because records were limited to about three-and-a-half minutes, it would be impossible for him to replicate his routine on wax (and it might have been a little monotanous...though fascinating!). Nevertheless, after almost two years of featuring it in his live performances, Louis felt the need to record his new, improved routine on the tune. Thus, on March 11, 1932, with his regular orchestra (the Zilner Randolph band) backing him up, Louis recorded what was known as "New Tiger Rag." Buckle your seat belt...


It doesn't take a licensed musicologist to realize that the tempo of "New Tiger Rag" is a bit on the up side. Frankly, it makes the 1930 version sound like a ballad. This is "Tiger Rag" on steroids. (I attempted to use an online metronome to get a number of beats per minute but my computer caught on fire.)

For Pops, the faster, the better. He wasn't really comfortable until he hit warp speed, at which point he'd be free to float around the bar lines without any gravity (if you ever need to explain how gravity and space travel works, just play a fast Louis Armstrong record from the early 30s). As for the other musicians in his band, well God speed. The horns and even the bass or piano could give it a two-beat feel and play at half the tempo but poor Mike McKendrick on guitar and poor Tubby Hall on drums sound like they're dying. In fact, Hall's later replacement Harry Dial, who joined the following year, once said about Louis, "He'd make me so mad on 'Tiger Rag' that I wouldn't know what to do. He'd want me to ride the cymbals on the last three choruses. I'd grab the cymbal around the eight chorus and start riding it, and by the end of the tenth it would sound good to him and he'd hit with one finger, which would mean one more chorus...and he'd play ten more choruses....That guy worked me to death."

Other New Orleans musicians, including drummer Baby Dodds, practically gave lectures on why "Tiger Rag" was not to be played too quickly. Pops obviously didn't attend those lectures!

Unlike the original version, Pops does play the first strain, though he doesn't so much play it verbatim as suggest the general shape of it by playing a pared-down, free-floating variation centered on few pitches. He then steps up to the mike and gives a cute little monologue about the "novelty" we're about to hear. Novelty, yes. Pops knew that this wasn't high art, this was something fun and exciting, a little showmanship and grandstanding to makes every jaw in earshot turn slack with awe. You want to hear the lyrical Pops? Just turn the 78 over and listen to the beautiful flip side, "Love, You Funny Thing." You want a little "novelty" to get the blood pumping? You've come to the right place!

After announcing that he's gone and singing a delightful, sighing, "Oh babe," Pops gets his chops together and comes out of the starting gate with a perfect little opening phrase. Louis was the ultimate master of pacing himself and constructing a exciting solo. Thus, there's plenty of space in his first offering, spending most of his time simply alternating between two notes, before he warms up a bit towards the end. Interestingly, perhaps because of time constraints, Louis's first chorus is actually only a half-chorus, but I'm not going to penalize him for shaving 16 bars off.

A voice bellows out, "Two!" letting us know that round two is about to begin. Pops gets himself in a tizzy during his break, rapidly alternating between a C and an Eb, keeping it going for a few bars into the next chorus, before a shouting high Ab. This is the highest note of the solo thus far but Louis doesn't stay there for long. He leaves a little space after it and when he makes his return, it's to play the "Singin' in the Rain" quote from the 1930 record. Armstrong then breaks into a fluent run, which might sound like eighth-notes but are actually quarter-notes, each placed on the beat of this ridiculous tempo.

For the start of his third chorus, Armstrong holds that high Ab again before going into a whirlwind quote from "Dixie," ending it with a high C, the new highest note of the solo. Again, not wanting to peak too quickly, he hits the C and does a swan dive with it, glissing down to shallow waters. Once poised, he throws in a familiar lick, which sounds like it might be from something specific since it's been a part of the jazz vocabulary ever since.

Chorus four begins a new quote, Victor Herbert's "Gypsy Love Song," another lick that would be found in improvisations for decades to come. Now he's really floating, playing as few notes as possible but still managing to swing them in a slightly altered state. He wakes up for a scorching repeated motif at the start of the fifth chorus but soon he's back to weightless territory, milking his trademark "doddle-doddle-da-da" lick for all its worth. He then turns one of his lines completely around the beat--what time this man had!--before repeating a couple of large Ab's and building up to chorus number six.

The sixth chorus might begin with a quote but I'm not sure what it is. However, I do know what comes at the midway point: our old pal "Pagliacci," straight from 1930. Armstrong's seventh chorus is truly in another time zone as he glisses to some more high Ab's in almost slow motion. To show a bit of endurance, he hits one and holds it into his eighth chorus (Pops announced it would take seven choruses to catch the tiger but obviously, this is one fast cat!). Armstrong again reaches back to 1930 by hammering out the "National Emblem March" twice to begin his eighth and final chorus. The rest of the record features more high notes, mostly Ab's, but he does rise to the occasion and ends with that same searing high Eb (high F on the trumpet).

"New Tiger Rag" isn't exactly a melodic masterpiece; in fact, I know some Armstrong worshippers who simply don't go for this kind of exhibitionism. But as I've proven before, I have no taste and little standards so I'm always wowed.

"Tiger Rag" was definitely a mainstay in Louis's repertoire throughout the 1930s. The following year, in October 1933, a Danish film crew captured Armstrong performing three numbers for use in a film. These are some of Louis's most renowned clips and with good reason: this is young Louis in his element, on stage, in peak form both with his vocals and trumpet. "Dinah" is probably the most famous of the three performances captured and indeed, it's a doozy. Louis also did "I Cover the Waterfront" in a version that, I think, features one of the greatest vocals in jazz history. The third number was "Tiger Rag," captured in a performance remarkably similar to the OKeh record we just heard. Here's this historic video:


Armstrong introduces it as "one of the good old swing numbers"...two years before the history books tell us the Swing Era began! Armstrong was always ahead of the curve...

He stomps it off at a typically ludicrous tempo before Peter DuConge takes off with some incredibly hot clarinet playing, hotter than some of the All Stars in Armstrong's later bands (Joe Darensbourg, I'm looking at you). Armstrong then delivers one of his endearing monologues, alerting the audience that it's going to take a few choruses to catch this tiger and that he wants them to count along with him. With a cavalier-like "I'm ready," Armstrong gets his "Selmer trumpet" ready for takeoff. Armstrong's first chorus is different as, along with the band he simply repeats a note every two bars, testing the waters. He's already rhapsodizing by the end of the chorus, setting up his first quote, "Gypsy Love Song" at the start of his second go-around. As a break, he plays that standard lick I couldn't identify earlier, while he begins his third chorus with the "National Emblem" quotes. Clearly, Pops had his ingredients lined up but it seems that he never put them together in the same combination two times in a row. Also, this is a shorter version, so he probably wanted to get the quotes out of the way before the endurance contest.

And what an endurance contest, Armstrong holding high notes for incredible lengths of time before doing rhythmical intricate things with an Ab, a la "Swing That Music" from a few years later. This version doesn't quite have the super slow motion floating of the "New Tiger Rag" from 1932; I wouldn't be surprised if that rendition was fueled by a certain illegal substance. Armstrong still gets off some nice glisses but really, his playing is more intense; those repeated Ab's at the end are like punishing jabs thrown by a championship boxer. The final high Eb is the knockout blow. An incredible feat of strength, especially since he was in the middle of playing so many shows at the Tivoli, including two that night!

I included video of that performance in a blog of mine from 2008 but I noticed today that the video was removed. Because this might happen again, I'm also going to include audio of that performance, taken from Storyville's essential "Louis Armstrong In Scandinavia" set. The sound quality is remarkably bright and clear; you can actually hear the rhythm section including drummer Oliver Tines switching from snare to riding the cymbals at the 2:15 mark, as Pops liked it. Here's the audio:


Though he was greeted as a hero in Europe, Louis was going through a rough period plagued by lip troubles and bad management. He decided to cool it in Europe for a while and wouldn't return to America until 1935. But before he did, Louis took part in a Polydor recording session on November 7, 1934, a super session that illustrated that he was definitely overcoming any chops troubles that plagued him during this period. In addition to standard features like "St. Louis Blues" and his first recording of "On the Sunny Side of the Street," Louis dusted off "Tiger Rag" again, this time recording it as "Super Tiger Rag." The title is not mere hyperbole; this is Dan Morgenstern's favorite version and from this period, I think it's my favorite, too. But I'm going to have to make this another cliffhanger (really, how many high notes can a person listen to in one posting). Part three of this long look at Louis's history with "Tiger Rag" will include the Paris "Super Tiger Rag," a version from the Fleischmann's Yeast Show and a tremendous jam session version with Jack Teagarden and Fats Waller. Not to be missed!