Sunday, February 3, 2013

Honey, Do!: 80 Years of Louis's January 1933 Victor Sessions

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Track Time: 2:37
Recorded January 27, 1933
Written by Andy Razaf and J. C. Johnson
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Ellis Whitlock, Zilner Randolph, trumpet; Keg Johnson, trombone; Scoville Browne, George Oldham, alto saxophone, clarinet; Budd Johnson, tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Mike McKendrick, guitar; Bill Oldham, tuba; Yank Porter, drums
Originally released on Victor 24369
Currently available on CD: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (as well as a number of RCA compilations)
Available on Itunes? Yes

After two out-and-out classics--"Some Sweet Day" and "Basin Street Blues"--you'd expect a bit of a dropoff for the third and final song recorded on the January 27, 1933 session. And there is, insofar as "Honey, Do!" might not be one for the pantheon. But it's still a swinging number, Louis turns in more great vocal and trumpet work and it's a personal favorite of mine. Who could ask for anything more?

The song was written by the team of Andy Razaf and J. C. Johnson, who were usually accompanied by a third songwriter on their tunes, Fats Waller. No Fats here and perhaps that's why this song hasn't exactly become a standard in the 80 ensuing years. (Michael Steinman related hearing a joyous live version by Mal Sharpe last summer but other than that, I can't think of another version, recorded or live.)

Anyway, let's listen to what Louis did with "Honey, Do!":
That didn't bother me, as Eddie Condon would say. The band is swinging from the outset though what the horns are doing is a little muddy. But we're note here for the horns, we're here for The Horn and Louis soon enters, playing the catchy melody with warmth, letting trombonist Keg Johnson handle the bridge. Louis must have really liked the pretty little line that makes up the melody because he doesn't vary it a bit the entire time he plays it in the first chorus.

But the entire time he sings it is a different story. After the band handles what I'm guessing is the verse, Louis enters with the voice and miraculously, doesn't sitting that ascending line a single time! Granted, it's pretty taxing, spanning an octave from the opening low E onward. Perhaps he played it straight so many times to get the listener familiar with it because he sure as hell wasn't going to sing it. Instead, it's one of those great early 30s Armstrong deconstructions. Launching in head first with a well-timed "Oh baby," he once again sticks to a single pitch (C, the tonic) to convey the song's lyrical intent. And what he does with the titular phrase...watch out! Instead of just singing it straight, he uses each "Honey, Do" to spin circles of scat, almost all based around the syllable "do."

Another "oh baby" gets us into the bridge, which, you guessed it, is once again centered around that tonic C. Transcribing this thing would be fun because so much of it is related to that C, it would like a straight line...but rhythmically, the notes and stems would be jumping!

Like his trumpet playing, Louis builds to a climax, shaking of the C in the last eight bars of the vocal, pushing his voice even higher to make the E central to his preaching, much as it's central to the melody, bouncing between that and the lower C like a yo-yo. When he gets to the end, the band stops and Louis takes off on another wonderful break that can be somewhat notated as "honey, honey, doody doody, do-oo-do." Hmm, that looks very bland typed out...just listen to it!

Zilner Randolph takes the very neat arranged interlude setting up Louis's entrance. And what an entrance: one more of those damned C's, dipping his toe in the water and then, satisfied, five more, played as quarter notes. So much swinging, all based on a single pitch. He then uses it one more time as the start of a gliss to the C an octave higher. From there, he loosens up and starts getting around his horn beautifully. The second eight contains another great moment in how to make a basic triad interesting. Louis takes the three notes of a C chord--C, E and G--uses them almost in a singsong way, the C on beat one of the first bar, the E on beat three and then the C, E and G as quarter notes in the next bar, before glissing back up to the C an octave higher. It ain't rocket science but the emphasis on the first and third beats adds a little something funky to the procedings.

The reeds take the bridge before Louis heroically re-enters with that high C, though it's pinched a bit at first before he lets the air out with a descending gliss. Some relaxed high note phrasing gets us towards the finish line and another slow closing cadenza, this time over a minor-chord for a moment, creating some nice drama. You can see these dramatic endings were becoming more and more part of Louis's vocabulary. Nothing wrong with that.

All in a day's work, "Honey, Do!" puts an exclamation point on the end of another terrific session (literally; the song is copyrighted with the exclamation point). Could Louis do it again the following day? What do you think?

Tomorrow: "Snowball."

No comments: