Friday, February 1, 2013

Some Sweet Day: 80 Years of Louis's January 1933 Victor Sessions

Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
Track Time: 3:01
Recorded January 27, 1933
Written by Tony Jackson, Ed Rose and Abe Olman
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 24257
Currently available on CD: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (as well as a number of RCA compilations)
Available on Itunes? Yes

After a night's sleep, it was back to the studio the very next day for a more reasonable three songs after the previous day's six. First up was an oldie from 1917, "Some Sweet Day," written by Ed Rose, Abe Olman and the great New Orleans pianist and composer, Tony Jackson (of "Pretty Baby" fame). It's not known why Louis recorded a song that was 16 years old (and Jackson had been dead since 1921), but you won't hear my complain as it's another great Victor performance, featuring one of my all-time favorite Armstrong vocals. Here 'tis:
After a somewhat swaggering introduction (do I hear a reference to "Love in Bloom" in the reed break?), Louis enters on the verse, blowing one of his beautiful muted solos that were a favorite of his during this period. I've had trumpeters disagree with whether it's a Solotone mute or a basic cup mute but whatever it is, it gave Louis a gorgeous, unique sound and he used it to beautiful effect on numbers like "All of Me" and "I Hate to Leave You Now." Whenever he used it, it was usually license for him to fly around his horn a bit but he stays a little more restrained here. In fact, dig his entrance: nine straight quarter notes and they swing like mad! He stays relaxed with his reading of the verse, but he does manage to find time to shoot three glisses up to high concert Ab just for good measure. You know, because he can.

Then the band plays Jackson's melody for one chorus, which is instructive because when Louis starts singing, I don't think he even references it. My goodness, what a vocal! I really think I was pressed to list my favorite Armstrong vocals, this wouldn't be far behind "Star Dust." He is just on FIRE. He opens by singing the first five bars all on one pitch (Db), but with a halting phrasing that's filled with tension and swing. When he finally spins out of it, he sings a couple of syllables before giving up the English language and turning it into a dazzling scat run.  He calms down a bit in the second eight bars (he sings words) but still his phrasing isn't anything like the original melody; he's high, he's low, he's all over the place, swinging like it's 1933, not 1917.

He then passes the ball to trombonist Keg Johnson for 16 righteous bars. Johnson's solo would stand on its own but instead, the listener is drawn right back to Louis, moaning along with Johnson, FEELING it. He starts scatting riffs, riffs that should have been written down and played back because they're perfect backdrops for Johnson's outing.
Rare photo of Louis  in London, 1933. Courtesy of Dave Bennett

Then a pleasant surprise: a vocal reprise! Louis is now preaching--listen to what he does with the word "wind"--and still peppering his offering with scat (the phrase he comes up with stemming from the word "sorrow" would solidify into a favorite trumpet and scat lick in the future). Then it's back to the repeating business as almost the entire second half of the reprise is based on a Db pitch. But as no musicologist has ever written, shit's getting intense! Louis, unable to contain himself, explodes with a righteous "Yeah," followed seconds later by an emphatic "Mama!" When he finishes, instead of retreating into the background, he again, provides moans of approval for tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson's solo, culminating with a "Yeah, boy!" the is pure joy. Seriously, has there ever been anyone else who so purely loved the must he was making? Fats Waller obviously comes to mind but his running commentary and shouts of "Yeah" were done from a more comedic purpose. Louis is lost inside of this music and doesn't want to hide how much he is enjoying it. (Remember, you could hear him shouting in the background of the other Victor recordings I've written about but not quite like this!)

Louis finally closes his mouth--but what a show it was!--as he gets his chops together. When he enters, did you hear what he played? It's the quote from the old country standard "Faded Love" that would soon become an integral part of the bridge to his solo on "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (which he was possibly already playing but wouldn't record until the following year). He continues pushing up, screaming a huge high Db as he goes on. This was actually the recording Loren Schoenberg was referring to when he said Louis sounded like he was trying to break the microphone...he wasn't kidding! Louis continues swinging forward on top of some lovely riffs under him, closing the proceedings with another scorching Db. Phew!

The trumpet playing--muted and open--is wonderful but on "Some Sweet Day" but I'll never get enough of that vocal. A classic! But perhaps not as earth-shattering as what was to follow...

Tomorrow: Arguably the finest version Louis ever recorded of "Basin Street Blues."

2 comments:

Lemonlymelon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lemonlymelon said...

Haha, such a fun post! I love it! His joy really shines through, when he's singing. It's amazing, how much energy there is, when someone is authentic about what they do. He really loved what he did, and it shows.

Btw, I think you made a typo in ...why Louis recorded a song that 16 years old...