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8.120818 - ARMSTRONG, Louis: Sing It, Satchmo (1945-1955) (Louis Armstrong, Vol. 8)
Louis Armstrong, Vol.8
Although Louis Armstrong is best remembered as a pioneer of jazz trumpet and musical innovations, his contributions to popular vocals are not to be underestimated. In fact, it can be argued that Armstrong and pal Bing Crosby are the singers most responsible for defining the American popular song style in the 20th century. This collection showcases some of Satchmo's best vocal work during the decade beginning after the settling of the American Federation of Musicians' strike during World War II.
In January 1945, while preparing to travel to New Orleans to play in the second Esquire All-American Jazz Concert, Armstrong attended a recording session for Decca in New York. During the war, he had been actively supporting U.S. troops; making V-Discs, performing on Armed Forces Radio, and touring military bases, and so at this brief session, Armstrong recorded Jodie Man, a slang term blacks used to refer to slackers who move in on servicemen's wives during their husbands' absence. Also at this session was a cover of Pvt Cecil Gant's hit ballad, I Wonder, which signalled Armstrong's intent to not only pursue a crossover audience, but to emphasize his vocal style. Billy Butterfield plays the understated trumpet obbligato.
In August 1947, Armstrong officially launched his All-Stars, a group of rotating jazz veterans that would be his chief musical vehicle for the rest of his career. At a live concert in Boston 's Symphony Hall on 30 November, Armstrong and duet partner Velma Middleton clowned their way through the oft-covered That's My Desire, one of the top ballad hits of the year. Listen for drummer Sid Catlett's imitation of a galloping horse after Pops sings the line 'it's time to go'.
After another AFM strike in 1948, Armstrong and the All-Stars hit the road, performing up to 300 nights each year. In the studio, Armstrong was assigned to arranger/conductor Gordon Jenkins, whose lugubrious arrangements and vocal choruses were used on many Decca recordings during this time. Blueberry Hill was a pop song written for a Gene Autry film in 1940. Armstrong's vocal answers to the chorus are very tastefully done, although you don't hear nary a note from his trumpet on the record, a portent of a continuing trend in his career. On the flip side, the hard-working Armstrong no doubt identified with That Lucky Old Sun, with its declaration of the hardships of never-ending labour.
Billie Holiday had worked with Armstrong on the 1946 film, New Orleans (in which she was unfortunately cast as a maid) and the two were paired up for a session in September of 1949. Both Holiday and Armstrong respected each other's work; the two appeared to have a great time on My Sweet Hunk O' Trash. One thing should be pointed out about Armstrong's many duets; he often turned the performances into ad-libbed conversations, different from the stiff way duets had been performed in the past. Satchmo's duets are always a delight.
The June 1950 session featured two songs with French titles. Armstrong's affinity for the French and for love songs is reflected in his performances of C'est Si Bon (then a hit for Danny Kaye) and Edith Piaf's signature song, La Vie En Rose, both accompanied by Sy Oliver's orchestra. Oliver was better suited for Armstrong as an arranger than Jenkins with his jazzier charts, but his arrangement of the latter song was noticeably restrained. It's too bad Armstrong didn't learn enough French to sing Piaf's French lyrics – the English translations of such songs (this one was by Mack David) are never as effective as the original. The song also reunited Armstrong with his Hot Seven pianist, Earl Hines.
Magic was in the air in 1950 when Decca's other Louis ( Jordan ) joined Armstrong on the Satchmo standard, You Rascal You. Louis Jordan was a reigning top-seller on the Decca roster and the two came up with a swinging version of the song. You can hear Jordan answering Satch's vocals on saxophone a few steps back of the microphone while Armstrong does the same on trumpet when Jordan is singing.
I Get Ideas, a top ten hit for Tony Martin, is given a vintage Satchelmouth treatment, complete with a fiery trumpet solo. As a vocalist, Armstrong defied the convention that jazz singers with gravelly voices often sound unconvincing on slow love songs (witness the work of Fats Waller, Louis Prima, and Wingy Manone). He is perfectly convincing on this song.
Bing Crosby often brought out the best with whoever he performed with, and his casual style and friendship with Armstrong were showcased on their bravura 1951 performance of Gone Fishin', an otherwise ordinary pop song by the Kenny Brothers (Charles & Nick). The priceless ad-libs of 'Mr. Satch & Mr. Cros' are better than the lyrics. Crosby would pay tribute to Armstrong in 1971 by serving as one of his pallbearers.
A Kiss To Build A Dream On was written for the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera in 1935 but never made the final cut. It wouldn't become a hit until Armstrong performed it in the 1951 film, The Strip. The tasteful trombone accompaniment is by Cutty Cutshall.
On Because Of You, Armstrong accompanies his own vocal on trumpet through the use of double tracking, an oft-used device in the early 1950s. The song was an early hit for Tony Bennett, and Armstrong finished off the recording with a scat chorus and an Annette Hanshaw-esque 'dat's de end' to top it off.
In anyone else's hands, the ancient tango Kiss Of Fire would have sounded ludicrous, but Satch gives it the same light-hearted treatment Fats Waller might have given it if he were handed the hackneyed chestnut. Had he heard it, Waller would have nodded in approval of Louis' tag: 'Ah, boin me!'
There are those who thought Gordon Jenkins' lush arrangements to be over the top, but his treatment of Armstrong's theme song, When It's Sleepy Time Down South, was right on the mark; with the swooping strings imitating the 'wind blowing through the pinewood trees' and the slowly moving river. By 1951, lyrics with images of 'darkies' had been sanitized by replacing the word with 'folks' and other such words, but Armstrong was hard-pressed to do so, and the 'darky' reference, still more romantic to Louis than racist, remained.
Takes Two To Tango was all Louis, as Sy Oliver's orchestra remained in the background throughout. That year saw Louis' pal, Pearl Bailey, have a hit with the song as well.
Armstrong spent much of 1948 denigrating the new bebop style, calling it 'jujitsu music' and 'that modern malice'. By 1949, his stance had softened somewhat; a quote in Time that year had Armstrong saying 'bop is nice to listen to for a while, but not all night'. On his 1954 recording of The Whiffenpoof Song, Louis used the song to parody bebop, painting a picture of a scene in 'Boidland' where bearded musicians ('po' little cats') with funny hats 'beat their brains out till their flatted fifths are gone'. Dizzy Gillespie, always a good sport, took the satire in stride. We find it great fun.
The African novelty, Skokiaan, (named for a Zulu tribal beverage) which supposedly originated in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe ), comes off as a delightful second-line romp when played by Armstrong and Sy Oliver's gang, featuring the soprano sax of Omer Simeon. Once again, the anglicized lyrics (by folk singer Tom Glazer) devalued the effect of the record.
Armstrong was one of several singers (Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald) who made Mack The Knife from Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera popular, but Satch's first-hand knowledge of shady characters like the vicious Mackie Messer (aka Macheath) in the lyrics made his version a tad more authoritative. The All-Stars provide a swinging conclusion after Louis' lyric.
We conclude our survey of classic Armstrong vocal performances with a selection from the 1955 Satch Plays Fats LP on Columbia. Louis had the original hit on the Fats Waller / Andy Razaf / Harry Brooks song Ain't Misbehavin' back in 1929 when he played in the pit orchestra for the hit revue, Connie's Hot Chocolates. His performance became so popular that soon he was playing it from the stage. In this version, Louis trades licks with the virile trombone of Trummy Young and Edmond Hall's clarinet in the delicious rideout ensemble chorus (listen for Satch's inspired mini-quote from Rhapsody in Blue ).
When My Sweet Hunk O' Trash was originally issued in 1949, some listeners thought Louis uttered a forbidden word. Jazz scholars are generally of the opinion that Satchmo was too much of a professional to do this, that Billie Holiday wouldn't have continued the recording and that Decca would never have released a record containing a profanity. But producer Milt Gabler nonetheless went back into the studio and spliced the master tape, with a slight change in quality, so that Louis now clearly says "How come, baby?" The edited version is on this CD, and the original can be heard on Naxos Jazz Legends 8.120750, Billie Holiday: You're My Thrill. The word is (or isn't) at 2:51, so you can judge for yourself.
Jodie Man (Alan Roberts– Doris Fisher)
I Wonder (Pvt Cecil Gant–Raymond Leveen)
That's My Desire (Helmy Kresa–Carroll Loveday)
Blueberry Hill (Al Lewis–Larry Stock–Vincent Rose)
That Lucky Old Sun (Beasley Smith–Haven Gillespie)
C'est Si Bon (Jerry Seelen–Andre Hornez–Henri Betti)
La Vie En Rose (Louis Guglielmi–Edith Piaf–Mack David)
My Sweet Hunk O' Trash (James P. Johnson–Flournoy E. Miller)
(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You (Sam Theard)
I Get Ideas (Dorcas Cochran–Lenny Sanders)
Gone Fishin' (Nick & Charles Kenny)
A Kiss To Build A Dream On (Bert Kalmar–Harry Ruby–Oscar Hammerstein II)
Because Of You (Arthur Hammerstein–Dudley Wilkinson)
Kiss Of Fire (adapted from 'El Choclo') (Lester Allen–Robert Hill)
When It's Sleepy Time Down South (Leon Rene–Otis Rene–Clarence Muse)
Takes Two To Tango (Al Hoffman–Dick Manning)
The Whiffenpoof Song (The Boppenpoof Song) (Meade Minnigerode–George S. Pomeroy–Tod Galloway–Rudy Vallee)
Skokiaan (African Song) (August Musarurgwa–Tom Glazer)
Mack The Knife (A Theme from The Threepenny Opera ) (Kurt Weill–Berthold Brecht–Marc Blitzstein)
Ain't Misbehavin' (Fats Waller–Harry Brooks–Andy Razaf)
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