About this Recording
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‘Satchel Mouth Swing’ Original Recordings 1936-1938

Louis Armstrong’s accomplishments were so huge during his first decade on records (1923- 33) that his Decca recordings from the second half of the 1930s tend to be underrated.

Consider that Armstrong was to a large extent responsible for jazz quickly evolving in the 1920s from an ensemble-oriented music to one that featured the solos of colorful virtuosi. Partly because of his brilliant playing, the staccato phrases often heard in New York recordings of the early 1920s were quickly replaced by legato phrasing, introducing a swinging feel to jazz. Satch’s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings of 1925-28 are among the finest documented performances of all time and showed how powerful a solo instrument the trumpet could be in the right hands. Armstrong’s scat singing, starting with 1926’s “Heebies Jeebies”, popularized vocal improvising and showed hundreds of vocalists how to sing jazz. When he began singing current pop tunes in 1929, he became so influential with his phrasing that it altered pop singing forever. And his sunny and humorous personality did more than anything else to make jazz look like a very attractive and fun style of music.

Born 4 August 1901 in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong grew up in a poor family and was raised by a single mother. Although he showed early musical ability, singing in a vocal group on the streets for pennies and playing a little bit of cornet, he may very well have led a forgotten life spent in poverty were it not for a lucky break. On New Year’s Eve of 1912, he shot off a pistol in the air in celebration, and was immediately arrested and sent to live in a waif’s home. Armstrong enjoyed the discipline of the surroundings and began to seriously play the cornet, graduating to the school’s band. When he was released two years later, he was a promising young cornettist, ready to gain experience playing in New Orleans brass bands. Joe “King” Oliver became his hero, recommended him as his replacement with Kid Ory’s band in 1919, and three years later sent for his protégé to join his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. Armstrong gained a great deal of attention while playing with Oliver (1923-24) and his playing grew month-by-month. When he joined Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra in 1924, he became famous in New York. His Hot Five and Seven recordings made him renowned in jazz and his 1929-33 big band recordings and appearances on radio and theatres made him internationally famous.

After having spent much of 1934-35 overseas, Armstrong returned to the United States just as the swing era was building up momentum. He took over the struggling Luis Russell Orchestra, using the band as a backdrop for his playing and singing through 1940.

‘Satchel Mouth Swing’ begins with a fine remake of Mahogany Hall Stomp which Armstrong had previously recorded at his first big band session in 1929. Trombonist Jimmy Archey, tenor-saxophonist Bingie Madison and altoist Charlie Holmes take a chorus apiece as Armstrong reprises his original solo. Then, upon his return after Holmes’ spot, he creates a completely new chorus. I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket has short statements by tenorsaxophonist Paul Ricci and clarinettist Sid Trucker but otherwise it is Armstrong’s showcase, concluding with a wonderful high note. Bunny Berigan is in the trumpet section; this session was his only chance to record next to his idol.

The next five selections find Louis Armstrong being joined by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. One of the musical highpoints of Pennies From Heaven, a Bing Crosby movie that gave Armstrong his first opportunity to appear in a major film, was when Louis performed The Skeleton In The Closet. His version with Dorsey’s band recaptures the magic of the original. While When Ruben Swings The Cuban and Hurdy-Gurdy Man are not classic compositions, Armstrong makes them his own through his charming ad-libbing (referring to ‘Old Gatemouth Ruben’ on the former) and his solos. Dippermouth Blues, which Satch originally recorded with King Oliver in 1923 and with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra in 1925 (where it was retitled “Sugar Foot Stomp”), has a spot on clarinet by Jimmy Dorsey and Louis playing his variations of Oliver’s famous threechorus trumpet solo. It is a little surprising that Armstrong chose to record Swing That Music during the session for he had just recorded it less than three months earlier; this version is a bit faster and has a solo just as spectacular.

Just as Bing Crosby was captured in a lot of different musical settings during his period on Decca, Louis Armstrong also recorded frequently away from his big band. To You, Sweetheart, Aloha and On A Coconut Island are successful encounters with the Polynesians (consisting of steel guitar, two guitars, ukulele and bass) with guest Lionel Hampton on vibes and drums. Hampton, who recorded his first vibes solos with Armstrong in 1930, was just three days from making his debut recording as a member of the Benny Goodman Quartet. Satch sounds quite comfortable in this unusual setting.

Another unexpected but very successful collaboration was when Armstrong joined the Mills Brothers for some dates. Billed as ‘four boys with a guitar’ and renowned for their ability to closely emulate instruments while only actually using their voices and an acoustic guitar, the Mills Brothers clearly inspire Armstrong to some joyful playing and singing on In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree and Old Folks At Home.

The remainder of the selections on ‘Satchel Mouth Swing’ have Satch performing in his usual setting, with the nucleus of the old Luis Russell Orchestra. Public Melody Number One is long forgotten but the leader’s trumpet breaks work quite well as does the driving drumming of Paul Barbarin. Red Cap salutes the type of working class job that Armstrong did not have to worry about anymore in 1937 when he was one of the biggest names in show business.

Satch goes south of the border, sort of, during the next two numbers. A swing version of Cuban Pete can be thought of as a follow-up to “The Peanut Vendor” which he had recorded in 1930. She’s The Daughter Of A Planter From Havana, although not composed by Cubans, does utilize some rhythms that hint a little at Havana, at least until the closing swinging choruses. Louis Armstrong composed relatively few songs, which makes I’ve Got A Heart Full Of Rhythm a rarity in his career. The optimistic lyrics, which sound like something Al Jolson or Ted Lewis might have sung, are much hipper when rendered by Satch. Clarinettist Albert Nicholas and altoist Charlie Holmes help out before Armstrong takes two dazzling choruses. Alexander’s Ragtime Band, a major hit for Irving Berlin in 1911, proves to still have plenty of life left in 1937, particularly during the closing trumpet solo.

Moving to 1938, Satchel Mouth Swing is a remake of “Coal Cart Blues” which Armstrong had recorded as part of Clarence Williams’ Blue Five back in 1925. This rendition, if one listens to the words, is really a tribute to the trumpeter himself. Charlie Holmes and trombonist J. C. Higginbotham are heard from briefly. In contrast, The Trumpet Player’s Lament has Armstrong singing words that make it sound as if he would rather be playing classical music than jazz! The final chorus makes it obvious that he had made the right career choice.

Wrapping up this collection is an exciting version of Struttin’ With Some Barbecue. Armstrong had recorded a classic solo on this piece with the Hot Five in 1927 and he would utilize a completely different set solo during the years that he led the All-Stars (starting in 1947). This 1938 version (which has spots for clarinettist Bingie Madison and altoist Holmes) is a gem in its own way, with Armstrong stating the melody during the next-to-last chorus before improvising a statement that differs almost completely from his other ‘Struttin’’ solos.

Louis Armstrong, still just 36 at the time of this final session, had 33 more years ahead of him. The twenty recordings on ‘Satchel Mouth Swing’ show that, far from being an off period, his work from the second half of the 1930s are full of underrated treasures well worth discovering.

Scott Yanow
– author of 7 jazz books including Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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