About this Recording
8.120815 - ARMSTRONG, Louis: Jeepers Creepers (1938-1939) (Louis Armstrong, Vol. 5)

‘Jeepers Creepers’ Original Recordings 1938-1939

A famous name by 1929, Louis Armstrong found himself a bit overshadowed during the Swing era by the likes of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw, but he remained a much beloved celebrity who led his own underrated big band. Although few of the newer fans of the swing bands probably realized it, Armstrong’s accomplishments in the 1920s helped set the stage for the big band era that followed.

For Louis Armstrong, it had been a steep but steady climb from poverty to worldwide celebrity. Born 4 August 1901 in New Orleans, Armstrong was raised by a single mother who did her best despite the odds that were stacked against her. Young Louis loved the New Orleans brass bands, sang in a vocal group on the street for pennies and played a little bit of cornet as a child. The biggest break in his life was an unusual one, for at first it looked like the beginning of a tragedy. On New Year’s Eve of 1912, in celebration he shot off a pistol in the air, and was quickly arrested. Because he had been largely unsupervised, he was sent to live in a waif’s home. However Armstrong thrived in the strict surroundings, began to really study cornet, and was thrilled when he was considered talented enough to play with the school’s band. After two years when he was released, he was considered a promising young musician and he soon became an important part of the exciting New Orleans jazz scene.

Developing quickly, by 1919 Armstrong was considered one of the city’s top cornetists. When his hero Joe ‘King’ Oliver moved up North, he recommended that Louis be his replacement with Kid Ory’s highly respected band. In 1922 when Oliver was well settled in Chicago with his Creole Jazz Band, he sent for Armstrong to become his second cornetist. The following year, Louis made his recording debut with Oliver, and even at that early stage it was already obvious that it would be only a matter of time before he would exceed the older cornetist.

During 1924-25, Armstrong was in New York as the star cornet soloist with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. His legato phrasing, ability to ‘tell a story’ and use of space for dramatic effect, not to mention his beautiful tone, made a huge impression on other musicians (including Coleman Hawkins) and arranger Don Redman. By the time that Satch went back to Chicago, Fletcher Henderson’s big band had evolved from a dance band to the first real swing orchestra.

While playing nightly with big bands in Chicago, Louis Armstrong (who permanently switched to trumpet) recorded his innovative series of recordings with his Hot Five, Hot Seven and Savoy Ballroom Five during 1925-28, changing jazz from an ensemble-oriented music to one that emphasizes virtuoso soloists. He was also a monumental influence on singers, phrasing like a horn and popularizing scat-singing. In 1929 he relocated to New York, using the Luis Russell orchestra as a backup band for some of his first big band recordings. After spending much of 1933-34 in Europe, Armstrong returned to the United States and found that the Swing era was underway. He soon took over the Luis Russell big band altogether, which was renamed the Louis Armstrong Orchestra.

Still just 36 at the time that this programme opens, by 1938 Armstrong had found his niche in the Swing era. While his big band had strong jazz talent, their role was mostly to accompany the leader, who was still very much in prime form.

When The Saints Go Marching In and Love Walked In have Armstrong joined by nine musicians that are drawn from his orchestra. The Saints, which had previously been associated with spiritual groups, is heard in one of its first ‘secular’ recordings. It would not really catch on as a dixieland standard until the 1940s. In addition to the leader, trombonist J. C. Higginbotham has a rewarding spot. The Gershwins’ Love Walked In is taken at a faster tempo than usual, featuring some joyful scat breaks by Armstrong, superior drumming by Big Sid Catlett and a trumpet solo that is both melodic and heated.

The next three numbers are unusual in that Armstrong is joined by an octet of studio musicians rather than his regular sidemen. The pop tune I’ve Got A Pocketful Of Dreams has spots for several of the players, including the excellent swing pianist Nat Jaffe. Both I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ were popularized by Armstrong’s 1929 recordings, with the latter becoming a permanent part of Satch’s repertoire. These fairly obscure versions differ quite a bit from the recordings of nine years earlier, with Armstrong’s closing trumpet solo on I Can’t Give You Anything But Love being quite magnificent.

Throughout his career, Louis Armstrong occasionally recorded religious works, while never being shy to also poke fun at money-grabbing preachers. One of his 1938 sessions features him backed by the Lyn Murray Chorus. Shadrack (which he performed again in the 1950s) and Jonah And The Whale are respectful and spirited. On the other hand, the two Elder Eatmore ‘sermons’ are full of satirical remarks and thoughts (with just a bit of exaggeration) that are not that far from the true viewpoints of today’s televangelists.

Returning to swing, Louis Armstrong made Jeepers Creepers famous when he sang it to a reluctant racehorse in the movie Going Places. His full big band (heard for the first time in this collection) enthusiastically backs the star’s exuberant trumpet solo on Jeepers Creepers and helps out on his little-known What Is This Thing Called Swing.

Armstrong was such a celebrity that he often made record dates as a guest with other big bands. On 20 February 1939 he teamed up with the Casa Loma Orchestra to record a pair of Hoagy Carmichael classics. Satch had first recorded Rockin’ Chair with Carmichael himself in 1929 and in his later All-Stars period it would become a classic encounter with Jack Teagarden. Pee Wee Hunt fulfills the Carmichael/Teagarden role well on this version and plays the straight man to Armstrong on Lazy Bones.

The remaining seven selections on this collection are, with the exception of Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home, remakes of songs that Armstrong originally recorded during 1926-30. Actually these renditions do not owe much to the previous recordings, being greatly updated for the swing era. Save It Pretty Mama, which Armstrong debuted in 1928, would be revived for his 1947 Town Hall concert. This ‘middle’ version, which has a spot for altoist Charlie Holmes and trombonist J. C. Higginbotham, holds its own with the other two recordings.

While this rendition of West End Blues is dwarfed by the 1928 version (which Armstrong considered his greatest recording), it has its moments too, starting out the same but including some more sophisticated scatting than previously and a different closing solo. Savoy Blues also has a mostly new statement from Armstrong, featuring him really digging into the blues. Our Monday Date, originally a collaboration with pianist Earl Hines, features concise solos from Holmes and tenor-saxophonist Bingie Madison. I’m Confessin’ That I Love You is highlighted by some heartfelt singing and dramatic trumpet from Armstrong. Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home, which Satch missed the first time around, easily fits into his repertoire. The set closes with the instrumental Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya, which has short spots for Holmes on clarinet and trombonist Higginbotham before Armstrong takes it out with fire and joy.

To use a title of a reissue LP from the 1960s, this ‘batch of Satch’ is consistently enjoyable and shows that his underrated swing years were full of timeless gems.

Scott Yanow
– author of 9 jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing,
Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76

Close the window