Tag Archives: Swiss Kriss

THE UNFAILING LIGHT OF LOUIS

Photograph by Jack Bradley, 1969

Photograph by Jack Bradley, 1969

Thanks to scholar and co-producer Ricky Riccardi, another wonderful set of Louis Armstrong recordings has emerged, complete: the Mercury recordings Louis and the All-Stars made between 1964 and 1966, with the pop hit MAME and the lesser hit SO LONG, DEARIE as the most famous among them.

louis-mame-cover

Ricky has done his usual wonderfully exhaustive job of annotating these digital releases.  Here (from his Louis blog) are the notes as they can be read online. And here is the link to read his notes as a PDF.

The music is available only as a digital download through Apple / iTunes: the complete package is $24.99, each song available at $1.29.  Details here.   And, as I wrote in my post on the the new issue of Louis’ complete Decca singles, if you hate “downloads” for their insubstantiality, I understand.  I too like music in physical packages (my apartment is furnished in Early Music) but we listen to live music and go home without being furious that we can’t take the players with us; in olden days, we listened to the radio, etc.  So if you reject this music because you “hate Apple,” to quote Billie, you’re just foolin’ yourself.

Now, if you are someone who deeply feels Louis, you probably already know about these issues and might already be listening, rapt.  If you are someone new to Louis or one of the people who believes the “beginning of his long decline” happened ninety years ago, I urge you to read on.  First, some facts.

The fifty-three performances are, first, the original contents of the “vinyl” issue: MAME / THE CIRCLE OF YOUR ARMS / SO LONG DEARIE / TIN ROOF BLUES / I LIKE THIS KIND OF PARTY / WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN / CHEESE CAKE / TYREE’S BLUES / PRETTY LITTLE MISSY / FAITH / SHORT BUT SWEET / BYE ‘N BYE / then followed by alternate takes, rehearsal takes, monaural takes of BYE ‘N BYE / FAITH / DEARIE (7) / MISSY (5) / FAITH (8) / SHORT BUT SWEET (6) / CIRCLE (6) / PARTY (5) / THE THREE OF US (3).  The performances are almost all three minutes long — not harking back to OKeh 78s but to the currency of the times, the 45 rpm single that would be played on AM radio.  The other musicians include Buster Bailey, who had worked with Louis in 1924-5; Eddie Shu; Tyree Glenn; Big Chief Russell Moore; Billy Kyle, Marty Napoleon, Everett Barksdale, and more.

Louis, like other innovators, had a long history of taking “popular” material and creating immortal improvisations, so jazz fans dismayed at seeing unfamiliar titles should not be.  Not all of the songs are deathless — a few are paper-thin — but it almost seems as if the worse the material, the more room Louis has to work magic on it.  For me, the finest performances are of songs I doubt others could have done much with: SHORT BUT SWEET, THE CIRCLE OF YOUR ARMS, FAITH, I LIKE THIS KIND OF PARTY, THE THREE OF US (never before issued), SO LONG DEARIE, and others to lesser effect.

Here is the issued take of SHORT BUT SWEET:

A quietly warm melodic statement (helped by Tyree Glenn’s vibes and, for once, a rhythm guitar) leads into an equally warm vocal — on a song that resembles eight other classics — calling it “derivative” would be excessive praise.  Although the lyrics consistently disappoint, as if the writers had made a bet how many cliches they could jam into thirty-two bars, Louis is even warmer, with freer phrasing, on the vocal bridge to the end of the chorus.  And then that trumpet bridge!  “Tonation and phrasing,” passion, vibrato, and courage.  It might not leap out at a listener the way the beginning of WEST END BLUES does, but I know I couldn’t get those eight bars out of my head after just one hearing.

If you do not warm to that, may I suggest an immersion?  If it doesn’t get to you after three more playings, we may have little to say to one another.  But you might want to read to the end to discover the depths of my apparently foolish devotion.  And you might keep in your head what Bobby Hackett said to Nat Hentoff (I am paraphrasing here): “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come alive like that?”

I have a serious sentimental attachment to this music, because when this record came out, I was nearly fourteen.  This was my Louis Armstrong.  This was the heartfelt, occasionally comic entertainer I saw regularly on television — performing two songs with the All-Stars, conversing briefly and jocularly with the host, and then the show would move on to the acrobats, the writer plugging a new book, the actress doing the same for her new film.  I thrilled to these moments: Louis emerging from behind the curtain to sing and play MAME, DEARIE, later CABARET and WONDERFUL WORLD.  I lived in suburbia, a mile’s walk from several stores with record departments, and I recall going to Times Square Stores [known to some of us by our adolescent translation of its initials into Tough Shit, Sonny] or Mays or Pergaments, thumbing through the Louis records I knew by heart, and buying this new one in an excited flurry.  (My mother would have looked patient but puzzled; my father would have said, “Don’t you have enough records?” but not argued the point.) I would have disappeared into my bedroom and played it over and over.  I no longer have my mid-Sixties copy, but this recent release has brought all that experience back.

And what was there on this Mercury record?  Joy is the simple answer, with a substantial emotional range: the mocking dismissal of DEARIE, the celebration of the imaginary hedonist Auntie Mame on the title song, the blues — familiar and impromptu — the cheerful satire of FAITH, and the love songs that were CIRCLE and SHORT BUT SWEET, the alcohol-free gathering of PARTY, and more.  Each song was its own brief dramatic playlet, with a good deal of Louis’ singing and short but very affecting trumpet interludes.

He was no longer the star of the Vendome Theatre show; he was no longer playing 250 high C’s at the end of CHINATOWN.  But those age-related limitations were, to me, a great good thing.  These trumpet interludes are incredibly subtle and moving because his wisdom. Young, he could dramatically create expansive masterpieces, sometimes on record, sometimes legendary and unrecorded.  And those creations are awe-inspiring displays of virtuosity.

But we hear that this older man, with fifty years’ musical experience behind him, knows so much more about what to play and what not to — so an eight-bar passage on any song is intense, full of emotion.  Every note counts, because it has to.  And if you think this is special pleading on behalf of the elderly, ask any improvising musician to listen deeply to one of these solos.

I am not yet a senior citizen.  But I think a good deal about aging and what the proper responses might be to the calendar, the passage of days measured in the speed I climb stairs or the ease with which I carry groceries.  For decades, I’ve looked to Louis as a spiritual model.  I don’t take Swiss Kriss; I don’t tell prospective life-partners “The horn comes first”; I’m not a Mets fan.  But I think the aging Louis — as icon, as artist — has so much to tell us, no matter how old we are now.

The question we must ask ourselves is large: “Since our time on the planet is finite, what should we do with it, even if we have a long time before the final years approach?”  I think his answer, audible on the Mercury sides, is plain: “Do what you and you alone do well.  Do it will your heart.  And strive to do it better and with greater purity of intent for as long as you can.  That action is you, and it will stop only when you do.”

Whether you subscribe to this philosophical notion or not, this music is seriously uplifting.  Thank you, Louis.

May your happiness increase!

IF THE DIET PLAN DOESN’T WORK, TRY THE EXERCISE MACHINE

Did you over-indulge during the holidays? Are your trousers tight around the waist? Has your clothing “shrunk in the dryer”? Well, perhaps you should once again investigate this:

LOUIS DIET PLAN

Here’s another one:

LOUIS diet plan real signature

Louis believed in this plan — HAVE FUN! — and followed it. (Am I the only one to notice that it is very close, with two or three notable exceptions, to the hallowed Paleo Diet?)

But what if this regimen isn’t enough, even with the addition of the seriously effective Swiss Kriss?

Here’s the answer, “endorsed” by Louis’ pal Bing:

EXERCISE front BING

He doesn’t look at all happy, but perhaps he was just beginning. Betty looks far more cheerful:

EXERCISE back BETTY GRABLE

And so many other famous stars STRETCHED TO HEALTH:

EXERCISE top box

Can’t you see them all STRETCH:

EXERCISE bottom box

If it worked for Jack Oakie, it will work for you:

EXERCISE side box

And the STRETCH TO HEALTH itself (on sale right now at eBay):

EXERCISE inside boxI know some of you might be wondering just what relation this has to JAZZ LIVES. But if Louis loved this plan (and outlived many of his contemporaries) and Bing made money on the endorsement  photograph (ditto), can you deny me the pleasure of posting these delicious oddities?

We love our heroes even when they are offstage.

Now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m off to become svelte.

May your happiness increase!

CONSIDER THIS, DEAR FRIENDS!

It is now December 21, 2011, so I wish all of you a happy Solstice! 

But if the evidence around me is to be taken seriously, many people are rushing around in search of the perfect last-minute holiday gifts.  I have a great deal of ambivalence about this, although I haven’t renounced materialism entirely.  The holiday season intensifies the loud drumbeat of the online entreaty BUY THIS NOW AND BE HAPPY!  Once you are past childhood, you sense that some purchases lead to nothing more than January remorse.  How many sweaters does anyone need, especially when we know that some people don’t have sufficient clothing to keep them warm?

But — even with all that in mind, I wish to quietly offer a few last-minute JAZZ LIVES  suggestions for gifts that won’t be tossed aside on December 27.

Tops on my list is a membership in support of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.  Here’s the link: LOUIS!  There are benefits and perks to becoming e member, supporting the best museum I know.  But even if you don’t have the minimum amount for membership, generosity is possible on a smaller scale.  If everyone who ever was moved by a Louis Armstrong recording or video sent the museum a dollar, it would make it possible for the LAHM to keep the legacy of Louis vivid and tangible in this century. 

Perhaps you would like something for your contribution?  If you live close enough to Corona, Queens, New York, to pay the LAHM a visit, paradise awaits those who walk through the front door, in the gift shop.  Alas, the SATCHMO box sets have all been bought up, but there are racks and shelves of Louis-related gifts, from bags of rice with his picture on them, boxes of Swiss Kriss (something for Secret Santa at work, perhaps?), wonderful books by Ricky Riccardi, Michael Cogswell, and Jos Willems, DVDs and compact discs. 

Did someone say “compact discs”? 

The LAHM is the only place on the planet that has Gosta Hagglof’s lovely Ambassador series of discs — a wonderful labor of love, documenting Louis’ great work in the Thirties and Forties (and beyond) — with the Decca recordings, broadcasts, and more.  In fact, several of the Ambassador CDs contain music you can’t find anywhere else: the “Dancing Parties” one, devoted to Louis’ live recordings with Sidney Catlett, many of them from the Cotton Club, is extraordinary, as is the first volume of Louis and the All-Stars in Philadelphia 1948.  Unfortunately, the LAHM can’t ship you a boxful . . . you’ll just have to come to Corona in person, which is a life-changing experience. 

Other jazz gifts? 

Michael Zirpolo’s new Bunny Berigan book is a wow.  Find out more here

So is Dr. Judith Schlesinger’s feisty and compelling THE INSANITY HOAX.  Check it out here

Dawn Lambeth is coming out with a new DVD (hooray for Dawn and Chris Dawson) and there is a DVD documentary devoted to Marty Grosz, RHYTHM IS HIS BUSINESS.  Details to follow! 

Another possibility — giving thanks directly — is to go to a local jazz club.  Listen closely to the men and women swinging so deliciously.  Put something more than a dollar in the tip jar.  Buy a CD or DVD directly from the players.

And if all of this is beyond your capabilities, make sure you have jazz playing in your house . . . to lift your spirits, to make the rafters ring ‘way up to Heaven, and to enlighten your visitors.  If one more person gets to hear the 1938 Basie band, or George Wettling, or any jazz that makes you tingle, we are that much closer to creating and maintaining the wonderful world Louis sang about.

Happy holidays, dear friends!

“LEAVE IT ALL BEHIND YOU”

JAZZ LIVES makes no medical claims for what follows.  No endorsement of this diet plan is expressed or implied.  Results may vary.  Consult with a licensed medical professional before beginning this health program.   

Swiss Kriss is the official herbal laxative of this blog, however.