Tag Archives: WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH

“WELL, WHAT YOU SAY, DIPPER?”

Louis Armstrong came to visit us in tangible form on July 4, 1901, and he transformed into spirit on July 6, 1971.  I know that so many lives would have been different — less illuminated — had he not existed.

Here is something in his honor, lest we forget his power to spread joy.

I find it odd that I’ve never seen sheet music of his theme song with his face on the cover — my copy of the song, from 1931, is a Mildred Bailey sheet — but the significance of that eludes me.  Here is Louis’ first recording of the song he would sing and play hundreds and thousands of times.

“Good evening, everybody!”

And if any disputatious readers want to fuss about July 4, 1901, take it up with Mayann, the mother of the “firecracker baby.”  If others wish to quarrel about “darkies,” I understand the impulse . . . but there are other, better ways to use one’s energy.

May your happiness increase!

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HERE’S THE BEAUTIFUL PART: CELEBRATING KING LOUIS (2013, 2014, 2015)

KING LOUIS

Take your pick.  Would you like to celebrate Louis Armstrong’s birthday as if it had been July 4, 1900 (what he and perhaps his mother believed it to be), July 4, 1901 (where Ricky Riccardi and I think the evidence points), or August 4, 1901 (what’s written in the baptismal record)?  I don’t think the debate is as important as the music.

KING LOUIS 2

And to show that LOUIS LIVES, I offer three examples of musicians evoking him with great warmth and success in this century.  Louis isn’t a historical figure; he animates our hearts today, and tomorrow, and . . .

KING LOUIS 3

Folks down there live a life of ease.  WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 29, 2014: Connie Jones, cornet; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jim Buchmann, Dave Bennett, clarinet; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums):

Cold empty bed.  BLACK AND  BLUE (Fraunces Tavern, July 25, 2015: Mike Davis, cornet; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass):

Does he strut like a king?  HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 2013: Marc Caparone, cornet and vocal; Clint Baker, clarinet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; John Reynolds, guitar; Katie Cavera, string bass; Ralf Reynolds, washboard):

KING LOUIS 4

Yes, Louis made the transition into spirit in 1971.  But his spirit is very much alive.

May your happiness increase!

THAT PRINCESS OF RHYTHM and THE INVISIBLE MAN

This particular piece of sheet music must have sold well when the song was new in 1931 — if the number of copies that have surfaced in this century is evidence: THAT PRINCESS OF RHYTHM sang WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra:

Incidentally, the song takes on new shadings of meaning when you hear the verse: the speaker is dreaming of going back to Virginia, hardly the Deep South.

This sheet music cover is new to me: I note that Mildred was no longer a Princess, although she Featured songs With Great Success.  (I wouldn’t argue with that.)  And the original publishers seem to have been delicately consumed by Mills Music.  I have no idea of the date of this second issue, but the picture suggests the mid-to-late Thirties.

Here’s a small mystery.

A man — you’d know him once I mention his name — recorded this song first, almost six months before the Whiteman record.  He sang and played it every night onstage for forty years.  Why is there no sheet music with him on the cover?  In the period before his great popularity in the Fifties, I’ve seen him on the cover of one song — LIGHTS OUT, circa 1936.  He was anything but invisible in all other media: you could see him in theatres, in concerts, at dances here and abroad; he broadcast on the radio and had his own program; he stole the show in films. But no WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.

I wonder why.

P.S.  I don’t see his invisibility as a racial issue: other African-Americans got their bands or their pictures on sheet music.  The only hypothesis I can invent is that Mr. Collins and then Mr. Glaser wanted too much money for Our Hero’s visage to be Visible. May your happiness increase.

“NOW THE PALE MOON’S SHINING ON THE FIELDS BELOW . . .” (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, Feb. 26, 2012)

In the forty years that WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH was his theme song, Louis Armstrong must have sung it more than 365 times a year.  I will leave the mathematics to you.  But he never tired of it, and it was his way of saying, “Here I am, ready to bring you love!” to an audience — in Hinsdale, Illinois; Hempstead, New York; Yokohama, Japan . . . around the world.  So the song has the deep feeling for me that hymns do for other people, or perhaps the National Anthem.  I don’t stand up and put my hand over my heart, but that is the way I feel when a band plays this song.

The EarRegulars did a beautiful job of evoking Louis in a place he probably never visited — The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City — last Sunday night, February 26, 2012.  They were Matt Munisteri, guitar; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Greg Cohen, string bass; Danny Tobias, cornet.

Incidentally, while The EarRegulars were playing, millions of people were watching “the winners” be announced at the Academy Awards; others were watching an all-star basketball game.  I think the real winners were playing and listening at The Ear Inn, with no need for any ripping open of envelopes or running up and down a basketball court.

Good evening, everybody!

“MONSTROUS!” SHE SAYS

Lisa Ryan, who creates lovely impressionistic YouTube video-collages related to Bix Beiderbecke, sent along this quotation she found in a biography of Josephine Baker.  The speaker is dancer Isadora Duncan:

It seems to me monstrous that anyone should believe that the jazz rhythm expresses America. Jazz rhythm expresses the primitive savage.

I wonder what “jazz rhythm” she had heard in her days and nights in the United States, Paris, and Moscow.  Had she been terrortized by the primitive passions of Bechet, Miley, or Oliver, I would understand.  But I wonder if the music that so upset her was no more than a tea-dance band (violin, saxophone, piano, drums) one-stepping through STUMBLING.  Or did she get upset when someone read Vachel Lindsay’s THE CONGO aloud? 

Poor Miss Duncan: she didn’t go to the right places or hear the right recordings.  Would James P. Johnson’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES have struck her as “monstrous,” or the dancing of Bill Robinson?  Was her terror the fear of all things African-American?  I hope not. 

I must be off, to see David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band devote themselves to the music of that “savage” Mr. Armstrong.  It will amuse me to envision Miss Duncan, clapping her hands over her ears and fleeing as the band begins its Wednesday night ritual of WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.  Oh, what Isadora missed . . . !