ARMSTRONG, Louis: Jeepers Creepers

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'Jeepers Creepers' Original Recordings 1938-1939

A famous name by 1929, Louis Armstrong foundhimself a bit overshadowed during the Swing eraby the likes of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorseyand Artie Shaw, but he remained a much belovedcelebrity who led his own underrated big band.

Although few of the newer fans of the swingbands probably realized it, Armstrong'saccomplishments in the 1920s helped set thestage for the big band era that followed.

For Louis Armstrong, it had been a steep butsteady climb from poverty to worldwide celebrity.

Born 4 August 1901 in New Orleans, Armstrongwas raised by a single mother who did her bestdespite the odds that were stacked against her.

Young Louis loved the New Orleans brass bands,sang in a vocal group on the street for penniesand played a little bit of cornet as a child. Thebiggest break in his life was an unusual one, for atfirst it looked like the beginning of a tragedy. OnNew Year's Eve of 1912, in celebration he shot offa pistol in the air, and was quickly arrested.

Because he had been largely unsupervised, he wassent to live in a waif's home. However Armstrongthrived in the strict surroundings, began to reallystudy cornet, and was thrilled when he wasconsidered talented enough to play with theschool's band. After two years when he wasreleased, he was considered a promising youngmusician and he soon became an important partof the exciting New Orleans jazz scene.

Developing quickly, by 1919 Armstrong wasconsidered one of the city's top cornetists. Whenhis hero Joe 'King' Oliver moved up North, herecommended that Louis be his replacement withKid Ory's highly respected band. In 1922 whenOliver was well settled in Chicago with his CreoleJazz Band, he sent for Armstrong to become hissecond cornetist. The following year, Louis madehis recording debut with Oliver, and even at thatearly stage it was already obvious that it would beonly a matter of time before he would exceed theolder cornetist.

During 1924-25, Armstrong was in New Yorkas the star cornet soloist with Fletcher Henderson'sorchestra. His legato phrasing, ability to 'tell astory' and use of space for dramatic effect, not tomention his beautiful tone, made a hugeimpression on other musicians (includingColeman Hawkins) and arranger Don Redman.

By the time that Satch went back to Chicago,Fletcher Henderson's big band had evolved froma dance band to the first real swing orchestra.

While playing nightly with big bands inChicago, Louis Armstrong (who permanentlyswitched to trumpet) recorded his innovativeseries of recordings with his Hot Five, Hot Sevenand Savoy Ballroom Five during 1925-28,changing jazz from an ensemble-oriented musicto one that emphasizes virtuoso soloists. He wasalso a monumental influence on singers, phrasinglike a horn and popularizing scat-singing. In1929 he relocated to New York, using the LuisRussell orchestra as a backup band for some ofhis first big band recordings. After spendingmuch of 1933-34 in Europe, Armstrong returnedto the United States and found that the Swing erawas underway. He soon took over the LuisRussell big band altogether, which was renamedthe Louis Armstrong Orchestra.

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

When The Saints Go Marching In and LoveWalked In have Armstrong joined by ninemusicians that are drawn from his orchestra. TheSaints, which had previously been associated withspiritual groups, is heard in one of its first'secular' recordings. It would not really catch onas a dixieland standard until the 1940s. In additionto the leader, trombonist J. C. Higginbothamhas a rewarding spot. The Gershwins' LoveWalked In is taken at a faster tempo than usual,featuring some joyful scat breaks by Armstrong,superior drumming by Big Sid Catlett and atrumpet solo that is both melodic and heated.

The next three numbers are unusual in thatArmstrong is joined by an octet of studiomusicians rather than his regular sidemen. Thepop tune I've Got A Pocketful Of Dreams hasspots for several of the players, including theexcellent swing pianist Nat Jaffe. Both I Can'tGive You Anything But Love and Fats Waller'sAin't Misbehavin' were popularized byArmstrong's 1929 recordings, with the latterbecoming a permanent part of Satch's repertoire.

These fairly obscure versions differ quite a bitfrom the recordings of nine years earlier, withArmstrong's closing trumpet solo on I Can't GiveYou Anything But Love being quite magnificent.

Throughout his career, Louis Armstrongoccasionally recorded religious works, while neverbeing shy to also poke fun at money-grabbingpreachers. One of his 1938 sessions features himbacked by the Lyn Murray Chorus. Shadrack(which he performed again in the 1950s) andJonah And The Whale are respectful and spirited.

On the other hand, the two Elder Eatmore'sermons' are full of satirical remarks andthoughts (with just a bit of exaggeration) that arenot that far from the true viewpoints of today'stelevangelists.

Returning to swing, Louis Armstrong madeJeepers Creepers famous when he sang it to areluctant racehorse in the movie Going Places. Hisfull big band (heard for the first time in thiscollection) enthusiastically backs the star'sexuberant trumpet solo on Jeepers Creepers andhelps out on his little-known What Is This ThingCalled Swing.

Armstrong was such a celebrity that he oftenmade record dates as a guest with other bigbands. On 20 February 1939 he teamed up withthe Casa Loma Orchestra to record a pair ofHoagy Carmichael classics. Satch had firstrecorded Rockin' Chair with Carmichael himselfin 1929 and in his later All-Stars period it wouldbecome a classic encounter with Jack Teagarden.

Pee Wee Hunt fulfills the Carmichael/Teagardenrole well on this version and plays the straightman to Armstrong on Lazy Bones.

The remaining seven selections on thiscollection are, with the exception of Baby, Won'tYou Please Come Home, remakes of songs thatArmstrong originally recorded during 1926-30.

Actually these renditions do not owe much to theprevious recordings, being greatly updated for theswing era. Save It Pretty Mama, whichArmstrong debuted in 1928, would be revived forhis 1947 Town Hall concert. This 'middle'version, which has a spot for altoist CharlieHolmes and trombonist J. C. Higginbotham,holds its own with the other two recordings.

While this rendition of West End Blues isdwarfed by the 1928 version (which Armstrongconsidered his greatest recording), it has itsmoments too, starting out the same but includingsome more sophisticated scatting than previouslyand a different closing solo. Savoy Blues also hasa mostly new statement from Armstrong,featuring him really digging into the blues. OurMonday Date, originally a collaboration withpianist Earl Hines, features concise solos fromHolmes and tenor-saxophonist Bingie Madison.

I'm Confessin' That I Love You is highlighted bysome heartfelt singing and dramatic trumpetfrom Armstrong. Baby, Won't You Please ComeHome, which Satch missed the first time around,easily fits into his repertoire. The set closes withthe instrumental Hear Me Talkin' To Ya, whichhas short spots for Holmes on clarinet andtrombonist Higginbotham before Armstrongtakes it out with fire and joy.

To use a title of a reissue LP from the 1960s,this 'batch of Satch' is consistently enjoyable andshows that his underrated swing years were full oftimeless gems.

Scott Yanow

- author of 9 jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing,

Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-7
Disc: 1
Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya
1 When The Saints Go Marching In (arr. G. Snowhill)
2 Love Walked In
3 I’ve Got A Pocketful Of Dreams
4 I Can’t Give You Anything But Love
5 Ain’t Misbehavin’
6 Shadrack
7 Elder Eatmore’s Sermon On Throwing Stones
8 Jonah And The Whale
9 Elder Eatmore’s Sermon On Generosity
10 Jeepers Creepers
11 What Is This Thing Called Swing?
12 Rockin’ Chair
13 Lazybones
14 Save It, Pretty Mama
15 West End Blues
16 Savoy Blues
17 Our Monday Date
18 Confessin’ (That I Love You)
19 Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home
20 Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya
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