March 23, 2009

NONPAREIL:

More Satchmo (Colin Fleming, March 30, 2009, The New Yorker)

As a trumpet player, there was no one to touch Armstrong, but Bing Crosby was an apt vocal foil. The two had their summit meeting in 1960, resulting in “Bing and Satchmo” (DRG Records), previously unavailable on compact disk. “Dardanella” suggests how keenly these men must have listened to each other: Crosby’s sly syllabic upticks at the end of each line show how readily he had absorbed Armstrong’s methodology, while Armstrong’s vocal is a blend of full-on melody and smart, conversational tones, a Crosby staple. Throughout, Billy May’s arrangements have plenty of starch to them, but “Lazy River” borders on a kind of laconic grace, two voices whiling the day away before drifting home.

Great Encounters: When Bing Crosby met Louis Armstrong (Excerpted from Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams: by Gary Giddins)
To hip musicians in Chicago, scat had been the rage for months. Bing and some of the other adventurous musicians in Whiteman's band heard it that very week from the master himself, Louis Armstrong. If mobster Al Capone ruled the city, Armstrong ruled its music. Whatever he played was instantly picked up by other musicians. The previous spring Okeh issued his Hot Five recording of "Heebie Jeebies," and it caused a sensation, selling some 40,000 copies thanks to his inspired vocal chorus - a torrent of bristling grunts and groans in no known language. Pianist Earl Hines later claimed he knew musicians who tried to catch cold so they could growl like Louis; and Mezz Mezzrow, the marijuana-pushing clarinetist, recalled, "You would hear cats greeting each other with Louis's riffs when they met around town…scatting in each other's face." Before Louis, scat singing could be heard on records by Cliff Edwards (Ukelele Ike) and Red McKenzie (Mound City Blue Blowers); Bing and Al had admired and imitated them in Spokane. But the ad libs on those records were often disguised by kazoo or comb. They had little of Armstrong's rhythmic thrust and none of his melodic ingenuity.

At the time Whiteman pulled into town, Louis was fronting the Sunset Café band, with Hines as his musical director. The place was run by Joe Glaser, a Capone acolyte who several years later would become Armstrong's manager, building the powerful Associated Booking Agency in the process. In Chicago he billed his star in lights as "The World's Greatest Trumpet Player." The Sunset was located on the main stem of black Chicago but served an integrated audience. Because its band played a good two hours after most others retired, the club became a second home to many of the best white musicians in town, among them Bix Beiderbecke, Hoagy Carmichael, Tommy Dorsey, and Frank Trumbauer.

Whiteman introduced Bing and Al (Rinker) to the Sunset and other hot spots in Chicago. One can only imagine Bing's initial response to Louis's irrepressible genius, especially if Mildred Bailey had primed him for an experience bordering on the Second Coming.


Posted by Orrin Judd at March 23, 2009 6:40 AM
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