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ClassicsOnline Home » ARMSTRONG, Louis: Jeepers Creepers (1938-1939) (Louis Armstrong, Vol. 5)
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
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
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
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
– author of 9 jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing,
Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76
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ARMSTRONG, Louis: Jeepers Creepers (1938-1939) (Lo...