REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » ARMSTRONG, Louis: You Rascal, You (1939-1941) (Louis Armstrong, Vol. 6)
By Derrick Davey
Louis Armstrong burst on the jazz scene in the mid 1920s with a series of small group recordings—the Hot 5s and 7s—and was considered by many to eb the premier jazz trumpeter of the day.
By the time of these recordings (1940–41) he had developed from a hot jazz trumpeter to a popular entertainer, relying less on his powerhouse trumpet and more on his jovial personality, his charisma and his exuberant singing.
Almost half of this CD is of Armstrong supported by a 14-piece band playing a lot of novelty numbers (‘Cur off my legs and call me Shorty’, ‘Hep cats ball’, ‘I’ll be glad when you’re ded, you rascal, you’) and all but one feature the Armstrong voice as much as the Armstrong trumpet.
The supporting band has no outstanding players although there is an occasional jumping solo from tenor sax player Joe Garland while drummer Sidney Catlet vigorously pushes the band along.
Seven of the tracks are by a septet or quartet, most of whom come from within the big band and feature guest soprano sax player Sidney Bechet. As usual, Armstrong’s voice, as much as his trumpet, is featured but the choice of material is less ‘commercial’ and Bechet’s uninhibited soaring saxophone seems to urge Armstrong into the sort of performance we remember from his Hot 5 days.
Finally, Armstrong joins the Mills Brothers (‘four boys and a guitar’) in four recordings: pleasant jaunty singing from the five, with a little bit of the Armstrong horn.
This CD is up to the usual Naxos standard with good transfers from clean originals, digitally restored and with well-written notes and full recording details.
The Louis Armstrong of the late 1930s was a
man at a crossroads in his career, faced with
several creative dilemmas. Popularity was not one
of them. He was now a bonafide superstar, with
radio programmes, tours, and concerts crowding
his schedule. Already recognized as a pioneer of
jazz and one of the supreme jazz musicians of his
day, Armstrong could pretty much do what he
wanted. But the years just prior to America’s
entry into World War II showed Armstrong
struggling, at least in the studio, to find his niche
in the rapidly changing musical landscape.
Riding on top of the tidal wave of the Big
Band Era, Armstrong had assembled his own
orchestra early on, making records for OKeh and
then Victor before signing with the new Decca
label in 1935. By the end of 1939, Armstrong’s
orchestra was relying mainly on its leader’s
charisma and celebrity as more progressive bands
took the spotlight. Listening to Harlem Stomp,
from the following May, is a perfect example. The
nondescript big band leads off with the
introduction to the song, sounding not much
unlike any other group of the period. It isn’t until
Satchmo comes in with his gravelly vocal and
clarion trumpet chorus that the sound becomes
singularly his. Aside from Louis himself, the
Armstrong orchestra had no identity of its own
and exhibited little growth during the ’30s, unlike
bands led by Benny Goodman, which featured
powerhouse soloists and Fletcher Henderson’s
extraordinary charts, Duke Ellington, with its
unique arrangements of original tunes, and
Glenn Miller, which had its own musical identity
as well. Occasionally, J. C. Higginbotham or Luis
Russell was given a chance to shine, but in
general, it was Satch’s show from start to finish.
But, like a superstar basketball player on a team
of anonymous underachievers, Armstrong was
able to transform his records by himself with his
personality and musical genius.
Although Armstrong was a great innovator of
jazz vocals, fans of his trumpet playing were
getting dismayed that there was less and less of
this on his records. Armstrong’s records were
mainly vocal-oriented, with novelty-tinged songs
playing on Satchmo’s effusive personality and jive
language (Hep Cats’ Ball, Cut Off My Legs And
Call Me Shorty, You Run Your Mouth, I’ll Run
Decca’s penchant for teaming up its most
popular artists resulted in Armstrong cutting a
session with another of its successful acts, the
Mills Brothers, in April 1940. Armstrong had first
teamed up with the Mills clan three years before
and the combination was still effective; the four
songs they recorded are all here, including an
early Jesse Stone composition making fun of
America’s Works Progress Administration
(W. P. A.), and the tendency for workers to
goldbrick on the job, knowing they would not be
fired. Both Armstrong and the Mills Brothers
would continue to do duets with other Decca
stalwarts in succeeding years.
As much as Decca’s decision makers tried to
shoehorn Louis Armstrong into the Swing Era,
they took advantage of the revival of traditional
New Orleans jazz in 1940 to bring Armstrong
back into his most comfortable element, leading
a small group of top-notch jazzmasters (all
hailing from New Orleans). Armstrong’s
competitive spirit was given a challenge when
reedman Sidney Bechet was invited to join him
on the session. The resulting album, called New
Orleans Jazz, foreshadowed the sound of his
successful post-war group, Louis Armstrong and
his All-Stars, which he would use for the rest of
his career. Small group jazz was making a
comeback, thanks in part to the success of New
York’s Commodore record label, and the everincreasing
cost of running a big band.
Bechet and Armstrong proved to be still a
potent combination, each possessing egos that
would not allow one to get the better of the
other. The two had played together fifteen years
earlier, on recordings made as part of Clarence
Williams’ Blue Five. Bechet, always in top form
when playing the blues, soars in his solo on Lil
Armstrong’s Perdido Street Blues, while Louis
finishes the tune off with one of his best solos in
years, played over Claude Jones’ trombone riffs.
Similarly, 2:19 Blues, featuring a solid Armstrong
vocal, also comes off well. However, the other
two tunes, Down In Honky Tonky Town and
Coal Cart Blues caused Bechet to later remark in
his autobiography, ‘Louis, it seemed like he was
wanting to make it a kind of thing where we were
supposed to be bucking each other, competing
instead of working together for that real feeling
that would let the music come new and strong’.
Despite the rivalry, this short four-song session
gave Armstrong a chance to break free from the
bonds of the Swing Era, even for but a brief
The next year, Decca featured Armstrong in
another New Orleans-style small group mode,
this time with no musician the calibre of Bechet
to share the spotlight with. On Hey Lawdy
Mama, Armstrong sings a blues made popular by
Amos Easton, aka “Bumble Bee Slim,” one of the
few recordings in which Louis played in a band
featuring an electric guitar (Lawrence Lucie).
Back with his big band in November 1941, Louis
reprised his classic You Rascal You, which he had
first recorded for OKeh ten years earlier, and the
song that would become his theme, the evocative
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.
At the outbreak of World War II, Louis
Armstrong was still on top of the jazz world. He
had survived the Swing Era, unlike most of his
first generation contemporaries, but would
emerge after the war going back to what he did
best: playing the New Orleans jazz standards he
made popular in the ’20s with a stable group of
equally like-minded musical veterans.
Cary Ginell – a winner of the 2004 ASCAP/Deems
Taylor Award for music journalism)
Last Albums Viewed
ARMSTRONG, Louis: You Rascal, You (1939-1941) (Lou...