“The Great Bing and The Solid Duke”: St. Louis Blues

April 29 marked the 121st birthday of legendary pianist, composer, bandleader Duke Ellington. Louis Armstrong’s record collection was flooded with Ellington selections. His tapes include works such as Masterpieces by Ellington, Uptown, In a Mellotone and Ellington At Newport. Here are two pages from Louis’s tape catalog for a dub of At Newport, including notes on Cat Anderson (“still goes high”) and cataloging the famous “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” as “Jump Blues” featuring a “Jump Solo” by Paul “Gonzalvez.”

LAHM 1987.2.23
LAHM 1987.2.23

In addition to the tapes, our Archives still contain the original copies of LPs such as A Drum is a Woman and Festival Session, as well as numerous 78s. 

LAHM 1987.3.991

We’ve chosen one of the 78s for our second installment of “Satch’s Tracks,” Brunswick 20105, featuring “St. Louis Blues,” recorded by Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra on February 11, 1932 in New York City. Not only is the Ellington Orchestra featured in all their early 30s glory but the guest vocalist on the session was pretty special, too: Bing Crosby.

LAHM 1987.3.1291

If you note the faded rectangle towards the bottom of the label on Louis’s copy, that space was originally occupied by one of Armstrong’s “Recorded” notes, a small piece of paper he affixed to records with Scotch tape to remind himself that he had already dubbed the disc to tape. The note didn’t survive–but the reel-to-reel tape does! 

Here is audio of Louis at home in Queens in the early 1950s, dropping the needle on his original Brunswick 78 of “St. Louis Blues” before grabbing the microphone to address an imagined audience (he was by himself), telling them that they’re listening to, “None other than the great Bing and the solid Duke!”

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LAHM 1987.3.212

Breaking theme for a minute, one of the largest collections in our Archives is the Gosta Hagglof Collection. In that collection is a tape featuring a Bing Crosby appearance on Willis Conover’s Voice of America Jazz Hour program in 1958. Crosby spent part of the show spinning recorded and included the same “St. Louis Blues” with Ellington. Here is the end of the recording, followed by Crosby talking about how he was influenced by Armstrong. Interestingly, he notes that his scatting on “St. Louis Blues” was a tribute to Louis’s “Lazy River,” which was recorded in November 1931 and released just weeks before Crosby headed into the studio with Ellington. As he says at the end of the clip, “The thievery is unmistakable!”

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LAHM 2011.20.661

As usual, we’ll conclude with a Spotify link to listen to today’s selection in better fidelity. We’ll have more to come next Friday, but if you have any requests for “Satch’s Tracks,” leave a comment below!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

I am Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

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