Our previous post was centered on a 25th wedding anniversary party Louis and Lucille Armstrong threw at their Corona, Queens home on October 7, 1967, but it also dealt with the release of two immortal Armstrong records that hit the market in September 1967: the Decca LP reissue (with influential liner notes by Dan Morgenstern) Rare Items, and a new single from ABC-Paramount featuring something called “What a Wonderful World” as the A side.
Unfortunately, Armstrong’s next in-studio album was not quite at the same level as those two releases. Brunswick Records recorded four sides with a weakened Armstrong earlier in the year, including a cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” that must rate as one of low points of the Armstrong discography. The two singles didn’t make a dent in the charts–they might still be Armstrong’s least known recordings–but Brunswick hadn’t lost interest in recording Armstrong and invited him back after the initial buzz surrounding “What a Wonderful World.”
That tune was produced by Bob Thiele for ABC-Paramount. The label’s president Larry Newton thought that Thiele was making a huge mistake in having Armstrong–the happy “Hello, Dolly!” hitmaker–record a sentimental anthem with a choir and orchestra, putting very little effort in to promote it. But after the good review it received in Cash Box (shared in our previous entry), word must have reached Brunswick’s Nat Tarnopol, who arranged a deal with Joe Glaser to record an LP that would be include a few inspirational songs a la “Wonderful World” along with several recent Broadway and film showtunes.
In the quest for a real commercial sound, Tarnopol hired Dick Jacobs to arrange the date. All Stars clarinetist Joe Muranyi was not impressed, calling him a “schmuck,” insisting he wasn’t a bad guy or anything, but was just a total square, commercial arranger.
Jacobs kept the All Star at the core–Muranyi on clarinet, Tyree Glenn on trombone, Marty Napoleon on piano, and Buddy Catlett on bass–but “enhanced” their sound by adding Ernie Hayes on organ, Art Ryerson on banjo and guitar, Wally Richardson on guitar, and Everett Barksdale on electric bass. Drummer Danny Barcelona was given the day off and though every discography says he was replaced by Grady Tate, Jack Bradley’s camera actually reveals the presence of studio drummer Gary Chester:
One of the first photos Bradley took was of pianist Napoleon in conversation with Jeann “Roni” Failows and an unidentified woman; if you look closely, Napoleon is holding a copy of the “What a Wonderful World” 45:
The musicians were also augmented by a choir made up of three men and three women, all of whom remain unidentified. Here’s one of Jack Bradley’s photos of them–if anyone knows any of their names, let us know! Also, that’s Dick Jacobs with the glasses and Louis is obscured by the microphones to the far right:
I’ve repeated before that it’s dangerous to read too much into a photo as an image of a scowling Louis could have been taken mere seconds before he broke out into a trademark smile. But Jack’s camera did catch a number of images that day of a somewhat pensive Louis; here’s a sample:
Applying lip salve:
Not even the presence of adopted son Clarence Hatfield Armstrong seemed to get Armstrong out of his funk:
Clarence was married to Evelyn Allen and that’s Evelyn’s son, Sonny, to the right, and Louis’s valet Bob Sherman on the left:
But I warned earlier, just when it seemed like Louis was in a foul mood and having a bad day–which still might be true–he broke out of it to pose for a happy, but blurry, photo with Clarence and Sonny:
Louis also seemed to perk up upon seeing Tyree Glenn; that’s road manager Ira Mangel and an unidentified, older photographer in the background:
And of course, once Armstrong began to rehearse with the musicians and choir, he really seemed to spring to life:
Only three songs were attempted on October 9, 1967, and Louis saved the arrangements for all three. First up was “Rosie,” another attempt at the old “Hello, Dolly!” strategy, though this time the song was the titular track of a film, not a Broadway show, starring Rosalind Russell and opening on November 22 according to Wikipedia. The film doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact and neither did the song, which is pretty corny–here’s the audio for those feeling curious:
Next up, something from the “What a Wonderful World” playbook: a vocal version of “You’ll Never Walk Along.” This was one of Louis’s favorite melodies to play throughout the 1950s as a waltz medley with “Tenderly,” but as his chops began to diminish in the 1960s, he retired it. However, he still loved the melody and with the Vietnam War raging and riots breaking out in cities across America, he revived it in the summer of 1967 as a vocal number, dedicating it to “all the mothers of all the soldiers in Vietnam” and encouraging the audience to sing with him on the last chorus. It was very emotional and became Armstrong’s new way of closing his concerts.
It made sense to record it but Jacobs made the curious choice of putting it in 4/4 instead of 3/4 and peppering it with Ernie Hayes’s organ throughout. Nevertheless it worked, with Armstrong really singing from the heart. I’ve long said that if used it the right film or TV commercial, it could be another “Wonderful World”; judging by its over 5 million views on YouTube, it’s definitely one of Armstrong’s most popular recordings of this period (this link is the official Universal upload, which has over 14,000 views in a short amount of time, but the 5 million version is still going strong):
Armstrong tried working the “Dolly” magic with the show Cabaret, recording its titular tune in August 1966 and performing it on the Ed Sullivan Show in September 1966, ahead of the musical’s official November 1966 opening. Armstrong’s version didn’t do much on the charts but the production was a hit and as recently discussed on this page, the All Stars continued swinging it every night, inspiring Louis to take some very fine trumpet solos. He re-recorded it for ABC-Paramount in August 1967, a definitive version done the same day as “What a Wonderful World,” and now Brunswick asked him to do another tune from Kander and Ebb’s score, “Willkommen.” For this one, we’re sharing Louis’s part as it’s interesting to see Jacobs writing in some phonetic spellings and changing the routine in the second chorus on the fly. Also note that on the last page, instead of singing “Cabaret” a final time, Louis had the idea to sing “Cassoulet,” a tribute to the French sausage-and-bean-filled stew that Armstrong probably devoured on one of his European trips; that’s Louis’s shaky handwriting spelling out “CASSULAY”:
And here’s the audio:
That was all for October 9, 1967, as Brunswick would go to work in preparing “Rosie” to be released the same time as the movie (Cash Box magazine gave it a positive review in its November 18 issue, four days before the film opened). “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was chosen as the flip side of the single, with “Willkommen” reserved for a future release.
But before we leave this Brunswick date, a treat: clarinetist Joe Muranyi began keeping an “audio diary” in this period, often turning on a tape to recorder to talk for a few minutes about almost every gig and session that took place in the last few months of 1967 and early 1968. He captured plenty fly-on-the-wall moments from the Brunswick date, including the band’s difficulty with finding that 4/4 feel on “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Muranyi also references that Joe Glaser was there and some photos were taken; in some of the above photos, an older man with glasses can be seen with a camera so I’m assuming he’s the one who took them because Bradley–no fan of Glaser–didn’t take a single shot with Louis’s manager. Towards the end, Muranyi laments the commercial nature of Armstrong’s record dates and wishes someone would give him a pure jazz date; it wasn’t to be. Here’s Joe Muranyi:
Muranyi also made a crack about Jack Bradley looking “sleepy” because he had been spending so much time with Louis. Armstrong had October 10 off, but would appear on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on October 11–and for the third time in a week, Bradley was present. He had a great angle to take some striking photos of Louis with Doc Severinsen’s band, along with Dick Jacobs from the Brunswick session, there to coach Armstrong and the group through two selection. Here’s Bradley’s photos of what appears to be a rehearsal, with Severinsen in the center and Jacobs next to Louis, wearing glasses:
Bradley also got one shot of Louis in his dressing room:
Armstrong performed two numbers that evening: “What a Wonderful World” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” In between, he was interviewed by Johnny Carson. Unfortunately, this broadcast is one of the missing ones in our Archives; the Tonight Show was good about sending Louis copies of his broadcasts and we have many from 1967-1971, but either they didn’t send him this particular one or Louis lost it or gave it away. Very few videos of the Tonight Show survive before 1972 so the visual is most likely lost, but I’d bet someone out there might have audio. In fact, “What a Wonderful World” did appear on an obscure CD on the Italian Moon label and we feel that it’s at least worth sharing, especially since it’s the first surviving version of what would go on to (posthumously) become Armstrong’s most iconic song:
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” has not turned up, but it made a deep impression on syndicated columnist Jack O’Brian, who wrote, “Louis Armstrong singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ which he dedicated to parents of kids in Vietnam on the Tonight Show, was one of the quietly most affecting moments in all music. Satch delivered the deep-rich drama of the Rodgers-Hammerstein hymn from “Carousel” better than anyone we’ve ever heard. . . . Louis’ mood switched from happy to heartbreak in a manner we’ll be he never anticipated when he struck out on his own more than 40 years ago in Chicago.” A copy of O’Brian’s column was sent to Jeann Failows, who saved it:
Joe Muranyi wasn’t a part of the Tonight Show performance but he did watch it on TV and offered some observations, including what inspired Armstrong’s good mood–someone “turned him on,” which could definitely be a reference to Bradley who enjoyed smoking regularly when with Armstrong and was responsible for sometimes getting him the goods. (And I’m not referring to unfiltered Camels….) Anyway, here’s Joe:
On that same tape, Muranyi mentions that the All Stars would go back on tour the very next morning, October 12, and that Armstrong’s chops were a little “wobbly” after a few weeks off of regular blowing. The one-nighters added up but eventually they were able to settle in Chicago for a few days towards the end of the month–coincidentally, Jack Bradley would be in Chicago at the same time and would have his camera and several rolls of film with him, capturing images and stories that will be featured in our next installment.