by Bert Thompson
VARIOUS—NEW ORLEANS • Original Soundtrack, Out-Takes, and Associated
Music from the 1947 Cult Movie (Upbeat URCD 276). Playing time: 71 mins. 38 secs
1) Flee as a Bird/When the Saints Go Marching In; 2) West End Blues*; 3) Do You
Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?†; 4) Brahms’ Lullaby; 5) Tiger Rag; 6)
Buddy Bolden’s Blues*; 7) Buddy Bolden’s Blues*; 8) Basin Street Blues*; 9)
Raymond Street Blues; 10) Milneberg Joys; 11) Where the Blues Were Born in New
Orleans*; 12) Farewell to Storyville†; 13) Beale Street Stomp; 14) Dippermouth
Blues; 15) Dippermouth Blues; 16) Shimme-Sha-Wabble; 17) Ballin’ the Jack; 18)
King Porter Stomp; 19) Mahoganay Hall Stomp; 20) Mahoganay Hall Stomp; 21) The
Blues Are Brewin’†; 22) Endie*; 23) Do You Know What It Means to Miss New
Orleans?†; 24) Honky Tonk Train; 25) Do You Know What It Means to Miss New
Orleans?*;26) Where the Blues Were Born in New Orleans*; 27) Mahogany Hall
Stomp; 28) Endie*; 29) The Blues Are Brewin’*.
The musician roster is given as follows: Louis Armstrong – Trumpet, vocals* (tracks
1-2, 4-23, 25-29) Mutt Carey – Trumpet (tracks 14-18, 20) Kid Ory – Trombone
(tracks 1-2, 5-8, 10-13, 19, 23) Barney Bigard – Clarinet (tracks 1-2, 5, 8, 10-13, 19, 23)
Eli “Lucky” Thompson – Tenor sax (tracks 14-18, 20) [not given on the CD] Charlie
Beal – Piano (tracks 1-3, 4-12, 19, 23) Meade Lux Lewis – Piano (track 24) Red
Callender – String bass (tracks 1-2, 5-13, 19, 23) Zutty Singleton – Drums (tracks 1-2,
4-8, 9-20, 23) Minor Hall – Drums (tracks 25-27) Billie Holiday – Vocals† (tracks 3,
Louis Armstrong’s Big Band (tracks 21-22, and 28-29). Personnel not given, but
according to several sources it is as follows:
Louis Armstrong – Trumpet, vocals*; Robert Butler – Trumpet; Louis Gray –
Trumpet; Andrew “Fats” Ford – Trumpet; Ed Mullins – Trumpet; “Big Chief”
Russell Moore – Trombone; Waddet [Waddey?] Williams – Trombone; Nat Allen –
Trombone; James Whitney – Trombone; Don Hill – Alto sax; Amos Gordon – Alto
Joe Garland – Tenor sax; John Sparrow – Tenor sax; Ernest Thompson – Baritone
sax; Earl Mason – Piano; Elmer Warner – Guitar; Arvell Shaw – String bass; Edward
McConney - Drums
No information is given in the booklet regarding dates and locations of the
recordings, other than that the movie was shot in New Orleans and released in 1947.
Marcel Joly, the respected Belgian jazz historian and critic, however, says that all the
music was pre-recorded before the filming and gives the following dates and
locations: Tracks 1-24, 28-29 September 11, 1946, at Studio and Artists Recorders,
Hollywood, California. Tracks 25-27 October 17, 1946, at Los Angeles, California.
In 1982 in the U.S. the first 23 tracks of this CD were issued, initially on LP in a
gatefold vinyl album on the Giants of Jazz label, GOJ-1025, and subsequently on
CD with the same catalogue number. The following year, 1983, in the U.K. the same
LP album and CD appeared. (The personnel given on these issues differs slightly
from that given on this Upbeat CD reissue.) The CD was reissued again later on the
Jazz Crusade label, and it is that particular disc that appears on this Upbeat issue.
(Upbeat a short time ago acquired the Jazz Crusade label.) All of that is a little
confusing, perhaps, and to compound the difficulties, in his review of the Jazz
Crusade CD, Marcel Joly gives a different personnel listing which he avers is
definitive but which is not clearly delineated. Based on all of these sources, my
listing above is what I hope is accurate.
To complicate matters even further, in his biography of George Lewis—George
Lewis: A Jazzman from New Orleans—Tom Bethell indicates in an appendix that
the Kid Howard’s Brass Band, of which Lewis was a member, was filmed playing
two mock funeral numbers for this movie, these being Flee as a Bird (Algiers, La,
Aug. 31, 1946) and, as Howard remembered it, St Louis Blues (Algiers, La, Sept. 1,
1946). These were filmed over the two days, and Bethell avers there must have been
numerous takes. All, it seems, ended up on the cutting room floor; and Bethell says
although transcriptions were made, none had surfaced as of the time of his Lewis
biography’s appearance (1977), nor has any to date. No mention of Howard’s Brass
Band is made in the movie’s or the afore-mentioned CDs’ credits, although Bethell
provides the band’s personnel as well as its performance and location dates (as does
Joly). The opening sequence on this disc has the basic Armstrong group augmented
by some unnamed studio musicians.
Of course, the music is what matters finally. As a search of the reviews of the
movie New Orleans shows, it is generally conceded that the film was, for jazz lovers
at least, a flop, a huge let-down after the promise it offered when its premise was to
tell the story of the advent of jazz. (The movie is still available on various places
such as eBay and Amazon—at some outrageous prices, I may add. It is also
available for viewing on youtube.) Only the music got two thumbs up.
With the lineup of musicians (see above), it would have been hard to go wrong.
Armstrong executes his famous cadenza to open West End Blues, and towards the
middle includes a scat vocal chorus, and throughout the playlist there are many
Armstrong vocals with no surprises. There are some instrumental surprises,
however, such as the snippet for Brahms Lullaby. It opens with the first eight bars
taken at a slow tempo; the second eight pick up tempo in the first four bars, adding
Armstrong for the last four; the third eight further increases the tempo at the
Armstrong break (a fanfare). The snippet is incomplete as it ends prematurely as if
someone just turned off the recorder. (This track did not appear in the film, as
several others did not either.)
Another jewel is the first take of Dippermouth Blues which is taken at a very
leisurely tempo and contains no stop time or cry of “Oh, play that thing!” thus
contravening the expectation. The second take is more conventional with stop time
and exhortation included. Yet another surprise is the opening of King Porter Stomp
which begins with a drum intro accompanied by a trumpet fanfare.
In all the numbers featuring him, Armstrong meets expectations, especially his
signature super high notes, as, for example, the upper stratosphere he reaches in the
coda of Basin Street Blues. This is, after all, a fairly young Louis—he was only in
his forties at the time. Also, his voice is not as “gravelly” as it was to become later.
Like Armstrong, the other star vocalist, Billie Holiday, was young, barely into her
thirties. But her talent was by this time well developed; her signature phrasing is
evident here, and the emotion she could pack into a lyric—a certain sadness, even
hopelessness, on occasion—is to be found in both Do You Know What It Means to
Miss New Orleans and Farewell to Storyville. The memorable, if melodramatic,
scene containing the latter where she leads the assembled crowd in singing the
dirge as they depart Storyville, and particularly when they sing one chorus a
capella, is perhaps the best in the whole movie and one which lingers in memory.
And Armstrong’s obbligatos behind her singing are masterful.
This disc from Upbeat makes available once again the classic music from what
should have been (but is not) a classic film. The bonus is that it also provides most
of the music that didn’t make it onto the screen, in addition to several tracks laid
down for commercial release, including those where Minor Hall substitutes for
Zutty Singleton. Perhaps the next iteration will contain the lost transcription of the
Kid Howard Brass Band performance.
More information is available at the Upbeat web site, www.upbeat.co.uk.