Dec 13, 2013 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
It was February 1964 and the great trumpeter and song stylist Louis Armstrong was in Puerto Rico preparing for a show. Armstrong received a long-distance phone call from his manager in New York City, Joe Glaser, who instructed the artist to add the band’s new hit song to their nightly repertoire.
“Any you guys remember this damn tune?” Louis asked his musicians.
Fifty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1963, Armstrong and his All-Stars had recorded a song at the request of a theatrical producer who wanted a single to hype a new musical scheduled to open in early 1964. A musical version of a play “The Matchmaker” called “Hello Dolly” was an immediate Broadway hit.
Meanwhile the recording produced by Kapp Records had also become a sensation. The single, with words and music by Jerry Herman, entered the charts in February and on May 9 was the number one tune in the nation having displaced The Beatles and the other British imports that dominated pop music at that time.
“This astonished the music industry and no doubt confused and bewildered the jazz world,” says Syracuse cornetist Pat Carroll, leader of the Irish Channel Jazz Band.
After the recording session but before the single was released, Louis and his band went on the road. When contacted in Puerto Rico early in 1964, none of them could recall the song.
“In fact, it was later said that Louis found the tune lifeless and trite and readily forgotten,” Carroll said. “They had no music to refer to, and could not find it in San Juan and had to wait for charts to be sent from New York.”
It may seem improbable, but the song invigorated Armstrong’s career. “Part of the genius that was Louis Armstrong was his ability to take a ‘lifeless and trite’ tune and infuse it with his particular magic,” Carroll said. “He had been doing that for 30-odd years.”
The “Dolly” session featured the All-Stars with a light background of strings added. To pep up the record, a banjo intro was dubbed onto the track, and it added just the right touch. After he sang the first chorus, Louis played the next 16 bars in straightforward fashion. “Then, as Emeril Lagasse might say, he kicked it up a notch,” Carroll said. “He reshaped the second part of the tune to his own liking and produced a gem of an improvised passage.”
The success of “Hello Dolly” brought Louis a new round of radio, TV and movie celebrity. For a while he was everywhere, even singing the tune to Barbra Streisand in the 1969 movie version. “At age 63, Louis enjoyed a very unexpected personal triumph,” Carroll said.
“With ‘Hello Dolly,” wrote jazz critic Gary Giddins in his “Satchmo” biography, “Armstrong had transformed dross into gold once again, and even got to play a full chorus of trumpet…The whole performance was casually flawless.”
“Hello, Dolly!” went on win a Grammy Award for 1965 Song of the Year, and Armstrong received a Grammy for Best Male Vocal Performance.
Holiday jam session
Maybe they’ll sing “Dolly” to mark its golden anniversary when the Jazz Appreciation Society stages its holiday jam session from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, at the Syracuse Suds Factory, 320 S. Clinton St., down city
“We’re very pleased that the Suds Factory has added JASS to its regular lineup of jazz and R&B performances staged at the popular downtown venue,” said Bobby Morris, a trombone player who lives in Liverpool. Bobby’s the longtime president of JASS.
Admission is free at the annual holiday jam session, the public is welcome, and all musicians and vocalists are invited to sit in; 652-0547.
Clement as Mrs. Hollywell
Liverpool native Erika Clement, a talented chanteuse and actress, is playing the role of Mrs. Hollywell at the 20th annual Dickens’ Christmas in Skaneateles. In Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic “A Christmas Carol,” Mrs. Honeywell is the wife of Ebenezer Scrooge’s good-hearted nephew, Fred.
Skaneateles’ Dickens’ Christmas runs from noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 22 in the village’s business district. Clement and her four dozen fellow performers finish up from noon to 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.