“Jubilee” (1938) Louis Armstrong

“Jubilee”

Composed by Hoagy Carmichael (music) and Stanley Adams (words). Arranged by Chappie Willet.

Recorded by Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra for Decca on January 12, 1938 in Los Angeles.

Louis Armstrong, trumpet and vocal, directing: Shelton “Scad” Hemphill, Louis Bacon, Henry “Red” Allen, trumpets; Wilbur de Paris, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, trombones; Pete Clarke and Charlie Holmes, alto saxophones; Albert Nicholas and Bingie Madison, tenor saxophones and clarinets; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; George M. “Pops” Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin, drums. Note: Pianist Luis Russell acted as the music director of this band.

The story: One of many great things about Louis Armstrong was his sincere humanity. As anyone who has ever studied jazz knows, he was a prodigiously gifted musician whose revolutionary approach to rhythm transformed early jazz into swing. In terms of swing, Armstrong’s trumpet playing and singing were indivisible. Rhythmically speaking, everything Armstrong brought to his trumpet playing informed his singing. As a performer, Louis Armstrong was a perfect package: he was an explosive, passionate virtuoso on trumpet; he was an engaging and exceedingly warm singer whose unique gravelly voice only enhanced his appeal to audiences; and he was a dynamic stage personality who lit-up any performance where he was present. He was one of the relatively few people in any profession whose personality was so immense that he simply dominated any situation, musical or otherwise, where he appeared.

In preparing these notes, I reflected on all of this, and recalled the situation when Louis and his fourth and last wife Lucille, were presented in the Vatican to Pope Pius XII, a most dour and formal man. After the Pope received Louis and Lucille, he uneasily attempted to guide the conversation. One of the questions he asked them was: “Do you have any children?” Without missing a beat, Louis answered: “No, Daddy, but we’re working on it!” This interaction, despite its formality and awkwardness, could not confine or restrict the personality of Louis Armstrong. He was who he was, in any situation.

His musical and theatrical abilities, which allowed him to perform on the stages of the greatest theaters and other entertainment venues in America and around the world, and appear in many Hollywood films, eventually, after decades of hard work, made him a wealthy man. This happened despite the virulent racism and discrimination he faced in the USA throughout his career. A key person in Louis’s financial success was his long-time manager, Joe Glaser. Glaser emerged from the murky underworld of gangland Chicago in the 1920s. He was a most unsavory character, a boor, an assertive vulgarian.

Louis and Joe Glaser.

But his aggressive, crude representation of Louis got Armstrong into many work situations that other black artists could not obtain, despite the best efforts of their managers. Also, paradoxically, Glaser’s dealings with Armstrong over several decades seem to have been honorable.

The place on earth (aside from his music) where the spirit of Louis Armstrong is still most strongly present is the Louis Armstrong House, which is located at 34-56 107th St, Flushing (Queens), NY 11368. Here is a link to the website for it:

https://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/  I have toured the Armstrong House many times, and whenever I go there, I have the same feeling that I have in a great cathedral. I feel that I am on sacred ground, in a hallowed place. Nevertheless, the house itself is far from grandiose. In many respects it reminds me of many houses I entered as a boy and young man in the 1950s and 1960s in working class neighborhoods of various cities in the US. But it is still quintessentially Louis’s house, albeit with many of Lucille’s touches.

Among many things in the Louis Armstrong House that strongly impart the message of what kind of person Louis was, is a trumpet that is housed in a glass case in the lower level museum. The trumpet is a gold-plated French Selmer, and it was given to Louis by King George VI of England (then Duke of York), in July of 1934. Louis used the trumpet throughout the middle and late 1930s, and likely used it when he made the recording of “Jubilee” that is presented in this post. Around 1940, Louis found himself performing in a theater with the Charlie Barnet band being another attraction on the bill. The young trumpeters in Barnet’s band, like almost all trumpeters in jazz then, worshipped Armstrong, and felt that it was an honor to be in his presence, despite Louis’s casual, friendly manner toward them. One of Barnet’s trumpeters, a young man called Lyman Vunk, began to look at Armstrong’s trumpet admiringly. Louis handed it to him, explaining offhandedly that it had been given to him by the King of England. Vunk continued to carefully inspect the instrument, and then attempted to hand it back to Armstrong. Louis flabbergasted him when he told him to keep the trumpet. One can imagine how Lyman Vunk felt: his idol had just given him his trumpet, which had been given to him by the King of England!  Vunk used his prize possession for the rest of his life. After his death, his widow, Dorothea, donated the trumpet to the Armstrong Museum, where it is now on display for everyone to enjoy.

The music: I have great admiration for the talent the late jazz trumpeter Richard M. Sudhalter had in describing in writing the playing of the greatest trumpeters in jazz. As a trumpeter himself, he had a profound understanding of the challenges involved in playing the instrument, and deeply appreciated when that was done extremely well. Here is what he said in the liner notes for Decca CD GRD-620, Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra–Vol. 2 (1936-38) Heart Full of Rhythm (1993): “(This) Carmichael tune has never been played or sung better. The wisdom, balance and vision of Louis’s two choruses place them almost beyond musical analysis: placement of phrases,a tip-of-the-fingers knowledge of when to hold back and not play; understanding of those moments when one long note will do the expressive work of many short ones. Case in point: in bar 26 of the final chorus, Louis holds out the concert G, corresponding to the word ‘of’ in the phrase ‘carnival of joy’ (in the lyric), for three and a half beats (instead of the eighth-note assigned to it in the song), before landing on the F for ‘joy.’ It amplifies the phrase, and the concept of real, untrammeled joy behind it. Only the extraordinarily artistic mind of Louis Armstrong could have conceived of that, and at so purely instinctive a level. It’s pretty unlikely that it resulted from any kind of conscious decision on his part. (He just did it), and greatly enhanced the emotional density of that phrase…”

This further information comes from the liner notes for the Time-Life “Giants of Jazz” (1978), page 45, volume dedicated to Louis Armstrong that were written by John S. Wilson: “‘Jubilee’ was written by Hoagy Carmichael (lyric by Stanley Adams, later a president of ASCAP), for Every Day’s a Holiday, a 1937 Mae West movie in which Louis also performed. It was his second appearance in a major film (his first was Pennies From Heaven in 1936). In the West film, Louis played and sang ‘Jubilee’ while leading a parade band made up largely of musicians from Eddie Barefield’s band. Barefield, a saxophonist, is shown playing a trombone in the film, the kind of anomaly often found in Hollywood films then.”

I will point out some obvious features of Armstrong’s trumpet playing on “Jubilee.” In addition to his infallible use of syncopation, note his brilliant trumpet sound, surely one of the great joys of his playing. Also, it is noteworthy that much of his solo is played in the punishing upper register of the trumpet. His vault to the high F at the end is both spectacular, and emotionally satisfying.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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