“Leap Frog” Louis Armstrong and Joe Garland (1941)/Les Brown with Ted Nash (1945)

“Leap Frog”

Composed and arranged by Joe Garland.

Recorded by Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra for Decca in Chicago on November 16, 1941.

Louis Armstrong, trumpet, directing: Shelton “Scad” Hemphill, first trumpet; Frank Galbreath and Gene Prince, trumpets; Henderson Chambers, Norman Greene and George Washington, trombones; Rupert Cole and Carl Frye, alto saxophones; Prince Robinson and Joe Garland, tenor saxophones (Garland also plays bass saxophone at the beginning of the performance); Luis Russell, piano; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; Hayes Alvis, bass; Sid Catlett, drums.

The story:

Louis Armstrong’s contribution to American music is enormous. I will mention only the most widely acknowledged of his contributions: He was largely responsible for creating swing. By that I mean that his uncanny ability to joyously manipulate the rhythms of whatever he was playing or singing at any given time inevitably exemplified what it is to swing. By creating swing, he freed both instrumental and vocal performance from the often stodgy mechanical rhythms that characterized much of American music before he came on the scene. Slowly through the late 1920s and the 1930s, other instrumental and vocal performers began to utilize Louis’s approach to rhythm in their performances. Of equal importance is that the arrangers of that time also incorporated his message of swing into the music they were writing for the bands of what would become the swing era.

But in addition to embodying swing, Louis was also a naturally dynamic performer who commanded every stage he was ever on, and strongly affected every audience he ever appeared before. He blended his immense talent as a trumpeter and singer with his unbridled love of performing. The result, very often, was magical.

Louis Armstrong’s career as a performer lasted from the early 1920s through the 1960s. For much of that fifty-year time span, he was either a headliner or a very welcome guest performer in widely varied entertainment venues. In addition to performing before audiences in almost every imaginable setting, Louis excelled in performing on radio, on television, and especially in feature films. He was a natural actor whose impulses as a performer often set him in a place where his acting was as good or better than that of trained, experienced actors.

Perhaps the most demanding work Louis Armstrong ever did was to lead a standing, touring big band, which he did from 1935 into the mid-1940s. Being a bandleader then involved the challenging tasks of gathering the musicians who would be in your band, securing music that would fit your musical personality and theirs, having that music arranged so it would project your and their best musical feelings, conducting rehearsals to shape the music for presentation to audiences, and then performing the music in a way that it was hoped would please audiences. (Louis was assisted in these matters by his musical directors, first by Luis Russell, and later Joe Garland – see below.) In addition, the bandleader had to worry about getting the band’s music onto commercial recordings in satisfactory performances, and making sure the record company provided some measure of promotion for those records, in addition to doing whatever he could himself to promote those records. Appearing on radio then helped the promotion of all aspects of a band’s music. However, most appearances by bands on radio during the swing era were done without compensation as so-called “sustaining” broadcasts. But bandleaders willingly accepted that in exchange for the promotional value in getting their music heard by thousands to millions of people.

Of immense importance to the success of any band, there had to be someone in charge of securing work. This was far more tricky and laden with risk (for the bandleader) than it appears on the surface. The history of the swing era is littered with the wreckage of many bands that did not have good management. As we look back on the history of that era, it is now clear that a magic trifecta had to be in place and operating effectively for any band to thrive. That trifecta can be boiled-down to this: Radio, Records, and the Road. If these three “Rs” were in place and in optimum balance, a band could be successful, even if it was not a great band musically. (Conversely, many bands that failed were led by brilliant musicians, usually because  they did not have the three “Rs” operating in proper balance.) If any band that was successfully managed by using the three “Rs” in the most effective and productive way possible, then it had the opportunity to move into the charmed circle of preeminent band success. That was a place where bands had their own sponsored radio shows or were presented as supporting acts on another entertainer’s radio show, played  highly lucrative engagements at major theaters, and appeared in feature films. (Above right: Louis Armstrong on the road with his big band – late 1930s. Like all other leaders then, he suffered periodic bouts of the big band blues. But unlike most of them, he always had other opportunities to use his talents away from his big band.)

The final and most important factor in any band’s success is that its leader, no matter what his skill as a musician, had to want to be a success, and had to have the tenacity and patience to work through the process of achieving success, usually while going into substantial debt while the build-up process was going on. Many bandleaders wanted success, worked very hard to achieve it, but for one or more of many reasons, failed. Nevertheless, no successful band during the swing era was ever led by someone who did not want to be successful, often to the neglect of everything and everybody else in his life.

As one would expect, Louis Armstrong as the leader of a big band during the swing era, was affected by all of these factors. But at the same time, his unique set of talents set him apart from all other bandleaders. The person who recognized this early-on in his role as Louis’s manager was the much vilified Joe Glaser. The Armstrong-Glaser business relationship began in 1935 and continued until Glaser’s death in 1969. (Louis died in 1971.) Whatever else can (and has) been said about that business relationship, it appears clear that Glaser provided Louis with the guidance, generally proper balance of work, strongly negotiated fee agreements (whenever that was possible), and promotion to ensure a successful career in entertainment for over more than three decades. This stands in stark contrast to the performance of Louis’s managers before Glaser, who nearly wrecked his career. (Above left: Louis with his manager Joe Glaser. Their relationship was complicated, but successful.)

The music:

Despite Louis Armstrong’s great talent, the success he was able to achieve in his career was always secured in an atmosphere of Jim Crow racism, backbreaking travel, frequent controversy and just plain hard work. The big band he led through the late 1930s and into the early 1940s was by early 1941 somewhat burnt-out. “(A) …savage review of Armstrong’s band at the Cotton Club (appeared in the) March 1940 issue of Metronome. (It was written by Barry Ulanov.) ‘If the band has a style, it is chiefly one or playing without discipline or musical organization. …Even Louis is limited to spectacular blasting and monotonous one-note repetitions which suggest nothing so much as a circus entertainer. …It is a disgrace to the art, and even to the commerce of jazz that so many fine people should be buried in such musical desolation…” (1) This criticism stung Louis, and probably also reached Joe Glaser. Very soon, there was a housecleaning in the Armstrong band. Six musicians were fired, including the band’s music director, Luis Russell. He and saxophonist Charlie Holmes were rehired, but paid less than they had been receiving before they were fired. Russell’s successor as the band’s music director was saxophonist/arranger/composer Joe Garland.

Joseph Copeland Garland (1903-1977) was a journeyman musician by the time he joined Louis Armstrong in 1941. His professional career began in the early 1920s as a versatile woodwind player and arranger. For most of the next twenty years, he worked through a succession of Afro-American bands, always being someone his bandleader bosses could count on as a solid section player and general all-around musical handyman. By the late 1930s, he began dabbling in creating original jazz tunes for his employers. In 1938 he composed what became, as a result of Glenn Miller’s 1939 hit recording, the swing era anthem “In the Mood,” while he was a member of the Edgar Hayes band. (The story and music of “In the Mood” can be explored via the link at endnote (2) below.) By late 1938, Garland was a member of Don Redman’s band, and that provided him the opportunity to work with and learn from one of the pioneering arrangers in the world of swing. From April of 1939 through April of 1940, Garland worked as a reed-playing sideman in Louis Armstrong’s band, though through this period Luis Russell continued to function as Armstrong’s musical director. It is unclear what employment Garland had from April of 1940 until he was rehired by Louis in mid-1941 as both a saxophonist and music director. (Garland may well have taken a well-earned vacation during that time as his composer royalties from Glenn Miller’s recording of “In the Mood” by then would have been quite substantial. Above left: Joe Garland in 1941.)

Having hit pay-dirt with his composition “In the Mood,” it is not unreasonable that Garland during his year of possible vacation composed other original swing tunes, “Leap Frog” among them. In any case, by November of 1941, the Armstrong band was ready to record Garland’s composition and arrangement “Leap Frog.”

A svelte Louis Armstrong leads his band – late 1941. The saxophonists from L-R are: Joe Garland, Rupert Cole, Carl Frye and Prince Robinson; in the back row, lead trumpeter Shelton Hemphill sits to drummer Sid Catlett’s right. To his left are: Lawrence Lucie, guitar; Hayes Alvis, bass; and Luis Russell, piano.

Upon rejoining Louis, Garland immediately began rigorous rehearsals of the Armstrong band, and the result was plain for anyone to hear: The band that recorded “Leap Frog” was playing beautifully. Garland’s composition/arrangement is built around those rhythm-generating riffs that swing era dancers loved. The introduction spots Garland himself playing the two-note figure that is a continuing motive through the piece, on bass saxophone, an instrument that’s sound seemed to have fascinated him at the time. (Note that in the photo above, Garland is playing a tenor saxophone, his main instrument. On a stand next to him is a baritone saxophone, the horn he usually doubled on in the Armstrong band.) The first chorus has the plunger-cupped trumpets riffing against the open trombones and the low saxophones. The secondary melody is played by the saxophones and open brass. (Lead trumpeter Shelton Hemphill plays brilliantly throughout this performance.)

The second chorus starts as the first one had. Then Prince Robinson steps forward with a piping clarinet sound, fashioning a good jazz solo. Garland then plays some jazz on his tenor saxophone, bookending three tracts of bright and happy-sounding ensemble sounds. (At left: Clarinetist Prince Robinson in 1941.)

The final chorus has the cup-muted trumpets now playing the riffy main theme, juxtaposed with the open trombones and saxophones (baritone now prominent in the mix). Garland, perhaps trying to recreate the excitement of the ebbing dynamics near the end of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” gradually diminishes the volume of the band until he pops off a few notes on his bass saxophone, and then Louis, tacit throughout the performance, blasts away at the ensemble-topping high notes on his trumpet to end the performance.

Here for comparison is Les Brown’s recording of “Leap Frog.” It quickly became a major hit for him, and soon became The Band of Renown’s theme song

“Leap Frog”

Composed and arranged by Joe Garland; adjustments to the Garland arrangement done by Frank Comstock and Les Brown.

Recorded by Les Brown and His Band of Renown for Columbia on May 10, 1945 in New York.

Les Brown, directing: Bob Higgins, Al Muller, Charlie Frankhauser and Jimmy Zito, trumpets; Dick Noel, Dick Gould, Kenny Meisel and Clyde “Stumpy” Brown, trombones; George Wiedler, first alto saxophone; Mark Douglas, alto saxophone; Nick Riviello and Ted Tash, tenor saxophones; Butch Stone, baritone saxophone; Geoff Clarkson, piano; Hy White, guitar; Bob Leininger, bass; Dick Shanahan, drums.

The story:

A summary of how Les Brown’s band had by 1945 reached a place of substantial musical and commercial success is contained in the post here at swingandbeyond.com on the swinging original composition “High on a Windy Trumpet.”(See note 3 below for a link to that story and music.) For our purposes here, suffice it to say that the Brown band that recorded “Leap Frog” was a virtuoso swing ensemble.

Les Brown and His Band of Renown in 1945. Among those pictured, front row L-R: Dick Shanahan, Doris Day, Les Brown, Jimmy Zito and  Butch Stone. I think Ted Nash is in the back row second from right. Doris Day was a tremendous commercial asset for the Brown band.

Brown was an easy-going leader who treated his sidemen and women with respect. Nevertheless, he was also a smart bandleader who was very good at recognizing opportunity when he saw it, and seizing it. After operating a modestly successful band from about 1938 until 1941, Brown did something that caused heads to turn: He signed a management contract with Louis Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser. Here’s how Armstrong’s biographer explained that development. (The Glaser client) “…that was making the most waves …was one of the few white artists on his roster, Les Brown. The 29 year old Brown had been a struggling bandleader until, according to a Radio and Television Mirror report ‘like a hero with the mortgage money came veteran manager Joe Glaser.’ With Glaser running the show, Brown said, ‘we started working for a change.'” (4) Through 1941, the fortunes of Les Brown became much more positive. In fact by year’s end, Brown’s band had become Glaser’s most successful. This precipitated a move on Glaser’s part that resulted in him moving  “…his stable of artists to Music Corporation of America.”(5) The details of this transaction are not known to me, but despite it, Glaser continued booking Les Brown through his agency, Joe Glaser, Inc.

The tune “Leap Frog” began to be performed by the Brown band in early 1944. (It was recorded then by Brown as a part of a World Transcription session.) By early July of 1944, Brown was using “Leap Frog” as his opening and closing theme song on radio broadcasts. Curiously, Brown, who was a Columbia recording artist, did not get around to recording “Leap Frog” until May 10, 1945, even though the American Federation of Musicians strike against Columbia had ended in mid-November 1944.

The music:

Brown (shown above left) was a very effective editor of arrangements. My informed speculation is that he directed his staff arranger, Frank Comstock, to copy Joe Garland’s original arrangement of “Leap Frog” for Louis Armstrong off the Armstrong record, and streamline it a bit.(6) Then Les tweaked what Comstock had done, possibly over the many months his band played it from mid-1944 well into 1945, until he arrived at a place where he thought his band was ready to record “Leap Frog.”

The first thing that one notices is that the tempo Brown chose for his recording of “Leap Frog” is faster than the tempo Louis Armstrong had used. This facilitates the somewhat supercharged feeling of this performance. The Brown band is totally in control of this arrangement: they play it with superb precision, yet at the same time, with romping swing. The tenor saxophone soloist Ted Nash is very much in-synch with the band, playing several bursts which lead to his masterful use of harmonics (playing notes that are “off the horn,” that is above the normal range of a tenor saxophone). (Above right: saxophone virtuoso Ted Nash.)

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Heartful of Rhythm …The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong by Ricky Riccardi, (2020) 238. Hereafter Riccardi. For those who are interested in Louis Armstrong, this book is essential.

(2) Here is a link to how the swing era anthem “In the Mood” came to be:  https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/07/07/in-the-mood-1938-edgar-hayes-and-1939-glenn-miller/

(3) https://swingandbeyond.com/2021/06/10/high-on-a-windy-trumpet-1946-les-brown-with-jeff-clarkson-warren-covington-ted-nash-and-jimmy-zito/

(4) Riccardi, 255. Although Joe Glaser did represent many Afro-American artists, he also represented a good many white artists, including at one time or another: Teddy Powell, Jan Savitt, The McFarland Twins, Red Norvo, Don Bestor, Freddie Slack and Wingy Manone. See: The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands, by Leo Walker (1964), 245.

(5) Riccardi, ibid.

(6) Armstrong played “Leap Frog” many times with his big band through the years of World War II.

Here is a link to Les Brown playing “Leap Frog” in the 1962 film The Nutty Professor, which includes a bit of Jerry Lewis’s pantomiming to the music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xo7O8Rye9-M

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  1. One small comment: If you enlarge the photo of Louis’s band and do some careful comparison, Joe Garland does have a bass saxophone on the stand. It is leaning a little farther forward than the other two baritone saxes on the right and the bell is much larger, as is the “curlicue” top of the sax which is the same shape and style as that played by Otto Hardwick, Adrian Rollini, etc. A quick glance would easily miss it.

  2. It seems it’s quite common for swing aficionados who were not actually present for the roughly ten-year Swing Era to acquire a non-chronological acquaintanceship with the various recordings of prominent tunes of the period. Such was my experience with “Leap Frog,” having heard the Les Brown orch version some years before I encountered Louis’ earlier treatment. I recall, in fact, wondering, in my relative inexperience, why on earth Louis would have been recording Les’ theme. As the side progressed, I was won over, though, by the Armstrong band’s vital but somewhat less hopped-up, so to speak, approach to the song. As I was to discover, this was author-arranger Joe Garland’s original conception of the octave-vaulting number.

    The prominence of Garland’s bass sax in the opening is most illustrative of the title. That the trumpets’ riff against the leap-frog figure both is muted and not phrased in staccato fashion creates a more laid-back effect than what we find in the in-your-face Band of Renown interpretation. Prince Robinson’s piquant solo is fine, and it sounds to me as if Garland, in the first of his trio of four-bar tenor statements, is giving a nod to Pres.

    In one of many amusing anecdotes in Anita O’Day’s HIGH TIMES HARD TIMES autobiography, the great jazz vocalist makes mention of Louis’ records and describes, in her characteristically direct manner, his bands as “the terrible musicians he invariably chose to work with” and “inept backing.” To these ears, the problem with some of Louis’ sides was not the individual musicians but the often pedestrian arrangements, which seem at times to have been fashioned to be as colourless as possible — perhaps with the notion that as a result, and by contrast, Louis’ trumpet and vocals would shine all the more brightly. In essence, something that may have been intended to be a help to him was more of a hindrance. No arrangement or sideman was ever going to outshine Louis Armstrong, the most important musical figure of the 20th century, so it would have made greater artistic sense to support him him with arrangements that were worthy of his brilliance as well as his status as the leader of the band. Garland’s “Leap Frog” may be seen as anomalous in the Armstrong discography in not making Louis the focal point of the side, but it represents sound thinking in for a change showing off what the orchestra that bore his name could do with an expertly-crafted chart. Besides that, the high trumpet notes over the ensemble at the end of the record provide a trademark Armstrongian cap-off. The great Sid Catlett delivers stellar support, as always.

    Dick Shanahan’s opening snare seems to say, “Let’s go!” whereupon the Les Brown band takes off and never lets up for a millisecond. This record is one that, for me (and, I expect, others), is an archetypal representation of the Swing Orchestra sound of ’45. The big bands had gotten bigger, taking on fourth (even fifth) trumpets and fourth trombones as well as bari saxes as a steady feature. As a result, they were capable of a more harmonically lush sound — and they were loud, sometimes fearsomely so! While opinions will vary on which was the overall greatest year of the Swing Era, 1945 may be viewed as a climax as regards the might, through volume and acquired expertise, the bands of the time collectively project on record. “Leap Frog,” as a composition, may not challenge the ears or harmonic knowledge of the average listener, but the Brown orch take dazzles with its power, its force. And, yet it occasionally — and wisely — backs off from volume at 11. A vital component, after all, of power is control, judiciously-applied restraint. Rather than merely leap-frogging, Ted Nash takes airy flight, in his patented style.

    I could cite several sides from a number of bands — James, Ellington, Goodman, Shaw, Krupa — in this same year, but I would say that Woody Herman’s “The Good Earth,” recorded three months later, might most closely approximate the energy and WWII-ending jubilation of Les Brown’s spectacular “Leap Frog.”

  3. A colleague of mine in Vancouver, Canada saw Louis Armstrong’s orchestra in Vancouver in 1942. He stated that “Leap Frog” was used a sort of prelude to Armstrong’s appearance on stage with Louis arriving during the last chorus to play a short, high-range solo.
    This same colleague would have been about 15 years of age at the time remembers Garland’s bass sax vividly. Armstrong’s “late in the arrangement” entrance is similar to how Ellington would enter on stage as the band finished their opener (usually “C-Jam Blues”, something I saw happen in 1973). Many thanks, Mike for the always great posts and articles!

  4. While I agree with those who say Les Brown’s post-war band was his best, some of my favorite Brown records are from the early ’40s, most notably “Out of Nowhere” and “Sunday,” with its phenomenal Billy Butterfield trumpet solo.

    I saw the “Band of Renown” in person many times over the years, starting in 1957 on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands (Bob Hope Christmas Tour) until 1998 on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, and the band’s performances were never less than excellent.

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