Louis’ Jubilee

June 1, 2012 at 7:53 pm (jazz, Jim D, Monarchy, New Orleans, republicanism, song, United States)

This is the only Jubilee I’ll be celebrating this weekend:

…Though I have a horrible feeling that Louis himself (like Duke Ellington) would have been only to pleased to honour Her Maj…

Anyway, here’s what the late Dick Sudhalter wrote (in his book ‘Stardust Melody’) about Louis’ performance of Hoagy’s song on a highly productive day in the studio; read it as you listen:

Armstrong recorded “Jubilee” for Decca on January 12, 1938, backed by Luis Russell’s orchestra, and his performance stands out for a great jazzman’s ability to ennoble an otherwise pedestrian song through majesty of conception and execution. After making short (if enjoyable) work of Adams’s generic “let’s all have a good time” lyric, Louis points his Selmer trumpet at the heavens and, lofted atop by Paul Barbarin’s drumming, rides ‘Jubilee’ into high orbit.

He spends one chorus paraphrasing the melody over band riffs, then intones complementary replies as Russell’s horns punch out the melody in the second. Taking over at the bridge, he works to a final, soaring, transcendent high concert F. The balance and wisdom of these seventy-four bars defy explanation or analysis: what divine intuition dictated that he hold the concert G in bar 26 of the final chorus (corresponding to the word “of” in the phrase “carnival of joy”) for three and one half beats, rather than the gone-in-a-blink eighth note assigned to it by the lyric, before landing emphatically on the F for “joy?” Only a a peerless aesthetic sense could have understood the effect of that move, one among many, on the emotional density of its phrase. The word “genius,” so devalued in this age of inflated superlatives, surely finds its rightful application in such details…

Sudhalter also wrote (in his notes to the American Decca CD Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra: Heart Full Of Rhythm):

Of Jubilee little need be said. The Carmichael tune has never been played or sung better. The wisdom, balance and vision of Louis’s two choruses places 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.”


  1. Jim Denham said,

    Comrade Vicky writes:

    Sunday’s “Republic” demo is 12-5pm close to City Hall. (Nearest station is London Bridge – assuming it’s open.) Keep up to date here: http://www.republic.org.uk/updates/?page_id=297

    In theory this will happen:

    ‘The “loud, bold and provocative” demonstration will be in full view of the royal barge as the Queen and other royals disembark to watch the pageant pass through Tower Bridge. The pressure group has been in ongoing talks with the Metropolitan Police, who have pledged to facilitate the protest as part of their operations for the day.’

    My theory is that in fact they’ll stick a dirty great screen up so we can’t be seen (or enjoy our ringside seats of the flotilla).

    I’ll be going down at some point, but I don’t know that we have a meeting point arranged. In the absence of any other instructions, just get yourself along there with papers! I’ll give you a ring, Bruce, and let you know when I expect to arrive.

    I also think we should prepare short speeches in our heads on working-class republicanism, in case they call for speakers. (There must be a rolling platform all afternoon, or how else will we keep ourselves occupied?)


    P.S. Other republican protests are available, but I haven’t looked into details.

  2. Roger said,

    Pity we can’t restore the original meaning of the term jubilee and free all the slaves and forgive all the debtors (whether this ever actually happened in biblical Israel is another question altogether).

    I am also rather fond of this Mary Chapin Carpenter song:

    (cloyingly sentimental I know….)

  3. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    Enough of the ‘Her Maj’ please. She is no such thing. She is ‘plain’ Elizabeth Windsor (Mountbatten-Windsor even) and should be so addressed.

    • Roger said,

      John Cornwell’s book on Pius XII calls him Montini throughout which struck me as extremely silly – he had as much right to call himself what he liked as Stalin, Trotsky or Lenin.

      I prefer Johan Hari’s practice of surrounding every title with scare quotes: ‘Her Majesty’, ‘Prince’ Philip etc.

  4. Roger said,

    While idly looking for footage of Louis Armstrong kowtowing to ‘The Queen’ (he surely must have done at least one Royal Variety Performance) I came across a huge trove of Pathe clips some of which are rather fascinating:


    Just think in 1942 Finsbury Council were hanging hammer and sickle banners from Finsbury streets – and what happened to the bust? (there is now a blue plaque at 16 Percy Gardens Islington which may be the same location).

    The cataloguing is however often crap – Trotsky for instance is certainly not present at this 1936 October Revolution Anniversary Parade:


    Clearly the cataloguer mistook Kalinin (bearded Communists obviously being interchangeable) for the Great Man….

  5. Jim Denham said,

    Roger: Louis was a man of contradictions: highly conservative in many ways, but a radical democrat and egalitarian in others. His overall philosophy (according to Terry Teachout in the best Armstrong biography so far, “Pops”), “has been compared to Booker T. Washington, whose long-unfashionable vision of racial redemption through self-improvement had a powerful influence on turn-of-the century blacks who heeded his call to ‘cast down your bucket where you are’.”

    I strongly suspect Louis would have been highly enthusiastic about the whole Jubilee nonsense, especially if there was a gig in it for him. But “kowtowing” to royalty was not his way. I don’t think he ever did a Royal Variety performance, but he did (in November 1933) play a command performance in London for King George V, shocking the audience (according to Teachout) “by gesturing to the royal box, growling ‘This one’s for you, Rex!’ and launching into ‘You Rascal You.’ The king responded by presenting him with a gold-plated Selmer trumpet.”

    Ellington *did* “kowtow” and even wrote a special suite for her (‘The Queen’s Suite’ including a number dedicated to her personally, ‘The Single Petal of a Rose’), but one suspects that Ellington was impressed as much the fact that she was (in the fifties) an attractive young woman, as by her accident of birth.

    PS: thanks for the Pathe clips: fascinating!

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