billie and louis again

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In the spirit of my last post, have a listen to this lovely version of ‘My Sweet Hunk O’Trash’. It’s Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong singing together a couple of years after that film New Orleans was released.

Recording details:
Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday with Sy Oliver’s Orchestra: Bernie Privin (trumpet) Louis Armstrong (vcl) Sid Cooper, Johnny Mince (alto sax) Art Drellinger (tenor sax) Pa Nizza (tenor sax, Baritone sax) Billy Kyle (piano) Everett Barksdale (guitar) Joe Benjamin (bass) James Crawford (drums) Billie Holiday (vocal) Sy Oliver (arranger, conductor)
New York, September 30 1949
7543 My sweet hunk o’trash De 24785, DL8701, Br (E)05074, De (F)MU60363, AoH AH64, Br (G)10159LPBM
It’s a lovely example of two musicians playing with timing and phrasing. It’s a nice song, but it’s their delivery, their to-and-fro that makes it nice. The rest of the band isn’t terribly interesting; this is a song showcasing the vocals.
I probably wouldn’t play this song for dancers. The emphasis on the vocals means that you really have to listen properly to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it, and that’s not really something you can do when you’re dancing. It’s also really slow, not juicy enough for blues dancing, far too slow for lindy hop. The vocal showcasing means that the rest of the instrumentation is understated. There’s not much going on behind Louis and Billie. This can make for fairly dull dancing; when you’re dancing, you look for a range of rhythmic and melodic layers. The more aural interest, the more interesting the dancing. Sometimes it’s nice to dance simply, but when the tempos are this slow, you’re really looking for something more.
Having said that, there are worse songs you could play for dancers.
Btw, if you’re as concerned about the racial subtexts at work in New Orleans as I am, check out this article, which goes a little way towards addressing those issues (let’s not talk about my desire for ‘owning’ jazz just yet. This white girl knows she’s got some work to do).
I am currently reading my way (very, very slowly) through David Ake’s book Jazz Cultures. There’s a refreshingly sophisticated approach to race and ethnicity in this book, and though I’m only in the first chapter (I keep stopping to chase and note references), he’s already upsetting black/white dichotomies with a discussion of Creole music and culture in New Orleans and complicating issues of whiteness and blackness which are going a long way to reassuring me about jazz studies literature. I don’t have much to write about that yet, but I will eventually.

2 Replies to “billie and louis again”

  1. Yeah – that’s what I like about it. I think that’s what people like about the Ella and Louis duets as well – a conversation between really gifted musicians.
    This is something I like about really good small group instrumentals as well – it sounds like a conversation between friends. The better the musicians, the better it sounds; they can echo and build on the contributions of others, keeping or building on the feel and topic. The Oscar Peterson trio do some really good stuff like this.
    In a similar vein, the song ‘Slim’s Jam’ (Slim Gaillard and his Orchestra with Bam Brown, Zutty Singleton, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Jack McVea, 1945) is a really fabulous ‘conversation’, with actual talking as well as instrumental solos. You can pick that one up on emusic ( http://www.emusic.com/album/Slim-Gaillard-Vout-For-Voutoreenees-MP3-Download/11051271.html ). It’s a similarly low tempo, but the instrumentalists are all real guns.

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