When Decca released New Orleans Nights on New Year’s Day 1957, it was a compilation of six recordings made by Louis Armstrong – with different ensembles branded under the name of All Star Band – that lasted 36 minutes in total.
Four of the tracks – ‘Panama’, ‘New Orleans Function’, ‘Bugle Call Rag’ and ‘My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It’ were laid down in April 1950, with a high-calibre band that included Jack Teagarden (trombone), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Earl Hines (piano), Arvell Shaw (bass) and Cozy Cole (drums). ‘My Bucket’s Got A Hole in It’, copyrighted by Clarence Williams, in 1933, was well known at the time of the recording, as it had just provided a huge hit for country singer Hank Williams. Armstrong’s version is slower, more maudlin and features vocals from Teagarden.
Another New Orleans jazz standard Armstrong heard growing up in the Crescent City was ‘Bugle Call Rag’, which features a dazzling solo from the ever-adept Cole. But the most memorable track is ‘New Orleans Function’, which comprises the traditional funeral songs ‘Flee As A Bird’ and ‘O Didn’t He Ramble’. The young Armstrong knew funeral songs inside out, first as a second-line spectator as a boy, and later as a musician. In fact, his final gig in New Orleans, before leaving to join King Oliver in Chicago, was playing a funeral.
Armstrong called funeral songs “beautiful music”, adding “if you ever witnessed a funeral in New Orleans and they have one of those brass bands playing this funeral, you really have a bunch of musicians playing from the heart”.
For the final two classic songs – ‘Struttin’ With Some Barbecue’ and ‘Basin Street Blues’, both recorded in 1954 – Armstrong brought in Trummy Young (trombone), Billy Kyle (piano) and Kenny John (drums), with Bud Freeman adding sweet tenor saxophone on ‘Basin Street’.
New Orleans Nights shows Armstrong recapturing some of the vitality of his early ensembles and paying tribute to music that mattered to him.
New Orleans Nights Track Listing:
1. Panama 5:04
2. New Orleans Function 6:40
3. Struttin’ with Some Barbecue 6:00
4. Basin Street Blues 5:50
5. My Bucket’s Got a Whole in It 3:42
6. Bugle Call Rag 8:45
Recorded: April 1950 – March 1954
Label: Decca Records
Louis Armstrong — vocals, trumpet
Jack Teagarden — trombone
Barney Bigard — clarinet
Earl Hines — piano
Arvell Shaw — bass
Cozy Cole — drums
Trummy Young — trombone
Billy Kyle — piano
Kenny John — drums