Thursday, March 26, 2020

What a Wonderful World—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival

What a Wonderful Word--Louis Armstrong with spoken intro.

Note—Yesterday’s Music Festival blog entry, The City of New Orleans by Steve Goodman, was removed from my Facebook timeline and from several groups were I regularly post because it was suspected spam.  I also got a notice that it had been reported because it had been reported for abusive content.  What the F*ck!  I surmise that it may have been tagged because it was called the Murfin Corona Confinement festival.  So today I am changing the name to Home Confinement festival in hopes that I fly under the radar of the FB AI gestapo
Need a special lift today?  The YouTube version of What a Wonderful World we are featuring today has an especially apt spoken introduction that seems to speak directly to us.

The original ABC records American album cover for What a Wonderful World.  A spiteful label president did everything he could to suppress sales of the single and album.
Louis Armstrong’s 1967 recording of What a Wonderful World was written with Armstrong in mind Bob Thiele as George Douglas (because of other contractual obligations) and George David Weiss.  Satchmo and his combo recorded it at Bill Porter’s United Recording studio in Las Vegas after his late night gig at the Tropicana Hotel.  Larry Newton, the boss of Armstrong’s new label showed up for the session but became incensed that the song was not an up-tempo pop number like Hello Dolly! and tried to physically stop the session.  He became so disruptive that he had to be removed and locked out.
Afterwards Porter did everything he could to sabotage the release of the song.  He refused to promote it in the U.S. in any way and without the label’s A&R support domestic sales were abysmal.  But in the United Kingdom where it was released by HMV Records it soared to #1 on the UK Singles Chart at a time when that list was dominated by the Beatles and Rolling Stones.  It also did well across Europe.
ABC’s European distributor EMI had to force it issue a What a Wonderful World album in 1968. Potter still vindictively tried to suppress the success of the album and it failed to dent the U.S. Album charts.  But the song eventually began to make inroads as a cult favorite.
In 1987 twenty years after it was recorded it was featured on the soundtrack of Robin Williams’s hit film Good Morning Vietnam and was re-released as a single, hitting No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1988.  The song was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.  By April 2014, Armstrong’s 1967 recording had sold 2,173,000 downloads in the U.S. after it was released digitally.  Millions more have viewed versions on YouTube.  It is now certifiably an American treasure.

Louis Armstrong as a young trumpeter.
Armstrong, of course, was one of the towering figures of early jazz bringing his New Orleans trumpet to Chicago in the early 1920’s with King Oliver’s band and then fronting his own groups.  He recorded extensively and was a major star for decades.  In the 1930’s he swam against the currents of Big Band dance music  but kept himself in the public eye and ear by frequent radio guest spots, particularly with his close friend Bing Crosby.  After World War II he led the famous Esquire Magazine Jazz All Starts concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall for three years.
In the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s newer jazz trends—Bebop and the laid back cool jazz of the likes of Stan Getz—made Armstrong’s hot combos and improvisation seem old fashion.  Worse, the New Orleans sound was being co-opted by mostly white musicians playing what was called Dixieland—almost a parody of Armstrong style jazz with a banjo thrown in.  Armstrong spent much of those decades touring internationally with great success successfully and as an official State Department cultural ambassador.

Armstrong singing.
Old Pal Bing Crosby gave Armstrong a boost in his 1956 musical re-make of The Philadelphia Story, High Society.  Armstrong’s distinctive vocal was featured in the title song.  In his later career he almost became better known to the younger public as a singer than as a horn player.  He had always done some singing, and was even credited with being an inventor if not the inventor of scat singing—using his voice and nonsense syllables like an instrument breaking out in a jazz solos.  His 1964 hit with the theme from Broadway’s Hello Dolly! helped confirm him as personality and a singer.

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