Saturday, November 29, 2014

Disney Songs the Satchmo Way

By Keith Mahne

In 1966 it was Walt who invited music giant Louis Armstrong to record an album of Disney songs.
Armstrong had already appeared in a 1962 episode of Walt Disney Wonderful World of Color called Disneyland After Dark (released to DVD on the Walt Disney Treasures collection, Disneyland U.S.A.). He had also worked with Disneyland and Buena Vista Records A&R Director Tutti Camarata. However it came about, Disney Songs the Satchmo Way is pure gold. (I just added the whole album to the Disney Avenue music player. Feel free to click on the playlist above and scroll down to the bottom and have a listen while your reading the rest of this article)...

Louis Armstrong playing on the Mark Twain Riverboat

The album’s musical style is unlike any of Disneyland/Vista’s releases at the time (though George Bruns’ earlier release, Deep in the Heart of Dixieland, comes close). Some star performers, when recording songs they might see as “kid stuff,” took a less sophisticated, “cuter” approach, but Armstrong and the musicians play these songs with the same verve and fervor as any other great tunes.

Disneyland Records President Jimmy Johnson chose to release Disney Songs the Satchmo Way in the Buena Vista’s “FantaSound” series, inspired by the Oscar-winning stereo sound system created for Walt Disney’s Fantasia. These were a line of Buena Vista albums aimed at adult audiophiles that included Broadway and film scores, classical music and popular vocals. As Johnson wrote in 1975:

Sometimes recording dates are sour from the very first note and nothing seems to go right. Other times they go happily and well. The dates with Louis were among the happiest I can remember. He had been quite ill and had gone on a rigorous diet. He was very thin but looked well and full of energy. He not only sang on the album, he blew his horn – something he hadn’t been doing much in recent days. 
Louis enjoyed the sessions too. He wrote a letter to Tutti Camarata, producer of the album which read, in part: 
“This goldarned ‘Wish Upon a Star’ is so beautiful and more than that, man—I listen to that tune three or four times at night. Man, did you know I’m a doggoned long-time wishing cat? Well I am, man.
“Tell Maxwell (Davis, who did the arrangements) what a great job he did. That man’s got a soul. (A soul Br’er!) Tutti you are in there yourself. Being one fine trumpet man yourself, you’re bound to get the right sounds ‘n everything “nice” musically in your inimitable way. (Did that come out of me?) That’s it Daddy – nobody mess with those “ears” you have for music. 
“I haven’t enjoyed anything better than our recording sessions since — well, I can’t remember when.”
Satchmo gives a moving and very personal rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” on the album, but my personal favorite is “Chim Chim Cheree”, which runs for over five minutes and is marvelous all the way.
Louis never did a voice part in a Disney cartoon but he came close. At the time we made the album the studio was voice casting for The Aristocats. There was a made to order voice part for Pops as the swinging musical cat who befriends Thomas O’Malley, Duchess and the kittens.  
I suggested to Woolie Reitherman, the producer, that Louis would be just right. Woolie agreed and several story meetings were held with Louis. But he became ill again and had to bow out. The part was finally voiced by Scatman Crothers.

Tutti Camarata in the studio with Louis Armstrong during the 1968 sessions for Disney Songs the Satchmo Way. Tutti: ‘When Louis finished recording, I got a letter from him, thanking me for letting him sing ‘When You Wish Upon a Star, Makes No Difference Who You Are …’ I almost cried when I saw that.

Recently, the soundtrack album of Mary Poppins was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, alongside the soundtracks of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Fantasia. Several of Louis Armstrong’s records are in the Hall of Fame, too, including “What a Wonderful World.” Perhaps Disney Songs the Satchmo Way should be next.

Now go enjoy Disney Songs the Satchmo Way, being someone who lives in New Orleans, I can tell you with certainty that Armstrong's take on these songs will have you tapping your feet and singing his versions all day long!

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