WTF: Louis Armstrong Sings Pharaoh Sanders

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong and his Friends
Flying Dutchman :  1970

LA, vocals; Leon Thomas, vocals, percussion; James Spaulding, flute; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Sam Brown, guitar; Frank Owens, piano; Richard Davis, bass; George Duvivier, bass; Gene Golden, congas; Bernard Purdie, drums, plus strings.

Satch plays Fats, sure — but Satch sings Sanders?!?!

Following our previous Pharaoh Sander’s post, we couldn’t resist posting this outrageous oddity: Louis Armstrong singing Pharaoh’s freak hit “The Creator Has A Master Plan.” He even duets with Leon Thomas. Check your calendars: This ain’t no April Fool’s!

We tend to think of Armstrong and Sanders as inhabiting entirely different universes, but one of the interesting things about the late 60s and early 70s was the generational overlap of so many key jazz figures. But rarely have worlds collided in more unexpected and almost hallucinatory ways.

The mere concept of this track smacks of the most clueless sort of commercial pandering. For some reason, it brings to mind Jackie Gleason’s LSD trip in Skidoo (check out the Youtube clip here). Did Louis really need this so late in his career? Initially, we wondered if producer Bob Thiele didn’t foist this track on Armstrong at gunpoint.

But… but… but… the surprising thing is that the music isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s an interesting concoction. There’s a solid arrangement by Oliver Nelson and check out the list of stellar musicians above. And to his credit, Louis doesn’t seem nearly as out of place as you might imagine. Hell, it’s only four minutes – listen for yourself and tell us your reactions.

While you’re contemplating unlikely Armstrong exploits, take a look at this recent book of Louis’s fascinating collage artwork.

A tip of the hat to the Jazz Supreme site for spotlighting this track.

What are some of your cherished WTF jazz moments?

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21 Responses to WTF: Louis Armstrong Sings Pharaoh Sanders

  1. Awesome — can you also post the track from that release where Ornette sings ‘Give Peace a Chance’?

  2. About thirty years ago I was driving in D.C. with the (then) mighty WPFW on the radio. When the DJ played what I thought sounded a lot like Louis Armstrong singing Creator Has a Master Plan—with Leon Thomas—I nearly drove into a utility pole. But the jock never back-announced so I wasn’t 100% sure that what I thought I’d heard is what I thought I’d heard. I became desperate to hear it again, so basically every time I went into a record store for years after I would always go up to the clerks in the jazz section and ask if they knew anything about Louis Armstrong dueting w/Leon Thomas. Most just looked down at me with withering disdain. Five or six years later I finally thumbed past a French RCA release of the record and it has blown me away ever since. (His covers of “Give Peace a Chance,” “Everybody’s Talkin’,” and “We Shall Overcome” are other standout tracks.) For years afterward, I wanted to take that LP into every record shack in NYC and rub it in their faces.

  3. Brotzmann, Kowald & Sainkho meet hiphop group Exponential Enjoyment on “Expo’s Jazz & Joy”:
    Really not worth seeking out – except to provoke a “WTF”?

  4. Sinatra singing “Uranus is heaven” in “What Time Does The Next Miracle Leave”

  5. Wow, you guys never cease to amaze me–I had no idea this existed. I have a strange jazz moment for ya: Does it get any weirder than Elvin Jones playing gunfighter/drummer Job Cain in the film “Zachariah”? I still don’t get that one, although I have to admit I loved watching him in it.

  6. And I thought that Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet was unlikely…

  7. This track gets played on WWOZ in New Orleans all the time.

  8. Paul Desmond’s album of Simon & Garfunkel covers.

  9. Colin Wilkie and Shirley Hart’s Wild Goose [MPS, 1969] remains a fairly startling mashup of freejazz and trad folk idioms. Not at all the melting pot of styles found with, say, Pentangle, mid-period J Martyn, or even the more contemporary improv/folk of New Weird America. The stylistic transitions on Wild Goose are often quite abrupt but yeah, it does acquire a certain appeal after a while.

    This one’s still floating around the blogosphere and a simple search will get y’all a listen.

  10. Carmen McRae singing Alice Cooper.

  11. Yeah, take *that* disdainful record store clerks. Aaand that’s why we need to have a national “Record Store Day.”

    (Hey, Doug!)

  12. Interesting. I’m wondering whose idea this was? Perhaps Oliver Nelson hipped Armstrong to this tune. And it doesn’t seem SO out of place when you consider that some of the sidemen include Sam Brown and James Spaulding. I think Pretty Purdie is probably more out of place than the Sanders selection itself!

    And while this may not be along quite the same lines, Keith Jarrett’s singer/songwriter album “Restoration Ruin” has certainly garnered its fair share of WTFs.

  13. holy shit this is incredible……

    the entire mind-fuck of an album can be had ( + bonus trax) at Amazon MP3……

    thank you, gents, for hipping me to it… !!!!

  14. oh, as far as another jazzy WTF for your consideration…

    Sarah Vaughan: Inner City Blues on the album “A Time in My Life” (also awesome)

  15. Purdie out of place? This record follows not too far on heels of New Grass with Albert Ayler… I think he was right in his element :)

  16. Thanks to D-O for yet another great moment. This precisely the kind of alternative history of jazz that needs to be more well known– a “tradition of innovation” to paraphrase George Lipsitz, that actually makes Satchmo and Sanders natural partners, not commercial gimmickry. And on that note: Pharaoh rarely gets credit for his amazing “inside” chops. I heard him about a decade ago in NYC at the Iridium room and it was one of the most vibrant, straight-ahead jazz shows I’ve ever seen. In terms of other such interesting meetings: no recording exists to my knowledge, but Baby Dodds recounts that he once played for a Merce Cunningham dance piece. . . (again, not that surprising given the fact that Cunningham and Cage, despite their own frequent dismissals of jazz, were inspired and influenced by black cultural forms).

  17. Not bad! It’s a shame Louis doesn’t play trumpet. It would have been interesting to see what he’d do over that trance ostinato groove.

  18. This is very sweet! I’d like to hear the other tracks mentioned above.

    Other jazz wtf moments: the album Rich a la Rakha, side A featuring Buddy Rich and tabla master Allah Rakha with a traditional Indian ensemble, directed by Ravi Shankar, with Paul Horn on flute. Buddy even plays dholak for one track. (side B is an awesome tabla solo in 11/8 teen tal). I wish I still had that one!

    (looks like I could get it if I really wanted: Crazy world we live in.)

    Elvin Jones on that Insect Trust album.

    In some ways it’s a natural fit, but Lester Bowie on David Bowie’s Black Tie, White Noise was initially a WTF moment for me. I heard it on the radio and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was Lester.

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