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StLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Seven views of "St. Louis Blues"


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With the return of live jazz in St. Louis still uncertain, today's post continues this feature's recent emphasis on archival and historical material by taking a look at some different interpretations of “St. Louis Blues," undoubtedly the most famous song ever to feature the name of our city in the title, and one of the most recorded compositions in jazz history.

“St. Louis Blues" was composed by W. C. Handy, who was born in Alabama and spent most of his musical career based in Memphis and then New York. It was while living in Memphis in 1892 that Handy came to St. Louis for a visits, looking for work as a musician, and presumably formed his impression of the city thay would inspire his most popular compositiosn.

First published in September 1914, “St. Louis Blues" was one of the first blues to succeed as a pop song, and marks an important point in the transition of blues music from being strictly a folk idiom to becoming a commercial one as well.

It was a hit record in 1925 for Bessie Smith, and again in 1929 for Louis Armstrong, and subsequently has been recorded hundreds of times by artists from all around the world, in arrangements ranging from solo piano and guitar to big bands and orchestras.

Today's post includes seven vintage performances of “St. Louis Blues," starting up above with W.C. Handy playing his most famous work in 1949 on Ed Sullivan's long-running CBS variety show, then known as Toast of the Town.

You can see singer Bessie Smith's version, as featured in the film St. Louis Blues, which was released in 1929 to capitalize on the popularity of her 1925 recording.

Next up, pianist Earl Hines puts his personal spin on the tune in a version recorded in 1965 in France, followed by the inimitable Ella Fitzgerald scatting and swinging her way through a performance recorded in July 1979 at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands.

Pianist Dave Brubeck also famously had his own take on “St. Louis Blues," as seen in the next clip, recorded in 1964 in Belgium with the most famous lineup of his quartet, including saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright, and drummer Joe Morello.

The penultimate video features singer Nat King Cole performing Handy's composition in a November 1957 episode of The Nat King Cole Show, while the last clip showcases an arrangement of the tune featured for many years on the radio broadcasts of the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues hockey club.

It was first recorded in 1944 by swing bandleader and trombonist Glenn Miller, and is seen here in a performance by the present-day Glenn Miller Orchestra directed by Wil Salden and recorded in 2012.

Next week in this space, we'll look at videos featuring some more contemporary versions of “St. Louis Blues."

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