February 14, 2010
Weekend Edition Sunday
Thanks to some nimble engineering, Louis Armstrong has a new song coming out, complete with a whole new band. So what if he's been dead for nearly 40 years?
On Preservation, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band backs up a number of singers, including Andrew Bird, Tom Waits, Brandi Carlile and Pete Seeger. Armstrong recorded "Rockin' Chair" a number of times, but he gets the Preservation Hall treatment courtesy of Earl Scioneaux III, the engineer responsible for this trick of time.
The vocals from this new version were taken from a 1962 live recording with trombonist Jack Teagarden. As Scioneaux tells Gwen Thompkins in an interview, you can even hear audience laughter in the background.
It was quite a feat to tease out Armstrong's vocal and sneak in Preservation Hall Jazz Band's musicians. It happened in phases. First, Scioneaux isolated snippets of Armstrong's voice. Then the musicians got a "tempo reference" from the original recordings to make a backing track. The burden of replicating Armstrong's signature trumpet sound went to Mark Braud.
"He was pretty diligent about it," Scioneaux says. "He spent a lot of time listening to the original recording and the solo that Louis played on that — not wanting to copy it verbatim, but really capture the same spirit. I think he did a good job with it."
Scioneaux says he can tell a Louis Armstrong horn just by hearing it.
"It's like someone having an accent when he's speaking — there are just slight little differences that you pick up on," Scioneaux says.