A friend was driving me home, usual for a fellow like me who is afraid to drive himself, in a country that monkey driving is a habit. A CD was playing in his obsessively cleaned Peugeot. It was a ragbag of oldies, most of them boring covers of originally boring songs. Rubbish was playing one after another as a sonic foreground for a gray landscape of a decaying city, where I used to live. Suddenly somewhere between a third rate hippie ballad and an Roy Orbison cover of mini-skirt nostalgia something happened. Something that first froze me for a second, then thrilled me for 5 minutes and finally when I repeated that five minutes for more than 6 times I knew that a key song has been added to my uncalled changes of life: Otchi-Tchor-Ni-Ya by Louis Armstrong!
Wait! Don't say that it's a an ordinary Armstrong CD-filler or a common stuff because of its public domain status to be included in European oldies compilations. Probably even a great Armstrong biographer like James Lincoln Collier felt the same way, since there is no trace of this song in his 400-page book on Satchmo. But despite all these preconceptions and misconceptions about latter days of Armstrong (which myself as a 'purist' had the same problem for a long time), it's an absolute musical miracle, a perfect masterpiece that summarize half of a century of jazz in five and a half minutes.
Otchi-Tchor-Ni-Ya means Dark Eyes. It's a Russian song. The lyrics of the song were written by a Ukrainian poet and writer Yevhen Hrebinka, in 1843. Armstrong's version sounded like "Oh Cha Chunya". and the words are quite different from the proper translation of the song from Russian to English. But words doesn't matter because Satchmo has turned it to a jam song. A chronology of things that would happen to you is as follow:
00:01 Billy Kyle's first piano line can pierce any stone, just with that very first note.
00:07 Armstrong comes in - Gabriel plays the horn!
00:10 Clarinet of Barney Bigard, like a beautiful butterfly chasing after another one (here, Satchmo's trumpet).
00:30 There is a indescribable urgency in this music. Saying all the things, all necessary things, all the things that should be said for the last time.
01:13 Satchmo sings. Words are utterly unimportant. It's just jiving.
01:45 Kyle returns. He sound like father of Bud Powell in a slower tempo. Space! Space!
02:14 Band takes off. New Orleans appears before our eyes. It's a manifestation of humanity.
02:38 Clarinet solo. Unbelievable.
02:55 Bud Freeman from Chicago plays his warm tenor sound on saxophone. So goddamn lyrical!
03:14 A suspending moment with Arvell's Shaw bass before...
03:27 ...before Trummy Young's trombone roars with a freedom unheard in the history of the instrument. His first attack is maddening!
03:44 The Socrates of jazz returns with his endless drama of sound and vision.
04:16 Kenny John takes a solo on his drums. Lifting up - lifting up.
04:48 Swing. Extacy. Joy. Cry. This damn thing will never stop.
05:25 Five seconds of silence begins. It's like 5 minutes.
The song is recorded in New York City, March 19, 1954 by Decca Records. Matrix number is 86062. LP number DL5532. Dig yourself:
Bashir, thanks for driving me home, and thanks for Otchi-Tchor-Ni-Ya.