On multiple occasions I’ve made clear, I think, that while there are many versions of “SJI” I like a lot, I would have to go with Louis Armstrong’s 1928 recording as the sort of ur-version of the song — the one I tell people to start with if they’ve never heard it. I listed it first in my Buyer’s Guide a while back (which I should probably update); I played it at the top of the podcast I got to guest host; I included it on an imaginary compilation whose “liner notes” I wrote up for Offbeat.
I know Armstrong recorded subsequent versions — but certainly didn’t know the extent of that until Robert W. Harwood pointed out this post on the blog The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong. That site belongs to Ricky Riccardi, a self-described “Louis Armstrong freak” working on a book about Armstrong’s later years, due out in 2010 from Pantheon.
Riccardi’s post lays out Armstrong’s history with the tune in excellent detail, and includes several audio clips. I was particularly interested in the first one — a clip of a 1956 interview in which Armstrong briefly reminisces about the old sessions in which “SJI” and other tunes were first recorded, and about Jack Teagarden’s particular love of the song. “One of them good old good ones, which we get a lot of requests for right now,” Armstrong adds as he introduces his original recording. “And that’s way back then, when we made this record, ‘St. James Infirmary.’”
Check it all out here.