Edgar Sampson’s composition was introduced by alto saxophonist/trumpeter Benny Carter on his October 16, 1933, session for Columbia Records.
1934 was a banner year for alto saxophonist/arranger Sampson. He wrote two tunes that became big hits, “Don’t Be That Way” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and two others that became standards of the swing era, “If Dreams Come True” and “Blue Lou.”
Drummer Chick Webb made a wise decision when hiring Sampson in 1934. Although Sampson had been in the bands of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson, both leaders did most of their own arrangements and his talent in that field was not taken advantage of. At the time Webb didn’t have a band member writing for him, and his band’s early success is due in part to Sampson’s arrangements and compositions.
Interestingly, Carter’s career path interconnects with Sampson’s. Both men had played together with Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten when Carter began his study of arranging. Carter then worked with Fletcher Henderson until 1931 when he worked briefly for Chick Webb. Sampson joined Henderson in 1931, a few months after Carter’s departure.
The recordings by Carter and Webb of “Blue Lou” make an interesting comparison of the styles of the two arrangers, Sampson and Carter. Carter’s approach is closer to that of a dance band, including a “sweet” trumpet solo exposing the rather sparse melody. The high point of his record is Teddy Wilson’s piano solo, although it heats up towards the end with some of Carter’s double-time writing for the sax section, his forte. On the other hand, Sampson’s arrangement for Webb starts out like “gangbusters,” at a brisker tempo, with swinging solos by trumpeter Taft Jordan and Sampson on alto. Like Carter’s version, there’s a whole chorus piano solo, this time by Don Kirkpatrick. And although Carter’s record has the great Sid Catlett on drums, Chick drives his band with more force, aided by some great rhythm guitar work by John Truehart.
“Blue Lou” is rarely ever sung, as it is more a composition for “blowing” than singing. However, Ella Fitzgerald recorded it in the 1950s, the lyrics telling the story of a woman who is sad because her love has left her.