Who actually says it on the recording is not a settled matter, but Jazz people know the expression from a recording of Dipper Mouth Blues:
Strange but true-I came to Oh, Play That Thing through a top-ten-best list of jazz books. It's a "picaresque" novel, a word once used to describe the work of J.P. Dunleavy or Henry Miller. Boiled down, it means there's a lot of screwing-and screwing up-by the main character. Author Roddy Doyle knows what he's doing and the writing is strong, but what particularly interests us here at Brilliant Corners is the relationship between protagonist Henry Strong and Louis Armstrong.
The two meet about halfway through the book, in mid-1920's Chicago. Henry Strong (a name that shows up in a lot of Doyle's writing) is an Irish revolutionary on the lam in the U.S. He's ambitious, handsome, tough and sexually hyper-active.
Strong is introduced to Armstrong by a paramour, Dora, who is passing for white so they can go clubbing on a non-Monday, otherwise the only night that non-whites are allowed in the big clubs. The first thing that Armstrong says when they meet is "That's a mighty fine vine, Pops." Then, half a page later: "An ofay that can carry a coloured suit-We got to talk, Pops."
So, clothes expedite the energy flow between them, but it's Strong's physicality and toughness that Armstrong needs and Strong becomes his gatekeeper--his White Man.
The author has assimilated Louis' writing style and listened carefully to his music and has his voice down pat. He also seems to have Armstrong's psycho-social situation down and expertly shows us Armstrong owning all the power when he's onstage and his relative powerlessness when he's off. Louis knows his own greatness, but understands the labyrinthine game he must play with white owners and management in order to prosper.
Strong is a kind of mirror image of Armstrong. Always at risk of being assassinated by gangsters or gunmen from his revolutionary Irish past, Strong cultivates the capacity to disappear, as Armstrong must cultivate the image of the responsible, obedient negro. At the same time, like Armstrong, Strong wants to be the one who rivets the attention of everyone in the room.
The book adeptly limns a kind of violent ballet between destructive and creative forces. For author Doyle, it's less ballet than high-wire act and, like an ofay that can carry a coloured suit, I think he pulls it off.