Last week, we got the ball rolling in our new series analyzing the contents of the 200 or so reel-to-reel tapes Louis Armstrong made in the last two years of his life, covering Reels 1 through 5. This week, we will continue with Reels 6 through 10.
Accession Number 2003.197.8
This is another recycled reel from the late 1950s and it’s a great one. The bulk of Side 1 is devoted to a long interview with Louis and Lucille conducted by Jinx Falkenberg at the Roxy Theater in April 1957, covering High Society, Armstrong’s trip to Africa and much more. Speaking of Africa, the rest of Side 1 is taken up by recordings Armstrong brought back from his trip to the Gold Coast (soon to become Ghana) in May 1956, each side introduced by composer and arranger Jack Oglesby.
From Africa, Armstrong traveled to Italy, filling up much of the remaining reel with a recording of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma featuring Maria Callas and Mario Fillipeschi. Armstrong did take a break in the action to record radio coverage of his 1959 arrival in Beirut (site of this week’s terribly tragic explosion). He must have been hit with a wave of nostalgia for such moments, as he noted in the tape catalog, “A big ovation for Satch” and was excited to talk about having this on tape during an interview on the Tonight Show in June 1970.
The original tape must have been made during Louis’s whirlwind six-month tour of Europe in 1959 as the box features collages made up of clippings from Sweden and Newsweek (the latter about Armstrong in Germany), both from February 1959.
Accession Number 2003.197.9
The run of older tapes continued with this early 1950s gem, much of it emanating from 1952. It opens with a dinner in honor of Armstrong in Boston, with George Wein, Nat Hentoff and other luminaries; Armstrong broke it up in his acceptance speech by telling a dirty joke!
Then, after a bit of the All Stars live in New Orleans in May 1952, there’s a recording of Louis, Lucille and their home’s caretaker, Fred Ware, rehearsing for Louis’s appearance on the December 20, 1952 episode of All Star Revue. (We still have the script in our Archives.) The rest of the reel is taken up by recordings of various 78s Armstrong had lying around, including his own work for Decca and RCA Victor, numbers by Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, his old writing partner Horace Gerlach, his old bandleader Luis Russell, Edith Piaf, Rosemary Clooney with Harry James and duets by Sidney Bechet and Mezz Mezzrow.
Reel 7 features an excellent collage with an inspired Louis blowing for a dancing lady, while the back features him with an unidentified female friend. Again, the only new touch from 1970 is the addition of “Reel 7” on the white tape.
Accession Number 2003.197.10
Another tape from yesteryear, opening with Louis and Lucille in conversation about time between gigs (the types of snippets that disappeared when Louis made fresh tapes in 1970-71) before Louis turns on some music, opening with Johnny Ray’s “Faith Can Move Mountains” and following with a somewhat overheated “Black and Blue” by an unidentified group. Next up, trumpeter Billy Marshall made a mix for Louis of early trumpet and cornet virtuosos of the early 20th century all dubbed from the original cylinders; Louis named this section, “The Great Trumpeters of Yesteryear.” Then follows a few snippets from Roy Eldridge; interestingly, each one stops abruptly before a piece of the next song starts, almost as if Louis was skipping ahead on a tape. He dug Roy but maybe wasn’t in the mood that particular day.
Side 2 opens with an excellent 1960 interview with John McClellen mostly about music and musicians (and a bit on laxatives); Louis kept a running tab of topics and names he mentioned when cataloging it in 1970. Abruptly, the tape turns to Winnipeg, Canada for some offstage revelry, with an unidentified female and Louis telling dirty jokes at a party.
Louis also left the original box pretty much untouched, complete with green ink descriptions, mentioning Myrna and Red Cooper “Boston drumer [sic]” who might be the people at the party in Winnipeg. I wish we knew the identities of the hundreds of fans who appear in photos with Louis; they always look so thrilled!
Accession Number 2003.197.11
This is our first reel recorded in 7 ½ speed rather than 3 ¾, meaning it’s about half the length of Louis’s usual tapes and also in somewhat better sound quality. It’s another reel dating from the early 1950s and opens with Louis and cornetist Bobby Hackett in Louis’s den dubbing Louis’s recordings of the 1920s. They don’t comment much on the music but Hackett usually sounds euphoric at the end of each side. Eventually, they play Louis’s 1951 Decca single of “Because of You” and “Cold, Cold Heart,” with Louis joining in on the end of the last one on trumpet. Hackett mentions that Louis is in his “warm up room” and as Louis starts wailing, Hackett obscures it by playing more records! Louis must have wanted to keep the warm-up motif going and abruptly cuts to a recording he made in a hotel room of him playing a bit of “Over the Rainbow.” (Notice Louis’s confusion on whether the side was over–which always inspired a “S’all”–or if there was more material–eliciting a “More”–before crossing those out and settling on “S’all” because of the shortened run time of the side.
Side 2 takes us in Armstrong’s prep routine as he dubs recordings of “I Laughed at Love” by Sunny Gale and “It Takes Two to Tango” by Pearl Bailey, both of which he recorded for Decca on August 28, 1952. Armstrong even takes a spin on “I Laughed at Love,” singing a chorus in his own fashion to get the feel of it before entering the studio. In the middle of these 1952 sides, there’s also a recording of Louis singing the bebop-parody lyrics devised by Gordon Jenkins to “The Whiffenpoof Song.” He wouldn’t record them until March 1954 but he did record two Christmas songs with Jenkins in September 1952 so it seems they planned to do it earlier, but stuck to the holiday tunes instead.
The remainder of Side 2 is a joyous birthday celebration for Louis held in Chicago on July 4, 1951 at the home of the Walker’s and emceed by Ted Watson, a longtime reporter for The Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender. Watson controls the microphone and goes from guest to guest, including Velma Middleton, Doc Pugh, Clarence Hatfield Armstrong, Lucille and many other friends from Louis’s Chicago days, all wishing Louis a happy birthday. Louis listed each name in his catalog entry in 1970, which must have filled him with great nostalgia since many folks on the original tape had passed away by that point.
The collage on Reel 9 is one of the more humorous ones as Louis utilized a photo of a dancer bending over to affix his reel number, while the expression on the drawing of a trumpet-blowing Armstrong serves as a perfect reaction of sorts to the moves of the dancer. The unbeatable team of Louis and Velma take up much of the back of the tape, along with smaller photos of Louis with a group of unidentified children. Those children are probably in their 70s nowadays–are they out there? If you can identify any of the folks in any of these photos or have some stories or photos of your own encounters with Armstrong, let us know in the comments!
Accession number 2003.197.12
When people visit the Armstrong Archives at Queens College and want to listen to a tape but don’t know where to start, I usually choose this one as it’s truly one of the very best of the over 700 Louis made. It consists of an audio letter Louis made for Hugues Panassie and Madeleine Gautier of the Hot Club de France in February 1956. In fact, it’s worth discussing the date for a moment because nearly every visitor to the Louis Armstrong House Museum has heard this excerpt (it’s even included in the first entry of our “That’s My Home” site). Louis opens the tape by giving the date of February 26, 1956…..before Lucille corrects him that it’s actually February 6. “Correction,” Louis states before offering new date, February 6…1926! Lucille corrects him again and they break up into laughter. The humorous punctuation mark is found on the catalog page with Louis listening to the tape in 1970, describing it and dating it as February
(26) 6, 1966!
On the original tape, Louis tells story of making High Society, plays his new recording of “Mack the Knife,” takes a phone call from Cozy Cole and even plays along with Ray Martino’s record of “Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup,” which Louis enters in his tape catalog as “Zem Boo Coo.” Armstrong had to spend some time at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary for an eye infection he received while filming High Society. Naturally, he carted in his portable tape recorder and recorded a conversation with some of the other patients and doctors.
Side 2 consists of music originally dubbed by Armstrong in the 1950s. It includes multiple R&B numbers, a few selections by George Gibbs, two songs by George Shearing, an offering from Cantor Josef Rosenblatt (which Louis described in his 1970 tape catalog as “A JEWISH JIG CHANT”), some live recordings of the All Stars and a radio interview in Winnipeg from 1954. After the interview, Louis continued recording the radio, capturing a pre-rock snapshot of pop music including “The Luxembourg Polka” by Mantovani, “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby” by The Crewcuts, “I Could Make You Care” by Shirley Harmer, “Pretty as a Rainboy” by Harry Belafonte and “Secret Love” by Frankie Carle.
The “at home” theme actually continues on the outside of the box as Louis affixed a rare color photo of the Armstrong House in the 1950s (dig the red garage). The front of the box also includes separate photos of Louis and Jack Teagarden at the microphone while the back has multiple photos of Louis being interviewed in 1957 by Al “Jazzbo” Collins. (There’s also a small photo of the much-despised, longtime road manager Pierre “Frenchy” Tallerie, whom Armstrong covers with a well-placed piece of tape.