Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 26-30

In our last installment of this series, we finally hit upon a tape with genuine late 1960s content after a run of nearly 20 straight tapes that were originally made in the 1950s and were re-numbered and re-cataloged in late 1969/early 1970. That trend mostly continues today, though Louis would continue reaching back in time for old tapes until the end.

Reel 26
Accession Number 2003.197.28

We’re definitely in the late 1960s with the opener of this tape, an instrumental recording of “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. I have not been able to identify the source but it’s heavy on guitar and flute; could it be a demo? Was someone thinking of having Louis Armstrong record “The Impossible Dream”? The mind boggles. That’s quickly followed by two of Dave Brubeck’s big hits from the Time Out era, “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk.”

A series of demos for a Continental Airlines commercial follows, with different mixes featuring different vocalists. Louis did a number of commercials in this period but I haven’t seen any mention of anything for Continental so my assumption is that these were for a project that fell through.

The rest of the side one is made entirely up of demos from the blues world, with numbers like “Your Turn to Cry,” “Don’t Count Your Chickens (Before They Hatch)” and “Diddy Wah Diddy.” Was someone pitching Louis a blues album? Another mystery….

LAHM 1987.2.23-62

No mysteries on side 2 as it contains another dub of the two BBC concerts of July 2, 1968, which we discussed last time as Louis dubbed it on Reel 25 and sent it to numerous friends in this period, using it as the source for the one album he produced, Brunswick’s Louis Armstrong’s Greatest Hits Recorded Live, released in early 1971.

LAHM 1987.2.23-63

No collages on this reel, just a couple of pieces of tape denoting that this is indeed Reel 26.

LAHM 2003.197.28
LAHM 2003.197.28

Reel 27
Accession Number 2003.197.29

Reel 27 opens with the conclusion of a 1960 LP featuring Louis’s old friends, Butterbeans and Susie. Wait, the conclusion? Where’s the beginning? This will sound strange but the beginning of the LP is heard on Reel 100 of this same series! And both Reel 27 and Reel 100 include audio of Louis’s April 3, 1970 appearance on The Tonight Show. So we know we’re around April 1970 in terms of when Louis was making these reels but it’s nearly impossible to crack the code of his numbering system. My only guess is he made what became “Reel 100” but forgot to number it, found it several months later, and slapped a 100 on it because that’s where he was at the time in the numbering process. We’ll get to that tape in approximately 14 weeks!

After Butterbeans and Susie, Louis dubbed a 1968 single by the Arborway-Huntington Four on Arco Records, featuring “Bathing Beauties on Parade” (composed by pianist Bob Pillsbury and his wife Ruth) and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Sweet Substitute.” (This took some Googling to decipher but Discogs has a few more details on the record.) Side 1 concluded with a 1967 collection of Israeli folk songs by Margalit Ankory and the Feenjon Group titled Jerusalem of Gold (learn more about it and listen to it here).

LAHM 1987.2.23-64

With Side 2, we are firmly in the vicinity of April 3, 1970, when Louis was a guest on the Tonight Show, guest hosted by Flip Wilson. The main musical guest that night was Kim Weston, who must have gifted a copy of her brand new album Big Brass Four Poster to Louis; note that in the catalog below, Louis reproduces her inscription, “To ‘Pops,’ Love You, Kim.” After dubbing that entire album, Louis dubbed the audio of his appearance on that episode of the Tonight Show, calling our attention to Doc Severensin in the catalog description, as well as Zutty Singleton, who was in the audience and who received a nice shoutout from Louis during his segment. With some time left on the reel, Louis included four more songs by English-Australian country music singer Frank Ifield, whom we first encountered way back on Reel 4 in Part 1.

LAHM 1987.2.23-65

Alas, no collage on this tape either.

LAHM 2003.197.29
LAHM 2003.197.29

Reel 28
Accession Number 2003.197.30

Side 1 of Reel 28 is taken up by what Louis only recalled as “Operatic Music + Singing” but it’s actually a recording of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma as recorded by Tullio Serafin and Maria Callas. But after about 70 minutes of that, Louis concluded Side 1 with the start of the immortal 1956 Verve LP Ella and Louis.

LAHM 1987.2.23-66

Side 2 continues with Ella and Louis and the beginning of Ella and Louis Again. I should mention that this is another older tape, renumbered in 1970, as the sound quality is only so-so and you can hear Louis puttering around the room while listening.

LAHM 1987.2.23-67

Because it’s an older tape, we finally get a collage! This fellow looks incredibly familiar and I feel like might be in a few other photos–any guesses? Could just be a fan but something about him looks like “show business” to me.

LAHM 2003.197.30

The photo on the back of the box depicts Louis at the Blue Note in Chicago on July 4, 1952, with a wall full of telegrams and a personalized birthday cake sent for (and signed by) pianist Joe Bushkin.

LAHM 2003.197.30

Reel 29
Accession Number 2003.197.31

It’s BBC time again, but this time it’s not the 1968 material but rather a 1965 appearance on the Show of the Week that was re-edited and narrated by Humphrey Lyttelton as The Story of Louis Armstrong. This was most likely given to Louis during his 1968 British tour as the 1965 material is immediately followed by Louis’s 1968 appearance on BBC’s Desert Island Discs. This is actually the only surviving recording of this broadcast. The BBC contacted us several years ago looking for a copy and were thrilled that one existed on Louis’s tapes. We made a copy of it for them and you can now listen to it anytime on the Desert Island Discs website!

After those two 1960s British recordings, Armstrong reached back to another earlier reel that contained the March 23, 1952 episode of Tallulah Bankhead’s radio program The Big Show, followed by a recording of Louis and friends listening to the reference discs for the soundtrack of the 1952 film Glory Alley, with Louis making comments throughout.

LAHM 1987.2.23-68

Now this is something different. After filling up the first page with the contents of Side 1, Armstrong seems to have realized he was a little skimpy with the details on the two BBC broadcasts. Thus, he included a second page devoted to Side 1, painstakingly listing every individual song from each show.

LAHM 1987.2.23-69

For Side 2, Armstrong seems to have grabbed a tape originally made circa 1957, potentially the first half emanating from 1956. It begins with a recording of Louis’s appearance on The Perry Como Show from March 23, 1956, when Armstrong did his recent hit of “Mack the Knife,” followed by a duet with Como on “Ko Ko Mo.” Next is the audio of Edward R. Murrow’s original See It Now profile of Louis from December 12, 1955, later expanded into the feature film Satchmo the Great, but the original TV segment, which is incredibly rare, has a different cut of the interview with Murrow in Paris, plus some different music, including a knockout “Twelfth Street Rag.” We still have Armstrong’s personal acetate discs of both See It Now and The Perry Como Show at our Archives so he most likely just dubbed them when he had the chance, not necessarily the night of the original broadcast.

LAHM 1987.2.23-70

Once again, Armstrong needed a second page to get through the contents of Side 2, opening the next part with the conclusion of the See It Now piece. But then, to make the argument that this is from 1957, he dubbed Charlie Ventura’s album Charlie Ventura Plays Hi-Fi Jazz and Elvis Presley’s Christmas Album, both initially released in 1957 (Ventura’s in March, Presley’s in December).

LAHM 1987.2.23-71

For the front of the box, a terrific Milt Hinton photo of Louis with his tape recorder rig in a Seattle hotel room in 1953 (we have included another print of the same image, also found in Louis’s collection, as the featured photo of this post at the top of the page):

LAHM 2003.197.31

Alas, nothing on the back but the reel number.

LAHM 2003.197.31

Reel 30
Accession Number 2003.197.32

Armstrong had his tape recorder with him during his historic first tour of South America in 1957 and devoted multiple tapes to recordings from that continent. Reel 30 was originally recorded in Sao Paolo, Brazil on October 24, 1957, capturing the end of a special All Stars concert that featured a guest spot from tenor saxophonist Booker Pittman. The rest of Side 1 and all of Side 2 are devoted to local recordings, described below as “South American Records–A Gift to Satch.”

LAHM 1987.2.23-72

More South American records fill up Side 2, though Louis didnt’ remember the titles and honestly, we haven’t been able to figure them out either (not even Shazam helped). But we do have at least ten LPs Armstrong picked up on this tour, many of them signed by the local musicians. Perhaps we will do a future installment of “Satch’s Tracks” devoted to the music Louis received and taped in South America!

LAHM 1987.2.23-73

We close today’s post with two collages made up of images of Louis and anonymous fans, the first one definitely from the Blue Note in Chicago in the early 1950s.

LAHM 2003.197.32
LAHM 2003.197.32

More to come next week–til then!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

I am Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

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