Upward and onward we go with our examination of the tapes Louis Armstrong cataloged in the last two years of his life. Last week, we had a number of reels made at the start of 1970, but all five this week are from the 1950s, spanning 1952-1960 with material spanning Reno, Detroit, Santiago, Chile, Washington D. C. and more. How fortunate Louis was to have this stroll down memory lane in the year or so before he passed away and how fortunate we are to still have the tapes to listen to today. Let’s see what’s in store for Reels 31-35.
Accession number 1987.3.54
This is another throwback, Louis re-numbering a tape he originally made in the 1950s. The proceedings begin with Louis in Lake Tahoe, simply recording radio music from KOWL. He does a fine job of cataloging everything below but if you have difficulty following his, here’s the contents of this portion of the tape: “Somebody Loves Me” (Harry James), “I See Your Face Before Me” (Frank Sinatra), “Laura” (Freddy Martin), “Symphony” (Freddy Martin), followed by four numbers by Dick Haymes–“It Isn’t Spring,” “The More I See You,” “The Very Thought of You,” “You’ll Never Know”–followed by several numbers from Jackie Gleason’s series of “mood music” albums, including “There’ll be Some Changes Made,” “How About You,” “Green Eyes,” “Crazy Rhythm,” and “The Petite Waltz.” (Jackie Gleason).
At this point, comedian-impressionist Lenny Gale comes on the air for a long interview with the disc jockey. It turns out Gale was opening for Louis and he really gives a beautiful summary of the greatness of Armstrong’s All Stars, praising each member of the band. A quick Google search turns up a listing for Armstrong and Gale at Harrah’s in Reno in May 1957 so now we have an original date for this tape. Gale passed away this June and his obituary mentions “his favorite, Louis Armstrong”–I wish I knew he was still around to let him know that Louis saved this interview!
After the conversation with Gale, the DJ filled up the rest of his time with selections from Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, including “It Never Entered My Mind,” “I’ll Never be the Same” and “This Love of Mine,” before concluding with Harry James’s “Somebody Loves Me,” the theme song of the show. Here’s Louis:
We now know that Side 1 was recorded while Louis and Lenny Gale were in Reno in May 1957. Reedman Jimmy Dorsey passed away on June 12, 1957 and Louis was there with his typewriter to record “A Tribute to Jimmy Dorsey” hosted by Jackie Gleason and featuring guest appearances by Bob Eberly, Connee Boswell, Bob Crosby, Count Basie, Helen O’Connell, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, Gene Krupa (not “Jean” as Louis writes below!) and more. Louis made an appearance after spinning his 1936 collaboration with Dorsey on “Dippermouth Blues,” speaking from the Moulin Rouge in Hollywood. Louis talks about the original recording session and how they had time and started talking about Joe Oliver and decided to record “Dippermouth” right then and there, saying, “We didn’t know it would come out so great!” Louis also reminisces about recording the songs from Pennies From Heaven before he starts to tell the famous tempo story from Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey’s TV show, when Louis said “Not too slow, not too fast, just half-assed.” Unfortunately, that statement was still too hot for the censors in 1957 and there’s an abrupt elimination of the punchline! It’s still a sweet moment as Louis pays tribute to both Dorseys as “the finest and the greatest.”
The tribute to Jimmy Dorsey took up the rest of the tape, necessitating a third catalog page, seen below. After the broadcast, the radio played two Count Basie recordings from the 1940s, “Rambo” and “You Can’t Run Around,” the latter featuring Jimmy Rushing “swing sings.”
The front and back of Reel 31 feature a couple of excellent offstage photos, one with an unidentified female fan and one of Louis about to scarf.
Accession Number 1987.3.331
Reel 32 seems to pick up right where with Reel 31 ended, opening with the second of another Count Basie-Jimmy Rushing recording, “Jimmy’s Blues.” This is followed by a dub of Music on a Silver Platter, an album by the Mary Kaye Trio. On the previous tape, the disc jockey mentioned the Mary Kaye Trio, mainstays of the lounge scene in Vegas, so it’s possible that she crossed paths with Pops and dropped a copy of her 1956 album on him. Then it’s off to another 1956 release with a dub of Harry Belafonte’s landmark Calypso album, opening with “Day-O.” Then it’s back to Basie’s 1940s sides that internet research shows must have been a dub of the 1960 Columbia compilation Basie’s Best!! A Collection Of Immortal Performances. (It’s great to see Armstrong notate the Basie sidemen names below.)
For side 2, we travel back in time to Armstrong’s first ever tour of Germany in 1952 for a rollicking tape made at the West Berlin home of jazz fan Hans Bluthner. Louis explains that he needed to buy a new tape recorder to deal with the different voltage available overseas, but promised to leave the tape recorder with Bluthner and his family before he left (he says that “any man with over three thousand records should put them on tape!”). He even passes the microphone around and lets members of Bluthner’s family, in addition to members of the Hot Club of Berlin, speak, a charming gesture. While Armstrong and those present party in the background, someone–possibly Bluthner himself–starts spinning a series of jazz classics: “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (Art Tatum),” “The Man I Love” (Coleman Hawkins), “Sweet Lorraine” (Coleman Hawkins); “Rosetta” (Charlie Shavers), “The Man I Love” (Charlie Shavers), multiple selections from Louis’s February 1947 Carnegie Hall concert (most definitely not commercially available at the time), “Who’s Sorry Now” (Benny Goodman Orchestra), the V-Disc of Louis and Jack Teagarden doing ”Ain’t Misbehavin’” on April 26, 1947 and “Reminiscin’ with Louis” with Art Ford from the same broadcast, “Reminiscing at Blue Note” (Earl Hines) and finally, “Flying Home” (Art Tatum). Make a Spotify playlist with these numbers and you can’t go wrong (though you’ll be missing the sounds of Louis and the Hot Club of Berlin in the background!).
A genuine collage for Reel 32 with Louis and Lucille posing with a group of unidentified fans up top and Louis (in shorts) rehearsing with Danny Kaye in The Five Pennies in the middle.
Louis and Lucille being interview on television in Buenos Aires in 1957 (wish video survived!), though the fans in the background seem to be part of the collage, not part of the broadcast photo.
Accession Number 1987.3.332
Speaking of South America, Reel 33 opens with Louis once again recording the radio, this time from Santiago, Chile. We haven’t been able to identify every recording but it includes “Ciribiribin” (Longines Symphonette Society), multiple numbers by Jerry Fielding, including “Gypsy in My Soul”, “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie,” “All I Do is Dream of You,” “Contented”(Louis hums along), “Me and My Shadow” and “You Couldn’t Be Cuter,” plus unidentified versions of “Don’t Be That Way,” “Memories of You,” “June Night,” “I Love Paris” and “Campanillas.” Where Louis writes “Jazz Jazz Jazz,” he’s referring to the Dutch Swing College Band’s recordings of “King Porter Stomp” and “Original Dixieland One-Step,” while the rest of the reel includes “Moonlight Serenade” (Kurt Edelhagen and Sein Orchester), “Flash” (Harry James) and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (Ray Anthony).
Side 2 stays in Santiago, Chile, but this time focusing on two long-playing recordings, with selections from George Siravo and Hal McIntyre’s Dancing in the Dark, followed by Louis’s own Ambassador Satch.
Speaking of Ambassador Satch, the iconic cover photo of Louis makes an appearance on the front of the tape box. I have faith in our readers that someone will identify the female that takes up most of the space. It’s inscribed, but Louis put his tape number directly over the heart of the inscription (though “To Satch,” “admiration” and “May” can be glimpsed). I think this might be an easy one and I have a guess or two but will wait for someone out there to confirm…
Louis, always the life of the party, and more fans on the back.
Accession Number 1987.3.333
I like when we pick up where we left off, as it eliminates the detective work (though that’s a lot of fun, too). In this case, “Tiger Rag,” the Ambassador Satch closer, opens here, continued from Reel 33, before Louis switches gears and dubs his friend Redd Foxx’s LP, Laff of the Party Volume 1. Then Armstrong switches the radio back on to tape a show on WHRV of Norfolk titled ”House Party Jam Session” featuring wild versions of traditional jazz warhorses ”Tin Roof Blues,” ”I Found a New Baby,” ”Royal Garden Blues” played by members of the Norfolk Dixieland scene that turn up zero results on Google (anyone know of pianist Tom Leopold, clarinetist Dick Modern, trombonist Bob Shanahan?). After a snatch of “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby” from Satch Plays Fats, Side 1 concludes with a pair from Sammy Davis Jr., “Hey There” and “This is Love Forever.”
We turn to side 2, which Louis erroneously refers to as “Satch 2” below! It opens with Italian pop singer Ray Martino performing “Quarto Di Luna.” Upon the conclusion, Louis starts it over and plays along with it, one of the true highlights of all the tapes and one that was a mainstay of almost every tour of the Louis Armstrong House Museum from 2003 until about 2018, when it was swapped out for a different recording of Louis playing along with a different Ray Martino record. By 1970, Louis could no longer remember the name of the song but he knew it was important to notate “Satch Plays Along” in the catalog record. Then, after his 1951 Decca single of “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” with Gordon Jenkins, the rest of Side 2 contains a dub of the Decca All Stars album Satchmo at Pasadena and a few selections from Satchmo at Symphony Hall, before turning the last few seconds of the tape over to Stutz Anderson in the Gotham Hotel in Detroit, to be continued on the very next tape.
No photos on either side of the box for Reel 34 but plenty of tape!
Accession Number 1987.3.334
Reel 35 picks up with Stutz Anderson at the Gotham Hotel in Detroit, reading the results of Down Beat‘s first annual critic’s poll. Unfortunately, the sound is abysmal on this tape so it’s difficult to hear what is going, but there’s much conversation up front (including one of Louis’s first utterances of the phrase “Swiss Kriss”), before Louis spins his 1953 Decca single of “Sitting in the Sun” and “The Dummy Song” before repeating the “Quarto Di Luna” Ray Martino sequence from Reel 34. There’s also a wild version (in the worst sound quality ever produced) of “When the Saints Go Marching In” from the ill-fated 1953 Louis Armstrong-Benny Goodman tour, most likely recorded in Washington D. C. when Gene Krupa took over from Goodman. That transitions over to a Washington D. C. Hotel for Louis and his friend Bill Green listening to the radio (including “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton and “Bear Cat” by Rufus Thomas) before Green plays Louis’s 1944 V-Disc of “Jack-Armstrong Blues” and talks about the effect it had on him during World War II. Fortunately, the sound quality improves as an unidentified female reads a letter to Louis sent by Mr. and Mrs. Paul White about religion (it lasts over 10 minutes) before the unidentified female sings “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” After that strange interlude, Tallulah Bankhead offers a monologue, which, in 1970, Louis assumed must have been from her Big Show radio program but it’s actually the December 20, 1952 episode of her television show, All Star Revue, featuring Louis as a special guest star.
Side 2 flashes forward with an unknown live version of “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” definitely featuring the 1954-1955 edition with Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw and Barrett Deems (most likely from Basin Street in New York City) before a dub of Joe Bushkin’s 1958 Capitol LP Bushkin Spotlights Berlin. At the end of the reel, we get the tantalizing start of an interview with Louis’s on Bill Leonard’s radio program This is New York from c. 1954, but alas Louis runs out of tape, to be continued on the next reel and for our purposes, to be discussed next week.
We close with two more decorated sides, either with marvelous photos of Louis and fans. (This week, someone sent me a Reddit thread featuring a photo of Louis and two fans who happened to be the poster’s parents; I keep hoping that more folks discover these photos and also write in with discoveries of parents and grandparents (and maybe great grandparents) with Pops!)