Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 36-40

After today, we will have tackled the first 40 tapes Louis Armstrong cataloged in the last two years of his life. For those who would like to catch up, here are links to Reels 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30 and 31-35. All five of today’s tapes contain a hodge-podge of material originally recorded in the 1950s but the collages are all from c. 1970 and they’re uniformly terrific.

Reel 36
Accession Number 1987.3.335

When we left off last week, Armstrong tried squeezing his “This is New York” radio interview onto the end of Reel 35. Having run out of time, he began Reel 36 with the full 15-minute segment, dating from around 1957 given its references to High Society and Edward R. Murrow’s documentary Satchmo the Great. This was followed by a compilation of radio and television bloopers.

After that, Canadian pianist Nick Aldrich appears out of nowhere, addressing Armstrong, hoping he enjoyed those bloopers and then introducing some Ella Fitzgerald records which Aldrich felt “to be are among the best she has ever sung.” The records in question are her Decca duets with Ellis Larkins so there’s no argument here! After “How Long Has This Been Going On” and “Looking for a Boy,” Aldridge introduces a rare Decca 78 of two Billy Kyle piano solos from 1939, “Finishing Up a Date” and “Between Sets” before introducing a live recording of Knocky Parker and Doc Evans, Classic Jazz at Carleton. Armstrong does pretty good with the titles in his catalog page but for the sake of completeness, Side 1 includes “Dippermouth Blues,” “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” “Coney Island Washboard” and “Keep a Knockin'” (described below as “The Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.”)

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Having run out of time on Side 1, Armstrong opens Side 2 with Parker and Evans’s “The Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” before Nick Aldrich returns to introduce two Bessie Smith recordings, “I Used to Be Your Sweet Mama” and “My Man Blues.” Aldrich then promised some music by his “New Tramp Band” and mentioned putting in the good word with Joe Glaser and hoping to work together soon. Unfortunately, Aldrich’s machine malfunctioned and the next sound is him apologizing that none of the recordings came out! Instead, Aldrich and friends Jacques, Max, Oliver and Louie made an audio letter for Louis. Aldrich also brought his family on tape, though he mentions his wife Madeline being afraid to talk on the microphone. Aldrich then thanked Armstrong for a tape he sent him of their conversation in Winnipeg, which appears on another reel but unfortunately, only survives in abysmal sound. Overall, the Aldrich segment lasts about a half hour and then is repeated in its entirety.

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Attention New York Yankees fans and historians: the front of Reel 36 features Louis with Phil Rizzuto and Joe Collins, posing at the Blue Note in Chicago at some point in the early 1950s!

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We don’t know who is on the back of the box with Louis but judging by the background, it’s another shot from the Blue Note.

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Reel 37
Accession Number 1987.3.336

Armstrong must have been nostalgic for his old friend from Montreal as Reel 37 opens with another dub of Aldrich’s audio letter from the 1950s but this time, actually includes music from Aldrich’s band, poorly recorded, but including “A Night in Tunisia,” “Lover Come Back to Me,” and “Tenderly.” After a heartfelt closing by Aldrich, the tape is turned over to unidentified folks who wish Louis a Happy Birthday, before explaining that they’re about to share a recording of radio and television bloopers–yes, the same ones from Reel 36. The Louis of 1970 dubbed it for a while before realizing the repetition and stopping the tape (you can hear the wheeze of his 1970 machine being turned off). He then returned to the 1950s tape, which originally contained dubs of two Marion Harris recordings, “Why Couldn’t It Be Poor Little Me” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” This is followed by a tantalizing minute of Armstrong reading a passage of his 1954 autobiography Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans but he stops to dub four Decca sides, “Chlo-E,” “Skokiaan Part 1,” “Skoiaan Part 2” and “Cold, Cold Heart.”

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Having run out of tape during “Cold, Cold Heart,” Armstrong opens Side 2 with the full recording of that number, plus the flip side, “Because of You,” followed by another big Decca single, “I Get Ideas” and “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.” This is followed by an oddity, a rehearsal disc of “Who Needs What Moonlight” introduced by Tallulah Bankhead and sent to Louis to help him learn the song, which he performed on All Star Review on December 20, 1952. Then its back to 78s with a pair from Armstrong’s Boston buddies, the Jones Brothers, “Oh Lord How Long” and “Among My Souvenirs” followed by Nat King Cole’s “Dream a Little Dream,” “There! I’ve Said it Again,” and “Rough Ridin’.” The rest of the reel contains recordings from the 1952 Clef album The Astaire Story.

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The recordings might have come from 1952, but the tape box is a fresh one made up of a clipping of Louis in the bathroom of his Corona, Queens home, as featured in the New York Daily News on February 4, 1969. The all-mirrored bathroom was a brand-new installation at that point and Louis showed it off on an NBC television segment, but he was sadly back in intensive care a few weeks later.

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I wish I knew who the two gentlemen are on the back cover but it sure is a hip photo–check out the crown floating above Louis’s head!

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Reel 38
Accession Number 1987.3.337

The Astaire Story continues on Side 1 of Reel 38. Louis’s reference to “Jonah Jones Blows Trumpet” is an error as it’s actually Charlie Shavers who is featured on that album. (For those curious about listening to this tape, this is one that Louis must have dubbed a few different times using unorthodox methods–normally a microphone aimed at a speaker–so it’s basically unlistenable. Goodness knows what he thought listening to it again in 1970 but he was at least able to make out the track titles.)

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The Astaire Story continues throughout side 2 before a very interesting segment from 1957. For those who have heard the 2018 set of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recordings, Cheek to Cheek, there’s a sequence where Armstrong valiantly tries to record “Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess” with Russell Garcia’s orchestra for the Porgy and Bess album. After struggling for a few takes, Armstrong was allowed to leave the studio while producer Norman Granz recorded just the orchestra playing the arrangement once as written and then again with the piano playing the melody in single notes. Those performances were sent to Armstrong, who listened to them frequently, training like a boxer before delivering the definitive vocal at his Verve date on October 14, 1957. This tape contains the instrumental recordings of “Bess.”

And then it’s back to 1952 at the end for one of Louis’s favorite tapes, but again, one that is virtually unlistenable, a recording of the show at the Apollo Theater on Christmas Day in 1952. Armstrong set up his tape recorder backstage and captured a set by the All Stars, Christmas music by Sy Oliver’s big band, comedy by Mantan Moreland and Bud Harris and more. He referenced it on multiple tapes but this particular version is hard to listen to (you can hear it in somewhat better sound if you have an account on our Digital Collections site with the accession number 2016.91.9).

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More fresh c. 1970 collages for an old tape. Anyone know the band on the front? Looks like they could be European–would be great to identify them!

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No help needed on the backside with an autographed image of British vocalist Beryl Bryden. For those who read our look at Louis’s scrapbooks made during this same period, you might recall that Bryden visited the Armstrongs at home in the summer of 1970 and was pleased that Louis was listening to one of her albums when she got there. We’ll get to that album in due time (it appears on Reel 78) but it’s possible that Bryden sent this photo along with the recording, probably not knowing it would eventually be turned into a collage.

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Reel 39
Accession Number 1987.3.338/1987.3.353/2016.91.8

The reason for the three accession numbers above is because this might be the only instance of a tape getting shuffled around at some point. 1987.3.338 contains the recordings as described below but it’s in the box labeled Reel 53. Meanwhile 1987.3.353 contains the correct box for Reel 39, but has the recordings Louis lists for Reel 53! However, what’s heard on Reel 39 is another of those sadly unlistenable dubs that Louis made for some reason in the 1950s…but this one has a happy ending! Louis gifted the original tape in excellent sound quality to pianist Jimmy Laing in 1957 and it was donated back to the Louis Armstrong House Museum in 2016! Thus, to actually hear what it originally sounded like, again, go to our Digital Collections site and listen to accession number 2016.91.8 (and as mentioned above 2016.91.9 contains the original tape of the Apollo show and more so at least listenable copies miraculously surfaced in recent years!).

All confusion aside, we’ll discuss Reel 39 as Louis intended, with Side 1 containing more from the Apollo in 1952 before a run of different material: “Ain’t it the Truth,” his feature from Cabin in the Sky (that was cut from the film), a comedy recording, “Silent George,” Bix Beiderbecke’s “In a Mist” and Ray Martino’s “Quarto di Luna.” This is followed by a recording of two women, Corinda Smith and Bella Lamar, visiting Louis to tell him about the African American soprano singer Mary Frances Crowley. They play Crowley’s records for Louis and ask for any help he can offer. Very touchingly, he offers to play them for every “impresario” he will meet on his upcoming tour of Europe (most likely Fall of 1952). “I always like to see the newcomers get a chance,” Armstrong says. “This lady, all she needs is a chance.”

Armstrong then recorded a conversation with Dotsie Crouch, wife of his Los Angeles friend, nightclub owner Stuff Crouch, mentioning he was about to leave for Europe. And just like that, the next recording is of Louis and Lucille in their Berlin hotel room on October 13, 1952 having a conversation with Guergen Rovermann [sic?]. The night before, Louis had performed for the first time in Berlin (the results of which can now be heard on the Dot Time LP Live in Germany) so he’s excited to share his impressions of Germany. After the long conversation, Armstrong recorded a rhythm and blues radio show off of Germany radio, dubbing “Walkin’ and Talkin’ (And Crying My Blues Away)” by Dinah Washington and “Tremblin’” by Wynonie Harris. That concludes the Berlin portion of the tape but what Louis describes below as “German Jazz” is actually a dub of the 1958 album by Japanese clarinest Shoji Suzuki, The Rhythm Aces Recital at Yamaha Hall Tokyo.

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Side 2 continues with the rest of the Shoji Suzuki recording before again reverting back to the early 1950s for more Louis dubbing records. First up is a French tango, followed by a recording of “Lili Marlene,” both by an unidentified vocalist. Then it’s over to Dorothy Lamour for “Perfidia” and “Adios Marquita” (Louis warms up on his mouthpiece in the background of each; perhaps we’ll include it in a follow-up to our post on Louis warming up) and Jimmy Durante for “Fugitive from Esquire” and “My Nose’s Birthday” (Jimmy Durante) before all roads like back to himself with another dub of “I Get Ideas” and “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” (he loved his Decca singles).

And then it’s a long segment devoted to Nellie Lutcher recordings, including “Fine Brown Frame,” “Hurry on Down,” “What a Difference a Day Makes,” “I Want to Be Near You,” “Birth of the Blues,” “That’s a Plenty” and “I Never Get Tired of You.” It’s a wonderful sequence as Louis cannot hide his enthusiasm for Lutcher’s music, singing along on “What a Difference a Day Makes” until it sounds like a duet, shouting, “You broke it up, Gate” at the end of that recording and saying, “Bravo, Nellie” after “Birth of the Blues.”

Then it’s back to himself for yet another Decca glimpse, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” with Gordon Jenkins, before a dub of what he calls “a real beautiful album,” Art Tatum’s 1955 Capitol compilation, Encores. Armstrong then goes in disc-jockey mode, finally mentioning his location (a suite in Hull, Canada) and joking that Lucille thought he was talking to himself! He closes by dubbing RCA’s 1953 recording of Porgy and Bess, featuring his old male vocalist from the big band days, Leslie Scott.

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Another tape box collage, another fun photo of Louis with fans at the Blue Note in Chicago in the early 1950s!

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This is an interesting photo on the back as Louis looks pretty bored at whatever event he is attending. Ernie Anderson can be partially spotted behind Armstrong, meaning this is most likely somewhere in Europe, where Anderson handled Armstrong’s publicity.

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Reel 40
Accession Number 1987.3.339

Reel 40 picks up where Reel 39 ended up, with the complete dubbing of Porgy and Bess from Louis and Lucille’s suite in Hull, Canada. Something special follows, an acetate disc of “Dixieland Jambake” on WDSU in New Orleans paying tribute to Louis on the occasion of his 50th birthday in 1950. After an enthusiastic introduction by announcer Roger Jones, a crowd sings “Happy Birthday,” before it’s swung by Armstrong’s old boss, Oscar “Papa” Celestin. Celestin then gets on the microphone to personally wish Armstrong a happy birthday and swings “Panama” with his Tuxedo Jazz Band before Sharkey Bonano plays “Dippermouth Blues” with his own band.

Then it’s back to recordings, yet again opening with the 1951 Decca “When it’s Sleepy Time Down South” before a pair of 1950s numbers by the aforementioned Beryl Bryden, “Kansas City Blues” and “Casey Jones” (quite a compliment on the catalog page to see Louis, listening in subpar fidelity years later, believe it’s Bessie Smith) followed by two 1956 sides by former All Stars drummer Cozy Cole, “A Terrible Sight” and “Hound Dog Special.” Side 1 ends with four unidentified numbers in Spanish, most likely recorded during or after Louis’s 1957 tour of South America, described below as “Sweet Songs.”

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More music, music, music on Side 2 as Louis continues to spin singles in the mid-50s, opening with Gary Crosby’s “I Found Your Letter” and “Till Then,” followed by Louis and Gary Crosby’s 1955 duets on “Ko Ko Mo” and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” Billie Holiday’s coupling of “If the Moon Turns Green” and “Autumn in New York,” Delores Hawkins’s “Smoky Morning” and “No Such Luck” (in 1970 Louis didn’t remember who it was and thought it could be “Lena or Sarah”) and a couple of demo discs of silly holiday songs that went unrecorded, “Trick or Treat” and the “Santa Claus Reindeer Express.”

A mystery record follows, though my goodness did I spend hours trying to solve it. It’s a gospel record, most likely from c. 1954 like a lot of the other records on this tape. Louis calls it “Teach Me Lord” and indeed, in the horrible sound quality, it does sound like a quartet chanting “Teach Me Lord” over and over while a female singer really starts wailing over it, a la Mahalia or Aretha. But the first two minutes or so, before the repetition kicks in, features a standard 1950s chord progression with a bridge plus the record definitely ends, Louis flips it over and there’s a part two, opening with a guitar arpeggio and almost three solid minutes of “Teach Me Lord” repetition with the female singer shouting to the heavens. “Teach Me Lord” is a gospel song (this is not the 1957 version by the Roberta Martin Singers) and Google shows numerous 45s with “Teach Me Lord” from the 1950s but I don’t see any listed with “Part 1” and “Part 2” which makes me wonder if they’re actually singing “Teach Me Lord” or if it’s “Keep Me Lord” or something similar. The jury is out but if we solve it, I’ll update the post.

The terrible sound quality also caused Louis to guess “Billy Eckstine Sings” in his 1970 notes, but what follows is actually an obscure 1954 single by Joe “Papoose” Fritz singing “Cerelle” and “If I Didn’t Love You So.” And what Louis denotes as a “rhumba band” is actually Chris Powell and Blue Flames doing “Sweet Sue Mambo” and “Uh Uh Baby” also from 1954 (jazz fans know Powell mostly from his “I Come From Jamaica” with Clifford Brown but he recorded several R&B numbers in the 1950s).

And finally, after that wild run of singles, we get a full fledged album with Castle Jazz Band’s 1959 release The Five Pennies, released to coincide with the film of the same name and featuring “Dixieland” versions of “The Five Pennies,” “Back Home Again in Indiana,” “Ja Da,” “Follow the Leader,” “After You’ve Gone,” and “That’s a Plenty.” The abrupt jump to 1959 after a series of mid-1950s releases in subpar sound is further evidence of my theory that Louis got a new tape recorder in 1958-1959, began cataloging from scratch and made the error of dubbing his earlier tapes with the dubious method of placing a microphone in front of a speaker before erasing many of the originals. This explains why a lot of the tapes today a) sound like hell and b) feature 30-40 minute chunks from a definitive year–1952, 1957, etc.–before jumping around. Bless Pops for the effort of trying to consolidate his collection by combining so many of the earlier reels but by diminishing the sound quality of each dub, he really did damage many of his original outings. Nobody’s perfect!

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We close today’s fairly long post (so many singles) with two delightful collages, again, fresh ones from 1970. On the front is Louis and Tyree Glenn on an airplane c. 1968.

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And on the back, Louis discovered a newspaper clipping about Lucille during her time being featured in the London production of Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds in 1936, years before she met Louis. Lucille also had a copy of this clipping in a separate scrapbook but Louis must have come across a duplicate and couldn’t resist adding it to the back of Reel 40.

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That concludes our in-depth look at the contents of Reels 36-40. See you next Friday for Reels 41-45!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

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