Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 41-45

I finished the last installment in this series with a promise to return with more “next Friday” but personally, I’m having so much fun digging through these tapes that I immediately started working on this piece and have it ready to publish today instead. Why wait–let’s dig in!

Reel 41
Accession Number 1987.3.340

Reel 41 picks up right where Reel 40 left off with a dub of the 1959 Castle Jazz Band album of tunes featured in the film The Five Pennies. Next up, Armstrong spins the 1959 compilation Columbia Jazz Festival, a pretty terrific mix of material that once again illustrates Louis’s big ears. For those who want to replicate the tracks, the album features “El Gato” (Duke Ellington), “Festive Minor” (Gerry Mulligan), ”Satin Doll” (Lionel Hampton), “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (Miles Davis), “Liza” (Teddy Wilson), “Fallout” (Joe Wilder), and “Happy Session Blues” (Benny Goodman). However, at that point Louis stopped the LP (for the completists, the rest of it features “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” by Dave Brubeck, “Swinging at the Copper Rail” by Buck Clayton and “Hello, Young Lovers” by J. J. Johnson) and instead began recording an episode of Club Checkerboard right off the television. For those who don’t know, this was a Saturday morning show emanating out of Hollywood and featuring organist Earl Grant. Louis recorded all the announcements and commercials, plus Grant performing “Autumn Leaves,” “The Lonesome Road,” “C Jam Blues” and “The Birth of the Blues.”

After the conclusion of Club Checkerboard, Armstrong fired up the phonograph again to record Alice Babs and Ulrik Neumann’s album When the Children are Asleep. This item was released in 1958 but my guess is Louis picked it up during his tour of Sweden in January 1959 and dubbed it while in Hollywood (judging from Club Checkerboard) in the second half of 1959.

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Armstrong got a little carried away with his cataloging, describing some of the contents of Side 2 on the above Side 1 sheet, but the truth is, he only got the first part of the Babs album on Side 1 before finishing at the start of Side 2. Armstrong then spun what appears to be (judging by the track order) a Jolly Roger bootleg LP of his 1928 recordings with Earl Hines, King Louis Armstrong Volume 2. Again, for those who’d like to listen along, the tracks are “Fireworks,” “Two Deuces,” “Symphonic Raps,” “Savoyager’s Stomp,” “Sugar Foot Strut,” “Skip the Gutter,” and “St. James Infirmary.”

Then Armstrong went way back for some pre-Jazz Age singles, starting with Collins and Harlan’s 1917 recording of “Darktown Strutter’s Ball,” followed by “I Wonder What’s Become of Sally” by Al Jolson from 1924, “I’m Going Way Back Home and Have a Wonderful Time” by Anna Chandler from 1916, the politically incorrect Irving Berlin parody “Lucia Sextette Burlesque” recorded by Billy Murray and Marguerite Dunlap and the Vaudeville Quartette in 1912, Collins and Harlan again on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” from 1911, and finally, two more by Jolson, “That Haunting Melody” of 1911 and “Back to the Carolina You Love” of 1914.

Armstrong then switched back to the TV to catch a broadcast of Giants of Jazz with guest star trombonist Joe Yukl, who played the trombone parts for Jimmy Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story. Perhaps Armstrong was tipped off that Joe was going to be on the air? He recorded almost the entire broadcast, complete with commercials for Burgermeister Beer, and caught the band doing warhorses like “Royal Garden Blues,” “Tin Roof Blues,” “Basin Street Blues,” “Nobody’s Sweetheart,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the latter two featuring the great New Orleans-born vocalist Lizzie Miles.

Armstrong then grabbed a copy of a transcription disc of his performance of “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” from the 1959 film The Beat Generation and dubbed it twice in a row (it’s a wonderful version with an extra helping of trumpet but is sadly not available online, though it did come out as a single on MGM if you can find it). Finally, Reel 41 ends with a bit of the All Stars in concert in absolutely horrendous sound quality featuring the 1959 edition of the band (Louis, Trummy Young, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Kyle, Mort Herbert and Barcelona). Even though the sound is virtually unlistenable, Louis’s power comes through on “Ole Miss,” followed by Billy Kyle’s “Girl of My Dreams,” “Hucko’s “Autumn Leaves” and a bit of “Black and Blue” before the tape runs out.

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A terrific four-photo collage on the front featuring Louis with fans backstage in the top left, trumpeter Chris Clifton on the top right, “Ambassador Satch” on the bottom right and a clipping of Guy Simone, Sol Yaged, Al Walker and Cozy Cole on the lower left side.

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On the back, a photo of an unidentified man posing with Louis’s first cornet from 1913 in New Orleans (now on display at the New Orleans Jazz Museum) and a German promotional photo of Louis from 1959.

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Reel 42
Accession Number 1987.3.341

Reel 42 continues with the 1959 All Stars concert in terrible sound (it’s so poor the Louis of 1970 gave up and just wrote “Mumbo Jumbo” at the top of his catalog page. For those keeping score, it opens with a medley of “Black and Blue” and “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans,” followed by Mort Herbert’s feature on “Love is Just Around the Corner,” “Mack the Knife,” “Twelfth Street Rag” and Danny Barcelona’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy” before coming to an abrupt stop. At this juncture, it appears Armstrong once again reached back for an older tape, capturing his Washington D. C. friend William Green and members of Green’s church recording themselves singing a number of songs for about 45 minutes including “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” “America the Beautiful,” “Because,” “I Love You Truly,” “Somebody Bigger Than You and I” and “So Wonderful.” Green appeared on a number of Armstrong’s tapes from c. 1953-1954 so this is most likely from around that time.

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Side 2 opens with a run of radio music from 1954, including “Hammer Man” by Kitty White, “Nothing in Common” and “Paris Holiday” by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, “My Shining Star” by Patti Russo and something definitely called “Mama’s Boy” (but I’ve been unable to find the artist). Then after the strains of Armstrong’s 1933 RCA recording of “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” a radio disc jockey brings Armstrong on for an interview, a few hours before he was due to perform at the Custer County High School Gymnasium in Mile City, Montana. It’s a fine interview, peppered with Armstrong’s recording of “You’re the Apple of My Eye,” “I’m Confessin'” and “Blueberry Hill.” Armstrong talks his first tour of Australia from November 1954 so this is definitely December 1954-January 1955. It’s a relaxed, extended interview with Louis talking about Paris and Italy, his autobiography, Bunk Johnson and the future of jazz. Then it’s back to the radio for two selections by Mantovani, “Du Und Du from ‘Die Fledermaus'” and “Sangue Viennese.”

But then, probably the next night, the scene switches to Billings, Montana for another interview, though this time Louis brought along Velma Middleton, Barney Bigard, Trummy Young, Billy Kyle and Barrett Deems, all of whom get to speak about playing with Louis. There’s a lot of interesting talk about the brand new album Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy, with the All Stars still rightfully very much proud of their efforts on that 1954 Columbia date.

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LAHM 1987.3.341
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Reel 43
Accession Number 1987.3.342

Reel 43 is alas, one of the more problematic tapes as the entire thing is barely listenable thanks to Louis’s dubious dubbing methods–but there is a happy ending which we’ll get to in a minute. First, it opens with the conclusion of the Billings, Montana interview from 1954, already in poorer sound than the previous reel. Next, we’re in San Francisco where Louis recorded some commercials and radio music, including “She’ll Never Know” by Red Foley and the Andrews Sisters and an orchestra performing “Whispering.”

But then the scene shifts suddenly to the sound of a piano playing “Night of the Quarter Moon.” This sets up a long, interesting sequence in which Louis eventually turns up and begins rehearsing the number with the pianist. I am fairly certain the pianist is Jimmy Laing, who played the lounge at the Sands when Louis headlined the main room there in the summer of 1957. Upon leaving the Sands, Louis gave Laing his tape recorder and a series of reel-to-reel tapes, which we mentioned in our last post were all donated to the Museum thanks to the generosity of Morris Bianchet and Katie Yu in 2016. This entire sequence is included on one of Laing’s tapes in better sound so it’s most likely him at the piano. But the backstory is even more interesting as Armstrong must have been seriously considered for the role of Cy Robbin in the MGM film Night of the Quarter Moon , which went into production in September 1957 and was released in 1959. If you’re familiar with the film, the role eventually went to Nat King Cole, who recorded the titular track for Capitol in February 1959. But when this tape was originally made, Louis was working on not only learning the song, but also the script. After going over the song several times (Louis really sings the hell out of it), the man I’m assuming to be Laing picks up the screenplay and reads several pages of dialogue, pointing out the pages when Louis is utilized. Alas, it didn’t come to be and we’ll never know why; perhaps Joe Glaser lost a bidding war with Cole’s manager Carlos Gastel or maybe Louis couldn’t fit into the shooting schedule since he was overseas the first six months of 1959. Either way MGM made it up to him with a small role in The Beat Generation, filmed and released around the same time.

After this, it’s back to the Apollo Theater for the tape Louis made on Christmas Day in 1952, a tape we discussed in our last entry since Louis had already dubbed it once in poor sound quality. Somehow, it sounds even worse here, but like the “Night of the Quarter Moon” segment, a somewhat better sounding copy of what must have been the original tape was given to Laing and is now at the Museum as part of the aforementioned 2016 donation (for those who would like to listen to the better fidelity versions of these tapes, the “Night of the Quarter Moon” rehearsal can be found on our Digital Collections site at accession number 2016.91.3 and the Apollo tape is 2016.91.9).

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With the start of Side 2 of Reel 43, the location shifts to Louis’s dressing room in Cincinnati, which is surprisingly where we will stay put for the duration of this post. Louis must have been feeling pretty good and must have had tape to burn because he turned on the machine here and recorded enough material to take up at least three full tapes. Unfortunately, much of it is music recorded off the radio; at one point, Louis recorded the news and judging by the headlines, we can actually date these tapes as coming from May 11, 1953, when Armstrong was touring with Gene Krupa’s Orchestra, after Benny Goodman backed out of the tour in late April. An unknown female friend enters in the middle and stays for the duration but her and Louis’s conversation is mostly indecipherable under the music.

But there are a few personal touches that are worth mentioning. Right off the bat, Louis introduces Cincinnati territory bandleader Zack Whyte and his brother John. They reminisce about Louis fronting Whyte’s band in 1930 with young Sy Oliver on trumpet and talk about sharing the bill with Bennie Moten, Chick Webb, Blanch Calloway and Johnson’s Happy Pals (there’s also an enthusiastic endorsement of Bisma Rex, Armstrong’s antacid of choice). But then the radio comes on, catching the end of a piano showcase on ABC before a full broadcast of “Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye” commences. Armstrong recorded the entire program (we’ll leave out the track-by-track listing, which included a reading of the Shakespeare sonnet “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day”) and continued through the next show, which focused on Percy Faith sound recordings.

But if you notice below, you’ll see Armstrong wrote “mouthpiece warming” and then added the word “Horn” next to “If I Loved You.” Indeed, it’s a jackpot, Louis warming up and eventually playing along with the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic from Carousel. We’ve mostly left audio clips out of this series but if you’re still with us at this point, we think we owe you a gift. Sound quality isn’t ideal so if you’d like to hear the Faith version as it was recorded, you can listen to it on YouTube here. But if you’d like to hear Louis Armstrong play along with that record, look no further:

Click here to create a free account and listen to the rest of this tape on our Digital Collections page
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A terrific collage on this one, made up of an ultra-rare snapshot of Louis and Jack Teagarden at the historic Town Hall concert of May 17, 1947, alongside a fun photo of Louis scarfing.

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On the back, Louis and some friends take up the top spot, but the bottom is reserved for a fun photo of Louis and legendary bassist Milt Hinton, an All Star from July 1953 through early 1954.

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Reel 44
Accession Number 1987.3.343

The radio music from WSAI in Cincinnati (1360 AM) continues on Reel 44, opening with more Percy Faith music before switching to a shows devoted to first, Ray Anthony, and second, Lyn Murray recordings. At some point, an unidentified female friend enters and talks with Louis for the rest of the tape and through the never few reels. At one point he turns the music down to tell a joke and mentions Lucille (the woman says she looked familiar and probably remembered her from her dancing days) and Louis talks briefly about Lucille, mentioning the tantalizingly mentioning the “horn comes first” before turning the music back up and obscuring the rest of the conversation. (In 1970, Louis wrote “Satch Talks Louis–Chick,” but by the then, even he could no longer recall her name.) Louis also notes the entrance of “Prince Gary,” who was originally his driver in Hawaii but talked his way into a job, spending much of 1953 traveling as part of Louis’s entourage. We don’t know anything else about him (including his full name or what happened to him), but he shows up on many tapes from that year.

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After the blocks devoted to Percy Faith, Ray Anthony, and Lyn Murray, WSAI’s programming got a little more varied on this side, that is after the news, station identification, and an appearance by Betty Crocker with the recipe for a hot and cold salad. These recordings are a little more interesting, so we’ll run ’em down: “Love is Just Around the Corner” (Benny Goodman), “Dream of You,” “I’ll be Hangin’ Around” (Les Brown), “I Am in Love” (Nat King Cole), “The Honey Jump” (Sauter-Finnegan Orchestra), “I’m Falling in Love with Someone” (Mantovani), “Uska Dara a Turkish Tale” (Eartha Kitt), “Send My Baby Back to Me” (Judy Garland), “My Heart Stood Still” (Dorothy Collins), “Wedding Day” (Joe Marine), “Ohio” (Edia Adams, Rosalind Russell), “Without a Memory” (Judy Garland) and “You Too, You Too” (Bobby Capo).

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More fun collages for Reel 44, with a drawing of Louis on the cover that appeared in most of his publicity manuals with the All Stars, plus a clipping from the San Angelo Standard-Times from May 31, 1959 (coincidentally, the reason we were able to identify the date of the audio content of the tape was a news report of a historic tornado in San Angelo, Texas on May 11, 1953).

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Another photo of Louis dining, enjoying a drink at what appears to be a spot in Europe (anyone know it? We have a few from this meal).

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Reel 45
Accession Number 1987.3.344

Another reel, yet more radio music played over WSAI in Cincinnati on May 11, 1953. For those keeping at score (Louis sums everything up generally in his notes, but leaves out most of the details): “Say You’re Mine Again” (June Hutton), “My Funny Valentine” (Jackie Gleason Orchestra), “720 in the Books,” “Mule Train” (Spike Jones), “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” (Benny Goodman, Helen Ward), “Return to Paradise” (Percy Faith), “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” (Harry Kari), “Ruby” (Les Brown), and leading off the program Variety Time, “Just One of Those Things” (Tommy Dorsey).

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Finally, we leave Cincinnati on Side 2, though I should mention the conversation continues elsewhere for three more reels. Those reels were not copied by Louis so will not be part of this series but they’re worth exploring because the music eventually simmers down and the conversation heats up; again, head to our Digital Collections page to follow it all on the reels located at 1987.3.188, 1987.3.189 and 1987.3.203.

But for now, Side 2 brings us somewhere different but exactly where is a bit of a mystery. The entire side is devoted to a record spinning session with friends, including collector Stanley Kilarr. I’ll admit, I was unfamiliar with Kilarr but this excellent blogpost by Patrick Van Griethuysen tells the story of this record collector pretty thoroughly. On the tape, everyone present in an animated mood (perhaps aided and abetted by some liquid substances) as Kilarr spins samples from his Armstrong collection, occasionally discussing the pressing he is playing (an English Decca of “Skeleton in the Closet” titled “Skeleton in the Cupboard” for example). At one point, Kilarr gives his address in Klamath Falls, Oregon, but I don’t believe that’s where the tape originates. Louis also identifies one of the other voices as Canadian pianist Nick Aldrich, who we heard on several reels a few weeks ago, but I’m not convinced it’s him. He also writes that the first part was done in Honolulu, mostly because at the end of “To You Sweetheart, Aloha,” Louis yells, “Aloha!” Kilarr also gives his personal address in Klamath Falls, Oregon, which is what Louis uses at the top of his 1970 catalog page. But at one point, Kilarr mentions that they’re in Louis’s dressing room at the Riverside Hotel, which Louis also notes in his 1970 catalog page, identifying that location as Reno. And that seems to ring true as one of the unidentified voices introduces Kilarr as “the world’s greatest record collector” and adds that he “deals craps” as a side job.

Wherever or whenever it was recorded, it’s all Louis, so we leave the likes of Percy Faith and Spike Jones aside and close today’s entry with this killer run of Armstrong recordings: “Sweethearts on Parade,” “Rockin’ Chair,” “When Your Lover Has Gone,” “You Can Depend on Me,” “I Can’t Believe That I’m in Love With You,” “Chinatown, My Chinatown,” “You’re Lucky to Me,” “Tiger Rag,” “To You, Sweetheart Aloha,” “Darling Nellie Gray,” “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” “Skeleton in the Closet,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Tiger Rag,” “Old Rockin’ Chair,” “Saint Louis Blues,” “Yes, I’m in the Barrel” and “Laughing Louie.”

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And finally, we close with two more photos of Louis and fans, including some soldiers. Who they are has been lost to history but they surely never forgot this encounter.

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LAHM 1987.3.344

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

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