This is the latest post in our ongoing series analyzing the reel-to-reel tapes Louis Armstrong made between 1969 and 1971–catch up on the whole series here and see below for Reels 56 through 60.
Accession Number 1987.3.356
Last time out, Armstrong was in the mood to listen to his own music, something that is only amplified in today’s selection of tapes. In fact, you could make a pretty great playlist out of the material included on Reels 56-60, containing nothing but gems from Armstrong’s later years.
Reel 55 included a dub of the Decca 2-LP set Satchmo at Symphony Hall that I believed was complete, but Louis ran out of tape during the closing “Boff Boff” drum feature for Big Sid Catlett so it was natural to start Reel 56 with that immortal performance in full. From there, Armstrong pulled a Verve compilation, The Essential Louis Armstrong, containing a selection of performances from 1957 with Russell Garcia’s Orchestra or Oscar Peterson’s quartet. Side 1 concluded with the first part of another live Decca LP, Satchmo at Pasadena, continued on Side 2. Armstrong then dubbed the complete 1968 album What a Wonderful World before sneaking on two tracks from the second side of 1955’s At the Crescendo Volume 1 at the end of the reel. Here’s Louis’s catalog pages:
As in our last post, Armstrong was fixated by the coverage of the recent release of the film Hello, Dolly! On the front is a photo of himself and Barbra Streisand at the premiere, as clipped out of Jet magazine’s January 6, 1970 issue.
The back cover features more Hello, Dolly! publicity material, perhaps from a program, with a color photo of Louis and a short bio of sorts recounting Armstrong’s history with “Dolly”:
Accession Number 1987.3.357
Reel 57 naturally continued with the rest of At the Crescendo, finishing Side 2 before flipping it over to get the first side (odd that Louis struggled with the spelling of Billy Kyle’s “Perdido,” considering he grew up on Perdido Street in New Orleans). The live goodies continued with another immortal compilation, RCA Victor’s Town Hall Concert Plus, a combination of live tracks recorded at Town Hall in 1947 and studio recordings Louis made for RCA in 1946 and 1947. Continuing the theme, Side 2 concludes with a Columbia LP this time, Ambassador Satch. It appears that when certain musicians were featured and caught his ear, Louis wrote their names down; look out for mentions of Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Johnny Hodges and others on the RCA listing, while Billy Kyle and Trummy Young get shout-outs for their work on Ambassador Satch:
For the collage, Armstrong reached back to a Philadelphia Daily News article originally published on July 3, 1969, a day before he celebrated his 69th birthday. It’s actually a very insightful profile and Armstrong liked it enough to spread it across three tape box sides, actually beginning on the rear of Reel 58 and then filling up both sides of Reel 57 with the rest. It’s a bit of a jumble and the Scotch tape doesn’t help the situation, so we’ll type it and post the full text at the end of this post.
The conclusion of Ambassador Satch opens Reel 58, before Armstrong turns back to Verve for a dub of the first record of the 2-LP set Ella and Louis Again (note another funny brain fart, as “I Won’t Dance” becomes “I Want to Dance” on the bottom of page 1 and somehow transforms into “All of Me” when repeated at the top of page 2!). Perhaps wanting to switch it up, Armstrong then alternated the first side of At the Crescendo Volume 2 with the third side of Ella and Louis Again before going back for side 2 of At the Crescendo!
As already mentioned, the 1969 Philadelphia Daily News profile that made up the front and back of Reel 57 actually begins on the back of 58. But it’s the front cover that is worth discussing. At first glance, it appears to simply be a beautiful photo of Lucille Armstrong, popping against the green of the original tape box, framed by a copious amount of Louis’s white athletic tape. A closer examination shows that Armstrong also reused part of a greeting card from his wife, cutting out the words “To Pops With Love, Lucille Brown Sugar” and placing them over Lucille’s head. Just under that to the left is the logo for the Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires, where the Armstrongs stayed–and made tapes together–in the fall of 1957. But the biggest surprise is an almost hidden glimpse of Louis’s smiling face placed in the center of Lucille’s dress–with a trumpet appearing to go through the center of his head! At the very bottom, an inscription from Louis to Lucille’s best friend Lossie Smith: “FOR ‘YOU’ Lossie. FROM ‘US’ Lucille + Louis. P. S. NO ‘CRACKS’ AS TO THE POSITION OF THE TRUMPET.” We can assume Lossie never received this dedicated collage, but we’re happy Louis repurposed it on Reel 58!
Accession Number: 1987.3.359
Armstrong’s alternating continues on Reel 59, opening the with conclusion of side 2 of At the Crescendo followed by side 4 of Ella and Louis Again. The soundtrack to High Society follows, with Armstrong getting detailed in his cataloging, before heading back to Verve for a dub of Louis Under the Stars, concluded on Side 2. Another soundtrack follows, this one for The Five Pennies, before Louis concludes Reel 59 with the bulk of the 1960 Audio Fidelity album Louie and the Dukes of Dixieland.
Armstrong’s longtime manager and friend Joe Glaser was on his mind while making these particular tapes. Glaser passed away on June 6, 1969, and Armstrong had a tribute made, “In Memory of Joe Glaser Who Did So Much For So Many.” Armstrong clipped it out and framed part of it for the front of Reel 59.
The back of Reel 59 is devoted to more material from the film Hello, Dolly!, a collage made out of a color photo of Armstrong and Streisand together, with the title of the film placed diagnoally in the ceter of them:
Accession Number: 1987.3.360
The later Louis Armstrong party continues into Reel 60 with the conclusion of Louie and the Dukes of Dixieland followed by Armstrong’s other Audio Fidelity album, Satchmo Plays King Oliver. Side 1 ends with a Columbia classic, Satch Plays Fats, which spills onto Side 2 before Armstrong spun another Russell Garcia Verve collaboration, World on a String. Continuing the strings mood, Armstrong followed with Decca’s Louis and the Angels before finishing out the reel with the start of a Decca compilation, The Best of Louis Armstrong, made up mostly of tracks from Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography. (Don’t worry, Armstrong eventually starts exploring other albums that he wasn’t involved in–the results will surprise you!–but for now, it’s charming to picture him at home in early 1970, semi-retired and out of the limelight, turning mostly to his 1950s albums for inspiration.)
The tribute Armstrong penned for the late Joe Glaser that started on the front of Reel 59 concludes on the back of Reel 60: “In Memory of A Real Great Man, My Manager and Pal, Mr. Joe Glaser, The Best Friend That I Have Ever Had. May the Lord Bless him and watch over him always. From His Boy and Disciple who loved him dearly, Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong.” Glaser makes an appearance on the front of Real 60 in a photo with Louis and Joey Adams taken at Armstrong’s Carnegie Hall tribute on December 2, 1965. There will be more Glaser tributes to come; there have been attempts to paint a portrait of Armstrong as bitter and resentful in his final days, especially towards Glaser, but the tapes, letters, and scrapbook tributes he left behind tell a different story.
Found in one of Louis’s scrapbooks is a beautiful color photo of Louis in his den taken sometime in 1970. Armstrong is standing by his shelves of tapes and holds one for the camera–it’s this one, Reel 60!
As can be glimpsed in that photo, Louis had a lot of tapes he was working with in this period and we’re going to continue to try to get through all of them. But first, as promised, we’ll conclude this entry with the text of that 1969 UPI/Philadelphia Daily News profile–enjoy!
Old ‘Satch,’ 69, Happy ‘One More Time’
Kids and the Cats Adore Him
By Mark Scheinbaum
NEW YORK (UPI)–Not since the Pied Piper has one horn player had so many followers.
To the children of 107th st. in the Corona section of Queens who gather with their parents and grandparents in the afternoon to listen to Louis Armstrong play, “Ambassador Satch” who’ll be 69 years old tomorrow is a living god.
Satchmo (“Don’t go puttin’ no quotes ’round that name”) is grudgingly taking the advice of his wife and physicians, and planning a quiet summer at the 12-room Armstrong home in Queens.
For the neighborhood, when Louie’s home (it’s the first time he’s been home for his Independence Day birthday) the two-story brick house become s a temple for Satchmo worshippers.
“The kids and some of the cats (Satch’s jazz colleagues) are always poppin’ by but mostly I’m takin it nice and easy ’til September” Satch said in a pre-birthday interview.
His birthday this year finds Armstrong relaxing in a manner most of his fans would have thought impossible. As he put it: “I’ve never had a rest like this in my life.”
Looking slim and trim and sipping a cup of tea (“looks like the ol’ prohibition days, don’t it?”) the man whose pearly teeth glitter hugely at being called Ambassador Satch said, “I’m getting regular meals, sleeping regular hours, and taking it easy, jus’ like the doctors ordered.”
Satch, who got his name from Mississippi riverboat patrons in the early ’20s who called him “Satchel,mouth” and “Dippermouth” was hospitalized earlier this year for a slight kidney infection His wife of 29 years, the former Lucille Wilson, keeps a careful eye on Armstrong’s diet and schedule but refuses to admit she pampers the man some call the greatest trumpet player of all time.
“Well, let’s just say after 29 years of marriage you get to know a man, and I know that this man likes to do, and create things on his own,” Mrs. Armstrong said with a wink of her eye.
Often the unsung hero behind the worldwide legend of Louie Armstrong, it’s Lucille, his fourth wife, who has taken over Satch’s personal affairs and correspondence since Joe Galser [sic] , longtime friend and manager of Armstrong and other greats, died this spring.
Plans for a birthday celebration at the Armstrong home call for “all them things goin’ off.”
Satchmo explains, “The kids in the neighborhood might use those fireworks and stuff, but they know not to overdo it, cause ol’ Satch needs his rest.”
Mrs. Armstrong added, “We may go out to dinner, or maybe just whip up some home-fried chicken, and relax. We’ve had this house for 28 years and I think this is the first time Pops (as his intimates call him) has been home. Last year we were playing Leeds, England and the British newspapers threw a big birthday bash.”
“Yeah them cats were really swingin’ and diggin’ my stuff,” Louie added.
Talking about his world tours, Armstrong said he saw no country in which he would like to live permanently. “It’s the U. S. for me.”
He found many places were ecxiting and exotic, and even once thought about buying a few acres of land in Ghana where he said ex-President Kwame Nkrumah warmly received him.
“I was surprised when they dumped that man–he was a real cat,” Satch said of Nkrumah. “That king in Thailand, he’s a real cat too, blowin’ his horn with Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman. But Nkrumah, man, it’s like when you put that cat and when he come back you’ve changed the lock on the door…”
Satchmo, handing out packets of the Swiss Kriss laxative which along with a diet he created, he says keep him fit, walked into the study designed by his wife.
Two speakers embedded in a suspended ceiling unleash the sounds from $5,000 worth of stereo equipment, and a collection of tapes any jazz buff would conservatively call priceless. Opposite Satch’s large desk hang his two gold records, “Hello, Dolly” and another few Americans have ever heard.
In a powder blue case embossed with the flat of the United Nations, Louis proudly displays the one millionth copy of a record he cut for the U.N. to help “world refugees.” Engraved in gold, the first song on the label simply says: “Lazy River–Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby.”
Other mementoes include a miniature trumpet his fellow patients at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan gave him this year.
The Armstrong house, furnished with crystal chandeliers, extra deep pile carpeting, portraits of Louis, Satch’s renowned mirrored bathroom, and two schnauzen–“trumpet” and “trinket”–is literally filled from basement to attic with Satchmobilia.
“We’re redecorating, and I don’t know what we’ll do with all the things, thank God Pops gives so much of it away,” Mrs. Armstrong, an attractive woman who has traveled around the world with her husband, remarked.
Every four or five years Satch gives away one of his old trumpets, usually to his old New Orleans Orphans Home. Now called the Municipal Orphans Home, the best trumpet player in the school receives the prized gift of a Louis Ann-strong trumpet .
“When I went there (for shooting a .38 pistol loaded with blanks on New Year’s ‘ Eve 1913) we had this school band. They gave me a bugle to play and then a cornet. The only reason they gave it to me was cause a bigger kid who played it went home and they figured since I hung out with King Oliver I’d know what to do with it.”
Just to prove he knew what to do with it, the hazy afternoon air of a Queens street filled with a 10-minute rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” When he finished, the meticulous Satch performed the “Ritual of the Bathtub.”
Wrapping one of his famous handkerchiefs around the trumpet he ran the hot tap on the bathtub through the horn: water (instead of music) went “round and round” and splurted out the mouthpiece. He repeated the ritual three times, once with each valve depressed and with each large bubble quipped, “Look, yup, there goes another bad note.”
Satch’s “modified schedule” of playing in the afternoon, ,walking around the neighborhood, attending a few nightclub acts, singing at benefits, answering fan mail and keeping healthy still leaves time for television.
“I catch the evening news shows, and of course the old movies, and the ball games” Satch said.
“We’re really Mets fans in this house but Louis sometimes watches the Mets and the Yankees at the same time on two different sets,” Lucille added.
When it comes to politics and today’s society Satch still holds to his thesis of five decades that music cuts across all boundaries. Of the Beatles and other such groups he says, “I can’t understand that electronic music, that don’t mean it’s bad, but it’s hard to understand when your life’s been playing something else.”
Asked if he thought that Louis Armstrong, as one critic put it, has influenced all of today’s music and all the rock groups, Pops answered:
“There’s an essence of Satch in every group, but they won’t admit it.”
Leaning back in his easy chair and putting aside his horn Satch, started rubbing his cracked lips with salves and ointments, a process which he credits with the longevity of his Gabriel-like lips. With a smile he commented,
“Gotta eulogize them lips, now try and spell that one.”
Finally, what were his thoughts on turning 69?
Flashing the Satchmo smile and clapping his hands together, he replied in a deliberate elongation of the Armstrong guttural gravel voice: “Man, I’m happy for one more time . . . yeah . . . one more time!”