Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 86-90

Last time out, we featured the first installment in this series that included no collages at all, just Armstrong putting new reel numbers on the original boxes. We made up for it by sharing lots of rare audio and are happy to report that the collages return today–and so will the rare audio. Let’s begin!

Reel 86
Accession Number 1987.3.386

Reel 85 featured a dub of the 1965 Columbia Records 3-LP set, Jazz Odyssey: The Sound of New Orleans, which was most likely sent to Louis on tape as he was left to make many guesses while listening and cataloging. Columbia followed up in 1967 with Jazz Odyssey: The Sound of Chicago, which takes up Reel 86. It’s the same story as Louis is forced to use his ear, guessing at song titles and personnel. There’s a lot of “Fast One,” “Slow One,” and “Blues,” but Louis correctly identifies Earl Hines, Frank Teschmaker, Roy Eldridge and others (though there’s a few guesses at Bix Beiderbecke which are wrong as Bix doesn’t appear on this set). Like last time, I did my best to create a Spotify playlist to replicate the experience, finding 44 out of 48 songs (Bud Freeman’s “Craze-o-logy” was mislabeled “Three Little Words”; Spotify did not have Benny Meroff’s “Smiling Skies” (with Boyce Brown), Charles LaVere’s “Ubangi Man” (with Zutty Singleton), and the concluding two Horace Henderson sides, “Chloe” and “Swingin’ and Jumpin'”). Here’s the link to the playlist and you can see the complete discography here:

Here’s Pops’s playlist–make note of the very top and I’ll come back to that in a second:

LAHM 1987_2_23~188

Side 2 opens with what Louis calls “Old Hits from Yester Years” without any individual songs listed, but a careful listen to the actual tape shows that it actually begins with a dub of the 1956 Epic LP Johnny Dodds and Kid Ory, heavy on the New Orleans Wanderers/Bootblack sides that basically featured the Hot Five without Louis. That’s immediately followed by another 1956 Epic LP, Ellington Sidekicks, with 1930s small group sides by the likes of Rex Stewart, Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, and Barney Bigard.

For whatever reason, Armstrong didn’t choose to catalog the individual songs on both compilations–I’m still going with my conspiracy theory that the Jazz Odyssey sets and the Epic LPs and even a bunch of the George Avakian-produced reissues we covered last time were all sent by a friend (all of the above-mentioned released were put out by Columbia–maybe Frank Driggs? Chris Albertson? John Hammond?) to Louis on tapes without any discographical information; we don’t have the actual physical LPs of any of these sets in our Archives and Louis was usually pretty thorough in listing song titles.

As proof of that, look no further than the LP that concludes Reel 86, another dub of Adagio Lamentoso And Other Orchestral Works by Alfred Eisenstein a rare LP of the Great Vienna Broadcasting Orchestra conducted by Ladislaus Varady, which Louis had already dubbed on Reel 78. Louis is pretty thorough in his cataloging here, taking everything right off the LP sleeve.

But two other notes are worth pointing out–again, the very top of the page, which I’ll get to soon, and the address and phone number of an unknown person in nearby East Elmhurst, Queens. A quick Google search shows the address is still an apartment building so we’re left to guess who lived there in 1970, when Louis, perhaps on the phone, needed to jot down an address and phone number and only had his tape catalog in front of him!

LAHM 1987_2_23~189

Okay, finally we can get back to the collages and to the little handwritten notes on the top of both of the above catalog pages that describe the collages on the outside of the box. We’ve only seen Louis do this once before, with a photo of himself with his mother and his sister that appeared on Reel 68, but here he is, doing it again, letting us know that the front features “PHOTOS – LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND JOE GLASER” and the back features “LOUIS ARMSTRONG–LUCILLE ARMSTRONG–THE POPE.” And he wasn’t kidding–here are two terific collages!

LAHM 1987.3.386
LAHM 1987.3.386

Armstrong was obviously still hurting over the death of his longtime manager Joe Glaser, who, if you’ve been following this series recently, was a frequent presence on many of the tape boxes Louis made in 1970, the same year Armstrong put Glaser’s photo in one of his scrapbooks and added a handwritten annotation “The Greatest” and My Manager and Best Friend.” A recently published book that is getting a lot of publicity repeats the old story that Armstrong was bitter after Glaser passed, promising to “bury” him (and not in affectionate way), but again, the materials Armstrong himself made in his spare time tell a different story.

The photo on the reverse comes from 1968, when Louis and Lucille, as well and Lionel and Gladys Hampton, had an audience with Pope Paul VI while in Italy for the San Remo Song Festival. Louis had just recorded four songs in Italian and brought a copy of the LP to lay on the Pope. He also looks very reverent in the photo above, a long way from the “We’re still wailin’, Daddy!” story he used to tell about his visit with Pope Pius XII in 1949.

Reel 87
Accession Number 1987.3.387

Somehow Louis squeezed both sides of Reel 87 onto a single catalog page, which a bit shocking as having added up the running time, this reel is 3 hours and 15 minutes long. What Armstrong describes simply as “Opera” is just the conclusion of Great Vienna Broadcasting Orchestra LP of the music of Alfred Eisenstein that Armstrong started on Reel 86.

But then something much more interesting. Armstrong writes, “At Home in Corona–Statchmo [sic]–under the weather–Lucille–Claudine–Louis Panassie (THE SON OF Hugues)–Experimenting (with) the new Stereo Tape Recorder Which Lucille had Installed for Satch in his Den while he was in the Hospital. What a thrilling surprise for Satch when he came home from the Beth Israel Hospital.” Here’s the page:

LAHM 1987_2_23~190

Wow, where to begin with all of that? In full disclosure, I began a deep dive on this tape about a week ago, making over 20 audio edits and pulling in photos, videos, collages, and other assets from all over our collections. The result was thorough–but so unwieldy that it totally disrupted the flow of this series. The good news? I have taken everything I had already assembled–and even more–and turned it into a separate post that is already ready to go on Friday–come back for that (and maybe take off a day of work to fully ingest it)!

As a preview, the tape with Louis and Claudine Panassie was made on May 16, 1969, an interesting time in Louis’s life as it was soon after he got back home from his second stint in intensive care at Beth Israel Hospital. While there, Joe Glaser suffered a stroke and was in a coma for a few months before ultimately passing away on June 6, 1969. Thus, Louis sounds weak and a bit subdued during his conversation with the Panassies but he and Lucille are incredibly warm hosts and the tape is filled with special moments, especially where our Archives are concerned with Louis showing off various tapes, collages, and photos in his Den that are still part of our research collections today.

This tape is interesting because it presents a snapshot of the highs and lows of one of the most difficult periods of Louis’s life. 1969 started with the beautiful surprise of a newly refurbished Den with state-of-the-art tape recorders installed but quickly got derailed with that second trip to Beth Israel, the closest Louis ever came to dying. His mind went to a dark place as evidenced by some of the autobiographical manuscripts he composed while at the hospital, but then back home, he was warm and friendly to the Panassies and clearly cheered up by receiving well wishes from fans around the world, including the next entry on Reel 87, which Louis catalogued as “Peter Enrico – Family Band, Leeds, England.”

That is a reference to a sweet tape made the Tomasso family of England, with messages all of the Tomasso children including sons Peter and Enrico. In a story we have told previously on this site, Louis was met at the airport in Leeds in June 1968 by the Tomasso family band and was knocked out by the tone of 7-year-old trumpeter Enrico. When the Tomassos found out Louis was in the hospital, they sent Louis a tape, wishing him well and performing music for him. Here’s a sample of “Cake Walking Babies From Home”:

Enrico Tomasso and family play “Cake Walking Babies From Home.” LAHM 1987.3.387

And here’s the closing “I Used to Love You,” based on Louis’s 1941 Decca recording, with little 8-year-old Enrico going for and hitting that last high note! (I played this for him during a trip to England in 2015 and he remained proud of that closing note–rightly so!) Listen to the very end to hear Tomasso family patriarch Ernie, who also played clarinet:

Enrico Tomasso addresses Louis, plays “I Used to Love You” and conclude the tape. LAHM 1987.3.387

And even after that charming interlude, we’re still not done with Reel 87! These warm moments were soon followed by more darkness as Joe Glaser finally passed away on June 6. Since Glaser seems to be a theme of this post, it’s worth quoting a letter Armstrong wrote to Louisiana-born pianist Little Brother Montgomery on July 29.”I realize that I am behind in my answerings – but Man – I was a Sick Ass, yeah,” Armstrong wrote. “My Manager + My God Joe Glaser was sick at the same time. And it was a Toss up between us who would cut out first. Man, it broke my heart that it was him. I love that man, which the world already knows. I prayed, as sick as I was that he would make it. God Bless his Soul.” He was the greatest for me + all the spades that he handled.”

Armstrong’s friend, CBS engineer Tony Janak–a regular in this series by now–recorded television coverage of Glaser’s funeral and sent it to Armstrong, who mournfully cataloged them onto this reel. Unfortunately, Armstrong ran out of tape before it finished, but here’s the partial audio of what survives:

Incomplete TV News Coverage of Joe Glaser’s Funeral. LAHM 1987.3.388

(If you scroll all the way to the top, you’ll notice that Louis also cataloged a homemade birthday tribute sent to him by V. Edward Brady in 1969 but having run out of tape, that audio actually appeared a few entries ago, on Reel 77.)

After all of that description of the contents of this tape, the collage is a bit anticlimactic–just numbers on a Scotch box, but if you squint and tilt your screen a bit, you’ll notice that Louis had written the details of a July 2, 1968 BBC concert on the front of the box–a concert recording that’s at the center of the conversation with the Panassies–but for some reason, covered it all up with fresh white tape:

LAHM 1987.3.387
LAHM 1987.3.387

Reels 88
Accession Number 1987.3.388

Reel 88 starts off slowly with a dub of the 1968 Columbia “Hall of Fame” 40th anniversary LP album of music from Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928, featuring Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Adelaide Hall, Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, the Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Don Redman, and more.

But things heat up quickly after that with the audio of a series of talk show appearances Armstrong made in February 1970. The timing of this tape is poetic, with Reel 87 capturing a sick Armstrong, in between stints in intensive care, unsure of whether he’d ever perform again, while Reel 88 features an energized Armstrong, telling stories, winning laughs, and singing songs on some of the biggest shows on television. And we’re happy to provide watermarked audio of each appearance now!

First, one of my personal favorites, a long visit to The David Frost Show on February 11, 1970 (the day after Armstrong signed his last will and testament, if you’re curious). Armstrong’s stories about his early days in New Orleans are sensational (though his “always a have a white man to put his hand on your shoulder” allegory clearly unnerves Frost and guest Tony Randall) and sings, “Hello, Dolly!,” “Moon River,” “Blueberry Hill,” and after a reunion with old friend Robert Merrill, a touching “What a Wonderful World” backed only by the piano of Dr. Billy Taylor:

Louis Armstrong on “The David Frost Show,” February 11, 1970. LAHM 1987.3.388

Two nights later, Louis was asked to appear on The Tonight Show with guest host Joan Rivers filling in for Johnny Carson. Louis is again on fire, singing “Mack the Knife” and “Hello, Dolly!” (the latter in a higher key than usual) and telling more stories of his early days, including material about his wives that Rivers gobbles up. Here’s the audio of that entire appearance (with a bonus of Jean Dixon’s interview also included as Louis pops in a few times and actually squeezes his favorite “fortune teller” joke just before the show ends!):

Louis Armstrong on “The Tonight Show,” February 13, 1970. LAHM 1987.3.388

Armstrong was obviously sent a copy of each broadcast on a separate tape but he went to town on Reel 88, opening with the first segment with David Frost, then the complete appearance with Rivers, then back to Frost, then a repeat of “Moon River” (he must have enjoyed it, with good reason), then Side 2 opens with the ending of Frost before a repeat of the complete appearance with Rivers, the complete appearance on Frost and then closing with another repeat with Rivers until the tape runs out!

LAHM 1987_2_23~191
LAHM 1987_2_23~192

No collage on Reel 88, just the reel number and tape speed on both sides:

LAHM 1987.3.388
LAHM 1987.3.388

Reel 89
Accession Number 1987.3.389

A few weeks ago, we featured a few tapes that had obscure demo recordings by obscure songwriters as well as the scores to some Broadway shows, both hits and misses; Reel 89 is of that ilk, beginning with more demos by one Stan Hawkins, whom I cannot find any information about, before Armstrong dubbed Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s score to Look to the Lillies, which premiered on Broadway on March 29, 1970. As I speculated in that last post, a lot of this material was probably sent to Louis with the hope that something would inspire him to want to record it, but that didn’t happen with any of the demos or Broadway shows we’ve encountered thus far.

However, with Look to the Lillies, that’s most likely a gift from the play’s star Shirley Booth. In our last post, we shared a letter Louis wrote to Arvell Shaw on April 20, 1970 in which he related that he was going down to Philadelphia once a week to film an episode of The Mike Douglas Show and eventually, they would string five of the episodes together to make it appear Armstrong was the co-host for a full week. The first episode, probably filmed in early April, featured Shirley Booth promoting Look to the Lillies–but by the time the show aired on May 25, the play had flopped and closed in late April after only 25 performances. Oops….

Next up, something that doesn’t require a lot of preamble, a complete dub of Columbia’s LP The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake, released in October 1969 and still a fairly new release when Louis got his hands on it.

LAHM 1987_2_23~193

Eubie Blake’s album continues on Side 2, before Louis switches to a recording by drummer Ted Easton, who led a popular New Orleans-styled jazz band in the Netherlands, one that backed many friends of Armstrong’s over the years, including trumpeters Nat Gonella and Bobby Hackett. Easton sent Armstrong a photo, which he added to a scrapbook, and a recording made in New Orleans, dubbed onto Reels 89 and 90:

LAHM 1987_2_23~194

Reel 90
Accession Number 1987.3.390

Reel 90 continues with Ted Easton’s before Armstrong switches to another disciple, the beloved cornet-player from San Antonio, Jim Cullum Jr.’s Happy Jazz Band (when Jim Sr. was still in the group) and their Goose Pimples LP Zacatecas. (There’s some marvelous photos and stories of Armstrong with the Cullum’s here.)

Finally, it’s back to Louis for a dub of the Columbia LP Satchmo the Great, the soundtrack to the Edward R. Murrow film of the same name:

LAHM 1987_2_23~195

It’s always worth pointing out when Louis gets chatty in his catalog, here telling us “in Africa THE AFRICANS they sang “All for You, Louis” at the Airport.” After Satchmo the Great, Armstrong had a little bit of time so he closed out Reel 90 with two selections recorded in 1968, his duet with Barbra Streisand on “Hello, Dolly!” and “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Disney Songs the Satchmo Way:

LAHM 1987_2_23~196

No collage on the front of Reel 90, but Louis calls out the recording with Edward R. Murrow:

On the back, something that might raise a few eyebrows, but something Armstrong clearly didn’t want to hide: a Christmas card from Louis’s daughter Sharon and her mother, Louis’s onetime mistress Lucille “Sweets” Preston. For those who haven’t checked it, you can learn more about Sharon Preston-Folta’s story by watching her new film, Little Satchmo and by checking out her website here:

This was one of the most action-packed entries in this series yet, but we’re far from done–thanks for reading and listening along and don’t forget to come back on Friday for the full story of the 1969 tape made at home in Corona with the Panassies!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

One thought on “Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 86-90

  1. thanks for airing these audios. anything with louis is great. i’ve been to the house museum twice, but i live across the country. notice that when louis and barbara sing, she calls him ‘louis’. he was the greatest.

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