Our previous installment–which included six hours of audio of Louis Armstrong on the Mike Douglas Show!–ended on a cliffhanger as Louis ran out of tape on Reel 110 in the middle of dubbing an interview he did with Orson Welles. Well, we’ll cut the suspense today with the audio of that memorable show and a lot more from Armstrong’s very busy summer of 1970.
Accession Number: 1987.3.411
We actually open with a little oddity: Louis Armstrong recording an answering machine message for the “Corona-East Elmhurst Community Cooperation Open Line” in Queens! Imagine calling that number and getting to hear Pops on the outgoing message? Unfortunately, Louis recorded this copy of it at a very low level, so the sound quality is lacking, but he makes up for it by including two takes:
On June 9, 1970, Louis appeared on The David Frost Show for the second time that year (go here to hear the February 10 show). Frost himself had the day off but hosting duties were very ably handled by Orson Welles. Louis comes right out and sings “Cabaret” (which features a trumpet solo by Jimmy Owens, who had given Louis a tape of his own playing just 10 days earlier during one of the sessions for Louis Armstrong and His Friends, as chronicled here). Armstrong and Welles then have a rollicking discussion that touches on police in New Orleans (Louis says, “They’d whip your head first, then ask you your name”), the Karnofsky family, and maybe the most hilarious discussion of Swiss Kriss Louis was ever a part of. There’s even enough time for Louis to sing “Mack the Knife” at the end–listen to the whole thing below (oh, and Welles’s introduction is going to sound a lot more familiar to a lot more folks in just a few weeks as it serves as the opener for the upcoming Apple-Imagine documentary, Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues, which begins streaming October 28–check out the trailer, which includes a glimpse of Welles, here):
From there, Louis turns to one of his own recordings, something we haven’t seen in quite some time (after a span of weeks where that was all we featured). He was clearly a big fan of The Real Ambassadors and this time dubbed a bunch of tracks that were originally left off the original 1962 LP, including “Nomad,” “You Swing Baby,” and a couple of Carmen McRae solo features that had finally seen the light of day by 1970. He then began copying the original album before stopping…to record yet another memorable talk show appearance!
This one occurred on June 12, just three days after the show with Welles, and was Armstrong’s third guest spot on The Tonight Show in 1970–but for those who have been keeping score, it’s also the third time Johnny Carson had the night off. On February 13, Joan Rivers was the guest host (heard on Reel 88 here), on April 3 it was Flip Wilson (listen to it on Reel 100 here) and for June 12, it was Tonight Show regular (he appeared on it 140 times) David Steinberg.
Armstrong comes out and sings “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” which features some relaxed playing by Doc Severinsen and members of the Tonight Show Orchestra before he joins the panel and the fun begins. Armstrong is immediately taken by fellow guest, dancer “Little Egypt.” Armstrong reminisces about having a ball in Egypt and talks about the ovation he got in Lebanon in 1959 (he also alludes to the fact that his Jewish bass player at the time, Mort Herbert, could not play with the All Stars there).
Armstrong then launches into one of the most entertaining discussions of his love life, chronicling all four of his wives and getting many laughs along the way. In fact, Steinberg, who is a very funny man, slips in many deadpan, borderline sarcastic jokes himself, but Louis steamrolls over almost all of them with his own quips. When Louis mentions he won first wife Daisy over by asking, “Whatcha say, babes?,” Steinberg repeats it almost incredulously. “Babes, that’s an abbreviation for ‘baby,’ you know,” Armstrong says, getting a big laugh as Steinberg jokes, “No need to get condescending.”
Steinberg eventually sees an opening for a bit and says that suppose he meets a beautiful model on 5th Avenue and wants to connect with her, he should just walk up and say, “How ya doin’, babes,” breaking into an over-the-top Armstrong impression. Armstrong immediately says, “No, you can’t afford that–you’ve got to say something in your little ofay way! This is spade-fied we’re talking about!” The reaction is a mixture of surprise and laughter and even Steinberg, momentarily thrown off, says, “I won’t even go near that.” Jack Bradley was watching at home and was so knocked out by Armstrong’s quickness, he immediately wrote it down in a handwritten note we still have in his collection:
And now, the audio, not heard publicly since June 12, 1970 (though we’re cheating a bit–The Tonight Show sent Louis a pristine copy of the audio of the broadcast but when Louis dubbed it to Reel 111, his levels were a bit off and the sound was a little murky. But he later dubbed it again on Reel 148 in the original pristine sound and that’s what we’re sharing here. (Oh, and the following guest is the great Gene Wilder, but alas, he doesn’t interact with Louis and the original tape fades early in his appearance.):
By this point in June 1970, The Mike Douglas Show people had sent Louis copies of the complete episodes of all five shows he co-hosted in May 1970, which we shared in full last time, but they also sent him a separate reel with just Louis’s segments from all five shows. Thus, if wading through six hours of Jack E. Leonard and Cesar Romero and Shari Lewis was a bit overwhelming, here’s nearly a full hour of all of Louis’s songs and interview segments from that week–pure gold!
Phew, that’s a lot of audio we’ve already shared and we just completed Side 1 of Reel 111! Here’s Louis’s catalog page summing up all of the above:
Side 1 of Reel 111 documented a very busy first half of June for Armstrong, but that was nothing compared to what was coming down the pike. On July 4, Armstrong would celebrate his 70th birthday (no need to rehash the birthday controversy here). The press began arriving to his Corona, Queens home in late June to interview and photograph him for a series of stories that would run on the Fourth (the famous photos of Louis on the front steps with the neighborhood kids were taken by Chris Barham in late June). Armstrong would then take his first major flight in nearly two years when he would celebrate his actual birthday at a concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, doing a series of television appearances while on the west coast. One week later, he’d be feted at the Newport Jazz Festival, at which point he’d finally return home to rest–and catch up on his tapes.
Thus, Side 2 opens with a surprise: the complete, finished album of Louis Armstrong and His Friends. Armstrong recorded it over three sessions in late May (detailed in the first four posts on this page) and producer Bob Thiele rushed it out to have it in stores around July 4, making its first appearance on Louis’s tapes here.
That same week, on July 8, WOR radio host Jack O’Brian did a segment with James J. Flynn, author of the recently published book Negroes of Achievement in Modern America, and famed African American librarian Augusta Braxton Baker. When Flynn brought up Armstrong, a discussion broke out with O’Brian telling stories of his friendship with both Louis and Joe Glaser, Glaser’s handling of Armstrong’s finances, and accusations of Armstrong as an “Uncle Tom” (the deceased columnist O’Brian chooses not to name is Dorothy Kilgallen). O’Brian must have wanted Louis to hear it so he had the Direct Recordings company send a copy of the segment to him–here’s the audio:
Next up, another treat. On June 7, 1970, Armstrong had his first reunion with his All Stars (well, most of them) since September 1970, filming a half-hour performance for the CBS television program, Dial M for Music, hosted by Father Norman J. O’Connor. O’Connor attended the sessions for Louis Armstrong and His Friends and perhaps asked Armstrong to appear on his show then; 11 days later, the cameras were rolling (it should be pointed out that O’Connor wrote some scathing reviews of Armstrong back in the 1950s, lamenting that he was no longer a jazz musician, but he put those feelings in the past, sounding genuinely appreciative of Armstrong’s appearance).
Armstrong sounds quite happy and energetic throughout the broadcast, telling some of his favorite stories (which don’t seem to connect with the small audience, though they’re still funny) and calling the reunion of his All Stars “a birthday present.” Trombonist Tyree Glenn, clarinetist Joe Muranyi, and pianist Marty Napoleon all returned to the fold but CBS didn’t want to pay to fly bassist Buddy Catlett or drummer Danny Barcelona in from the west coast, so their places were taken by New Yorkers Al Hall and Jo Jones (though Armstrong, from habit, mentions that he kept referring to Hall as “Buddy Catlett” that week).
Armstrong was still not cleared to play trumpet so he sticks to vocals, including a touching, slower than usual “What a Wonderful World.” Remember that Joe Glaser left Armstrong all of his shares in his International Music publishing house after he died, so Armstrong made a large share of extra money every time he performed one of his own compositions, hence we get two more versions of “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” and “Pretty Little Missy” here. The whole show, which aired on July 5, 1970, is a good one, but the video has not turned up, at least not publicly (the Paley Center for Media in NYC apparently does have it). Like the David Steinberg clip, Louis’s dubbing on Reel 111 was a little hot and muffled so instead we’re sharing the watermarked audio of the master tape CBS sent him of the broadcast, with commercials–enjoy!
Towards the end of the broadcast, Armstrong notices Jack Bradley “snapping away” out there with his camera. The full set of negatives Bradley shot of this broadcast have sadly not turned up but he turned his three favorite images into prints and it’s definitely worth sharing them now:
After so many goodies–this has to be the record for the most audio clips we’ve shared from a single tape–Reel 111 ends with something a little different: a demo reel of compositions and arrangements by trombonist Hale Rood. Did Louis run into him maybe in Los Angeles in July 1970? Did Rood send him the reel? It’s a mystery but we’ll have more Hale in the forecast later in this post. For now, here is Louis’s catalog page for Side 2:
After such an action-packed reel, one would hope for a spectacular collage, but no, it’s a plain box with Armstrong interestingly signaling out Dave Brubeck’s “Nomad” (or “Desert No Mad” as Louis writes it) out of all that material contained within:
Accession Number: 1987.3.412
Reel 112 is something totally different and once again, I find myself playing the speculation game. Armstrong and disciple Bobby Hackett spent some quality time together at Newport on July 10, 1970 and perhaps during that time, Hackett gave Armstrong a tape of the All Stars live at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi on October 7, 1959, I’m assuming originally recorded by Mike Gould, who gets a credit in the catalog page. This is a commercially unissued recording of that edition of the group, with Trummy Young, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Kyle, Mort Herbert, Danny Barcelona, and Velma Middleton, which must have put Louis in a nostalgic mood, hearing his old band–and old trumpet playing–in fine form. We’re not sharing any audio from this show here but perhaps now is a good time to remind you that if you register for a free account on our Digital Collections site, you can listen to watermarked audio of every single one of these tapes! All of you have to do is be logged in (please don’t “Add to Basket” or request personal copies or downloads) and search for the accession number, in this case 1987.3.412. Here’s the page for Side 1:
The All Stars’s 1959 concert continues on Side 2 before Louis fills up the rest of the side with a dub of trombonist Murray McEachern’s 1957 album, Caress. How that got here, I don’t know, but perhaps it’s a holdover from Armstrong’s Paris Blues days, where McEachern dubbed Paul Newman’s trombone playing. (Also, visitors to the Louis Armstrong House Museum might feel that this page looks familiar; that’s because a facsimile of it has been showcased on Louis’s desk in his Den since we opened 19 years ago this week!)
Here’s the tape box, with Louis’s handwriting on the front:
On the back, is that Hackett’s handwriting? The date is wrong–it’s definitely 1959, not 1957–but it’s nice to know the tape was given to “Pops” as an “Extra Special” gift:
Accession Number: 1987.3.413
Speaking of Newport, we are now past the famous July 10 tribute in honor of Louis’s 70th birthday. Louis had multiple tapes of the show, which we’ll get to in the coming weeks, but the first one he dubbed was an NBC Monitor radio broadcast hosted by Murray the K. We’re actually not going to share the audio now–but only because we originally shared it back in this post from 2020, which has more details and photos of that memorable night in Newport. For now, though, here is the catalog page for Side 1:
Side 2 opens with demo recordings of two bizarre Christmas songs, “Christmas Will Be Here” and “On Santa Claus Island” that Louis must have passed on (it’s possible they were written by Hale Rood, since his name makes an appearance on the top of the catalog page). That’s followed by two artifacts of Louis’s 70th birthday celebration, the first a short “Distinguished American Salute” that aired on KABC radio in Los Angeles on July 3. The second involves a little more backstory. Louis and Lucille arrived early in California for the big birthday show at the Shrine on July 4. While there, Louis filmed an appearance for Sun City Scandals, a primetime special hosted by Johnny Carson and airing later in 1970 (we’ll get to it later in this series). During a break in the filming, Armstrong, relaxed and wearing a yellow bathrobe, sat down on the set for an interview with an NBC broadcaster. Armstrong’s again in great spirits, talking about his health, his upbringing, and the Karnofsky family once more (though he dodges a question on “race prejudice,” clearly not wanting to go down that road on a celebratory occasion). At the end, the reporter asks Louis if he had to play one final song, what would it be? Armstrong responds with “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” and breaks into an energetic vocal, complete with scat ending; NBC sold this excerpt to news organizations around the world, including BBC, who used it during their segment on Louis’s 70th (which is how I know Louis was wearing a yellow bathrobe!).
Here’s audio of both the short KABC tribute and the complete NBC interview:
Armstrong spent the rest of Reel 113 playing catch-up, dubbing Pete Fountain’s Make Your Own Music LP that he probably received when the two were on The Mike Douglas Show in May. He followed that with another single by his friend, Italian singer Lara Saint Paul, before finally dubbing the Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace a Chance,” which he initially used to prepare for his recording of it on Louis Armstrong and His Friends. Here’s the page:
Armstrong’s catalog system goes slightly awry on the front of the box for Reel 113. The box is the Direct Recordings container for the NBC broadcast of his Newport tribute, as heard on Side 1, but he lists Louis Armstrong and His Friends, Jack O’Brian and Dial M For Music, which actually made up Side 2 of Reel 111–oops!
Accession Number: 1987.3.414
Reel 114 was sent to Louis by friend and fan, Millie Hoffman, who had been attending All Stars shows since the early 1950s (our Archives recently acquired photographs and other artifacts from her friendship with Armstrong; she was also a well-known Sinatra devotee). Hoffman recorded an episode of Ed Brady’s “Brady Bandstand” that aired on KNBR-San Francisco on the occasion of Armstrong’s 70th birthday. It’s a fine two-hour program with Brady taking listeners through Armstrong’s life, reading excerpts from Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans and playing lots of recordings–so many, in fact, that Armstrong seems to have not even bothered trying to catalog it, as you’ll see below.
But there’s one fun little portion that’s worth sharing, when Brady called Floyd Levin, who helped put on the birthday concert at the Shrine, and spoke with him about that event, the Louis Armstrong Statue Fund, and Louis’s overall health (Levin was surprised by how well Armstrong was doing) before Louis gets on the phone for a brief, but heartfelt chat. Here’s the audio:
Here are the mostly blank catalog pages:
And Hoffman’s original tape box with a label on the front and her address on the back:
Accession Number: 1987.3.415
To fully appreciate the contents of Reel 115, you must go way back to Reel 92, which we discussed here. On that reel, Louis dubbed one side of an LP about the 1969 “Miracle Mets” and one side of Dizzy Gillespie’s album, The Real Thing. Here we are, 23 tapes later…and we finally get the second side of The Miracle Mets and Dizzy’s Real Thing. Why the delay? I don’t know but wonder if Louis made this reel at the time he made the other and then misplaced it or forgot to catalog it, finally finishing the job in the summer of 1970 (he even notes “Continued From Rl 92 Side 2”). With space remaining, Armstrong dubbed a 1961 Decca LP compilation, Fletcher Henderson’s Swing The Thing Volume 2 (1931-34). Here’s Side 1:
The Henderson album concludes at the start of Side 2 before Armstrong reaches for something completely different, a brand new X-rated release by his friend Redd Foxx, Bare Facts (make sure no children are around if you click that link). Foxx’s Sanford and Son would premiere in January 1972, six months after Louis passed; if he had lived longer, you know he would have made multiple appearances on that beloved sitcom!
Armstrong finishes off Reel 115 with another Decca compilation, this one from 1967, Duke Ellington’s The Beginning: Volume One (1926-1928), running out of room before completing it.
The box for Reel 115 features more Armstrong recycling as it originally housed the Jack O’Brian radio show, dubbed to Reel 111 (and accidentally listed on the cover of Reel 113):
The Ellington album will conclude on Reel 116, to be covered in our next installment–thanks for reading and (hopefully) listening!