Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 131-135

In case you missed it, two weeks ago, we shared a post on Louis Armstrong’s Reels 126-130 that included unedited master takes from Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong, audio of Louis being interviewed by Joe Delaney, the first portion of Louis’s 1970 appearance on The Flip Wilson Show and a hilarious tape with Lloyd Von Blaine that inspired an entire separate post about it. Today’s post will have more from the Country and Western album, more from Joe Delaney, more from Flip Wilson, and some surprising listening choices.

Reel 131
Accession Number: 1987.3.431

Recent reels have been saturated (Satch-urated?) with Louis-related content but with Reel 131, we get back to Louis dubbing a new LP he had recently acquired: the soundtrack of the film musical Scrooge, starring Albert Finney. As surmised last time, we’re in the middle of a quiet period for Louis in late 1970, after the blur of activity that consumed him in September and October 1970 and before he went back to Las Vegas to perform with the All Stars Christmas week. Scrooge premiered on November 5 and the soundtrack was presumably released around the same time, ending up in Louis’s collection and leading off Reel 131, made in November or December 1970.

Armstrong then followed with a compilation of airchecks from his mid-40s big band, released on the Blue Ace label with an infamous Jack Bradley photo on the cover:

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(In case you’re wondering, Louis was most likely not offended by the choice of that photo as a blown-up copy proudly hung in his Den at home for several years in the early 1960s!)

Here’s Louis’s handwritten notes for Side 1 with these two albums (note that Louis was certain he was working on Reel 113 until he realized the error of his ways and crossed out all the “113” mentions and replaced them with “131”):

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The 1940s big band compilation continues at the start of Side 2 before Louis dubs what might seem like a surprising choice: Isaac Hayes’s Hot Buttered Soul! This album was released in June 1969 and became the first million-selling album in the history of Stax Records. Now a year-and-a-half later, Louis wanted to keep up with some of the soulful sounds in the air so he gave it a spin, really taking his type to properly spell “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” in his catalog sheet:

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The box for Reel 131 is a mess. Flipped upside down, it originally contained audio of Jim Grover’s phone interview with Louis from January 8, 1970 about Bix Beiderbecke, which Louis copied to Reel 123 (we discussed it and included the audio here). Louis crossed everything out and finally renumbered it….Reel 113…..before crossing that out and fixing it for good.

LAHM 1987.3.431
LAHM 1987.3.431

Reel 132
Accession Number: 1987.3.432

Reel 132 is technically a continuation of the jam-packed Reel 130, which contained two Joe Delaney radio programs and unedited master takes from Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong. You’ll have to go back to this post to hear those tracks, but while you’re here, the Country and Western masters kick off Side 1 of Reel 132 with four more selections. Armstrong recorded this album over four sessions in early August 1970 and as you’ll see on the tape box below, this reel was sent to him by producer “Cowboy” Jack Clement on August 20. In just under two weeks, Clement identified the master takes and sent the audio to Armstrong before any overdubbed voices or horns were added in postproduction. Most importantly, Clement hadn’t done any fade outs yet. For some reason, almost every track on the album ended with the rhythm section vamping while Louis sang, scatted, improvised, rhymed, laughed, and made jokes until the take was finally waved off. On the final album, each track got a smooth fade out but here we get to hear Louis just going off, sometimes for a full minute or two longer than on the record!

A perfect example is the opening track, “Running Bear,” which is nearly twice as long (6:18) as the version on the LP (3:15). Louis sounds a little ill at ease in the beginning but after the modulation at 1:46, he starts feeling it. At 2 minutes and 30 seconds in, the rhythm section goes into a vamp, which lasted 45 seconds on the record–but went on for 3 minutes and 45 seconds in the studio! I can’t blame them for ending where they did as the one chord vamping gets a little monotonous (and Louis seems to miss the pitch on “Oh yeah,” a rarity), but Louis does sound like he’s having fun, coming up with “bear” rhymes, scatting a bit, urging the band to “Blow, Bear,” and then acting scared that “Running Bear” is on the scene (“What ya gonna do with him!?”). I’ll admit, Louis’s ad lib, “He wants to do the bear hug–that’s not gonna happen,” makes me laugh before the take ends with Louis chuckling and offering a sigh of relief. Here’s the audio:

“Running Bear” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
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“Almost Persuaded” is one of the most emotionally affecting tunes on the finished album, but it does take another sharp turn into the surreal when Louis starts talking about “strange chops” during the closing vamp! The session take doesn’t have the overdubbed background singers and it has about an extra 17 seconds of Louis singing about “crumb crushers”:

“Almost Persuaded” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
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“Miller’s Cave” opened the finished album and set the humorous tone up early as the producers added a heavy echo effect to Armstrong’s voice towards the end to make it appear he was singing from the titular cave. This set up another vamp for Armstrong to do his thing, once again coming up with some more rhymes for “Mr. Miller,” who apparently was a “killer diller” (Can the nonstop rhyming over single-chord vamps be considered early freestyling? Quick, someone write up an academic paper!). Here’s the audio, 21 seconds longer than on the record:

“Miller’s Cave” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
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Our last track from the unedited masters is “Black Cloud,” 30 seconds longer than the final version, those 30 seconds containing one of Louis’s favorite expressions: “a living aspirin!”

“Black Cloud” from the unedited session tape for “Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong.
LAHM 1987.3.432

There’s definitely a good spirit of camaraderie between Armstrong and the Nashville musicians (Jack Eubanks, lead guitar, Stu Basore, steel guitar, Billy Grammer, rhythm guitar, Larry Butler, piano, Henry Strzelecki, bass, Willie Ackerman, drums) throughout the sessions. Associated Press writer Mary Campbell was in the studio for one of the dates and turned in a fly-on-the-wall report on the making of the album and “Black Cloud” in particular that was published in newspapers around the country when the final album was released in late October 1970. Being an AP article, it was edited for length from paper to paper, but this version, published in the Nashville Tennessean on November 8, seems to be the longest:

Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong is not exactly thought of to be a classic LP (though it is a lot of fun, especially when hearing the above stretched out takes), but Reel 132 follows with an out-and-out classic, Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography, one of Armstrong’s favorite sets to listen to and dub to tape. Here, he picks it up with “Song of the Islands,” the third track on Side 6 of 8 and spins it until the end, taking up the rest of Side 1 and the bulk of Side 2 of this tape. (It should be pointed out that Armstrong started a dub of the Musical Autobiography on Reel 39 and, though I know we’re getting ahead of ourselves, Reel 142 contains a dub of a good chunk of the Musical Autobiography and ends with an incomplete “Song of the Islands”; it appears the continuation is here on Reel 135, out-of-order numbering notwithstanding.) Here’s the catalog pages for both sides, but we’re not through with this reel just yet:

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At the end of Side 2 above, Louis writes “Louis Armstrong–Joe Delaney Backstage – International Hotel Las Vegas Nev., 9/18/70.” When we discussed Reel 130, we shared the audio of a finished radio broadcast Joe Delaney aired in Las Vegas with clips of Delaney talking with Armstrong interspersed with music. Well, Delaney also sent Armstrong the raw audio of their unedited conversation and it’s a treat you don’t want to miss.

Armstrong made his comeback with the All Stars on September 8, 1970 and was now talking to Delaney on September 18. For starters, he sounds pretty tired during the first part of the interview, without any of the energy that made his riotous tape with Lloyd Von Blaine so memorable just two weeks earlier. It is my contention that Armstrong fought for two years to get back onstage and play his trumpet again and once he made it back, he was never quite the same. We’ve shared a ton of audio of Louis on television, on the radio, and at home in the summer of 1970 and he always sounded full of life, perhaps climaxing with his jokefest with Von Blaine. But now he was back to the grind, singing and playing every night and just a week into his engagement at the International Hotel, he was already slowing down.

But eventually, he does perk up–and how! The conversation opens with talk about Ella Fitzgerald and Delaney’s campaign to have Ella and Louis reunite in Vegas. Armstrong talks about being “back in the salt mines again” and gets an early plug in for Swiss Kriss, the first of many. Armstrong reminisces about King Oliver, Bunk Johnson, and other New Orleans legends and even talks about Bix Beiderbecke and Bunny Berigan, saying the latter “can’t do no wrong” and how Louis would never play “I Can’t Get Started” (“Not that I couldn’t play it but you don’t do those things.” Louis starts perking up when discussing meeting Lucille (playing for “her buns” at the Cotton Club), his test to see if she could cook red beans and rice and how they eventually “did the vonce.”

This leads to a beautiful section about living in Corona, Queens and watching three generations grow up in his neighborhood. Louis talks about the Tandberg stereo system in his Den and mentions cataloging them, saying, “My life story’s right on that wall.” There’s some talk about reuniting with the All Stars and what it took for Armstrong to convince his doctors that he could play in public again. Asked if he was nervous at the International Hotel, Armstrong says he was never nervous onstage in his entire life.

But a mention of Fletcher Henderson seems to fire something up in Armstrong. He had knocked Henderson the audio letter he made for Max Jones in August 1970 and he continues here, calling Henderson’s Orchestra “just another band” and calling the members a bunch of “hincty cats.” Delaney tries getting him off the subject by mentioning seeing J. C. Higginbotham and Coleman Hawkins in the 1940s. “Why did they have to drink so much to blow the horn?” Armstrong asks before doing something he had never done before: with a microphone right in his face, Armstrong started talking about why he preferred marijuana to alcohol. Delaney sounds nervous and tries changing the subject a few more times, but Louis goes all in, again mentioning that he recently went on the record about it to Max Jones and how he wanted to set the record straight and be free from “extortion.” Armstrong grows more animated as he says marijuana used to be a “misdemeanor” but lost its “misto” and just got “meaner and meaner!” He relates Russian poet Yvgeny Yevtushenko’s desire to have Louis come to Siberia, talks about “taking inventory” at home, praises Lucille and tells more Swiss Kriss stories, even cursing a bit. Now the guy heard on the Lloyd Von Blaine tape is back as Louis tells more old stories about the Royal Theater, about a woman in Paris who thought he played the saxophone, about a dresser in London who wanted to talk about Bix, and more. Dr. Alexander Schiff even gets into the act at one point. It’s a rollicking good time but if you compare it to what made it on the air, Delaney had to leave probably half of the conversation on the cutting room floor. But for now, here it is, uncut and uncensored (though watermarked as always for copyright protection):

Joe Delaney Interviews Louis Armstrong at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, September 18, 1970
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The front of Reel 132 denotes the “Country – Western” sides that start the tape:

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The back of the box is again filled with cross-outs but reading through them is how we figured out Jack Clement sent this tape to Louis on August 20, 1970:

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Reel 133
Accession Number: 1987.3.433

Reel 128 (analyzed here) was one of those packed tapes Armstrong made in this era, containing dirty jokes sent to him by Tony Janak, dubs of some of his Decca albums, a long tape-recorded visit from Lucille Boyd to Armstrong’s home in Queens in August 1970, and eventually the first part of Armstrong’s appearance on the Flip Wilson Show, filmed on September 4 and aired on October 22. We shared the audio of that first part in the previous post but Armstrong ran out of tape before finishing it. The conclusion begins Side 1 and we’ll begin with the audio of it, too:

Louis Armstrong on “The Flip Wilson Show,” October 22, 1970. Part 2
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At the 7:03 mark is a short version of “Hello, Dolly!” that was left out of reruns of the show, which edited the original hourlong episodes into half-hour segments. However, the duet segment between Louis and Flip that follows, with such odd, yet affecting choices as “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” (which Louis always claims he wrote), “The Whiffenpoof Song” and “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy”), was left in and can be seen in this YouTube video at 16:10:

That concludes the Flip Wilson Show segment of this post, but it does not conclude a very busy week for Louis Armstrong on television in October 1970. After appearing on NBC’s Wilson show on October 22, Armstrong was back on primetime on ABC’s Johnny Cash Show on October 28.

Like the Wilson show, the Cash show was filmed in advance, but unlike his appearance with Flip, where he stuck to singing the good ol’ good ones, this time he had something new to promote: Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong, released in October. The week before it aired, the Associated Press published Mary Campbell’s insider look at the studio sessions that we shared earlier. Armstrong arrived in Nashville on October 2 and took part in a short press conference, covered for The Tennessean by reporter W. A. Reed Jr. First, a photo that appeared alongside Reed’s article:

Reed’s article ran on the front page, with a jump to page 5 and because the layout is so unwieldy, it’s easier to just type it up than share the scans:

Satchmo Says All Music Revolves Around Love
Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong, the world’s crown prince of jazz, arriving in Nashville in regal style yesterday, said all types of music are basically the same–“all about love.”
“I remember a studio on Michigan Avenue in Chicago a long time ago and Bessie Smith was singing ‘My Man Don’t Treat Me Right,’ ” Armstrong said. “She was singing blues but it was all about love.”
“It’s all music,” he added.
HE AND HIS wife, Lucile, stepped down from an American Airlines Astrojet yesterday to a welcome befitting a monarch. The 140 -piece marching band of Tennessee State University greeted him with a blast that was rivaled by a departing plane rolling down the runway.
Director Frank Greer and associate band director Danny Owens received high praise from Armstrong who said the big band sounded “like one piece.”
Armstrong was met by guitarist Billy Grammer, leader of a country music group that recently cut the new “Louis ‘Country-and-Western’ Armstrong” album on an Avco-Embassy label in New York.
ARMSTRONG’S prime reason for a Nashville visit was to begin rehearsals for Monday’s taping of the Johnny Cash television show. The program, to be aired Oct. 28 on ABC-TV, will feature Armstrong singing songs from the new album.
Called the first “country” album the legendary jazzman has ever recorded, it was produced by Jack Clement of Nashville and Ivan Mogull, a New York publishing executive.
Asked what songs he would play on his trumpet and sing, Armstrong mentioned “Running Bear.” That song plus “Almost Persuaded” and “Rambling Rose” are on the album.
THE VETERAN world traveler and star trumpeter was asked yesterday if his entry into country music is a sign that more black musicians will be coming to Nashville for recording sessions. “I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “It’s just playing music, period.”
“Long ago I was playing ‘Your Cheating Heart’ and ‘Cold, Cold Heart,'” Armstrong recalled. “Now we have the same although it’s getting to be in black and white.”
The world ambassador of goodwill for the U.S.A. continued: “Many people didn’t knew that black musicians could read music. Now, if they can cut it they can make it.”
HIS WIFE recalled that his “Hello Dolly” created sales of five million records and his old line itcordings of “Blueberry Hill” and “Mack the Knife” had sales wall into the millions. Armstrong, ill for some time, was permitted to come to Nashville on physicians’ orders to do no more than is required for the taping on the Cash show. Grammer said yesterday that Armstrong may do a “walk-on” at the Grand Ole Opry “if he feels well enough.”
Armstrong said he has no idea of retiring. “I’ll tell you this, if I do retire I won’t go back to driving a mule,” he chuckled.
Before his hosts placed him in a wheelchair for a police escorted ride to the Ramada Inn, Armstrong turned and repeated his age-old personal philosophy “The Lord will help the poor but not the poor and lazy, so get in there and wail.”

Reed’s closing description of Louis being whisked away in a wheelchair sent alarms through Armstrong’s camp, who contacted The Tennessean, who published this follow-up the following date noting that the trumpeter was not using a wheelchair:

It should be pointed out that the only photo of Armstrong in a wheelchair in the last few years of his life was taken when he leaving Beth Israel hospital after being in intensive care for a few months in early 1969. However, he had been having trouble with his legs since being hospitalized for varicose veins in 1964 and his stiff gait became more noticeable after this spell of activity in the fall of 1970.

Either way, wheelchair or not, Armstrong next attended rehearsal for Cash’s program, an event attended by another Associated Press reporter, Bill Rawlins. Here’s Rawlins’s report, which also alludes to Armstrong walking unsteadily before a touching description of his performance at the rehearsal and on the final taped show:

If you’ve wandered on to this site, you’re probably a big enough Armstrong fan to have already seen his duet with Cash on “Blue Yodel Number 9,” which was the climax of Ken Burns’s recent Country Music documentary. I’ve known some musicians and fans who have always taken it at face value, a terrific performance of two titans of 20th century music. But hopefully if you’ve been following along with this series, you realize that this was a big moment for Armstrong, his first opportunity to play trumpet on television since the time he attempted to play on The Dick Cavett Show in January 1970 and sounded like he was out of gas, resulting in TV critic Bob Talbert writing that “Someone should pass a TV rule forbidding Louis Armstrong from playing his trumpet on the air” (you can listen and read more about it in this earlier post).

But now he was back, playing a soulful obbligato to Cash’s vocal, turning back to the clock to the dozens of recordings he made accompanying blues singers in the 1920s. He had a new album out, he appeared on primetime television twice in one week, he had just performed with the All Stars for two weeks in Las Vegas, and he received a standing ovation for his appearance on the Cash show. It was a triumphant time for Armstrong that can now be viewed as a last hurrah as he was never quite the same after it.

So with that in mind, here’s the video of Armstrong’s complete segment, which opens with him wearing the gigantic white ten-gallon hat from the cover of he album and singing “Crystal Chandelier” and “Ramblin’ Rose” to the delight of the Opry crowd. Even though his eyes are glued to cue cards more than usual, I love this performance as sings both tunes beautifully, really emoting on the multiple reprises at the end of “Ramblin’ Rose,” concluding with a booming quote of Drdla’s “Souvenir.” Then Cash greets him for the immortal “Blue Yodel Number 9”–enjoy!

That might seem like a pretty long digression since what began as a series about the tapes Louis made between 1969-1971 has morphed into a series about the day-to-day life of Louis Armstrong between 1969-1971, but the tapes are still at the center of it all so we’re happy so share the watermarked audio of the entire October 28, 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show, as found on Reel 133:

Louis Armstrong on “The Johnny Cash Show,” October 28, 1970
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After those back-to-back heavyweight television appearances, Armstrong reached back to Reel 128 to dub the selection of offcolor recordings compiled for him by Tony Janak (now described as “Louis’s Comedian Friends”) and selected tracks from Louis and the Angels and Louis and the Good Book as they appeared on that earlier reel. Here are Louis’s handwritten notes for the entirety of Reel 133 (I don’t know where Louis got “Lionel Hampton” from on the third page as he doesn’t appear on this reel; Louis dubs two Hampton sides on Reel 136 that we’ll get to next time–maybe he thought he could squeeze them onto this tape):

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For Reel 133, Armstrong reached back to one of the collages he originally made in the 1950s, one which originally had an “Empty” sticker on the front of the box. He now covered it with a new piece of tape identifying it as Reel 133, but a brain fart led Armstrong to list Flip Wilson as tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips! I don’t know the identity of the woman in the photo, as her signed inscription for Louis is obscured by the tape with the reel number–does she look familiar? Judging by Louis’s weight, this would have been taken between late 1952 and early 1954. In the lower left corner is a nice offstage snapshot of Lucille with bassist Arvell Shaw (holding a camera) and his wife, Madeleine Berard:

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The back of the box features two photos. The top one was taken at the Blue Note in Chicago and pianist Marty Napoleon, Louis, clarinetist Barney Bigard, drummer Cozy Cole, and Blue Note owner Frank Holzfiend are visible. The other two All Stars are obscured but this group didn’t last too long so some detective work can be performed. If it was taken when the All Stars performed there in July 1952, it would have been Russ Phillips on trombone and either Dale Jones or Arvell Shaw on bass (Shaw rejoined in the middle of the engagement); if it’s their return in July 1953, it would have been Trummy Young on trombone and Shaw on bass. On the bottom of the box, Louis poses with some unidentified sailors:

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Reel 134
Accession Number: 1987.3.434

With Reel 134, Armstrong decided to make a complete copy of Reel 124, the famous letter to Max Jones which Louis mentioned in his conversation with Joe Delaney (and was discussed in detail here). In his original catalog page for Reel 125, Louis just described it as “Louis Armstrong – Max Jones Discussion Concerning Pot,” but now he has altered it to “Louis Armstrong’s Life Story,” a more fitting description since it contained talk on Lil Hardin Armstrong, King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins, Joe Garland, the All Stars, and more. Louis was on fire when he made the original recording, feeling strong and chatty, but as we’ve now mentioned a few times, he was slowing down by the time he got to Reel 134, so maybe he sensed internally that the end was near and wanted to make sure that this tape was properly described as a document he was leaving behind for his fans and for future researchers. He didn’t live long enough to see that Max Jones published it almost verbatim in 1971 book Louis, but he definitely wanted to be sure that his audio version of the letter would be remembered. Here are the catalog pages (like Reel 124, Side 2 is given over to a dub of Porgy and Bess with Ella Fitzgerald):

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No collage but Armstrong covered the front and back of Reel 134 with stickers marking this tape as containing the story of “Satchmo’s Life”:

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LAHM 1987.3.434

Reel 135
Accession Number: 1987.3.135

While in Los Angeles filming The Flip Wilson Show in early September 1970, Armstrong must have met the acquaintance of Lillian and Harold Howland of San Diego. I know nothing about them but they turned on a tape recorder and taped themselves and guests at a party singing and playing various songs–pop songs, standards, classical themes, and even a Coca-Cola jingle–and sent a copy of the tape to Louis, describing the contents on the outside of the box. Louis stuck a number on the outside of the and made it Reel 135. Once he realized the Howlands left a lot of blank tape after their home recording, Armstrong went to work dubbing some albums he had recently acquired.

First up was Herschel Bernardi’s Columbia album Sings Fiddler on the Roof. Armstrong recorded “Sunrise Sunset” for Brunswick in 1968; perhaps this was sent to him then and now he got around to dubbing it to tape? Next up, a brand new Pete Fountain sound recording Dr. Fountain’s Magical Licorice Stick Remedy for the Blues, released in September 1970 and either sent to Louis or picked up by him when it was a new release. Then finally, the newest release of them all, Armstrong’s first full dub of the finished product of Louis ‘Country and Western’ Armstrong. Here are Armstrong’s handwritten notes on Reel 135:

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And here’s the aforementioned tape box as sent by the Howlands, updated with Louis’s markings:

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LAHM 1987.3.435

Armstrong ran out of time before finishing his dub of Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong, but he’d pick it up on Reel 136, which is where this series will pick up next time!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

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