Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 141-145

In our previous installment, Louis grabbed a bunch of tapes he originally made in the 1950s and gave them new catalog numbers in late 1970, which resulted in his unique collages coming back to the forefront of this series–a trend that continues in today’s post.

Reel 141
Accession Number: 1987.3.439

Right off the bat, Armstrong’s new Reel 141 is another tape from the 1950s and is actually a continuation of the reel Armstrong named Reel 138 in our last post, a reel that ended with a dub of Stan Kenton’s 1955 album Popular Favorites by Stan Kenton. The conclusion of that album opens this reel before Louis gets in a classical mood by spinning Arthur Rubinstein’s 1953 RCA Victor album Rubinstein Plays Twelve Chopin Mazurkas. Armstrong rounds out side one with Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 (A Hero’s Life), performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy in 1954.

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Side 2 continues in a classical vein with a dub of pianist Witold Malcuzynski’s Columbia album featuring Chopin’s “Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, ‘Funeral March,’ Opus 35” and Cesar Franck’s “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue.” Reel 141 concludes with another Columbia album by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra , this time featuring Zino Francescatti performing Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in 1954. Here are the two catalog pages for Side 2:

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You might have noticed something odd with Armstrong’s cataloging; French composer Cesar Franck comes out as “Frank Ceasar”! Armstrong doubles down on this on the collage of the front of box (the late Michael Cogswell used to show this in presentations and joke that “Frank Ceasar” sounded like the name of a hotel lounge pianist!). The main photo on the front is another of Louis in France in the early 1950s, and, thanks to our loyal reader Jean Labaye, we know it’s the famous Gabby and Haynes soul food restaurant in Paris, run by Leroy Haynes and his wife, Gabrielle Lecarbonnier, one of Louis’s favorite establishments. That’s Mezz Mezzrow sitting at the head of the table, and though they’re not in this particular picture, we know Hughes Panassie and Madeleine Gautier also attended this meal (the man, woman and child in this particular photo, though, are unidentified):

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On the back, yet another tribute collage to the late Joe Glaser made up of a newspaper cartoon dedicated to “America’s Entertainment Impresario.” It appears to be dated from the 1940s; that’s Glaser’s signature Armstrong affixed to the left side for good measure:

LAHM 1987.3.439

Reel 142
Accession Number: 1987.3.440

Reel 142 might inspire the shortest description of them all as it’s completely dedicated to the middle portion of the 4-LP set Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography. The first part was dubbed way back on Reel 39 and then we saw the chunk from “Song of the Islands” to the closing “On the Sunny Side of the Street” on Reel 132–Reel 142 is the missing link, from “Snag It” through an incomplete version of “Song of the Islands.” Here are the catalog pages:

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The collage on the front of Reel 142 is a classic with a rare offstage photo of Louis and Duke Ellington seated at a table in what appears to be the 1940s. It’s inscribed “To Gizzard from Gate” with some illegible scrawling underneath, none of it in Louis or Duke’s handwriting. We wish we knew the backstory but wow, what a great photo. And as an added bonus, a great little photo of Velma Middleton in the lower left corner:

LAHM 1987.3.442

The back of the original 1950s box must have been blank so Armstrong decorated with something new, a Christmas card sent by New Orleans pianist Alton Purnell with a photo dead center of Purnell, Floyd Levin, Louis, and Lucille at Louis’s 70th birthday celebration at the Shrine in Los Angeles (from a timing perspective, this keeps us in December 1970 as we assumed in our last post):

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Reel 143
Accession Number: 1987.3.441

Reel 143 is another tape from the 1940s, one made up entirely of dubs of Armstrong recordings from the 20s, 30s, and 40s taken from the original 78s. Armstrong didn’t own many of these on 78 so it’s possible this was made for him by a collector friend of his. Armstrong’s memory played a few tricks on him in the ensuing decades (never mind 1970, he originally cataloged on the back of the back in the mid-1950s, as shown below). What Armstrong remembered as “Come Back Sweet Papa” is actually “Potato Head Blues” on the tape. His “Jumping Blues” is “Perdido Street Blues” with Sidney Bechet, which is followed by the Hot Five’s “My Heart,” which Louis didn’t even take a guess at. And on Side 2, Louis notes “Knockin’ a Jug” but it’s actually “Muggles.” Other than those, everything is correct–here are the pages:

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The front of the box for Reel 143 has a newspaper article from their time in Hawaii in January 1954, referencing the All Stars band of Trummy Young, Barney Bigard, Milt Hinton, and Billy Kyle, as well as mentioning the band’s Hawaiian booker Eddy Sartain:

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And here’s the back, with the original cataloging attempt from the 50s:

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Reel 144
Accession Number: 1987.3.442

Reel 142 is another 1950s reel that includes audio of an interview Louis did in Lansing, Michigan most likely in June 1954 (he played there on June 11) followed by another episode of Louis’s favorite radio program, Tallulah Bankhead’s Big Show. The interview is particularly worthwhile, even though the sound quality is far from ideal. The disc jockey host of “Club 1320”–who never gives his name–caught Louis minutes after his set ended (another orchestra can heard, probably that of Rex Smith according to newspaper advertisements in Lansing) and recorded an interview with him that lasted about 8 minutes. Back on the air, the DJ interspersed audio from the conversation with Armstrong recordings from throughout the decades. After doing this he finally played the entire interview in full and topped it off by reading short tributes to Louis from Sidney Bechet, Wild Bill Davison, Barney Bigard, Turk Murphy, Omer Simeon, Red Allen, Pops Foster, Sidney De Paris, George Wettling, Lu Watters, Edmond Hall, Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Archey, Joe Sullivan, Benny Morton, Bob Scobey, Frank Signorelli, Tony Spargo [Sbarbaro] and Doc Evans. Again, it’s not easy to hear but here’s the audio!

Louis Armstrong interviewed in Lansing, Michigan, June 1954.
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For those who couldn’t quite make it out, it opens with the announcer mentioning that Louis had just left the stage two minutes earlier. Louis talks about how much fun he had and talks about his upcoming cities. Louis says he’s been in the business for 42 years, saying he started playing at the age of 13 at the Colored Waif’s Home, before telling the tale of his arrest on December 31, 1912 and how he played the bugle before the cornet. Asked about the state of the music business, Louis says it hasn’t changed for him because he wasn’t about to play that “bop slop.” The announcer brings up Barrett Deems saying, “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” and Louis agrees, saying even “Cavalleria Rusticana” can swing. Then in maybe the most interesting part of the interview (at 3:35), Louis mentions a trumpeter who told him he had trouble improvising and recounts the advice he gave him: “All you’ve got to do is think as if you’re singing in a quartet and if somebody’s playing lead on trumpet, you just play the second to the lead, to every note they hit, the same as you’re singing a duet.” Armstrong rarely talked about his methods of making music because this is proof that the lessons he learned in blending his voice and harmonizing with his vocal quartet as a kid in New Orleans really did imbue every not he played or sang.

A mention of King Oliver leads to a discussion of how Armstrong and Oliver worked out their two-cornet breaks at the Lincoln Gardens in Chicago. “That’s because I lived Joe Oliver,” Armstrong says. “I believed in the man.” Even when the announcer mentions “West End Blues,” Armstrong makes sure he knows Oliver wrote it. There’s a quick mention of playing at the Sunset for Joe Glaser and Armstrong says that it was wife Lil who told him, “You can’t play under Joe all your life.” Fletcher Henderson comes up and Louis gets a little dig in, saying, “I played third trumpet in Fletcher’s band and would from third to hit the high notes for the first chair man!” Of Henry “Red” Allen, Louis says, “He’s my boy” and tells a story about how Allen filled a steamer trunk with Armstrong’s used handkerchiefs, which he would collect after every performance during the big band years.

The announcer jumps to the 1940s and the switch from big band to the All Stars and Armstrong says he has no preference and prefers to be flexible. Asked if he sings like he plays or plays like he sings, Armstrong says, “They’re about the same.” The announcer asks Louis to pick a band of his favorite musicians and Louis refuses, not wanting to leave anyone out. There’s a little admiring talk about Ella Fitzgerald and “The Frim Fram Sauce” and of Velma Middleton, Louis says, “Velma’s a good showman.” After that, the announcer wishes Louis 250 more years and the interview comes to an end.

Listening back to it in December 1970, Armstrong jotted down the names as they were mentioned on the sheets below (for Red Allen, Louis writes, “MY MAN” and then attempts to capture Allen’s “Wamp Wamp” catch-phrase, writing, “WARMP”):

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The collage on the front of Reel 144 is another classic, with photos of Louis holding a life mask that hung in his home in the 1960s and is now part of the exhibit area of the Louis Armstrong House Museum. The woman in the photo remains unidentified but she might be the artist as she appears in the other two photos that survive from this occasion. The Armstrong of 1970 was excited by the contents of this reel and called attention to all of it with a series of smaller pieces of tape (though more confusion reigns: Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy is not on this reel!):

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Armstrong’s creativity spills onto the back as he must have had a photo of himself with entertainer Billy Daniels (thank you Rich Noorigian for the identification!) and unidentified young man and just cut out their faces to make something new out of the floating heads!

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Reel 145
Accession Number: 1987.3.443

Reel 145 contains a complete All Stars concert from Sao Paolo, Brazil on November 24, 1957 featuring an exciting edition of the band with Louis, Trummy Young on trombone, Edmond Hall on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano, Squire Gersh on bass, Barrett Deems on drums, and Velma Middleton on vocals. The evening was billed as “A Salute to Louis Armstrong” and began with vocalist Angela Maria singing a song in Portugese. Then the All Stars came on and performed the following numbers: “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “Back Home Again in Indiana,” “Lazy River,” “Now You Has Jazz,” “High Society Calypso,” “Ole Miss” (with two encores),” and “Perdido.” Trummy Young then introuced Italian singer Antonio Rocha, who sang “Come Back to Sorrento,” during which the crowd grew a bit restless, perhaps inspiring Armstrong to pick up his trumpet and play along to help Rocha out.

Then it was back to the All Stars for “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Blues for Bass,” “Mack the Knife,” “Basin Street Blues,” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” But then a welcome guest joined the band: saxophonist Booker Pittman, then living in Brazil. Pittman stayed onstage for the rest of the set joining the All Stars on “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Tiger Rag,” “St. Louis Blues,” and “Ko Ko Mo.”

Unfortunately, there was a problem with the tape and the sound quality grew worse and worse as it went along, finally becoming “warbly” to borrow Armstrong’s phrase from his tape sheets and is almost unlistenable. Still, “Sunny Side of the Street” and “Tiger Rag” are at least worth sharing just to hear Armstrong and Pittman together. To quote from Armstrong’s catalog page below, “Booker Pittman (sax man) joins in and blows his ass off – Yea.” Here’s the audio:

“On the Sunny of the Street” and “Tiger Rag,” Louis Armstrong and His All Stars in Sao Paulo, Brazil, November 24, 1957
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Here are Armstrong’s catalog sheets, in which he notes the sound issues. Also note that we have stated that he did these on the back of his “Lose Weight the Satchmo Way” diet charts and for the first time, we get to see one as he continued jotting down the songs from Side 2 on the back of that page:-

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Armstrong has another detailed piece of tape on the front of the box for Reel 145, identifying Sao Paulo (as San Paulo) and calling out guests Angelea Maria and Booker Pittman. The photos on both the front and back of the box are from January 16, 1958 when Armstrong and the All Stars performed at the Senate Chambers of the State Capitol in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a certificate from Senator John A. Powers and signing autographs for those present:

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LAHM 1987.3.443

We’ve cracked the 140s and still have 25 more tapes to describe, all of which will be accomplished in the next month or so–thanks for reading!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

2 thoughts on “Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 141-145

  1. Hey my man. Back of reel 144 box lower right is Billy Daniels a great performer who had a hit with Ole Black Magic in 1950.

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