Louis Armstrong’s Tapes 1969-1971: Reels 146-150

It’s crazy to think that when I revived this series in July of this year, I started with Reel 50 and here we are with a post that ends with Reel 150. I didn’t plan on dedicating the rest of 2022 to analyzing over 100 of Louis Armstrong’s tapes, but I wouldn’t be doing this if the response wasn’t so positive so thanks for all the support out there! With that out of the way, let’s dig into Reels 146-150.

Reel 146
Accession Number 1987.3.444

As has been the precedent the last couple of installments, Louis is still grabbing reels he made in the 1950s, listening to them again, cataloging them, and assigning them new identification numbers. Reel 145 contained an All Stars concert from Sao Paulo, Brazil in November 1957 and Reel 146 picks up where that tape left off with recordings Armstrong made in Buenos Aires during that same South American tour. This time, though, Armstrong’s band isn’t the main event; instead, the reel is made up of music he picked up while there. It opens with an unidentified song in Spanish apparently from a trio at a nightclub, but then it turns into something extra special: recordings of Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra during their tour of Buenos Aires in 1956. The commercial release of these recordings in 1999 was considered big news at the time so it’s pretty cool that Louis heard them when they were brand new (on one of his tapes he mentions that he played them for Dizzy, his neighbor in Corona, Queens, who was surprised Louis had them in his collection).

Louis did his best to catalog the Gillespie recordings (“School Days” is rendered as “Humpty Dumpty” because that’s mentioned in the lyrics) but for the record, here’s what’s on the tape: “Tin Tin Deo”; “Yesterdays”; “I’m Confessin'” (Dizzy imitates Louis); “Wonder Why” (vocal by Austin Cromer); “Seems Like You Just Don’t Care” (vocal by Austin Cromer); “School Days” (Dizzy Gillespie vocal); “My Reverie” (featuring Melba Liston); and “The Champ” (featuring Charlie Persip).

Side 1 ends with another unidentified song in Spanish, which suffers from the same “warbly” sound that marred Reel 145 from Sao Paulo–here’s Louis’s page for Side 1:

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Side 2 is devoted to more of the music Louis brought home with him from Buenos Aires, opening with “The Dixielanders,” a Buenos Aires-based traditional jazz band, doing “Mississippi Mud” and “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You).” That’s followed by “La Marcha De La Libertad” (The March of Liberty), an Argentine news program from September 16, 1955, dubbed on November 2, 1957 with a new spoken introduction for Louis. After some more unidentified selections with a singer backed by a guitar, Louis dubbed Hector Varela’s album Que Tiempos Aquellos, given to Louis by Varela himself, who inscribed it on November. Here’s Louis’s copy–thank you to Sharone Carmona for the translation: “I give these tangos of the guardia vieja [technically “old guard” but Sharone adds it could also possibly be a term of art] to you, Mr. Armstrong, as proof that I could not admire you more.”

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And here’s the catalog page for Side 2, Louis giving up and just writing, “All Spanish”–but he did recognize “El Choclo,” which he recorded for Decca as “Kiss of Fire”:

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Louis gave the front of the box a big fat piece of new tape for 146, calling attention to the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band (and also the All Stars, who do not appear on the reel). The woman Louis is with on the front of the box looks like she’s in show business and is in two or three other photos with Louis, wearing the same outfit. We once put it on Facebook and didn’t get any guesses but if she looks familiar to anyone out there, let us know (could just be a fan, but Louis sure looks like he knows her well):

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The back of Reel 146 features a photo of Louis at the old Blue Note in Chicago (the background appears on lots of these tapes) c. 1953. Again, we’re assuming those are fans but if we’re wrong, don’t hesitate to correct us!

LAHM 1987.3.444

Reel 147
Accession Number: 1987.3.445

The beginning of Reel 147 breaks the streak of Louis dubbing tapes from the 1950s by opening with another dub of the soundtrack of the Albert Finney film musical Scrooge, which we first encountered on Reel 131. But in actuality, Louis did grab a tape he made in the 1950s, one of his earliest tapes in fact, made in 7 1/2 speed. The Louis of 1970 must have thought all these 7 1/2 ips tapes were a waste of tape so he started a new reel with Scrooge, but then dubbed the original 1950s tape at 3 3/4 speed after it.

Thus, after Scrooge, the rest of Side 1 is taken up with the recording of Bing Crosby’s radio show from January 9, 1951, celebrating Bing’s 20th anniversary with Louis, Dinah Shore, and other guests. In the middle of his recording of that broadcast, Armstrong paused and dubbed Art Tatum’s “As Time Goes By” before returning to Der Bingle. Here’s Armstrong’s catalog pages for Side 1:

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But Side 2 of Reel 147 is where the gold lies, though for whatever reason, we do not have a catalog page of it. Still, it does involve a bit of backstory before we share some priceless audio.

This might seem to be an odd time to dig into the story of Louis Armstrong and reel-to-reel tapes but bear with me for a second. Louis got his first tape machine at Music City in Los Angeles on December 17, 950, the same day he appeared on an episode of Tallulah Bankhead’s The Big Show. He was inspired to make the purchase by the All Stars’s then-trombonist Jack Teagarden, who had a reel-to-reel tape deck first and used it to dub his old recordings and to make some new ones. Teagarden helped Armstrong choose his machine and is the very first voice heard on the very first tape Armstrong made that December day.

At some point early on, Teagarden must have given him a sample of one of the tapes he was making–and this is that tape!

Like Armstrong would later do, it’s filled with Teagarden’s own recordings, specifically the following: “Persian Rug,” “Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone,” “Christmas Night in Harlem,” “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” “Jack Armstrong Blues” “The Blues Have Got Me,” “Blue River,” “We Called It Music,” and “Nobody Knows, Nobody Cares.”

But then, in a move that perhaps inspired Armstrong, Teagarden turned his microphone on and chatted with his wife Addie (who doesn’t want to talk, saying she becomes a “deaf mute” when she sees the recorder on) and Addie’s daughter from a previous marriage, Vernajean, then 14-years-old. Jack clearly loved his stepdaughter and the feeling was more than mutual; in this excellent documentary on Teagarden, Vernajean talks about how Jack raised her from the age of 4 through 27 (at 1:09:37). Jack mentions he was currently playing the Oasis in Los Angeles with the All Stars, an engagement that ran December 15, 1950-January 1, 1951, the same exact time Louis bought his tape recorder. There’s some audio issues early on but it straightens out in time for a charming moment of Jack and Vernajean reading Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Anabel Lee.” Here’s the audio of the Teagarden family:

Jack Teagarden with wife Addie and stepdaughter Vernajean in Los Angeles, December 1950
LAHM 1987.3.445

Next, Teagarden dubbed some records from his collection, showing the same love of classical music as Louis, copying Claude Debussy’s “Iberia” from “Images” (Fritz Reiner), and three selections of the London Philharmonic playing the music of Frederick Delius: “Paris,” “Eventyr, Ballad for Thomas Beecham,” and “Eventyr, Once Upon a Time.” After that appears a fragment of Louis’s 1950 appearance on The Big Show from that first day he had the tape recorder, then dubs of the All Stars’s April 1950 Decca recordings of “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” and “Panama.”

Crosby’s 20th anniversary got a shoutout on an otherwise blank front of the box for Reel 147:

LAHM 1987.3.445

And as mentioned above, we don’t have a handwritten catalog page for Side 2, but the back of the box has one of those vintage early-50s track-by-track descriptions typed up by Louis himself. If you look carefully, we mentioned “Panama” ends Reel 147 but as you can tell, it was only in the middle of the original tape Armstrong/Teagarden made in the early 50s. Where’s the rest of it? The answer will come in a matter of seconds…

LAHM 1987.3.445

Reel 148
Accession Number: 1987.3.446

Indeed, Armstrong’s attempt to shuffle around Reel 147 by placing the soundtrack of Scrooge at the start of it seemed to backfire as he ran out of room before getting the rest of the original tape’s contents onto that reel. But not to worry, he just opened Reel 148 with the rest of that c. 1951 reel as compiled by Jack Teagarden. Once again, it’s mostly Teagarden’s own records including the following: “On with the Dance” (Ben Pollack), “Knockin’ a Jug” (Louis Armstrong), “Birth of the Blues” (Bing Crosby), “The Waiter, the Porter and the Upstairs Maid” (Bing Crosby, Jack Teagarden, Mary Martin), “Blue River,” and “The Blues Have Got Me,” but it also included Dean Martin’s 1949 recording of the pop tune “Dreamer with a Penny.” Listening to his own music, talking with family, dubbing classical music, listening to Louis, keeping up with pop music scene–it’s clear that Teagarden gave Armstrong a blueprint to follow for the next 20 years (and it’s clear why they were more than just musical soulmates but were really as close as two brothers).

With the 1950-51 Teagarden segment out of the way, Armstrong turned his sights back to 1970 and to the many TV appearances he made that year, finishing Side 1 of Reel 148 with audio of his appearance on The Flip Wilson Show and Dial M for Music, both of which we’ve shared in previous posts, but which are worth sharing again:

Louis Armstrong on “The Flip Wilson Show,” October 22, 1970, Part 1
LAHM 1987.3.446
Louis Armstrong on “The Flip Wilson Show,” October 22, 1970, Part 2
LAHM 1987.3.446
“Dial M For Music,” July 5, 1970
LAHM 1987.3.503

Here are the catalog pages for Side 1 (note Louis’s spelling of Joe Muranyi’s last name as “Marainey,” which is how he pronounced it, like the blues singer Ma Rainey!)

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Side 2 continues the parade of 1970 TV appearances but now we have something legitimately exciting to share: an appearance on The David Frost Show that we haven’t shared yet! Armstrong was asked to substitute at the last minute for an ailing Duke Ellington on the August 25 episode of Frost’s show, which was less than a week before Armstrong headed to the west coast for his engagements in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The Frost Show must have sent a copy of the audio while Armstrong was out-of-town and he finally got around to recording it at the end of the year.

This appearance is more than worth the wait. Before we share the audio, here’s what to expect. Right out of the gate, Armstrong is in magnificent form singing his favorite torch ballad “I Surrender Dear,” which he first recorded in 1931. Then Armstrong sits with Frost and talks about how’s ready to make his “debut” at the International Hotel with Pearl Bailey, playing his trumpet again. Armstrong had started his letter to Max Jones on August 15, which we’ve discussed multiple times, and brings it up on the air here, saying he was writing the whole story of his life for Jones. Louis imparts some of the lessons he learned in New Orleans and talks about his ambition to keep playing, saying, “I had no business dying.”

At that point, Armstrong dedicates a number to his friend Ellington, “Mood Indigo,” which appeared on the album Louis Armstrong and His Friends. That version is great but I think this one cuts it as Armstrong’s scatting is in great form, all delivered from his seat on Frost’s set (Dan Morgenstern vividly remembers this appearance, which, sadly, doesn’t seem to have survived in video form). Back from commercial, Louis talks about how “music is my life,” and reminisces about going to church with his mother Mayann, his vocal quartet, King Oliver, playing with brass bands, and more. He brings it up to date by talking about his birthday celebrations in Los Angeles and Newport, complimenting Frost’s trumpet player Jimmy Owens, who played the Newport tribute. Armstrong names “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” as his favorite song (but also says “I like all the tunes that I play”), talks of Billie Holiday, defines jazz (“jazz can be anything”), tells a funny story about blues singer Sara Martin and closes the show with a heartfelt rendition of “What a Wonderful World.”

With the description out of the way, here’s the audio–it’s pretty magical!

Louis Armstrong on “The David Frost Show,” August 25, 1970
LAHM 1987.3.446

Reel 148 continues with another 1970 TV appearance we’ve shared before, his hilarious June 12, 1970 appearance on The Tonight Show with guest host David Steinberg. We shared this way back in our discussion of Reel 111, but it’s worth sharing again now:

Louis Armstrong on “The Tonight Show” with David Steinberg, June 12, 1970
LAHM 1987.3.446

Armstrong closes out Reel 148 with something different, but no less special. We’ve alluded to the big July 10, 1970 Newport Jazz Festival 70th birthday tribute to Louis on this site multiple times (and shared audio of NBC’s Monitor broadcasts from it in this post) but someone (probably producer George Wein) also sent Louis the raw, unedited tapes of the entire 2 hour and 56 minute evening! Louis decided to start dubbing those tapes at the end of Reel 148 and as we’ll see, he wouldn’t be done for quite some time (we’d share the audio but everything from that night is already streaming on the Wolfgang’s Vault site if you search for July 10, 1970!). For now, here’s the catalog page for Side 2:

Reel 148 might be filled with material from 1970, but the box definitely seems to be repurposed from the 1950s. On the front, Louis poses with some servicemen in his dressing room:

LAHM 1987.3.446

The back of the box includes another photo in the mysterious room with the blinds we’ve seen many, many times, definitely a nightclub in the 1950s. I’m assuming that’s an unidentified fan but that’s a pretty professional pompadour so if it is someone of great renown, let us know!

LAHM 1987.3.446

Reel 149
Accession Number: 1987.3.447

Well, this is an easy one to describe: two more hours from the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival tribute to Louis, taking up both sides of this reel. Here are Louis’s catalog pages, where he identifies all the songs (what Louis calls “Bunk Johnson’s Tune” is the “Dusty Rag”) and all the musicians present (though he accidentally lists husband-and-wife duo Billie and DeDe Pierce as “The Pierce Brothers”):

LAHM 1987_2_87~001
Reel 149 1987_2_87~002

The front of Reel 149 features another collage from the 1950s, this time Louis signing autographs in France in the early 1950s. He identifies Mezz Mezzrow and road manager Pierre “Frenchy” Tallerie; that’s Arvell Shaw in the center.

LAHM 1987.3.447

We’re back in the room with the blinds for the back of the box, Louis posing with three unidentified friends, one who got the honor of playing (or pretending to play) Louis’s trumpet (he probably told friends about this moment for years to come–hope he had a copy of the photo!):

LAHM 1987.3.447

Reel 150
Accession Number: 1987.3.448

The 1970 Newport Jazz Festival finally comes to a close at the start of Reel 150 but then Armstrong goes back to The Mike Douglas Show well to re-dub the five full episodes he co-hosted of that daytime talk show in May 1970. We already did an entire post (and shared all six hours of audio) on that week so we’re not to describe everything from scratch, but we will share the catalog pages as we go:

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The incredible run of collages comes to an ending as Louis took a box that previously had a big “EMPTY” sticker and affixed a new piece of tape with “Reel 150” over it:

LAHM 1987.3.448

Ditto for the back:

LAHM 1987.3.448

We’re firmly back in Mike Douglas Show territory, which will continue in our next installment, but Louis will also start pulling old reels off the shelves again, which will result in some more absolute gold moments next time–til then!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

3 thoughts on “Louis Armstrong’s Tapes 1969-1971: Reels 146-150

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I only wish I had more time to read and listen over and over! For there to be such a rich record of Louis Armstrongs’s life and people to share it is amazing. Thank you Ricky Riccardi!!

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