Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 Tapes: Reels 156-160

Happy New Year and welcome to the first “That’s My Home” post of 2023! We took a breather during the holidays but we’re ready to jump back in with the final few installments on our long-running series on Louis Armstrong’s 1969-1971 reel-to-reel tapes (catch up on the entire series here). When we last left off, Louis was going through a quiet period at home around December 1970 or January 1971 and was reaching for old tapes he originally made in the 1950s and was giving them fresh numbers and new catalog pages, a trend that will continue in today’s post, which will be filled with rare audio you won’t hear anywhere else.

Reel 156
Accession Number: 1987.3.454

The first tape we’re covering is appropriate for this time of the year it contains a gathering of friends at the Armstrong House in Corona, Queens in early January 1953. In fact, there are so many utterances of “Happy New Year,” we cataloged this as a New Year’s Eve tape for a number of years but it wasn’t until the family of Lillian Friedlander, who appears on the tape, visited our Archives in 2016 with a photo autographed by Louis on the exact date: January 4, 1953.

Ms. Friedlander is one of the stars of the tape as she brought along a song she composed, “I Can’t Afford to Miss This Dream.” A good portion of the early part of the tape is devoted to Friedlander teaching it to Louis, who promises to record it. He made good on his promise, even having Tutti Camarata write a chart for it, recorded by Louis and the Commanders for Decca on October 22, 1953:

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though, as we should spend more time with the tape of this January 1953 hang. Friedlander is thrilled that Louis is considering recording her song but one man is not surprised: Prince Gary. This mysterious figure first turns up in Honolulu, Hawaii in March 1952, where he was Louis’s driver. He soon got invited to Louis’s suite, where he appeared on a reel-to-reel tape telling many offcolor jokes with Louis and friends. Louis clearly took a liking too him and made him a part of his entourage for much of 1953. He appears on many tapes made that year but then comes up in a recorded conversation with road manager Pierre “Frenchy” Tallerie in October 1953, Frenchy complaining that he left town without notice–and from what I can tell, he never came back! I don’t even know what his real name was (it sure sounds like “Prince Gary” but Louis writes “Prince Geary”) but he lives on thanks to his appearances on tapes such as this one.

The other man at the party is much better known, Slim Thompson, a pioneering African American actor (he appeared in The Petrified Forest alongside Humphrey Bogart) who had been one of Louis’s closest friends since the early 1930s. For a visual, here’s a later photo of Thompson at the Armstrong House with Louis and Jack Bradley in 1965:

Photo by Jeann Failows. LAHM 2006_1_1662-08.jpg

After Friedlander sings another composition, “Just a Song That’s Part of My Heart,” Thompson grabs the microphone and sings “Pennies from Heaven” complete with the verse, beginning at 21:50. When he finishes around 25:40, the conversation portion of the tape begins, with Armstrong and Thompson reminiscing about being in Hollywood the same time Armstrong filmed Pennies from Heaven in 1936 and how he helped the trumpeter memorize his lines. (For those who have heard the tape Louis made in 1970 with Lloyd Von Blaine, the same joke about the Russian learning English appears here, too.)

Thompson sounds like he wants some alone time with Armstrong, but Armstrong says no, he wants to stay with his guests so the drinks are poured and the conversation gets frank at times. Armstrong and Thompson do talk awhile about how they’re the last two left from the old days of the Braddock Hotel, but Louis wants to tell jokes, cracking himself up with one about a bandleader asking for a tempo “not too slow, not too fast, just half-fast” at 33:30. One year later, Armstrong would utter this line on live TV on the Dorsey Brothers’s Stage Show, creating a bit of a stir in the media.

At 35:20, we hear a bit of Louis’s cataloging process, working with Reel 49 and explaining his system to Thompson, before going on about how much he loves making tapes. After some ribald talk with Thompson, one of the partygoers returns from watching Bob Hope’s television program (which aired at 8 p.m. on Sunday nights on NBC) to report that Bing Crosby just made a surprise appearance. Armstrong lights up at the mention of Bing’s name at 39:35, calling him “my boy” and saying, “He treated us so swell in our hometown.” When Thompson knocks Crosby for not doing much for African Americans, Louis defends his friend Bing, says “I like everybody,” utters another line that would be peppered throughout his 1970 tapes and television appearances: “The Lord help the poor, but don’t help the poor and lazy.”

After some discussion about where everyone lives–Thompson discovers he was practically a neighbor in the Bronx to Friedlander, who offers him a ride home–another guests from Germany asks Armstrong how many tapes he has at 43:50. Armstrong guesses about 300 and talks about how making the tapes helps him write. Asked about writing his book, Armstrong says he doesn’t have time–but he’d make time that year as Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans would come out in 1954. Armstrong also names Jeann “Roni” Failows as his secretary who helps him type stuff up. Failows is a big part of our Jack Bradley series as she was Jack’s girlfriend for about a decade and helped introduce Jack into Louis’s world in 1959, but we’ve also shared a manuscript Failows helped Louis craft, his New York Times review of the book Mr. Jelly Lord in 1950.

After more praise for Bing around 47:45, the conversation becomes a bit difficult to follow as Armstrong shows off a Swedish book in his library, but then perhaps the most interesting portion of the tape comes at 49:50 when Armstrong mentions how he struggled to make the funeral of Fletcher Henderson, who died on December 29, 1952, less than a week earlier. Thompson gives the details about the funeral and how “it knocked everybody out” when Armstrong showed up. Armstrong says “you’ve got to appreciate” Henderson, and remembers the “kicks” he had in that band, saying there was no way he was going to miss the funeral.

There’s lots of details about the funeral and Armstrong’s appearance, but then the complaints begin, with mentions of drummer Steve Wright (whose brother Herbert killed James Reese Europe in 1919) setting up to play in the church. They assumed other musicians would show up but nobody did (the musicians there didn’t have their instruments) so there was no music at the service. Both Thompson and Armstrong say Henderson deserved a better funeral, which Louis felt was “rushed.”

But this leads to a discussion of Benny Goodman at 58:00, with one of the partygoers saying he was “sick” about Goodman’s behavior, barely reading any of the telegrams that arrived. This fires Armstrong up, who says Goodman had been “overrated” and “spoiled” his entire life. This was a few months before the infamous tour that paired Armstrong and Goodman for a short, explosive time before Goodman backed out–clearly the writing was on the wall long before the tour even began. (We’ll have more on that tour–including audio–later in this post.)

Having introduced the main characters and given the blow-by-blow breakdown of events, here’s the watermarked audio of the entire January 1953 hang! (And I’d just like to personally say this is dedicated to Lillian Friedlander’s family, all of whom visited the Archives in 2016, and especially daughter Ronnie Chupak Atkins who has been a personal friend of mine ever since she came across her mother’s name in my first book about Armstrong about a decade ago!)

Corona Party with Louis, Lucille Armstrong, Lillian Friedlander, Slim Thompson, Prince Gary, and more, January 4, 1953.
LAHM 1987.3.454

And here’s Louis’s catalog page:

LAHM 1987_2_94~001

Side 2 originally continued with the January 1953 party, but we have edited that portion to the audio file shared above. Next we hear from Lucille’s brother-in-law, Charlie Phipps, who never cracked the big time but worked as a baritone vocalist in and around Queens. The next portion of the tape features Phipps singing along with Erroll Garner recordings and is interesting but not worth sharing.

But then Louis pops back in to read some jokes about being over the hill. Lucille joins him and reads the text of a citation Louis received in Chicago on February 18, 1953; the one from the Sutherland Hotel might be the earliest use of the phrase “Ambassador of Goodwill” used to describe Armstrong. It’s a short clip but gives a nice flavor of Louis and Lucille’s chemistry:

Louis and Lucille Armstrong, c. February 1953
LAHM 1987.3.454

The highlight of Side 2 of Reel 156 is something we already shared back in 2021 during our Marty Napoleon Centennial post. Pianist Napoleon returned to the All Stars fold later in 1953 and brought along a composition he wrote called “Mm-Mm.” Much like with Lillian Friedlander above, Louis patiently listened to Napoleon perform it, then took a stab at singing it, eventually recording it for Decca in 1955 as a duet with Velma Middleton (though by that time, Billy Kyle had taken over the piano chair in the band). Here’s the rehearsal from this tape:

Louis and Marty Napoleon rehearse “Mm-Mm,” c. 1953.
LAHM 1987.3.454

And for those who don’t it, here’s the Decca recording, which actually didn’t get released until the 1990s:

The rest of Reel 156 is taken up by recordings Armstrong dubbed by Art Tatum (“Indiana,” “Day In – Day Out,” “Dixieland Band,” “After You’ve Gone,” “Boots and Saddle,” “Tiger Rag,” “Stay as Sweet as You Are,” and “Monday in Manhattan”) and Duke Ellington (“Blue Serge,” “Moon Mist,” “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” “Easy Street,” “Perdido,” and “Stomp Caprice,” which is incomplete because Armstrong runs out of tape). Here’s the catalog page for Side 2:

Reel 156 1987_2_94~002

We get a great front cover for Reel 156, Louis posing in his bathrobe with two unidentified female fans backstage in the 1950s:

LAHM 1987.3.454

The handwriting on the back of the box shows that it originally housed the broadcast Armstrong’s November 28, 1957 from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, which we covered in our discussion of Reel 155, along with some sound clips (again, here’s the link):

LAHM 1987.3.454

Reel 157
Accession Number: 1987.3.455

Reel 157 picks up where Reel 156 left off, with more recordings by Art Tatum and Duke Ellington. For those curious, he opens with four Ellington sides–“Stomp Caprice,” “Bugle Blues,” “You and I,” and “Raincheck”–then switches back to Tatum for “You Took Advantage of Me,” “Body and Soul,” “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan,” and “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Then it’s back to Duke for “Love and I,” “John Hardy’s Wife,” “Take the A Train,” “I Hear a Rhapsody,” “Bounce,” “It’s Sad But True,” and “Madame Will Drop Her Shawl.” Then one more time over to Tatum for “Fine and Dandy,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues,” “I’m Coming Virginia,” “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm,” “What is This Thing Called Love,” and “Crazy Rhythm,” which is when Armstrong runs out of tape. Here’s the catalog page for Side 1:

LAHM 1987_2_95~002

Armstrong starts Side 2 with the complete “Crazy Rhythm” and continues with Tatum on “Can’t We Be Friends,” “Limehouse Blues,” “Among My Souvenirs,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” and “Stay As Sweet As You Are.” And finally, three more by Ellington: “Frenesi,” “Until Tonight,” and “West Indian Stomp.”

But after the Tatum-Ellington festival, Armstrong turns back to his South American tour of November 1957 for a television broadcast from Caracas, Venezuela. Video has not turned up of this performance (hopefully it does some day!) but at least Louis saved a copy of the audio, which opens an unknown orchestra Recording of a television broadcast from Caracas, Venezuela in November 1957, featuring a live performance from Louis Armstrong and His All Stars: broadcast opening; host talks (in Spanish); studio orchestra playing some classical selections. But then the All Stars (Trummy Young, Edmond Hall, Billy Kyle, Squire Gersh, Barrett Deems and Velma Middleton) are introduced and we get a full set–though Louis ran out of tape pretty early on in the show, only getting “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “Indiana,” “Dear Old Southland,” and part of “Now You Has Jazz” on this side before running out of tape.

The Caracas broadcast will continue below on Reel 158, but we’ll share a watermarked clip now of “Dear Old Southland.” This is the final “Dear Old Southland” in the Armstrong discography and sure enough, he does sound like he loses his footing briefly in the uptempo section, but he remained rightly proud of this performance, telling folks in later interviews about the enthusiastic response it received, especially since the show was hit was bomb threats beforehand. (Lucille Armstrong liked talking about how then-Vice President Nixon’s motorcade was pelted with eggs and rocks when visiting Caracas in 1958, but–bomb threats aside–Louis was welcomed as a hero just a few months earlier!) Here’s the audio:

“Dear Old Southland,” Louis Armstrong and His All Stars, Caracas, Venezuela, November 1957
LAHM 1987.3.455

And here’s the catalog page for Side 2:

LAHM 1987_2_95~001

Another great 1950s photo of Louis and some unidentified fans (in front of those ubiquitous blinds) adorns the front of Reel 157:

LAHM 1987.3.455

And another on the back–oh, how we wished we knew who these folks are!

LAHM 1987.3.455

Reel 158
Accession Number: 1987.3.456

The Caracas television broadcast continues on Reel 158 with “Now You Has Jazz,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Perdido,” “St. Louis Blues,” “That’s My Desire,” “Tiger Rag,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “I Get Ideas,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” rounding out the broadcast. Again, we must share a sample and this time it will be “I Get Ideas.” Armstrong had a hit record in 1951 with his take on the old Argentine tango “Adios Muchachos” but never played it regularly with the All Stars, until he appropriately revived it for this South American tour. It remained a mainstay in his repertoire until the early 1960s, but this is the first surviving All Stars version:

“I Get Ideas,” Louis Armstrong and His All Stars, Caracas, Venezuela, November 1957
LAHM 1987.3.456

After living in the 1950s for such a long span of time, we are thrown back into the world of 1970 as Armstrong next dubbed the audio of Johnny Carson’s “Sun City Scandals,” which aired on December 7 of that year. This was a special Carson hosted designed specifically to showcase entertainers over the age of 65. Armstrong filmed his segments while in California in July 1970 for his 70th birthday concert at the Shrine. Armstrong still wasn’t given the green light to play trumpet at that time, so he only sings “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “Hello, Dolly!” on the broadcast.

We thought about just sharing Armstrong’s portion of the program but it turns out “Sun City Scandals” is quite a rarity as it aired before Johnny Carson gained control of his shows in 1972. This means that, like the great majority of pre-1972 Carson, the video does not survive, only the audio. The show opens with a sketch featured Edward Everett Horton, who passed away on September 29, 1970, before the show aired. After Carson’s monologue, Benny Rubin does a comedy routine, Gloria Swanson sings “Those Were the Days,” Carson teams up with Horton for another comedy sketch, and the Four Smoothies dance. After another comedy routine, Armstrong comes out at 19:47 and sings “Sunny Side” and talks with Carlson. After more comedy from the soon-to-be-late Horton, Lil & Gladys Ahern, Wilbur Hall, and Whitey Robins do “That’s Entertainment,” Fifi D’Orsay does “Latin Quarter,” and Horton returns to talk with Carson and sing “How Does a Hen Know the Size of an Egg Cup When She Lays Her Egg.” Another comedy sketch follows at 43:27, this time with Louis getting involved as straight man (and that’s the strange sound of Billy Gilbert sneezing after the punchline). An old-timer’s band consisting of Frankie Carl (piano), Eddie Peabody (banjo–he also died before the show aired, passing away on November 7), Buddy Rogers (trombone), Freddie Martin (sax), and Manny Klein (trumpet) perform “When the Saints go Marchin’ In” with Louis joining in for “Hello, Dolly!” at 50:42 After some more comedy, Carson closes the show.

With the description out of the way, here’s the audio of “Sun City Scandals,” as broadcast on December 7, 1970:

Johnny Carson’s “Sun City Scandals,” December 7, 1970
LAHM 1987.3.456

But then we are hurled back into the 1950s for a dubbing session of Louis described as “Bop — Good Jazz.” If you know Louis, those are two different categories. He opens with what he most likely labeled “Good Jazz,” the Dutch Swing College Band’s “Boogietrap” and “1919 Rag.” Representing “Bop,” Louis dubbed two sides from Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool sessions, “Jeru” and “Godchild.” Louis might have been one of the few folks at the time who could follow Miles with Bix Beiderbecke, which is happens here with dubs of Bix’s 1927 specialties, “Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down” and “Sorry.” He rounds off this section with two Bessie Smith sides from 1925 on which Armstrong played cornet, “Reckless Blues” and “St. Louis Blues.”

Next, Armstrong dubbed some records picked up in Italy, including “Buona Pasqua” and “Papaveri E Papere” by Renato Carosone, “Nu Quarte e Luna” by his friend from Milan Ray Martin (later Ray Martino), and two sides by Genoa’s hot jazz band, the Gate Avenue Strawhaatters, “Margie” and “Boogie Woogie.” After a couple of radio selections–Patty Andrews’s 1951 hit “Too Young” and a version of the song “Until”–was playing and turned on the TV to catch Gary Moore’s show with the husband and wife team of Calvin Ponder and pianist and vocalist Martha Davis, who performed “Basin Street Blues,” “If I Didn’t Care,” and “Handful of Keys,” backed by Ed Shaughnessy on drums. (IMDB says Ponder and Davis appeared on Moore’s show three times between 1956 and 1958 so it’s likely Louis was jumping around across several different tapes he made throughout the 1950s.)

From there, Armstrong jumps back to his September 25, 1951 appearance on The Milton Berle Show. The sound quality isn’t great but it’s still worth sharing the audio of this rare appearance, which begins in media res during “Jeepers Creepers.” Armstrong then does “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and talks with Berle, showing off his quick wit. Berle calls himself “Mr. T.V.” and then means to refer to Armstrong as “Mr. L. A.,” but says “Mr. L. B.,” instead–Armstrong immediately says, “Mr. T. B.!” then corrects him Berle and says, “Mr. L. A.–Los Angeles,” getting a big laugh. Armstrong’s delivery of a scripted line about Berle being the “Young man with the corn” also elicits a roar from the audience, causing Berle to ad-lib, “If I thought it was gonna get such a big laugh, I would have given it to myself!” After a newsboy sketch, Armstrong and Berle do “Gone Fishin’,” then a brand new release featuring Louis and Bing Crosby and the entire cast closes the show with “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.” A sweet moment occurs after Berle’s final thank-you’s, as Louis grabs his microphone and thanks “Uncle Miltie” from wherever he was listening to this recording. Here’s the audio:

Louis Armstrong on “The Milton Berle Show,” September 25, 1951
LAHM 1987.3.456

Next is audio of a radio program Night Beat, hosted by famed Detroit columnist Ziggy Johnson. Johnson plays recordings by Tito Puente (“Night Ritual”), Gene Kelly (“Paris Jazz, Les Girl”) and Roy Hamilton (“The Right to Love”) before playing selections from Armstrong’s 1956 LP Ambassador Satch and delivering a “proclamation” to Louis.

Phew, that is one packed three hour side of tape–which Louis succinctly catalogued in one page!

LAHM 1987_2_96~001

Louis didn’t remember what led off Side 2, simply writing “Bop,” but it’s actually an interesting choice with ties to the All Stars. Bassist Mort Herbert joined at the beginning of 1958 and stayed through the middle of 1961, a fairly lengthy stay for a bass player in the group. At the time he joined, he only had one album under his own name as leader, a 1956 date on the Savoy label titled Night People. Herbert assembled a killer cast, including drummer Kenny Clarke, pianists Hank Jones and Dick Katz, trumpeter Joe Wilder and saxophonist Sahib Shihab; in fact later reissues have been released under Shihab’s name (you can also listen to the complete album on YouTube). Was the album a gift of Herbert to his new boss or was Louis checking out his prospective new bassist before giving Joe Glaser the green light? We don’t know but it’s interesting to speculate.

Next up, a taste of Louis in Philadelphia, most likely in January 1953, thanking “Aunt Cara” (though he writes “Clara” on his catalog sheet) and talking to a little girl named Cynthia. He also gives his regards to a “Bobbie,” who it sounds like was a nurse. Wish we knew more about this family–little Cynthia, are you out there, maybe in your mid-70s? Anyway, here’s the clip of Louis talking with the family and then he turns on his tape recorder and spins sides from an unissued All Stars concert in New Orleans from May 13, 1952. We’ve let this clip run long to capture some “Back O’Town Blues” (with Russ Phillips on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Marty Napoleon on piano, Dale Jones on bass, and Cozy Cole on drums):

Louis talks with Aunt Cara and Cynthia in Philadelphia c. January 1953 and listens to the All Stars live in New Orleans, May 13, 1952
LAHM 1987.3.456

After that sequence, Armstrong copied the audio of just Lillian Friedlander singing “I Can’t Afford to Miss This Dream” from the first tape we shared today from January 1953–he most likely wanted to listen it so he could learn it or perhaps play it for Joe Glaser or Milt Gabler at Decca. This is followed by a dub of about half of the legendary 2-LP Decca set Satchmo at Symphony Hall.

We then jump ahead a several years to hear Armstrong recording the albums of two of his favorite disciples, Teddy Buckner’s A Salute to Louis Armstrong and Ruby Braff’s Hi Fi Salute to Bunny, both released in 1957. Armstrong then sticks with RCA’s “Hi Fi” series with another 1957 release, Connee Boswell and the Original Memphis Five in Hi-Fi.” Midway through the dub, however, we hear the inebriated voice of Louis’s close friend, Los Angeles nightclub owner Stuff Crouch, apologizing for not being in a good state to read the liner notes of the album as Louis requested him to do. Louis just laughs and quotes his old valet in the 1930s and early 40s, Bob Smiley, who apparently once said, “There you go, getting defended,” instead of “defensive.” Here’s this funny little moment (recorded at a low level so accept our apologies for the more noticeable beeps than usual):

Stuff Crouch and Louis talk during dubbing of Connee Boswell LP, June 20, 1957.
LAHM 1987.3.456

Armstrong and Crouch finish listening and Crouch finally reads the liner notes, but the Louis of 1970 ran out of tape while dubbing the original reel, so he would restart it on the very next reel. In the meantime, here are the two catalog pages that described the contents of a packed Side 2:

LAHM 1987_2_96~002
LAHM 1987_2_96~003

For the first time in a long time, Reel 158 features collages made by Louis in 1970. The front features a copy of the promotional image for Louis’s September 1970 “comeback” engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas with Pearl Bailey:

LAHM 1987.3.456

And on the back, the photo is hampered by the shiny Scotch tape, but it’s a cute clipping from the Long Island Press of October 13, 1970 about Louis and Lucille’s 30th wedding anniversary party (though I’m not sure who did the math; they were married in 1942 so they were actually celebrating 28 years):

LAHM 1987.3.456

Reel 159
Accession Number: 1987.3.457

For the start of Reel 159, Louis rewound the 1950s tape he was using to dub to Reel 158 and copied the complete sequence of Stuff Crouch reading the liner notes to the Connee Boswell album. We’ve actually chosen to not share the audio of this sequence (unless there’s a large outcry in the comments) because Louis doesn’t even say much, it’s just the sound of Crouch reading the album notes for about 15 minutes. The only interesting facts to report is it was recorded on June 20, 1957 at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood (Louis was playing the Moulin Rouge at the time) and Crouch was drinking Scotch, while Armstrong was drinking his favorite cherry herring.

Then it’s dubbing time with some Count Basie (“Rambo,” “You Can’t Run Around,” and “One O’Clock Jump”) and Sarah Vaughan (“Over the Rainbow,” “Soon” and “Cherokee.”) But then we get a really interesting sequence, one of the few examples–maybe the only example–of Louis playing with editing his tape. He copied part of a tape where he and Velma Middleton listened to Satchmo at Symphony Hall, the audio of which we shared in full in our 75th anniversary post about that seminal album. Halfway through, he switched to the aforementioned New Orleans concert of May 13, 1952 just for two Velma features and then went back to the Symphony Hall tape. At one point on the original tape, Louis says the phrase “God Bless Big Sid,” uttered shortly after drummer Big Sid Catlett passed away. Upon relistening, that line must have stuck with him because he edited it out and placed it before Catlett’s feature on “Boff Boff.” Here’s the audio, only a few seconds, but worth sharing because it might be the only example of Louis “remixing” his original taped content:

Louis Armstrong’s “God Bless Big Sid” edit, c. 1953.
LAHM 1987.3.457

After that, he switches back to the 1952 New Orleans concert, then once again dubs the voice of Lillian Friedlander singing “I Can’t Afford to Miss This Dream” to Louis from that 1953 tape. Then, after a bit of “Ain’t It The Truth,” Armstrong’s Cabin in the Sky feature that was edited out of the final film, Armstrong dubs six sides from his Town Hall concert of May 17, 1947 and a popular Decca single from 1952, “Kiss of Fire” backed by “I’ll Walk Alone.”

He closes out Side 1 with part of the All Stars’s set from an evening during the aforementioned eventually aborted 1953 tour with Benny Goodman. We already heard Armstrong’s feelings about Goodman earlier in this post and those who remembered the short-lived tour said Armstrong came close to killing Goodman just with the ferocity of his trumpet playing. The sound quality is subpar, but here’s the All Stars (Louis, Trummy Young on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Joe Bushkin on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass, and Cozy Cole on drums) doing a ferocious version of “High Society.” Though a feature for Barney Bigard–clearly wanting to making a statement with Goodman waiting to go on–Armstrong is in Herculean form in the outchoruses, exclaiming “Jesus!” after the finish and even calling for an encore. The All Stars out for blood!

“High Society,” Louis Armstrong and His All Stars c. April 1953.
LAHM 1987.3.457

Let’s cool down for a second with the catalog pages for Side 1 of Reel 159:

LAHM 1987_2_97~001
LAHM 1987_2_97~002

The All Stars’s set from the 1953 Benny Goodman tour continues on Side 2 with a feature for Trummy Young on “Margie,” Velma Middleton’s blues, her show-stopping duet with Louis on “That’s My Desire,” and a closing “Mop Mop” featuring Cozy Cole. From this portion, we’ve chosen to share “Velma’s Blues.” At Carnegie Hall, Goodman told Armstrong that he had to cut out Velma’s feature and especially the split she would do while dancing. Louis refused, Velma went on, did her split, and brought down the house. Now, this tape has no details about location but on another tape in Louis’s collection, his friends mention they’re listening to a tape of the Carnegie Hall show from Armstrong’s tour Benny Goodman–thus, there’s a chance this is that performance. Either way, it was not easy to follow that band, as Goodman learned the hard way–here’s “Velma’s Blues” (you’ll hear the split at 3:08!):

“Velma’s Blues,” Louis Armstrong and His All Stars, c. April 1953.
LAHM 1987.3.457

But then we’re back to 1957 for a charming tape that we’ve shared before during our celebration of Velma Middleton back in 2021. The All Stars had a short break in late 1957 and Velma, home with family, made a tape especially for Louis and featuring herself and members of her family singing and talking for him. We urge you to check out the earlier post for more context (and more on Velma), but here is the audio again for those who missed it the first time:

Velma Middleton and family make a tape for Louis Armstrong, 1957.
LAHM 1987.3.457

Like ping-pong, Louis finishes the reel back in 1953, first dubbing four sides the All Stars recorded for Decca in 1950, “Panama,” “New Orleans Function,” “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” and “Bugle Blues,” released as the album New Orleans Days. Then something different and something a bit special. Velma Middleton joined Louis’s big band in 1942 as a replacement for vocalist Ann Baker, who was pregnant and needed to get off the road. She never returned to the Armstrong fold (she became the singer in Billy Eckstine’s “Dream Band” of 1943), but according to the date on the catalog page, on October 1, 1953, Baker sent Louis a tape of herself singing a bunch of songs with only piano or organ backing. Was she trying to get back in the band? It’s possible, but though it didn’t happen, Baker and Armstrong remained on good terms. In a letter to Joe Glaser on February 11, 1957, Armstrong wrote, “Speaking of wiper’s Ann Baker + her husband caught our concert in Bluefield West Virginia. She took a bow did a song with us (AFTER VELMA OF CORSE) and Ann damn near upset my show- she went over so big. Yassuh she stopped it cold. Good ol Ann. She always did that. Stopp a show? Huh That’s nothing new for Ann Baker.”

Then it’s back to the All Stars in October 1953 for a broadcast from George Wein’s Storyville nightclub in Boston for a bit of “Someday You’ll Be Sorry,” which was starting to swing more and more after originally being treated as a tender ballad. That would change for good later that month when Armstrong recorded a storming version for Decca with The Commanders, the same session on which he recorded Lillian Friedlander’s “I Can’t Afford to Miss This Dream.” And to wrap everything up with a big bow, that same session also featured Armstrong’s future Christmas hits, “Zat You Santa Claus” and “Cool Yule” and Reel 159 ends with demos of both songs (the latter performed by composer Steve Allen), used by Louis to learn both songs before he got to the studio. Here are the demos–listen to these then listen to what Louis did with them for the ultimate example of his ability to transform almost anything into supremely swinging material (and in 2022, a bona fide hit record!):

Demo recordings of “Zat You Santa Claus” and “Cool Yule,” 1953.
LAHM 1987.3.457

Side 2 actually ends with one more demo from 1953, an unknown female vocalist singing “Make Me a Melody Pie,” which Louis actually plays twice–perhaps he was planning on recording that one as a favor, too, but it wasn’t to be. Here are the catalog pages for Side 2, another packed one:

LAHM 1987_2_97~003
LAHM 1987_2_97~004

A nice snapshot of Louis offstage wearing glasses and signing an autograph for an unknown man adorns the front of the box for Reel 159, alongside a faded color photo that we can’t make out:

LAHM 1987.3.457

The photo on the back of Reel 159 is a completely mystery. We don’t know who the tall woman is, but Louis is in a recording studio and it looks to be the Louis of 1970. It doesn’t match up with the photos we have from Louis Armstrong and His Friends and Louis “Country and Western” Armstrong, his only studio albums of that year, but remember he also did a few commercial spots so it’s possible this is from one of those sessions:

LAHM 1987.3.457

Reel 160
Accession Number: 1987.3.458

In full disclosure, this post has taken almost a full week to compile, but we’ve reached the finish line and thankfully, it’s an easy one to describe. Side 1 one has dubs of two seminal albums by two seminal trumpeters, Bobby Hackett’s Jazz Ultimate (Jack Teagarden gets co-leader billing) and Clifford Brown’s With Strings. (We featured these two and a whole lot more in a post we did on Other Trumpet Players in Louis Armstrong’s Record Collection back in 2020.) I admit it’s kind of thrilling seeing Armstrong’s handwritten notation of these masterful albums by two very different trumpeters he clearly admired:

LAHM 1987_2_98~001

Side 2 is even easier to describe as it’s just a dub of a 1953 RCA LP, Show Biz: From Vaude to Video, written by Abel Green and narrated by George Jessel. With a little time left on the reel, Armstrong fills it with dubs of Bert Williams’s “I Certainly Was Going Some” and his own “I’ll String Along With You” from 1957’s Louis and the Angels. Here’s the catalog page:

LAHM 1987_2_98~002

Bert Williams only appears on one selection but he gets the spotlight on the front of the box for Reel 160, along with “Show Biz,” placed on top of a nice photo of Louis and Lucille posing with two unidentified fans:

LAHM 1987.3.458

The photo on the back is sideways but it’s a doozy, again depicting Louis and Lucille (who doesn’t seem to know the camera is aimed at them) with an unidentified friend who looks familiar–any guesses?

LAHM 1987.3.458

My goodness, that was a lot–hopefully this post made up for lost time caused by the holiday break! Next time we’ll begin with Reel 160 and Louis only got through Reel 170 before having a heart attack in March 1971, so the end is near, folks, but there are some big surprises and highlights still to come in the final batch of tapes so don’t miss out!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected
%d bloggers like this: