At the end of our last post, Louis Armstrong wrote a rollicking four-page letter to Jack Bradley and Jeann “Roni” Failows from Reno, Nevada in September 1967, shortly before ending up in the hospital for a few days with his second bout of pneumonia of the year.
Around this same time, Decca Records released one of the most important reissues in the Armstrong discography: Rare Items. Bradley wrote about it in his November 1967 Coda column:
More good news – after all these years Decca Records have finally gotten off their collective posteriors and started a major jazz reissue program. Milt Gabler, former owner of Commodore Records and now a major executive at Decca has initiated this important program. He is being aided by two of the most qualified men in the field, Stanley Dance and Frank Driggs. Decca vaults hold a wealth of material, so many great reissues are scheduled for release. Already out are the first seven records. Of special importance is a Louis Armstrong LP from the late 1930’s and early ‘40’s. Included are such titles as Swing That Music, Eventide, You’re A Lucky Guy, Lying To Myself, Solitude, Skeleton In The Closet, Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, It’s a Wonderful and Grooving (the last a previously unissued side by Louis’ big band of 1944).
Here is the cover of Rare Items:
But almost equally important as the music was the essay by Dan Morgenstern, who just turned 94 at the time of this writing. (Happy Birthday, Dan!) 1967 was also the year Gunther Schuller published Early Jazz, which set up the narrative that just about everything Armstrong did after 1928 suffered from “the creepy tentacles of commercialism.” At this time, Decca had kept a number of Armstrong recordings in print, but had let his 1930s work fall by the wayside–something that finally changed with the release of Rare Items and its influential liner notes by Morgenstern. I’ve personally heard from many important folks in the jazz world, including Gary Giddins, Allen Lowe, and many others, who feel that that reissue and Dan’s notes represented the beginning of a new way of looking at Armstrong’s post-1928 work, allowing listeners to realize that maybe it wasn’t as bad as Schuller said.
(While writing this piece, Ethan Iverson published a fantastic cover story in The Nation about the Louis Armstrong Archives. He didn’t have enough space to give Dan Morgenstern his due and rectified that on his Substack with a post giving even more background on the impact of Rare Items—read it here!)
This might be tough to read, but we still feel it’s important to share the back cover of Rare Items so readers can enjoy Dan’s notes:
For those wondering what the fuss is all about, I put together a Spotify playlist recreating the original track order of Rare Items (though where that LP unfortunately used fake stereo versions, I took my tracks from The Decca Singles 1935-1946, a streaming-only set I co-produced back in 2017 with Harry Weinger for Universal which represented the first time these recordings were properly pitch corrected)–listen here!
At the same time Rare Items was released, Louis’s latest single hit the stores and it was one that would be eventually heard by many millions of more people than any of those Decca big band classics: “What a Wonderful World,” backed by a dynamic new remake of “Cabaret.”
ABC-Paramount President Larry Newton famously expected the single to bomb and put very little promotion into it as a way of spiting producer Bob Thiele. That didn’t stop Cash Box from naming it its “Pick of the Week” in its September 23, 1967 issue, writing, “Is Louis Armstrong donning a new image? Taking up a set of flower-child lyrics, the grand hornman warbles a slow ballad celebrating the beautiful things for a powerhouse debut on the ABC label. ‘What a Wonderful World’ should collect plaudits on pop and good music stations.”
A week later, Joe Glaser’s Associated Booking Corporation placed an ad in the September 30 issue of Cash Box, promoting the record and teasing to an upcoming performance on The Tonight Show (which will be covered in our next post):
After his stay in the hospital, Louis finally arrived back home in Corona, Queens at the beginning of October for the first time since mid-August. He would have some time off as Glaser booked a recording date on October 9 and that Tonight Show appearance on October 11, before the band would go back on the road on October 12. With some time to unwind, Louis and Lucille decided to have a little gettogether at their home, inviting Jack Bradley and Jeann Failows, among others. Naturally Bradley brought his camera, which finally brings us to the raison d’être for this post.
I always wondered about the date of these photos and finally figured it out while researching this piece. Bradley’s Armstrong photos shared a roll with photos of an outdoor Jazzmobile concert in New York. Jazzmobile was usually a summer thing and sure enough, they did kick their season off in July 1967, but in the Armstrong photos, Louis is clearly holding a copy of “What a Wonderful World,” which didn’t come out until the end of September. Finally, thanks to Newspapers.com, I found the following blurb: “On October 7, which will be proclaimed Jazz Day by Mayor Lindsay, there will be three special concerts by a jazzmobile at locations near public schools in Harlem.” One of the concerts featured Chico Hamilton’s Octet; here are three of Bradley’s photos from the occasion (if anyone can help identify the musicians, please write in!):
Thus, we know where Jack Bradley was on the afternoon of October 7, which was a Saturday. After the October 9 recording session, clarinetist Joe Muranyi recorded an audio diary in which he mentioned that Jack and Jeann had been hanging out with Louis and that Louis called them “last Saturday” so I’m fairly confident that the photos that make up the rest of the post were taken late on Saturday, October 7, 1967.
We begin with the hosts, having a little fun in Louis’s upstairs den. It had been a rough year for Louis and Lucille: Louis needed six weeks off due to pneumonia in May and June, then Lucille had a major surgery of some kind in July. They reunited in Reno in September where Louis’s letter in our last post hinted that they were getting closer to getting clearance to do “the vonce,” but then Louis was felled with pneumonia again. Now, back in their beloved home–and I’m going to assume with Louis’s music playing in the background–Louis and Lucille shared a dance. Oh! It also just dawned on me that October 12, 1967 would be the 25th wedding anniversary and since Louis was going back on the road that day, perhaps this was an ad hoc anniversary celebration. The woman smiling in the background is Winnie Hall, widow of Louis’s one-time clarinetist Edmond Hall, who died earlier in the year:
Ah, love–bless Jack for capturing it in all its phases!
After the dance party, Louis took a seat behind his desk and began the process of signing autographs. It’s a little tough to make out, but take my word that that is an ABC-Paramount single of “What a Wonderful World” and “Cabaret” (the disc with the black letters on white background is marked “Promotional Copy Not For Sale”; we still have one in Louis’s collection):
Louis would eventually mail out signed copies to friends around the world, including her buddy in Berlin, Winfried Maier. Winfried sadly passed away earlier this year, but he donated his entire Armstrong collection to our Archives back in 2015, which included this gem:
Jack took a seat across from Louis’s desk and continued snapping photos of Louis in conversation as he continued signing autographs; here’s a selection of the best images (with Winnie Hall making another cameo appearance):
Finally, the glasses come off–Louis’s work is done for the evening:
That concluded a memorable night in Corona, but Jack would see Louis soon enough as he’d be invited to his Brunswick recording session on Monday, October 9 and to the Tonight Show taping on October 11; Jack would bring his camera to both and we’ll have those photos–and much more–in our next post!