Friday, February 29, 2008

All of Me: The Complete Discography of Louis Armstrong

As time has completely elapsed on me this week (and I'm staring two gigs in the next two days right in the face), I didn't have time to do a planned third blog on an Armstrong record this week. But while I have a few minutes before I have to get ready for tonight's performance, I wanted to do something that's long overdue: I want to devote a little time to the most important book on Louis Armstrong that has ever been written, All of Me: The Complete Discography of Louis Armstrong. This masterful work was published in 2006 by Jos Willems of Belgium. Discograhpies are usually somewhat dry affairs, but Willems's work does not fall into that category. It's clearly a work done with love and that love can be easily felt in its pages, especially Willems's final note, where he writes, "Words and recordings, intimacies and performances, all of these captured moments add up to the hours, days, and years that Louis gave to us--and we so energentically and lovingly gave back."

Before Willems, I, and many other Armstrong nuts, relied on Hans Westerberg's wonderful Boy From New Orleans discography. But Willems masterfully updated it to encompass the C.D. era and without it, I would have been deprived on many, many Armstrong discs that I had no idea existed until I traced them back to All of Me. And Willems's tireless research of books, periodicals and newspapers is something to be applauded. It's a long way from being a biography, but All of Me has more substantial information about Armstrong's music and his bands than all previous Armstrong biographies combined.

A lot of this has to do with Willems's wonderful "Notes" for most of the entries. To me, these are the highlights of the book. He's taken the time to detail what makes alternate takes of recordings differ from the masters, he calls for Victor and Columbia to comb their archives for more takes and unissued concert material, he sets the date straight on many different Armstrong sessions and live performances...there's so much there that I probably pick up All of Me at least once a day and still find new and fresh information that helps my understanding of Armstrong's music. Suffice to say, my blog and my manuscript on Armstrong's later years would look a lot different without Willems's work.

Again, most discographies are for the hardcore enthusiast but anyone with a sizeable Armstrong collection who might want to dig a little deeper or find out a little more information on their favorite Armstrong records, would be encouraged to seek out All of Me. Fortunately, All of Me is readily available online in paperback for $43.50 new on Amazon.com and as low as $24 used, very reasonable prices for a discography (I recently went to purchase Frank Buchman-Moller's landmark Lester Young work, but it's still $70, a little rich for my blood, as much as love the Pres). Here's a picture of the book, part of Scarecrow Press's indispensible "Sudies in Jazz" series, edited by Dan Morgensterna dn Ed Berger of the Institute of Jazz Studies:



Now, after two years of nonstop using (my wife refers to it as my "Bible"), here's a few pictures of my home edition:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Trust me, it looks worse in person! And the last picture features my famous blue highlighter, which has now highlighted each of the 2,921 Armstrong songs currently occupying my Itunes (and slowing down my computer with each passing download!). And, to be frank, a good chunk have been provided by Jos himself, who has written to me that he enjoys this blog and wants to help my cause of spreading the joys of all Pops, but especially the wonderful music of his later years. I've also received priceless treasures from Håkan Forsberg and Gösta Hägglöf, both of Sweden, and both important contributors of All of Me. I don't know how long I'll keep this blog up but whatever happens, I tresaure the artifacts and great commmunication that have occured since these wonderful Europeans began writing to me last summer. Thanks to all of you (and to all my other readers, too, while I'm at it!).

But today belongs to Jos and I just want to finish this entry by thanking him one more time for the wonderful gift he presented all Armstrong fans with All of Me, a work whose importance will last forever. I'll be back again next week with more Armstrong breakdowns (including "Swing That Music") but for now, here's to Jos Willems!

No comments: