Sunday, July 13, 2008

One Year Later...

One year ago, having grown frustrated over the lack of respect Louis Armstrong was getting in the jazz world, I this blog to celebrate all things Pops: single records, YouTube videos, concerts, anything and everything. I had been listening to Pops for 12 years, researching him like crazy and trying to put all my efforts into writing a book on Armstrong's later years. As the book was nearing its completion (well, for then...I've since more or less rewritten and continue to add to it as I acquire more music and footage!) and I was having trouble securing a book deal (now THAT hasn't changed), I felt like sitting on my research and opinions was not helping anybody, most of all Pops. Speaking with other jazz fans my age, I noticed that they didn't really explore Armstrong in any depth, quitting after a few Hot Five compilations. Reading the jazz magazines, I hadn't seen a major story on Pops since his centennial celebrations in 2000 and 2001. Going on the online jazz forums, I noticed Pops was usually absent from the lively discussions, unless some newbie wanted to pop on to find out what was the best way to purchase the Hot Five recordings.

So sure, no one could deny his importance, but it seemed like the jazz world was taking him for granted: the trailblazer in the 1920s became a clown, started recording commercial material, mugged in movies and became better known for "What a Wonderful World" than anything else. I knew better and figured that other people out there had to feel the same way; and if they didn't, maybe they'd stumble onto the site and learn something they didn't know about Pops. So I threw myself into it, blogging whenever I had the time, which wasn't always easy with a wife, gigs, a new house, etc. But one year and over 100 entries later, I'm still having a ball and I have my loyal readers to thank for it.

I've mentioned many of them by name before and I might as well do it again! The European contingent of Gösta Hägglöf, Jos Willems and Håkan Forsberg never ceases to amaze me. Their enthusiasm is limitless and I can never truly repay them for the continuous supply of rare Armstrong material they have sent to me in the last year. Gus's Ambassador label has put out some of the most essential Armstrong releases to have ever hit the market, and no true Armstrong fan can live without Jos's monumental "All Of Me" discography (which couldn't be done, as Jos has written, without the help of Mr. Forsberg). I might sometimes get frustrated with the seeming apathy towards Pops demonstrated in America at times, but it's nice to know that the love and devotion shown to Pops in Europe is still going strong.

Not to say that the United States doesn't have its own share of Pops nuts and I've been fortunate to have fruitful relationships with many of them, especially the Boston contingent of Dave Whitney and Phil Person, both marvelous trumpeters who have turned into wonderful friends, whom I can call on the phone and discuss Pops for hours at a time. Terry Teachout's Armstrong biography is going to be something to behold and his very nice plug of my blog last month, brought me a slew of new readers, which was greatly appreciated. And there's so many others from around the world: historians like Fernando de Ortiz Urbina; musicians like the great Al Basile; other great bloggers such as Michael Johnston of "Sinatra Club" and Michael Steinmen of "Jazz Lives"; and other great readers such as Anthony Coleman, Uwe from Germany, Jim Denham, John in D.C., Mark Ipri, John Wriggle and the rest. Thanks all!

It's been a pretty good year for Pops devotees. Last summer saw the release of Storyville's essential "In Scandinavia" set, as produced and prepared by Gösta Hägglöf. After that came the release of the 1958 Monterey concert, capturing a somewhat struggling Pops blowing through the pain to put on a helluva show. On the DVD front, an excellent career sampler, "The Portrait Collection," and a very fine 1963 set in Australia, hit the shelves, both welcome additions to the Armstrong collection. But of course, the most important release has been the Fleischmann set. I know I've previewed it for way too long: the official blog on it, with music samples, will be posted Monday evening or Tuesday morning, the latest (the computer with my Itunes on it still isn't set up yet in the new house but will be today).

As for my packed-with-details entries, the generosity of other collectors has led me to hear recordings and make conclusions/corrections that couldn't have been made when I wrote my original posts. Here's a list of some of these new discoveries and details to old blogs:

*Darling Nellie Grey - At the time of my entry, I had no idea about the status of the Fleischmann Yeast Broadcasts so it's nice to know that almost one year after I lamented their absence on the market, listeners can finally enjoy the live version of this tune on the priceless Fleischmann set.

*The Gypsy - I mentioned how Pops quoted it during the 1947 Town Hall version of "Save It Pretty Mama." Since then, I've heard him quote it during his break on at least three different versions of "Basin Street Blues" from around 1947-1948, showing that he really, really loved that song and was probably chomping at the bit to record it, something that wouldn't happen until 1953.

*Velma's Blues - I noted how in October 1952, Velma was still singing "Big Daddy Blues" but a month later, on the same European tour, she began singing "Big Mama's Back In Town." I guessed that the new lyrics must have been penned during that trip, but since then I've heard an earlier version from a New Orleans concert in May 1952, where Velma sang the "Big Mama" version, with a couple of different chourses peppered throughout. Thus, she must have switched between "Big Mama" and "Big Daddy" for a while but after that 1952, it seems like "Big Mama" was here to stay. But the splits do seem to have ended in 1956. I have heard a 1959 version of "Velma's Blues" from Keesler Air Force Base and she sings the different lyrics she would also use on her very final version from Africa in 1960, as discussed in my original entry.

*Speaking of Keesler Air Force Base, this is also the concert that I mentioned Pops and Velma doing "Big Butter and Egg Man" for what I thought must have been the first time in awhile. Since then, I've heard this version and everything sounds tight and Pops sounds wonderful. The routine is still fresh, leading me to believe that maybe "Butter and Egg Man" cropped up more than we think in those 1956-1959 years.

*I've heard a few more versions of Barney Bigard's "C-Jam Blues" feature since my original September entry and I can attest that the versions done when bassist Dale Jones was in the band aren't as good as the earlier or later ones. At the aforementioned 1952 New Orleans concert, Jones seems lost a bit in the beginning and doesn't add the same kind of force that Arvell Shaw did.

*Since my "12th Street Rag" entry, the trombonist Jasper Van Pelt uploaded a clip of the All Stars performing it live in Italy in 1959. It's the latest version I know of and it's a "gassuh." Humor still rules the day but everyone looks like they're having a ball and Pops's horn is in beautiful shape. I can't embed it here, but please search for it on YouTube.

*I've also learned that Pops kept "I Get Ideas" in the repertoire until at least 1962. There's a wonderful version of the tune from a Germany concert where Pops plays a completely different solo than his 1959 versions, opening with a quote from "The Peanut Vendor."

*In my "Pretty Little Missy" entry, I wrote about Pops's last studio trumpet solo, taken on this tune in 1969, as well as the audio I've heard of Armstrong playing it on his last television appearance, "The Tonight Show" in 1971. Just this week, I obtained a documentary that shows Pops playing it with an orchestra in England in 1970 and he sounds quite strong. He continued coming up with very nice variations on this tune until the very end.

*When I wrote about "Old Man Mose," I mentioned knowing that the All Stars performed it on the "Mike Douglas Show" in 1964 but I knew nothing more about it. I've now seen this footage and it's become one of my favorite All Stars clips. The band takes it a little slower than earlier versions, but it's right in the pocket and the musicians can't hide their infectious enthusiasm. They clearly must have just rehearsed it before the show because it's pretty loose, but man, it swings.

*Writing about an earlier live version of "That's For Me" from 1949, I noted how the tempo was faster than 1950 Decca studio version. Leave it to Gösta Hägglöf to notice that the live version was pitched in the wrong key, thus sounded faster, but was actually probably just as slow as the original. Oops! Thanks, Gus!

*I wrote about Pops not playing much horn on "The Saints" after 1959, but the recent clip I posted from "I've Got a Secret" in 1965 disproves that. I've also recently seen Armstrong's appearance on "The Hollywood Palace" from that same year and he plays a chorus at the end, bringing back the old phrases and sounding quite strong.

And I think that's all I can think of right now for this little one-year look back. Thanks again to all of you readers and I look forward to carrying this on for years to come, all in the name of Pops! As always, feel free to e-mail me at dippermouth@msn.com or leave a comment. Til next time!

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