Sunday, August 3, 2008

Checking In From New Orleans - The Sequel

Hello everyone and welcome back to my second--and probably final--blog from the Satchmo Summerfest down here in hot and steamy New Orleans. If you've ever heard anything about New Orleans being slightly on the warm side in the summer, believe it. I think the Guinness Book of Records people were following me yesterday as I attempted to break the record of World's Sweatiest Man. Rough going..

But that's the only blemish on what has been a vacation from heaven. My last entry ended with the wonderful reception, highlighted by a keynote address from George Avakian, on Thursday night. Thursday morning opened with a breakfast buffet at the Market Cafe, where we were serenaded by the sounds of Dr. Michael White's Liberty jazz band. I've always been a big fan of White and I've never heard him sound better. The whole group, which included Mark Braud on trumpet, Lucien Barbarin on trombone, and Shannon Powell on drums, couldn't have sounded any more authentic on tunes like "Basin Street," "Canal Street Blues," and "Dippermouth Blues." White was also undeniably nice when I talked to him in between sets:

As I keep saying, I'm just living the dream down here. Part of that was sitting next to George Avakian and Dan Morgenstern during White's set. During "Dippermouth Blues," Dan suggested we chime in on the vocal and when the time came, all three of us shouted, "Oh, play that thing!" Here's a photo of me, George, Dan, White and Michael Cogswell:

Sitting next to George is always a treat and during a break, I got to ask him a question I originally wanted answered in a blog from July 6: will the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival Armstrong set ever be released? Here is a picture of me asking the question (very exciting, I know):

And here is a photo of George replying with some wonderful news: he has the material and is in the process of getting it issued on a private, as-yet-unfounded label, hopefully in January!

So that's some tremendously exciting news. Of course, any further details I get will be posted right here. After breakfast it was off to Armstrong Park:

Katrina did a number on Armstrong Park and it's still not a very pretty sight. It's only open for big events now, the water was dirty, the fields were shoddily kept...the whole place needs work. Of course, the centerpiece is the Armstrong statue:

As Dan Morgenstern pointed out to me, the sentiment was in the right place and it's better than having no statue at all, but the facial image does not do Pops justice. In fact, my wife pointed it out that it reminded her of an alien from a Spielberg film:

The reason we were at the park was to celebrate Armstrong's birthday and a very nice crowd showed up for the celebration:

Some higher-ups delivered short speeches and cake was served but the highlight was the music, as provided by Yoshio Toyama's group, with New Orleans favorite Kermit Ruffins sitting in:

Toyama's group included his wife Keiko on banjo, New Orleans trombonist Freddie Lonzo (it was the first time he had ever played with Toyama) and the old American drummer Jimmy Smith, who played with the likes of Ella, Erroll Garner and Basie, but has been living in Japan for over a decade. But of course, everyone was there for the trumpeters, who opened with a beautiful "Sleepy Time Down South" with Toyama quoting Armstrong's solo from his original Decca record:

Here's Yoshio and Kermit singing on "Bye and Bye":

Kermit is a very fine trumpeter, but I had never heard anything in my life like Yoshio. Of all the trumpet players I've ever heard, his sound was the closest to Armstrong I had ever heard in person. His spirit radiates Armstrong to the core (more on a bit).

From the birthday celebration, it was off to Antoine's, one of New Orleans's most famous restaurants (since 1840). Naturally, a ton of celebrities ate there and their faces lined the walls, but of course, my eye caught a picture of Groucho Marx:

The place was gorgeous, the food was delicious and the music by New Orleans cornetist Connie Jones and pianist Tom McDermott was tasteful and perfect. Seriously, I've never seen two musicians play for almost two hours straight with literally one five-minute break! And again,, one can only imagine the Armstrong conversations taking place at a table with George, Dan, Michael, Gary Giddins, David Ostwald, Daryl Sherman, Michael Gourrier and Connie Atkinson. Here are some candids my wife took as everyone dined:

And then it was off to the Old Mint where the seminar series began with an Oral History of Connie Jones performed by pianist McDermott. Jones was the cornetist in Jack Teagarden's final band and he had some great stories of his days playing in New Orleans and Philadelphia. This was followed by another Oral History of Yoshio and Keiko Toyama done by Dr. Jack Stewart. This was a delight. Yoshio's ear is fantastic as he perfectly mimicked the voices of others, as well as the trumpet playing of Kid Thomas Valentine and Punch Miller. And then it was showtime, as I got up to give my first seminar, showcasing footage of Armstrong and the All Stars:

I like this shot of Pops and the All Stars looking over me. For my first clip, I chose Armstrong and the All Stars playing "Basin Street Blues" in New Orleans on television in 1955...pretty appropriate, eh?

The lecture was a hit, though as I continued to tell everyone who came up to me, Pops did all the work, I just selected the clips! My seminar was followed by the Satchmo Club Strut, where a wristband allowed anyone to pop in and out of the high number of clubs on Frenchman Street to hear live music from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. We started at the Blue Nile where we were blown away by 97-year-old trumpeter Lionel Ferbos's group...yes, 97! Ferbos didn't act his age, playing authoritative lead all night and singing in a hearty voice. His band, which included Orange Kellin and Steve PIstorious, was fantastic. Here's an action shot:

A historic moment occurred when George Avakian hopped up onstage to talk with Ferbos after his set...that's almost 200 years of jazz history there, folks!

We also caught Yoshio Toyama's group at the Christopher Inn, a senior citizen home. It was a delight to see this music completely invigorate the residents of the home. Yoshio is an incredible entertainer and as I said, it was like going to see Pops. His tone was incredible, he knew all of Pops's solos, yet he was also a fantastic improviser and the whole band was tight. Interestingly, his clarinetist reprised Edmond Hall's feature on "Dardenella" and his bassist played Arvell Shaw's feature on "How High the Moon," each one following the original recorded solos in note-for-note fashion...they still work! Here's a short video I took of Yoshio wailing on "The Saints":

Margaret and I sat with David Ostwald, who I have mentioned countless times as the leader of the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland every Wednesday night in New York CIty. Well, here's some exciting news for New Yorkers: Yoshio is flying to New York and is playing with Ostwald this Wednesday, August 6, at 5:30 p.m.!!! Margaret and I will guaranteed be there and please, if you love Pops's music and live in the area, you don't want to miss this treat as Yoshio doesn't come around often.

As the night went on, we caught other musicians, including enjoying Irvin Mayfield's set with fellow Armstrong nut Al Pomerantz, and enjoyed the second line parades that marched down Frenchmen, led by the Rebirth Brass Band and extending for as far as the eye can see. An incredible night!

Saturday was a whirlwind and I don't have many photos to share from the early part of the day. This is when the Satchmo Summerfest really started jumpin'. Outside, Yoshio, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and a great little group, Vavavoom, delighted the audiences, while inside, the seminars were ceaselessly entertaining. Gary Giddins was fantastic, talking about Armstrong and Crosby, Dan Morgenstern did a great job selling the Fleischmann's material (which was for sale and was selling very well), Michael Cogswell gave everyone a history of Armstrong and Queens (the city, not the royalty) and the great cornetist Peter Ecklund did a fascinating analysis of Armstrong's "I'm in the Mood for Love" solo, using computer technology (including his computerized trumpeter "Vladamir") to show how Armstrong's solo perfectly fits a 6/4 rhythm. Then it was my turn again, showcasing clips of Armstrong on television.

It seemed to be a hit and I must have given out 50 business cards with this blog's address...hello new readers! Then it was dinner time with Margaret and I choosing the Gumbo Shop on St. Peter, a beautiful little open air venue. This is the inside of it:

I ordered a Creole Plate with Shrimp Creole, Jumbalya and Crawfish Etoufee and it was the best food I've had on the trip:

I couldn't contain my joy:

But then it was off to bigger and better things...well, actually smaller and better things: my first trip to Preservation Hall:

The place still packs 'em in, as evidenced by the line outside:

Inside, it was I had always expected it to be: tiny, ancient and perfect (though hotter than hell):

The band was excellent with Mark Braud on trumpet, Ralph Johnson on clarinet, Elliot "Stackman" Callier on tenor, Freddie Lonzo on trombone, Rickie Monie on piano, Walter Payton on bass and the incredible Joe Lastie on drums. The music incredibly joyful and moving and they even played my request for "Panama." It was a moment I had been waiting for since I was 15 and it was more than worth the wait.

And that was that. I have to leave my hotel now for the next batch of seminars but I will say that my morning started with beignets....that's some seriously addicting stuff, man. But I gotta run now..don't forget to celebrate Pops's birthday tomorrow and I'll back in Jersey with something to write either tomorrow night or Tuesday. Til then!

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