A quick announcement before regular Pops-worshipping resumes tomorrow. This Friday, October 24, is Dan Morgenstern's 79th birthday, definitely a cause for celebration in the Armstrong and jazz community. David Ostwald's Wednesday evening set at Birdland featuring his Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (the artists formerly known as the Gully Low Jazz Band) will be a birthday party of sorts for Dan so please feel free to stop by if you're in the area. David hits at 5:30 and runs until about 7:15, give or take a few bars of "Swing That Music." The $10 cover is a pretty cheap deal for the city and I'm sure there will be other luminaries in attendance if Dan is going to be the man of the hour. There aren't many others who love Louis as much as Dan does and I think Pops loved Dan a lot, too. Hell, he even kissed him at Newport in 1970:
In all honesty, I can thank Dan for setting me on the path I am on today, though he didn't know this until I was about eight years into my journey. When I first got into Pops as a pimple-faced, fat high school kid (the pimples are gone), it was Dan's writing about Armstrong that taught me more about Pops than any book I read at the time (or have read since). In one set of liner notes, Dan wrote that he didn't like the term "critic," he liked "historian" a little more but really, he just considered himself a fan. Once I read that, I knew that that was the kind of writer I wanted to be. I was born entirely too late to meet many of the jazz legends Dan got to know, but I feel like I've gotten to know them, too, through his writings, the best of which are collected in his book Living With Jazz.
To think that my Armstrong book is going to published by Pantheon, the same good people who did Dan's, makes my head spin. I've gotten to know Dan well since I was a student at Rutgers-Newark's Master's program in Jazz History and Research and can attest that's a genuinely great guy. And besides Pops and jazz, we've discussed our mutual loves of W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers and even obscure comedians like Charley Chase (Dan is encyclopedic about EVERYTHING). To paraphrase Dizzy on Pops, I'd like to thank Dan for my livelihood!
So come out to Birdland on Wednesday, say hello to your friendly blogger and don't forget to wish Dan a happy birthday!
Dave McKenna also passed away this weekend. Others have eulogized him much more eloquently than I could, though I'm a huge fan. McKenna's walking bass lines were also a huge influence on my own piano playing as I live in a small town in New Jersey where I pretty much am the entire jazz scene and have had to make due without a bassist for much of my career. McKenna's powerful left hand showed me how to make due. And regarding Pops, McKenna was the pianist at Armstrong's 70th birthday celebration at Newport in 1970. There's a great moment during rehearsal where Armstrong and Tyree Glenn teach McKenna the chord changes to "What a Wonderful World." Dave struggles for a while until Bobby Hackett discovers the secret: the tune is more or less "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" with a change to a flatted-sixth chord in the fifth bar! From there, it's smooth sailing. Alas, that clip isn't on YouTube, but here's my favorite, Pops singing "Pennies From Heaven" with a piano intro from the dear, departed McKenna: