Friday, February 26, 2010

Book News, A Good Joke and Even More Odds and Ends

Greetings from snowy NJ where once again, Mother Nature has closed down Queens College and the Louis Armstrong House Museum, giving me the day off from processing the Jack Bradley collection. I can't complain (not until I begin shoveling out my car) as it's giving me more time with the family and the time to dash off another post on Armstrong odds and ends.

First, the latest on my book. As I've discussed before, Pantheon had given me a release date of May 18, 2010, which was fast approaching. However, earlier in the week, Amazon sent me a notice to tell me that the book was being delayed....until April 2011!!!! Naturally, I had mini heart failure and began placing frantic phone calls to my agent and editor. Here's the good news: the book has been delayed, but it's probably not going to be held off for an entire year. More likely, it will come out this fall, possibly September.

The reasoning? Well, first off, when I signed the book deal, Forest Whitaker had announced that his Armstrong biopic was being greenlit with early reports showing that it could be released in the summer of 2010. More on that in a minute, but the Whitaker picture is not coming out any time soon. Thus, there was no reason to rush the release of my book since the summer isn't exactly a booming time for the book business. On top of that, they decided to let the buzz around Terry Teachout's Armstrong biography Pops die down a bit. The last thing we needed was for newspapers and reviews to say, "Another book on Armstrong soon? We'll pass." So that makes perfect sense to me, which is why I'm fine with the delay. And since the editing of the book is nearly finished, it'll give me a little more free time to devote to the blog in the coming months. So keep your eyes glued to this space for further announcements and more good news regarding that.


Speaking of Forest Whitaker, after he announced his intentions to make an Armstrong biopic in October 2008, all talked on the subject seemed to cease. But finally, earlier this week, Whitaker gave an interview for in which he said all systems are a go for the project, a script has been written and he hopes to start filming in April 2011. Thus, we're still a solid two or three years away from seeing a finished product, but at least it's a step forward. The film, which will be titled Satchmo, will feature a number of other actors portraying Louis in addition to Whitaker as it will span Louis's entire life. That's a LOT of living to squeeze into one film! I'm glad a script has been written but I hope Mr. Whitaker makes the trek out to the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens and the Armstrong Archives at Queens College before he gets too deep into the filmmaking process. To read the entire interview, click here.


Last Sunday, I posted a YouTube video featuring a mind-bending assemblage of talent: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Wild Bill Davis and the Duke Ellington Orchestra performing "Hello, Dolly" at Madison Square Garden in February 1970. Have you seen it? Here it is again The original person who uploaded it "jefferson22478" removed it temporarily only to reupload it with 30 extra seconds in the beginning. When I originally mentioned this, I wrote that you could hear Louis tell the end of his famous "hamburger" joke. It wasn't until after I posted it that I realized that very few people probably knew what the hell I was talking about.

Armstrong and many people in his entourage had almost an obsession with telling jokes. All kinds of jokes, from silly puns to the most vulgar subjects you can imagine (and then some). Though Armstrong's natural humor always came through on stage, he sometimes managed to sneak in a joke from time to time. There wasn't really a reason for it: on two occasions (that are recorded), he told the "Alligator Story" to buy time because his chops were down. Other times, they just seem to pop in his head such as one about Raymond Massey he told at a 1957 concert. At a 1971 concert, he told my friend Michael Steinman's favorite "rye bread" joke.

But the "hamburger" joke pops up three times in my collection: once, during a ceremony at a concert in New Orleans in 1952; once at a 70th birthday tribute for Armstrong at the Shrine in Los Angeles in 1970; and once at the above concert. And according to George Wein, Armstrong once told it when asked to say a few words at an important dinner. It was clearly one of his favorites.

I've traced the joke back to Redd Foxx, who Louis adored. But now, you can hear Louis deliver the joke in its entirety at the aforementioned New Orleans concert in 1952. In between sets, there was a whole ceremony onstage to unveil a photo of the deceased clarinetist Leon Rappolo. Myra Menville, the secretary for the New Orleans Jazz Club, then gave Louis a certificate of merit and a key to the city on behalf of mayor DeLessups Morrison. It's a very nice little moment and Menville sounds read to move on when Pops grabs the mike to say a few words. Here, then, is the complete hamburger joke:

Isn't that great? I love how Louis always fakes the audience out with the "I just scratched what you like" line. The audience breaks up in New Orleans (Menville clearly thinks it's over) and even Ellington and the MSG crowd are already laughing when the YouTube clip begins. But then Pops lowers the boom with the real punchline and the REAL hysterics begin. Great stuff.

I subscribe to Google's news alert for Louis Armstrong which leads me to a lot of silly links almost daily. But this morning, it struck gold for me with an incredibly touching remembrance of Clarence Armstrong by Tom Cosentino over at Innovative Media PR's Blog." Clarence was the mentally challenged son of one of Louis's cousins. When that cousin died, Louis "adopted" Clarence and made sure he was taken care of for the rest of his life. After Louis's death in 1971, a lot people forgot about Clarence, who lived in the Bronx until 1998. But Cosentino grew up in the Bronx in the 1960s and 1970s and has some very special memories of Clarence. To read the entire piece--and please do this--click here. And to read an old post I did about Father's Day with a picture of Clarence and audio of him and Armstrong speaking on one of Eddie Condon's television programs, click here. Thanks, Tom!


Finally, a few videos sent in to me by my readers. Back when I was covering the Armstrong vs. Bechet rivalry in January, David Parkinson wrote in to alert me to a video of Eva Taylor in 1975 (!) performing "Cake Walking Babies From Home" with the Peruna Jazzmen. Dig it:

And after my "Blue Turning Grey Over You" posts, Phil Ralph wrote in to tell me of a video from the 2009 Louis Armstrong Jazz Festival featuring Joe Muranyi singing and performing this beautiful Fats Waller number. And dig the great Herbert Christ's sound on trumpet; he sure gets Louis!

For more videos from that set, just type in "Louis Armstrong Jazz Festival 2009." Thanks for letting me know about those videos David and Phil!


S'all for now, I'm going to enjoy my family for the day. However, next week, I'm planning on doing something different if I have the time. I originally posted that I was going to cover five versions of "Dear Old Southland" but I was wrong about the 80th anniversary, which isn't until April. So I'm going to hold off on that and instead focus on a different version of "Pennies From Heaven" each day. Til then!


Anonymous said...

One more time...

At the end of a long, long youtube vid is another treasure. Go to 1:27:33 !!

Uwe (Germany)

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who doesn't understand the hamburger joke? "I've just scratched what you like"? There must be some double-meaning to "scratch", maybe an older slang word.

Also, how can you tease us with the "rye bread" joke without including it?

Ricky Riccardi said...

Hi Anonymous. When the waitress says, "I've just scratched what you like" in the joke, Louis takes it to mean that she just itched her private parts (that's what he likes!). So he tells her to just wash her hands and bring him a hamburger. Get it?

I will indeed post the rye bread joke soon. Thanks!