Friday, August 27, 2010

80 Years of "Confessin'" Part 4: The All Stars

When we last left our hero, he had been performing "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)" with a series of different small groups in the mid-40s, groups that eventually led to the formation of the All Stars in 1947. "Confessin'" seems to have been absent from the group's repertoire for its first year of existence but there are multiple surviving versions from late 1948 and 1949 broadcasts. They're pretty similar so I'm going to pick the better sounding one from the Hollywood Empire, March 1949 (one of Sid Catlett's last dates with the All Stars). Give it a listen and then we'll talk amongst ourselves:

For those who were with me last time, you'll hear that Pops must have especially liked the way this song turned out at Carnegie Hall in February 1947 this version follows that one to a tee. Louis opens with a lovely half-chorus of melody before delivering that vocal, just as heartfelt as it was in 1930 (Earl Hines's piano is a little busy behind Pops at times but it doesn't bother me; in fact his tremolo during the bridge works very well).

But the real meat comes with the delicious trumpet solo, Pops stretching out for 24 bars. He opens with a signature phrase before he starts floating through the bar lines in the first eight bars. His next eight are a little more set but he delivers them beautifully, all of it building up to that high gliss at the start of the bridge. Man, everyone really gets into it! Catlett begins rolling on the snare, Teagarden and Bigard hold the note with him, Hines starts with another tremolo....some dramatic stuff! Pops really knew how to build up to a climax, huh? Catlett's heavy rolls could move mountains, spurring Pops higher and higher right into that terrific bridge. I love those earlier versions, but Pops did play more trumpet in his All Stars renditions and for that, we should be thankful. From there, Louis decides to end on a vocal (again, listen to Hines, quoting Louis's favorite "Drdla Souvenir" lick). Louis's closing scat is in there and puts the finishing touch on a breathtaking performance.

And that, for the most part is that, my friend. There are other versions of "Confessin'" from the All Stars years, as we'll soon hear, but for the most part, "Confessin'" was retired in the 1950s, called out for special occasions or when requested. As usual, one should never make such blanket assumptions about the All Stars but I've seen enough set lists from the 1950s and 1960s to know that "Confessin'" never again became a regular part of the show. Why? I think it was pushed out because of the popularity of "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" and "La Vie En Rose" during the era. Seriously, how many slow love songs could Pops play in one night? "Kiss" and "La Vie" were recent hits and were filled with wondrous trumpet playing so I think "Confessin'" had to take a back seat.

Interestingly, Louis continued performing "Confessin'" on television for years to come. Now's the time when I wish all of my readers could meet me in New York City for a field trip or something because one of the greatest "Confessin's" was done on the "Steve Allen Show" on May 25, 1958, a version that I have only seen at the Museum of Television and Radio in the City, but boy, what an impression it left on me! On it, Louis plays some melody, sings a chorus, then enters with the trumpet on the bridge...and plays until the end...up to and including his 1930s closing cadenza, complete with "Dixie" quote! I'd kill to see it again, but I've never seen it outside of the Museum. There's another fantastic "Confessin'" from the "Frank Sinatra Show" in 1952. That one fortunately is available on a commercial DVD, "Louis Armstrong: The Portrait Collection," but it's never showed up online so I can't share it here (but for my NY friends, I will be sharing it this coming Tuesday night at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem). But if you can check out the DVD, you'll be blown away, I assure you.

In July 1953, Louis spent nearly the entire month at the Blue Note in Chicago. Many broadcasts survive from this engagement and on two occasions, Louis beat out requests for "Confessin'." Barney Bigard later remembered Louis blowing his chops out once at the Blue Note and this had to be the engagement he remembered because on of the "Confessin's" features only a half-chorus of hesitating trumpet before Louis takes it out with just a single vocal chorus, obviously knowing he didn't have the lip to blow it out of the park that night.

But the broadcast from July 29, 1953 was quite a different story. On that night, Louis's chops were simply in stunning form (there's an incredible "Royal Garden Blues" from that night that I've shared in the past). Louis was feeling so good that he managed to take a simple request and turn it into the "Confessin'" to end all "Confessin's." Dave Whitney and Phil Person are just two of the Louis nuts I know who love this version; I know I've said this before but you know, this might be my all-time favorite version of "Confessin'." Why? Listen for yourself:

See? Louis was feeling so good that he takes an entire chorus right up front. He doesn't improvise like a wild man, but hearing the master play an entire chorus of lead is a pretty special experience. Once again, the vocal is a delight, Louis receiving sympathetic support from Trummy Young's held notes, Barney Bigard's rippling arpeggios and the subtly swinging rhythm section of Marty Napoleon, Milt Hinton and Cozy Cole (what a band!).

But Louis is only getting warmed for his trumpet spot. Though he hadn't probably played this song in a while, Louis still has the set framework of his solo in mind, but he does a fair share of improvising throughout, sounding very strong. The high note still rules during the bridge, Cozy laying down the backbeats with Trummy and Barney providing some insistent riffs. But the whole thing builds and builds to that break, one of the greatest Louis ever took on this song, ending higher than usual, rather than his usual mid-register-ending to the break. It draws spontaneous applause from the audience and Louis sounds positively thrilled when he gets back to the microphone to close out the song with the vocal. All in all, this version clocks in at nearly six minutes and for all that trumpet playing, it's a "Confessin'" that's tough to top.

After that, except for those television versions, we have to skip to September 1961 for the next--and final--version of "Confessin'" by the All Stars. The occasion was a dance in the middle of Pottstown, PA--just another one-nighter for the group. Perhaps it was a request or perhaps it was an example of Louis calling slightly different material on dance dates (as testified to by clarinetist in this version of the group Joe Darensbourg), but without any explanation, Louis called the song one more time. As was the case with other ballad performances in the 1960s like "Kiss to Build a Dream On" and "La Vie En Rose," Louis preferred to deliver it as slowly as humanly possible. Thus, this version is also nearly six minutes, but it doesn't have as much trumpet as the one we just heard. Still, 60-year-old Pops, in the middle of nowhere, reprising his hit of 31 years earlier and still infusing it with so much passion, it's all pretty special. Dig it (and thanks to Phil Person for correcting the pitch!):

Like the Blue Note version, Louis opens with a full chorus of melody, sounding great once again. That opening trumpet solo is over two minutes long--for only 32 bars of music!--but Louis sounds completely at ease throughout it. After another charming vocal, it's trumpet time. Perhaps knowing the crawling pace of this song was taking plenty of time, Louis only takes the bridge on his horn. For those looking for the fireworks we have just heard in the other versions, you might be disappointed; because Louis starts right in on the bridge, there's no dramatic build-up to that climactic high note. Instead, Louis packs a lot of information into only eight bars, starting with melody and gradually building up to the break. We've heard Pops take plenty of breaks on this song by this point, but this one features one missed note that always makes me sad. It comes at the halfway point of the break and it's just a simple wrong note...yes, Virginia, Pops was human. But the first part of the break is great and the end of it is STUNNING. The power, those closing high note, that! The wrong note only lasts a half-a-second, but it always leaves me thinking, "Damn, if he didn't hit that clam, this would be one for the pantheon." Nevertheless, I still think its a mighty fine way to end this four-part tour.

Of course, in a perfect world, I'd end with another unavailable video clip of Louis's final performance of the tune on a 1970 episode of the "Mike Douglas Show" when he sang it onstage to his wife Lucille, an absolutely beautiful moment of television. Perhaps, one day the world will be able to see such a clip but for now you just have to take my word for it. Anyway, I think Pops has confessed enough love to last a lifetime over these last few entries....soak it all in, call up a loved one and confess to them and be back early next week for the once-in-a-lifetime meeting of Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan. Have a great weekend!

Monday, August 23, 2010

80 Years of "Confessin'" Part 3: 1940s Small Group Versions

When we last left off with the saga of Louis Armstrong and "Confessin'," ol' Pops had been killing the tune with his big band for years, still coming up with new ideas on the last broadcast version I shared from October 1944. Though he continued to perform it with his big band in the next couple of years, our attention today will focus on some very special all-star small group version from the mid-40s.

The first comes from a magical V-Disc session from December 7, 1944. A terrific congregation of musicians had already been assembled for this midnight session: Bobby Hackett on cornet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Ernie Caceres on clarinet, Nick Caiazza on tenor saxophone, Johnny Guarnieri on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar, Al Hall on bass and Cozy Cole on drums--pretty good, eh? Well, according to eyewitness George T. Simon, Louis dropped in unexpectedly and the whole event turned into a giant celebration for Pops. After all the salutations and merry greetings, it was decided that Louis record a few numbers with the musicians on hand. First off, Pops stepped into what was supposed to be a blues feature for the trombones of Teagarden and Lou McGarity, and completely stole the show with chorus after chorus of inspired blowing. Th song was retitled "Jack-Armstrong Blues" and two wonderful takes survive, proof that Pops was in fine blowing spirit (though you'll have to wait to hear those until another day, my children...).

Then it was decided to whip up a feature for Pops...and what better than "Confessin'" With no arrangement, the horns led by Hackett devised some simple whole-note harmonies, which is really all Pops needed, and the rest is history. Two marvelous takes were recorded with the second being the winner. I'm only going to share that one as to not confuse anyone; here 'tis!

Isn't that magical? The sound quality is absolutely superb, especially in how it captures Louis's voice. The rhythm section is also extraordinarily recorded with Guarnieri's pitch-perfect accompaniment sharing the spotlight with Louis's vocal while Cozy Cole's drumming keeps things moving softly, but emphatically. Louis handing the ball to Jack Teagarden, of course, is foreshadowing the future formation of Louis's All Stars, which was still almost three full years away. Nevertheless, it's recordings like this that demonstrate how natural Pops sounded with a small group (he sounded natural with the big band, too, but hey if you can get away with paying six musicians instead of sixteen, why argue?). And I haven't said a word about Louis's spectacular trumpet solo, which is similar to what he was playing at the time, but much better recorded (and in the break at the end of the bridge, he eschews his quick chromatic run for a big, fat gliss). One of my all-time favorite versions.

A little over a month later, Louis was surrounded by yet another all-star aggregation, this time for the second Esquire jazz concert, Louis's portion taking place in New Orleans. This time, Louis was surrounded by J. C. Higginbotham on trombone, James P. Johnson on piano, Richard Alexis on bass, Paul Barbarin on drums and last, but not least, Sidney Bechet on soprano saxophone. I already blogged about this version back in January when I covered Armstrong's adversarial relationship with Bechet. For the whole story of their playing at this concert, click here. But for "Confessin'," all I have to say is that Louis and Bechet butted heads in rehearsal and Louis, knowing Bechet's tendency to dominate trumpet players, completely obliterated Bechet the night of the concert, playing over him and never allowing him to take a single solo in their four numbers together! Here's the audio, followed by what I wrote about this performance in January:

This time, Higgy and Bechet behave themselves in the first chorus, allowing Armstrong to have the spotlight to play the melody (maybe he beat them into submission during "Back O'Town"). Higgy takes an out-of-this-world break before Pops croons the melody beautifully as usual. Armstrong then instructs Higginbotham to take eight bars but even during this brief solo, Armstrong starts turning up the volume on his backing, making sure Bechet doesn't get a word in. Then it's Armstrong's turn for 16 spectacular bars topped off by an absolutely stunning break. The crowd cheers wildly and Armstrong, carried away a bit, continues playing for a second until he realizes it's time to close the number out with a vocal. The only person not impressed? Bechet, who, immediately after the break plays perhaps the most demeaning note in jazz history. It's a sarcastic little moan that seems to say, "Oh wow, that's SOOO impressive...big deal!" Makes me laugh every time. Still, he can't steal Armstrong's thunder. What a feature!

Two years later, Louis's career was at a crossroads epitomized at a February 1947 concert at Carnegie Hall where Armstrong spent the first half playing with Edmond Hall's sextet and the second half with his own big band. Armstrong was super energized during the small group portion of the program and the next day, the critics couldn't stop raving about it. Clearly, a performance like "Confessin'" was cause for celebration. I know I'm repeating myself, but this is a pretty spectacular version:

This version starts off with Louis playing the melody, the first time we've ever heard this (and it won't be the last). He sets the tempo unaccompanied (slower than normal) before taking eight relaxed bars (that's Hall's trumpeter Irving "Mouse" Randolph who swoops in before the vocal). The vocal is gorgeous as usual, but this version is notable for its trumpet playing. The tempo is so slow that Louis doesn't have to hand the ball over to anyone else in the band. He has enough time to pick up his horn and he starts right in by blowing on the "A" sections. This, too, is something we haven't heard in a while as Louis almost always came in on the bridge. But here, he's front and center for 16 bars of brand new playing, taking a few breaks and overall sounding simply sublime (there's even a hint of "The Gypsy" in bar 14). Armstrong powers into the bridge with a gliss to a high note, a touch he would revisit in future years, before ending his solo with a dramatic break with a pause that kills me every time. He ends with the vocal but that trumpet solo is the killer and to me, this was the highlight of the Carnegie Hall performance.

(By the way, ever wonder what Louis looked like that night? The legendary photographer William P. Gottlieb took some photos of Louis in his "afro" phase, photos that are now available through the Library of Congress. Dig it!)

That ends the story for now but needless to say, there's plenty more "Confessin'" to do as part four will cover the All Stars years. But before I go, a quick plug for my New York friends: tonight, August 24, I'll be at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem where I'll be reprising a presentation I recently gave at the Satchmo Summerfest about Louis's relationship with New Orleans told completely in video footage of Pops. It's a free event and should be a lot of fun, so if you could make it, come on by and say hello. And yes, in case you were wondering, the Museum's recent acquisition of the Bill Savory collection does include some Pops and Museum Director Loren Schoenberg was gracious enough to play some of it for me recently. Some terrific stuff, but that's a topic for another day. I will say that Loren did give me a quick private tour of the Savory collection last week and the stuff I heard has been rattling around my brain since then. I may be too young to have experienced the Swing Era, but I'm glad to be coming along now for the new Swing Era, courtesy of the Savory Collection and the National Jazz Museum! Til next time...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Louie and Ella (Riccardi, That Is) - The World's Youngest Louis Armstrong Fan!

Dear readers, I interrupt my series on "Confessin'" to bring you a story from home about someone I confess I love every morning, noon and night: my 16-month-old daughter Ella. As you can imagine, any child of mine is going to become well-versed about all things Satchmo pretty much from the womb. (If you were with me in the weeks after she was born, you might remember a photo I posted of baby Ella in an outfit custom designed by David Ostwald and featuring an image of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.)

In my house, there are images of Louis everywhere, including three framed photos in our dining room (I love my wife, too, for allowing this and also thinking it was a great place for the pictures). At an early age, Ella became fascinated with pictures, so as we would walk Ella around, we'd point out who was in the picture: "There's Daddy! There's Mommy! There's Grandma! There's Pop Pop!" And yes, "There's Louie!"

As soon as she began talking, she started repeating, "Louie, Louie" when she got to the pictures. On a shelf in her room is a children's book by Muriel Harris Weinstein, "When Louis Armstrong Taught Me to Scat" featuring an illustration of Louis on the cover. Naturally, a part of Ella's morning ritual included pointing out the picture of "Louie" on her shelf.

It didn't take long before I began spending quality time with Ella, showing her videos of Armstrong and playing songs while driving in the car, always pointing out that this is the same "Louie" in all those photos. Armstrong's gravelly voice had to make an impact but I always made sure to point out his trumpet playing, too.

Well, in recent weeks, I conducted more experiments, showing her different books such as Gary Giddins's "Satchmo" with a late 1960s photo of Pops on the cover and a reprint of "Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans" with a 1920s portrait on the cover. "Louie!" came the cry each time.

It was all very impressive but this weekend, it really topped out. On Friday night, I drove around with a Chu Berry CD in my car featuring Roy Eldridge on trumpet for many tracks. Ella sat in her car seat and sucked her thumb. But yesterday, I put an Armstrong CD in the car without saying a word. And about 20 seconds into the original 1947 studio recording of "Some Day," I heard a voice in the backseat cry out, "Louie!" I couldn't believe it! "Louie!" I shouted back as my wife stared in disbelief. A minute later, Armstrong began singing and she said it again.

You can imagine how knocked out we were but I was stunned about the trumpet identification. I joked that because she didn't identify Roy the previous night, she already knows Louis's unique tone! I reported the news on Facebook, which people seemed to get a kick out of (though my Mets-fan nemesis Vincent Pelote of the Institute of Jazz Studies would be more impressed if she identified obscure big band trumpeter Nate Kazebier!).

Thus, this morning I decided to try the experiment again, this time with a video camera. Without any prompting or even uttering the word "Louie," I gathered some Armstrong images by my basement computer and fired up "Blue Turning Grey Over You" on my Itunes. This is what happened in the next 67 seconds:

Pretty wild, eh? A magic moment for this Armstrong-loving family (and no I just went to the video to embed it in this post, the first notes of "Blue Turning Grey" played and I heard Ella yell "Louie" again!). So perhaps one day, she'll rebel and denounce Louis for my wife's hero, Lady Gaga. Or perhaps she'll embrace it and become a gutbucket trombonist, specializing in plunger mutes. Either way, as of today, I think it's safe to say that my daughter Ella is the world's youngest Louis Armstrong fan!

(Postscript: later today, while driving again, I had Armstrong's 1961 record with Duke Ellington on in the car featuring Barney Bigard on clarinet. At one point, I heard Ella in the backseat saying, "Shu! Shu!" I said, "Oh my goodness, she thinks the clarinetist is the forgotten Eddie Shu, who only played with Louis for a year! This kid's already a historian!" But then I looked in the backseat and saw she was only playing with her sandals. Oh, well, one thing at a time....)

Friday, August 20, 2010

80 Years of "Confessin'" Part 2: The Big Band Versions

Hello and welcome back to the second part of my four-part series on Louis Armstrong's history with "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)." After recording the original in 1930, Louis Armstrong had a new song that became a staple of his repertoire. When he was remaking a lot of his earlier hits for Decca in the late 30s, it was a no-brainer to take another stab at "Confessin'," which is what Louis did on April 25, 1939. Without further ado, let's give it a listen:

The remake follows the 1930 arrangement to the tee, though you can tell how far jazz had come in nine years by the completely different feel of the remake. Gone is the tuba, the plodding rhythm, the steel guitar. In place of the guitar, alto saxophonist Charlie Holmes takes a bluesy solo leading into Armstrong's vocal. Armstrong sang it wonderfully in 1930 but there's something about the quality of his 1930s/Decca voice that can't be touched. It's so clear and so damn charming. From the start, Louis is already recasting the melody in a new light, singing "tell me do you love me too" on one pitch. A bit of the intensity of the 1930 vocal is lost but in its place is an unmistakable maturity; he delivers the lyrics and the asides with heartfelt emotion, never pushing matters too hard (those little hums in between the lines are a delight).

Where Lawrence Brown took the trombone solo on the original, the remake features another hall-of-famer with a somewhat brash outing by J. C. Higginbotham. Armstrong's opening break is perfectly poised and singable; the man improvised in compositions. He solos beautifully, though he eliminates what was originally the "Pick-A-Rib" break and instead ends with some high notes, passing the ball to the tenor of Bingie Madison who does all right with it. But then it's passion time as Louis picks up his golden horn and blows the melody an octave higher to close out the performance. Again, a little of the daring intensity of the original is gone but the pure beauty of Armstrong's tone and the power of his phrases gives me the chills more on this one than the 1930 version. And dig that closing cadenza, where Pops throws in a bit of everything, including a quote from "Dixie"! Where he finished low in 1930, he finishes high in 1939. A glorious ending to a glorious record.

Armstrong had been performing "Confessin'" live for pretty much the entire decade of the 1930s so it's nice to be able to hear how he performed it live during the same period. Here he is live at the Cotton Club, a performance made public by my dear, departed friend, Gosta Hagglof. Give a listen to this gem, recorded live on March 24, 1940:

This version follows the pattern of the Decca remake for its first half. Louis sings it in almost the same fashion and hell, even Higgy pretty much takes the same trombone solo, which was obviously set in stone by this point. But the main differences occur when Louis picks up his trumpet. He opens with another dazzling break that's completely different than the two studio ones we've heard. His improvisation is also different and just as effective...until the bridge. I wonder what was supposed to happen here; in both previous versions, Armstrong handed it off to the saxohpone, but he here, he's obviously in a blowing mood, so he keeps on going. Maybe he forgot he was supposed to quit or maybe he just had a brain fart but either way, in a rare moment of humanness, Louis fluffs a phrase! But don't worry, Superman quickly throws his cape on and he turns the fluff into an ascending gliss, the audible equivilent to a football player almost fumbling a ball before making the recovery. Phew...

But once he gets past his mistake, he keeps blowing with stunning force. This is the first time we've heard Louis on the bridge of this song and fortunately, it's not the last time we're going to hear it. This bridge really brought something out in him and he rarely ended it the same way twice. This one features a motive that he would return to, repeating a four-note run a couple of times before turning it into a quicksilver chromatic run, topping it off with another giant gliss. Still cooking, Armstrong ends the piece as he did the studio performance, with some macho upper register playing of the melody and another extended cadenza, complete with "Dixie" and high-notes. It's a very special performance for the amount of trumpet it featured because not every Armstrong "Confessin'" from the period followed the same pattern. On an edited "Jubilee" broadcast version, Louis played right through the ending, while on a 1945 live version, he played half of the final eight bars before switching to voice to scat out that final cadenza. I'm going to close today by sharing one from October 5, 1944 that features Louis going back to the vocal after the trumpet bridge. His scat cadenza is note perfect and would rarely change:

By that point, you can hear that saxophonist Teddy McRae has taken over the trombone spot but otherwise, Louis is magnificent from top to bottom. I hope you enjoyed all these fantastic big band versions but just a few months after this 1944 broadcast, Louis would begin making a series of very special small-group versions of the tune. For those, come back at the start of the week...til then!

Monday, August 16, 2010

80 Years of "Confessin'" Part 1: The Original

Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra
Recorded August 19, 1930
Track Time 3:28
Written by Al J. Neiburg, Doc Daugherty and Ellis Reynolds
Recorded in Los Angeles, CA
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Leon Elkins, trumpet, conductor; Unknown, trumpet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Leon Herriford, Willie Stark, alto saxophone; William Franz, trombone; Charlie Lawrence, piano; Ceele Burke, banjo, steel-guitar; Reggie Jones, tuba; Lionel Hampton, drums
Originally released on OKeh 41448
Currently available on CD: It’s on the JSP two-disc set The Big Band Sides, 1930-1932, as well as about a hundred other discs
Available on Itunes? Yes

With New Orleans and the Satchmo Summerfest behind me, it was time to resume regular blogging. I hadn't done an anniversary posting in a while I took out my battered copy of Jos Willems's Armstrong discography, "All of Me," and check if there was anything worth celebrating this month. I wasn't disappointed: August 19 is the 80th anniversary of Louis's first recording of "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You) while August 23 marks the 60th anniversary of Louis's one and only historical (and hysterical) recorded meeting with Louis Jordan.

Thus, there's plenty to celebrate in these next two weeks. As usual, I don't exactly have time to hit each of these anniversaries on the nose so I'm beginning "Confessin'" a couple of days early and plan on making this a four-part series: today will focus on the original then I'll be back with a look at Louis's late 1930s studio and broadcast versions, an entry on Louis's star-studded mid-40s versions and finally a history of the tune as performed by Louis with the All Stars. And once I get through that, look out for Louis Jordan! Trust me, you're not going to want to miss that one.

But today we're talking about "Confessin'," one of Louis's signature tunes and one he would perform for 40 years (his last known public performance of it is a charming version sung to his wife Lucille on the "Mike Douglas Show" in 1970). The song was written by Ellis Rynolds and Doc Daugherty with lyrics by Al J. Neiburg, the man responsible for "Under a Blanket of Blue" and "It's the Talk of the Town" to name two standards. But as many hardcore fans of early jazz might now, these songwriters must have been big fans of Fats Waller. The previous year, Waller recorded a song titled "Lookin' for Another Sweetie," which I've seen credited to the team of "Smith and Grant." I've also seen it credited to Waller and Fred Saintly. Either way, it's a carbon copy of "Confessin'" and it was recorded in 1929 while "Confessin'" wasn't published until 1930. Clearly, there was some dirty work afoot. The Waller performance, though it boasts a sad vocal by Orlando Roberson, is a classic featuring a remarkalbe group with Red Allen, Leonard Davis, Jack Teagarden, J.C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Charlie Holmes, Waller, Pops Foster, Kaiser Marshall and others (Jesus, my fingers started sweating as I typed those names!). If you've never heard it, you can listen to it now by clicking here.

Alas, "Lookin' for Another Sweetie" went nowhere and when "Confessin'" came around a few months later, it was a bona fide hit thanks to versions by Rudy Vallee and Guy Lombardo. OKeh records had been getting quite comfortable in passing along the latest pop hits for Louis to record and in "Confessin'" they had a tune that was a perfect fit. Armstrong recorded it in California on August 19, 1930 with Leon Elkins's band from Sebastian's Cotton Club, a band that included youngsters Lawrence Brown on trombone and Lionel Hampton on drums (not bad!). (For the full story on Louis's coming out to California and fronting on Elkins's band, see my entry on "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy" by clicking

Louis's record of "Confessin'" contains what some might deem a slightly bizarre accompaniment courtesy of Ceele Burke's Hawaiian guitar. Many jazz purists have scratched their heads at this novelty addition but I don't know, after listening to this recording about a thousand times, I find it charming. The only explanation I can muster for its presence is that earlier in the year, Louis recorded "Song of the Islands" for OKeh with violins. Perhaps it sold well and OKeh though Louis should record something else with a Hawaiian element so they asked for some steel guitar. Who knows, but I'll let you decide whether or not it works. But steel guitar aside, this is one magical recording. Listen for yourself:

Lovely, lovely stuff. After Burke's intro, Louis comes right in with the vocal, and it's a damn touching one. It really unfurls like one of his classic solos; he opens by sticking pretty close to the melody before he gradually begins to take more chances with it, throwing it snatches of scat and eventually rephrasing it with a tremendous passion. Great moments: Louis boiling down "But your lips deny they're true" to one pitch; his repetition of "making them blue"; the little two-note descending scat motif in the middle of the bridge. and the aforementioned passionate rephrasing of the final eight bars, bubbling into an ecstatic bit of scat. A fantastic vocal, and I think it must be a somewhat historic one as it's a black man coming right out and singing the phrase "I love you," something that I don't think was very common back then. You just couldn't stop Louis...

The vocal leads into a nifty trombone solo by Lawrence Brown, his sound and style already formed at age 23. Then it's time for Louis, who enters with an almost fragile hesitation to his playing, riding one note for a while and finally letting it all come together in a break that Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton would "borrow" a few years later in the tune "Pick-A-Rib." Don't believe me? Here's Louis's break:

And here's the "head" of "Pick-a-Rib":

How many Armstrong improvisations crept their way into Swing Era compositions, arrangements and solos? Countless...

After Louis's shining eight bars, one of the saxophones picks up the bridge, playing with some passion but with also plenty of the dated mannerisms of other saxophonists of that era. Fortunately, our hero is there to swoop in and save the day with eight bars of bravura melody. You can hear Louis's mature style evolve with each passing bar; he keeps the melody front and center but what he plays in between it is mind-boggling. At such a slow tempo, he's swinging like mad, playing in the upper register before reeling off a dazzling break that actually ends in the lower register of the horn.

And with that, a masterpiece was born and jazz had one of its first great ballad recordings. I forget the story (I think it's in a Stanley Dance book), but decades later, a group of top Swing Era trumpeters were joking around during rehearsal when someone mentioned Louis's "Confessin'" solo and everyone of those musicians--years and years later--sang Louis's solo together with note-for-note perfection. This was some influential stuff.

As for Louis, he had just recorded a song that would become associated with him until the day he died. In his later years, Louis took quite a bit of heat for recording pop tunes and love songs, seen by some in jazz circles as having gone "commercial." But Louis addressed this issue towards the end of his life by tying it in with "Confessin'" in what is one of my all-time favorite quotes: "I came off one night after playing 'Tenderly' I think it was, and this man got all steamed up with me. He said, 'I heard yo playing that love song, and I'd hoped you were going to play some of the great old jazz tunes you did in the 1930's.' 'Hell,' I said, 'I recorded "Confessin'' about that time and that sure ain't a hate song.'" Amen, Pops...

See you in a few days for part 2!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New Orleans (and Satchmo Summerfest wrap-up)

Louis Armstrong and The Dukes of Dixieland
Recorded May 25, 1960
Track Time 3:05
Written by Hoagy Carmichael
Recorded at Webster Hall, New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Frank Assunto, trumpet; Fred Assunto, trombone; Jerry Fuller, clarinet; Stanley Mendelsohn, piano; Jac Assunto, banjo; Rich Matteson, bass, Helicon; Owen Mahoney, drums
Originally released on Audio Fidelity
Currently available on CD: “Limehouse Blues” on the Blue Moon label and on "The Complete Louis Armstrong With The Dukes of Dixieland" on the Essential Jazz Classics label.
Available on Itunes? No

"If you've never seen that town, boy, it's a pity. There's nothing like New Orleans...."

Amen, Brother Hoagy. In each of the past two years, I've arrived back home to New Jersey after another delirious Satchmo Summerfest only to eulogize my trip with a discussion of a Louis Armstrong song about his hometown, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" in 2008 and "Boy From New Orleans" in 2009. Fortunately, there's enough tunes that fit that category to keep me going for a while, but today's choice is a no-brainer: Hoagy Carmichael's "New Orleans," which Pops memorably waxed 50 years ago this past May.

But first, I just want to wind down my breathless coverage of the festival, which, as advertised, is simply heaven on earth for Louis fans and music lovers alike. After my last post, I was still on a high from playing that half-hour piano gig at the Palm Court, a genuine New Orleans gig that did not result in me getting booed out of the city. In fact, the YouTube video of it has hit about 59 views in five days, which I think is some sort of record, right? Anyway, the great Michael Gourrier, our emcee and a legendary jazz DJ, shared this photo as further proof that it really happened:

The seminars were fascinating as ever, especially George Avakian's remembrances on Sunday. Here's "Uncle George":

But even in the short breaks between the speakers, there were some great opportunities to talk Pops. I've mentioned David Sager many times on this blog, as he's a loyal reader and the man (along with Doug Benson) behind those "Off the Record" reissues I never tire of talking about. Well, you can imagine, my surprise when David showed up and introduced himself for the first time. (And you can imagine the surprise of others when they noticed that we had the same full heads of hair, leading some to believe that David was my father!) Here's David, myself and seminar guru Jon Pult:

Before heading down to the Summerfest, my boss Michael Cogswell told me I should check out the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University because as he put it, "There aren't many of us [archives devoted to jazz] around." Alas, I never made it there but I did meet their terrific curator Bruce Raeburn. This photo features five lucky people who get to make a living through jazz: DJ Michael Gourrier, Armstrong House Museum Director Michael Cogswell, Hogan Jazz Archive Curator Bruce Raeburn, Institute of Jazz Studies Director Dan Morgenstern and yours truly, the Project Archivist for the Armstrong House Museum. As Michael said, there's not a lot of us out there...and this picture pretty much almost shows ALL of us!

On Saturday, the attendance record was broken by Kermit Ruffins who appeared as down-to-earth as could be. The man loves his Pops; watching him listen to "When You're Smiling" (the 1956 version) was a treat. Here's Michael, Kermit and myself:

The final day, Sunday, began with a remarkably moving jazz mass at St. Augustine Church in the Treme district, featuring music by the Treme Brass Band with special guest Yoshio Toyama. The church service led to a full-blown second line parade that was simply thrilling. I actually filmed a lot of the parade but because I was bouncing and bopping to the music, it's almost unwatchable, though the music and spirit comes through. Maybe I'll post it eventually. But for now, here's the very end of the church service, leading into the start of the second line:

And check out the great Pompo Bresciani's photographs of the parade at, located in the album "In and Around New Orleans."

The second line was a blast, leading right back to the Old U. S. Mint where there was so much good music to be heard, it was hard to stick to just one of the event's four stages (though I'm glad I caught the end of the New Orleans Moonshiners, they were swinging!). Back at the Palm Court, I gave my final presentation on Louis Armstrong's relationship with New Orleans, which was received very well (and will be reprised at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem on August 24). Here's a glimpse of me on stage with Louis and Peter Davis on the screen:

My parents--who couldn't stop beaming the entire weekend--were proud to see all those years of helping me track down Armstrong and New Orleans Jazz discs paid off! Here's my proud parents:

A ridiculous dinner at Emeril's NOLA restaurant had to be seen to be believed, before we topped everything off at Preservation Hall. Some call it a tourist trap, but I always have a ball there. What Shannon Powell did on those drums, my goodness, it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

And that, my friends, was that. It was tough leaving but you know what made it easier? This was waiting for me at home:
Ah, my 16-month-old daughter, Ella, who gets cuter by the day. So it didn't take me long to resume my life as husband, father and Project Archivist, leaving little time for blogger. But now with the festival behind me, hopefully I can go back to cranking out two or so entries on Pops per week. But again, thank you for indulging me on these little travelogues.

Okay, so let's talk about the song "New Orleans," which Carmichael wrote in 1932 and was immediately made immortal through Bennie Moten's version with Jimmy Rushing. Louis recorded quite a number of Carmichael tunes in the 1930s which makes it somewhat baffling that it took him so long to get to this one.

But he was definitely aware of the song. In 1968, he was interviewed for the BBC's "Desert Island DIscs" show and selected Bobby Hackett's classic Commodore recording of the song as one of the records he would take to a mythical desert island. On top of that, there's the story of how Louis came to record the song in 1960: Audio Fidelity President Sid Frey heard Louis practicing it in his hotel room in Las Vegas and said he'd love to have him record it. End of story! At least, that's what Louis wrote to his manager Joe Glaser a week before the recording date. Armstrong and Frey were both in Vegas for some record convention and when Frey heard Louis warming up with "New Orleans," he knew it would be a natural to wax. I don't know if Frey already had session time booked but within a couple of weeks, Frey was recording Louis with the Dukes of Dixieland, making those marvelous sessions I've already wasted thousands of words on (see '"Wolverine Blues" or "Avalon" or "Limehouse Blues" for three examples).

"New Orleans" was recorded during the second day of recording, May 25, 1960. Here's how it came out:

My, my, my that sure is a perfect little record, huh? There's not even much to say about it. Simple stuff, with Louis front and center throughout: a slippery chorus of subdued melody, a charming vocal and a passionate concluding trumpet solo, ended with a ripe high note. Louis sounds like he's muted for the first chorus, though even with the mute in, he maintained that indescribable tone. I should mention Dukes trumpeter Frank Assunto who handles second trumpet parts, the fill-ins before and after the vocal and even the muted obbligato under the vocal.

This recording was made smack dab in the middle of a ten-year period where Louis refused to step foot in his hometown because it had become illegal for integrated bands to perform publicly and Louis wasn't about to break up his group--and take a social step backwards--just for some extra money and publicity. Thus, I'm sure there was a bittersweet taste to his recording this song (Louis also seemed to stop performing "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" after 1956, only fielding it if it was specifically requested). But at the same time, even when he stayed away from, he never tired of talking about it and especially his early years there so I'm sure he was able to channel those feelings into that vocal as well.

The closing trumpet solo is mighty fine with more of Louis's free-floating variations before he simply wails after the clarinet solo. The song "New Orleans" is only 16 bars long so they probably could have opened it up a bit more but I'm happy with the three choruses that were performed. Like the city its based on, it only leaves you wanting more. Indeed, there's nothing quite like New Orleans...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Satchmo Summerfest Days 2 and 3

A lifetime dream of mine came true, today: I had a half-hour piano gig in New Orleans, playing nothing but Louis Armstrong tunes in front of heroes such as George Avakian and Dan Morgenstern. The gig went really well and crowd was incredibly appreciative. I even got to end the day with an unplanned encore, playing "Avalon," as requested by George Avakian. I'm not going to gush about myself for long as I'm lucky my initial nerves didn't trip me up but my goodness did it feel good playing a beautiful instrument in this great city in front of a room of people that love and appreciate music. Let's just say I'm a long way from my hometown of Toms River, NJ! (Home of MTV's "Jersey Shore" reality hit, a show that doesn't do much to promote live jazz.)

Anyway, that was a personal triumph but as you can imagine, the last 48 hours have been filled with nothing but great moments. Seriously, I wish every Louis Armstrong fan in the world could make it here every August to simply feel the love...and taste the food. Continuing my string of photos of me and food, here I am at the world famous Cafe du Monde, enjoying some piping hot beignets:

They were amazing (and they make a good dessert too, as we found out the following evening!). Though I think my cleaning woman at the hotel thinks I'm a cocaine addict. After proudly stopping at three of these delicious French donuts, I made it back to the hotel where George Avakian's son Greg offered me a bag with three more. Goodbye willpower! But I was in a rush so I took them into my room and wolfed them down while standing over the sink, getting white powdered sugar all over the sink, countertop, my shirt and face. In the midst of it all, the cleaning woman knocked. I answered hopped up on sugar and fried dough, with white powder around my face and told her I'd be finished in a few minutes. The look she gave me made me think she thought I was messing with a different kind of white powder! (Oh, and I'm a jazz musician, so......)

After beignets, it was off to make another deposit at the Louisiana Music Factory before heading to the Palm Court for the first round of seminars. Before they got underway, trumpeter Wendell Brunious and pianist Steve Pistorious played a series of stunning duets on Pops tunes. I had to run back to the hotel for a minute and could hear Wendell's huge tone two blocks away. He was marvelous on his horn, sang charmingly and was a friendly conversationalist in between songs. Just a great hour of music.

Dan Morgenstern kicked off the seminars with a keynote about the ten-year history of the Satchmo Summerfest, followed by a joint presentation by Michael Cogswell and myself on the Jack Bradley Collection. It was a blast and people really seemed to get a kick out of seeing Jack's treasures, the stuff I work with on a daily basis (it's been nine months and I still don't quite believe it). Jack also handpicked some film clips that he wanted us to show: Louis in Copenhagen in 1933, a version of "Rockin' Chair" with Jack Teagarden in 1957 and the symphonic version of "St. Louis Blues" with Leonard Bernstein from "Satchmo the Great." Many in the audience had never seen these clips before so it was a thrill watching people react to Pops.

My parents and I then had dinner at the Praline Connection where I ordered something called "A Taste of Soul." Yes, just a "taste," right? File gumbo, jumbalaya, greens, fried chicken, red beans and rice, ribs, fried catfish, cornbread and bread pudding. Sweet Jesus, it was an overdose of soul, I tell you...

Somehow, that meal didn't kill me and I was able to enjoy the always fun Satchmo Club Strut featuring over 30 bands playing up and down Frenchman St. Lighting wasn't always great and neither was my camera work, but I managed to get some nice footage that I think is worth sharing. First up, Lionel Ferbos playing and singing "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" with a band that included Tom Fischer on tenor saxophone, Brian O'Connell on clarinet and Ernie Elly on drums. Ho hum, you say, another version of "Sister Kate"? Lionel Ferbos is 99-years-old. There. Now pay your respect:

A few doors down at Blue Nile, pianist Butch Thompson led a great group that included Clive Wilson on trumpet, Freddie Lonzo on trombone and Tim Laughlin on clarinet. Here they are doing "Someday You'll Be Sorry" with Lonzo taking the vocal (and dig Laughlin's quote of "The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else" towards the end of his solo):

(I want to mention that a Henry Butler group that included Lonzo, Fischer, Mark Braud and others absolutely tore the roof of Blue Nile later that night, but my batteries died in my camera. Oh well, I'll always remember that rocking "South Rampart Street Parade"!)

Over on a balcony, the fantastic New Orleans Sax Quartet played some beautiful music without the aid of a rhythm section or anything. Here's a minute of "Tango":

Minutes later, the Rebirth Brass Band took over the streets, as the party really began:
I was fortunate to spend time with four of my favorite Armstrong nuts (from left to right), David Ostwald, Michael Cogswell, Dan Morgenstern and Jon Pult).

Ostwald was in town to play a gig with Ed Polcer, a recent New Orleans transplant who explained the difference between playing traditional jazz in New York and New Orleans: "In New York, I had two gigs a month. In New Orleans, I have two gigs a day." I think that says it all. Unfortunately, the skies opened up and pretty much rained out the Polcer-Ostwald gig, though they managed to still perform wonderfully for a tiny crowd huddled around the bar to stay dry. It was getting late, it was quiet and this short version of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" just seemed appropriate:

That was all for me as I headed to bed like a wimp (I'll be 30 next month; George Avakian is 91 and stayed out two hours later than I did!). But the following morning it was more fun, more food and more music and Some Like It Hot, a (mostly) female trad band played for the breakfast brunch at the French Market Cafe. Here's the final minute of one of their exciting numbers, led by trumpeter Kaye Caldwell:

And then it was off to my moment in the sun, which I already mentioned. Okay, I've long kept my piano playing hidden as something of a "secret" but I seemed to go over well in New Orleans and that's good enough for me. Thus, here's the first footage on the Internet of me playing solo in public. My mom, bless her, held the camera at an odd angle and a podium obscured my hands, but hey, it's me, performing "Knee Drops." I hope you enjoy it:

So that's that...I'll stick to analyzing Pops instead of my own playing! Anyway, the seminars soon started rolling in, including a delightful one by Clive Wilson and Butch Thompson demonstrating early styles of jazz, a typically terrific presentation on Louis Armstrong in Queens by Michael Cogswell and a standing-room-only interview with Kermit Ruffins conducted by Larry Blumenfeld. I was thrilled to meet Kermit afterwards, who seemed just as down-to-earth as you could imagine. I closed the day by presenting videos of Louis in Prague and East Berlin in 1965, which seemed to go over very well. Pops always kills and this footage allowed me to trot out my standard myth-debunking about later Louis not playing much horn in his 60s. He blew like a wild man in East Berlin and I only wish that the footage turns up on DVD one day.

Dinner with George Avakian's family, Jon Pult and his wife Molly and David Ostwald was a treat before my parents and I ended the evening with those aforementioned beignets. See? Heaven on earth, my friends, heaven on earth. One more day of paradise before heading back to New Jersey for an entirely different paradise with my wife and baby girl. I'm going to hate to leave you, New Orleans, but wow, do I miss my family and it'll be great to get back home. See you soon with one more update...til then!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Satchmo Summerfest Day 1

Greetings from paradise, fellow Pops lovers! The Satchmo Summerfest kicked off last night and believe me, the joint was jumpin'. For all my readers who didn't get the opportunity to make the trip to this sweatbox this year, allow me to serve as your eyes and ears (and occasionally mouth).

I knew it was going to be a good trip yesterday morning when the first sounds I heard as I ascended the escalator towards my gate at Newark Airport was Lester Young's 1956 recording of "Louise" emanating out of a Starbucks. And just minutes after seminar curator Jon Pult picked me up in New Orleans, WWOZ radio played a back-to-back combo of "Struttin' with Some Barbecue" (1938 Decca) and "Summer Song." Yes, yes, yes, this was the place.

After getting set up at the Hotel Provincial, I joined up with my parents, who arrived the previous evening for this, their first trip to the Crescent City. We immediately had lunch at Johnny's where I made love to a roast beef po-boy. Hungry? Take a look for yourself:
Heaven on a plate, I say. From there, it was off to the Louisiana Music Factory, where I picked up the new "Off the Record" release, "Cabaret Echoes: New Orleans Jazzers at Work, 1918-1927," brought to us by Doug Benson and David Sager, the two men who heroically made King Oliver's 1923 recordings sound better than ever. As I type this, this disc is spinning in my computer and is completely knocking me out. I've never heard this material sound so clean. And the booklet is astoundingly informative, as well. It's simply an essential purchase for anyone interested in the early history of jazz.

After more walking around and some time off to rest, it was time for dinner. So here we are in land of red beans and rice, crawfish and gumbo, right? And where do the Riccardi's from Toms River, NJ (home of MTV's "Jersey Shore") end up? You guessed it: Mona Lisa, a terrific Italian restaurant!

They even had the checkered table cloths! It was delicious, but don't worry, tonight is gumbo night (and in a few minutes, look out for beignets).

The highlight of the day--and honestly, a highlight of my life--took part in the evening where Yoshio Toyama's Dixie Saints performed at a opening night fund-raiser dinner at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. If you've followed my Summerfest wrap-ups in the past, you know how much I love Yoshio, who simply personifies the magic of Louis Armstrong. I've never heard another trumpet player match Louis's sound like Yoshio, and he also sings just like him without turning it into a bad Vegas trick. And he's a beautiful cat to top it all, as is his wife Keiko, who plays banjo and piano in the Dixie Saints. WIth the great Lucien Barbarin filling in the trombone chair, the Dixie Saints simply romped with Yoshio tearing it up all night on pieces like "West End Blues" and "Chinatown." It was also the closest I'll ever come to seeing the All Stars as Yoshio's Japanese clarinet player and bassist played Edmond Hall's "Dardanella" and Arvell Shaw's "How High the Moon" as features!

It was just a great time with legends like Dan Morgenstern and George Avakian in the audience and plates of red beans and rice being served (yes, I ate again after the Italian dinner....shhhh, don't tell my wife!). During the set break, Yoshio came up to me and asked if I'd sit in on piano. Now, I've mentioned my piano playing occasionally on this blog but I've always kept it pretty much a secret whenever I'm around anyone one connected with the jazz world that I remotely respect. I'll gladly play the coffeehouses and Italian restaurants of Toms River, but have always felt to be entirely too minor league to cross into New York or New Orleans.

Well, that's slowly starting to change. After a few high-profile jam sessions at David Ostwald's house, I began to get a slight reputation as an okay pianist. Well, Jon Pult went one-step further and booked me for a half-hour solo piano gig at the Palm Court, to be held tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. It's not exactly a concert as it's more of a door-opening, grab-a-seat-and-relax-before-the-seminars-begin kind of thing, but it's exciting. So all the programs printed up mentioned that I'd be playing, which I'm sure came as a surprise to many who just knew me as the Pops nut (I'm even humorously billed as the self-described "Jazz King of Toms River," something that's hilarious if you've actually ever been to Toms River).

Back to Yoshio and the Palm Court: during intermission, he mentioned that he noticed I'd be playing. My biggest booster from NY, Maria Salter, flew down to the Summerfest with Yoshio and told him about my playing. Would I want to sit in for the second set? Holy crap, was he kidding? I said, sure, but inside I was shaking.

When the second set start, matters didn't improve as Yoshio invited some special guests to jam including clarinetist Tim Laughlin and the topper: not one, but TWO piano giants of the city, Butch Thompson and Lars Edegran (Edegran stuck to banjo and let Thompson take the keyboard). When I saw them, my heart sank and I turned to my parents and said, "I better not be playing tonight!" But after a few songs, Yoshio made his announcement and I took the stage, calling out the "C Jam Blues." Well, my goodness, did it feel good playing that Steinway up there with so many musicians who are like heroes to me. We had a ball and I know I surprised a lot of people who had no idea I played. In this photo, you can actually see Edegran--who I've known for three years--looking over his should, somewhat baffled that this Louis nut he has talked to many times could actually play something!

After "C Jam," I called "Avalon" and once again, we were off and swinging. Now, people were starting to stand up, clapping, dancing and taking photos. My mother took this picture which instantly became my favorite, even though I'm almost completely obscured. You can really see the atmosphere in the audience as everyone was just having a ball:

After "Avalon," I took my bow and stepped down, Butch Thompson shaking my hand as he took over the keyboard. Hands down, it was one of the most exciting moments of my life, simply a dream come true.

Fortunately, though I was done for the evening, the music was not. Yoshio called Louis's "New Orleans Function," opening with the funeral dirge "Flee as a Bird" before swinging into "Oh, Didn't He Ramble." It was during "Ramble" when I noticed a dancer in full second line regalia start dancing, complete with an umbrella. The party was on! Others joined her and I knew something special was happening so I grabbed my Flip camera. Now, the lighting's not great and the camera work is occasionally shaky but I hope the joyous mood and atmosphere comes through on this clip, which I've already posted to YouTube. Barbarin gets the crowd riled up on the microphone before the band marches off the stage and around the club. I mean, people were going nuts....only in New Orleans! Enjoy the video:

Then, almost how Duke Ellington calmed the crowd at Newport in 1956 by calling for "Jeep's Blues" after Paul Gonsalves nearly caused a riot, Yoshio immediately launched into a slow "La Vie En Rose." The music was beautiful but the vocal between Toyama and Barbarin stole the show. Barbarin's "French" vocal was hilarious and ending--getting everyone to sing a scat break a la Pops--was so much fun, I can't put it into words. Just watch the video for yourself:

So that was that, the end of a magical night. I don't know how I fell asleep but when I woke up, I was bummed because I couldn't share the moment with my wife Margaret and daughter Ella, who were back in Jersey. Fortunately, thanks to our Macs, we had a great little video chat this morning. Ella, at 16-months, knows her Daddy too well and started handing CDs to the computer screen....including my Johnny Dodds "1926" disc! (She knows where I'm at.)

Okay, it's off for beignets and such. Today is the first official day of the seminars, including a keynote address by Dan Morgenstern and a presentation on the Jack Bradley Collection by Michael Cogswell and myself. Should be great....until tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

If You Go To New Orleans....

...make sure you see the Satchmo Summerfest! (Apologies to Professor Longhair.) Yes, dear readers, it's that time of the year where I suspend regular blogging and head down to the land of the red bean for the four-day celebration of Louis's birth, the Satchmo Summerfest, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. Watch this spot in the next few days for pictures, videos and breathless descriptions from a scene that can only be described as paradise for Pops lovers.

Before I leave, a word on my last post about Hip-O Select's new Armstrong set. The great Andy McKaie of Hip-O wrote to me personally to address some of the concerns in my review. As I wrote, I wasn't sure if Universal owned Brunswick but if they did, I wish Hip-O included Louis's Brunswick recordings. Well, Andy set me straight--Universal doesn't own Brunswick, it's independent--so that took care of that. And though I lamented the lack of the 1969 version of "Pretty Little Missy," McKaie assured me that Hip-O tried to get permission but neither EMI (who own United Artists) or MGM (who owned "We Have All the Time in the World") would claim it so it looks like that's going to languish in the vaults to the end of time. What a shame. Oh this space, and perhaps I'll share that gem right here in the near future. But thanks to Andy for his informative reply and I apologize for being a little hard on them. I didn't refer to them as "the good people at Hip-O Select" for nothing!

Okay, off to New Orleans for me...and Happy 109th Birthday, Pops!