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...

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