And so it begins....
As promised, over the next few weeks, I'll be contributing biweekly blogs featuring almost nothing but audio for those good people out there who are reading or who have read my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years. As I mentioned last week in my preview of the Universal box, people keep asking if there's going to be a tie-in CD/downloadable album to go along with the book. The 10-CD Universal box, along with an upcoming 8-disc Storyville box, will do an incredible job in telling the aural story of the years covered in my book but at a certain time, you have to realize that if you want something done, it's better to do it myself.
So here's the drill: twice a week, I'll post a blog with the "Listening to the Book" title, along with a chapter number. In that blog will be links to any audio or, when applicable, video, featured in that chapter. I'm opening up the vaults: rare All Stars concerts, that Hungarian Relief Fund concert from 1956, the "Black and Blue" from 1965, it's all coming out. If you good people out there have supported my work by purchasing my book, I have to show my gratitude by providing the relevant audio so you can actually listen to the things that made me flip my lid while writing the book.
What won't you get? Context. I know that sounds cruel but hey, that book represents about 15 years of crazy work and research and I still want people to buy it! Thus, I won't be quoting from the book, or describing scenes or giving the background to much of the audio. It'll just be the chapter number and the sounds; if you have the book, you'll know why it's important. If you don't have the book, you'll be missing out on the context, but you'll have plenty of choice Armstrong to listen to.
Who will I quote? Well, when necessary, myself. This blog is four years old and I have written about a LOT of the tracks that are featured in the book. Whenever an old blog is available with more details on the history of the song and Louis's relationship with it, I'll post a link to that as well.
So, for those of you who have finished the book and are ready to start again, for those of you who haven't cracked it open yet and for those of you who are on the fence about pulling the trigger for it (whattaya waiting for!), here goes. Let's begin with the introduction. In fact, let's begin with the epigraph, the first words that appear in the book, straight from Louis Armstrong's mouth from a Voice of America interview from July 1956:
From there, my introduction lays out many of the themes of the book, without much time for musical discussion. But I do mention Louis in the 20s performing with Erskine Tate. Here's a blog I did on Louis's only recording session with Tate's band. And I knock Gunther Schuller and others for missing out on Louis's more comedic Hot Five and Hot Seven numbers. Here's another blog on one such song, That's When I'll Come Back to You.
And finally, a quote about showmanship where Louis begins by discussing Big Sid Catlett, then starts talking about himself, mentioning the "notes that come out of the horn.":
That's really all I have to share from the introductory chapter. In case you're curious, all quotes from Louis's private tapes are held at the Louis Armstrong House Museum's Archives at Queens College, so I won't be sharing any of those (but since I am the Archivist there, if you're in the neighborhood, come in and I'll play 'em for you!). But if it's in my collection, I'll share it when possible so I'll leave with a little bonus. The July 1956 Voice of America interview was given to me by David Ostwald in 2008 and it was pretty mind-blowing. Not only did it feature Louis talking so much about specific records (and I've excerpted audio from it before of Louis discussing such songs as "Basin Street Blues," "Heebie Jeebies" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love"), but for one six minute and 32 second run, Louis opened up about music. I had many theories about Louis's music and shared them over the years in my college thesis and on this here blog. But I heard this clip for the first time, I almost died because here was the man himself, talking on the record about so many of my central theories. I think I used about four or five quotes just from this segment throughout the course of the book but the whole thing really is dynamite. So a little thank-you for making it this far with me: here's the sound of Louis Armstrong in 1956 defending his trumpet playing, his band, talking about showmanship and making it clear why he didn't like to take vacations and why he felt so strong in this period...in short, many of the themes of the book in one chunk, straight from the man's mouth. Enjoy and I'll see you in a few days for Chapter 1!