Saturday, July 23, 2011

Louis's Private Tapes Coming To BBC Radio 2 On July 27

I interrupt my series of posting links to relevant audio showcased in my book to present some exciting news: this Wednesday, July 27, BBC Radio 2 is doing a one-hour special about Louis's private tapes, chock full of audio. The man behind the special, Paul Sexton, wrote about it in today's issue of the London "Telegraph," which you can access by clicking here.

I mentioned in my last post that I wouldn't be sharing any snippets of the private tapes because they were property of the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Thus, this special comes along at a perfect time to listen to a small sample of what I listened to in the years of researching my book. I just hope in can be heard in the United States....

And of course, full disclosure (though I don't think this'll fool anyone), as the Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, I was the go-to guy for this special. Paul couldn't come over to the States so I personally set over what I thought were some of the best moments. I haven't heard his final selections but judging from the article, he picked some great ones.

The Jelly Roll Morton tape was unknown to researchers until I stumbled across it at work about a year ago. The full context, which I don't think is represented in the special, is Louis is taping his copy of Jelly's Library of Congress recordings. Louis is alone but opens the tape by introducing the set (to an invisible audience he knew would be there decades after he died) and saying that Jelly was a real "homeboy" and whatever he says, you can believe it. And then he puts it on for a while and remains silent...until Jelly gets to scat singing and begins blasting Louis for getting all the credit for inventing it.

At that point, Louis stops the tape, grabs his microphone and offers his incredible rebuttal, addressing all of his comments directly to the deceased Morton. I think Louis knew deep down that he didn't invent it but he stuck by the "Heebie Jeebies" story and to him, that was the first time he ever heard the word "scat" applied to that kind of singing and that was good enough for him. Sexton is confused by Louis's closing "carry on" but at that point, he simply put Jelly's records back on and recorded the rest of the set for a couple of hours, never uttering another word, but sitting there and listening intently.

Another small gripe....I hate the phrase "audio diaries." That conjures up the image of Louis at night, turning on the tape and saying, "Hello, this is July 24 and this is what happened today." No, the tape recorder was seemingly turned on at random...sometimes backstage with friends, sometimes at home with Lucille, sometimes alone. Often it was used to capture music. Sometimes he would record television programs or audio of sporting events. He would record radio stations for hours at a time, capturing children's shows, weather reports and news breaks. And for some reason, the man didn't seem to make a tape between 1961 and 1968, reasons I have guesses about but no concrete evidence.

But again, I'm just groaning about a few words. The point is the tapes are getting out there and hallelujah for that. The Louis Armstrong Archives has been open since 1994 and the tapes have been available for listening since then but few know about them. Thomas Brothers quoted some in "Louis Armstrong's New Orleans" and Gary Giddins and Ben Alexander wrote about them in a newspaper column and academic journal respectively. Finally, in 2006, Terry Teachout and myself arrived at the Archives and dove in headfirst, the tapes making up significant portions of both of our biographies on the man. And I've made no secret that I've had dreams about writing my next book about just the tapes.

But before we get carried away, let just all sit in front of our radios/computers on Wednesday night and listen to Louis Armstrong in his own words, hopefully the first of many, many such specials.

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