Saturday, August 6, 2011

Greetings from New Orleans!

Hello all. Sorry I missed a post for Louis's 110th birthday celebration, but I was a little busy doing some celebrating of my own down here at the 11th annual Satchmo Summerfest. As usual, this is heaven on earth: spent Thursday night at the opening reception talking Pops with the likes of Dan Morgenstern, George Avakian, David Ostwald, Bruce Raeburn, Babette Ory, Dr. Jack Stewart, Don Marquis, Jon Pult, Michael Gourrier, David Sager, Fred Kasten....shall I keep going?

This is my fourth year here and I hope you indulge a little of my annual travelogue. Anyone who knows about New Orleans, knows about the cuisine. Anybody who knows about me knows I'm all about cuisine. So you can imagine my delight when this gorgeous b eauty was waiting for me in my hotel room:

That basket ain't going to look that in a few days...

And then it was off to the Louisiana Music Factory, that rarity of rarities: an actual store that sells actual CDs! Physical CDs that you can hold in your hand! And rare jazz CDs! I made a killing and have enough Edmond Hall, Paul Barbarin, Zutty Singleton, Duke Heitger and others to keep me swinging for the rest of this trip and then some.

This town is officially crazy for the Satchmo Summerfest, with posters and pictures of Louis everywhere. I particularly liked this lamppost and did my best to pull a Sinatra (minus the smokes):

The culmination of the first day was a reception at the gorgeous Muriel's that ended with a "Keynote Conversation" with myself and Richard Havers. I've mentioned Richard before as he was the mastermind behind Universal's massive boxed set, "Satchmo: Ambassador of Jazz," which I wrote about extensively here. The box was officially unveiled yesterday and I can say in all sincerity that it is absolutely gorgeous. Seriously, it's just beautiful to look at, with a book full of lovely photos, the sheet music reproductions, the actual case, the CD covers...wow. (And the music is top notch, too!)

Richard and I spoke about the set, played some audio and had a general good time before handing the microphones over for the next bit of big news: the announcement that George Avakian, at age 92, is producing an Armstrong tribute album featuring Dr. John! Here's George and Dr. John breaking the news:

And here's a photo of me with George, Mac (as his friends call him), the great trombonist Sarah Morrow and the one and only Selma Heraldo, Louis Armstrong's neighbor, down in New Orleans to talk about her life this afternoon!

The rest of the evening was a blast but feeling a little hungry, the only way to close out the day was with a late night snack with David Ostwald and Richard Havers. The choice? You guessed it: red beans and rice!


So that was day one. Day 2 began (after a breakfast of beignets, natch) with a radio interview with Keith of WWOZ. Here's a pic:


And here I am later in the day with Keith, a neighbor of my guru, Jack Bradley and WWOZ DJ (and my Facebook friend) Sally Young:

The seminars this year were held at Maison on Frenchman Street and they really got a great crowd. My boss, Michael Cogswell, was up first with a presentation on his 20 years as director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Then Michael interviewed me on stage about my background and the themes of the book (which I illustrated with actual audio clips from Louis's private tapes) before I flew solo for one of my patented video presentations. Here on the blog, I've been enjoying sharing the audio for a lot of the music but only at the Satchmo Summerfest could I share the videos, including "Black and Blue" in East Berlin, Louis singing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and some short footage of Louis at the Waldorf in 1971.

And now for a story that proves that Louis is watching over us. After my presentation, I stood around and chatted a while with some attendees, including Richad Basi, a Swing DJ from Portland (the "University of Swingology....how I wished I got a master's degree from there!) and a fan of the blog. We chatted for a while but then I was going to run off and grab some dinner as I had some time to kill. At that point, the skies opened like you wouldn't believe. I didn't have an umbrella so I decided to stay and have dinner at Maison. Richard was still there so I joined him and we talked Pops.

Meanwhile, the bartender had put on some music, a nice mix including Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Oscar Peterson and more. Richard asked about my history of Pops and if there was one song that made me see the light. Indeed there was, I explained, and I told him my story about being 15-years-old and checking out a cassette, "16 Most Requested Songs." I told him, "And it was track 14, 'St. Louis Blues,' from the W. C. Handy album, that was the one that really hit me and changed everything." And at the precise second I finished my sentence, the opening notes of that version of "St. Louis Blues" came blasting over the bar's sound system! Richard and I both started screaming and pounding the bar....it was pure insanity. If you had anything to do with it, thanks, Pops!

And then it was time for the always fun Satchmo Club Strut on Frenchman Sreet. The evening kicked off with the great Yoshio Toyama, the "Satchmo of Japan."

I've written much about Yoshio in the past. Not only is he a dynamite trumpeter (the closest I've ever heard to Pops) but he's a genuinely beautiful human being, starting the Wonderful World Foundation with his wife Keiko, devoted to donating musicians to children in New Orleans. I don't have to tell you that the devastation in Japan earlier this year was incredibly difficult for the Toyamas, their musicians and friends and family, to overcome. There was a lot of emotion in the room as the emcee talked about how the Toyamas were such a help after Katrina and the city of New Orleans had to reciprocate after the earthquake. Yoshio clearly had to fight back tears. It was so beautiful seeing him and his band there again...goodness knows what this last year has been like for each of them.

But then it was time to play and as always, it was Louis incarnated. Seriously, I try and see a lot of live music but there's something about Yoshio and his group that makes me smile from ear to ear the entire time. The music is so great and so swinging but they also have a flair for showmanship, they involve the audience, they love what they're doing....if you're not smiling when you watch them in action, there's something wrong with your mouth muscles. And like last year, they had a ringer on trombone, the legendary Lucien Barbarin. I filmed a few performances and will post them to YouTube when things calm down a bit...you have to see Louis's neighbor, Selma Heraldo, getting up and "shaking that thing" during "Bourbon Street Parade"! Here's a pic of Selma clearing enjoying the evening:

UPDATE: Here's Yoshio and company doing "When It's Sleepy Time Down South":

I spent the bulk of the club strut parked in front of the Fauborg Marigny book store, signing copies of my book alongside three other fantastic writers: John Swenson, author of New Atlantis: Musicisans Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, Thomas W. Jacobsen, author of Traditional New Orleans Jazz: Conversations With The Men Who Make The Music and Michael Patrick Welch, author of New Orleans: The Underground Guide. It was great company and each man has written a great book. And it's always a ball getting to meet people and sign books for them (or in the case of Jon Pult, who read it on his iPone, I signed his iPhone case!). Here I am signing a book for French Quarter Festivals President Janice Foulks and her husband Ed:

The rest of the night was spent with friends (including one I've known since fourth grade!) walking up and down Frenchman Street and catching the wonderful sounds coming from the clubs and from the brass bands on the street. No where else quite like it. Today it's more fun stuff as I'll be screening "Satchmo the Great" at 5. p.m., followed by a signing at Octavia Books at 7.

Summerfest aside, I've been featured all over the radio and in print in recent days. If you're interested in more about my little gappings, as Pops would say, here's some of the things that have popped up. First, if that picture of red beans and rice made you hungry, I talked about Louis's relationship with food with Patrick Jarenwattananon of NPR's "A Blog Supreme." As a bonus, he included Louis and Lucille's original recipe for the dish! Check it out here.

As for me, here's a neat little profile of myself by Brandon Twist in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. And here's a great review/interview by Steven Cerra over at Jazz Profiles, complete with a YouTube tribute to my book. On the radio, my appearance on the Bob Edwards Show on satellite radio aired this week, but you need XM or Sirius to hear it (though apparently you can download it for $2.95 on Bob's official site). Fred Kasten interviewed me about the book and my background on WWNO.

And finally, Sir Michael Parkinson hosted a BBC radio overview of Louis's life featuring interviews with Dan Morgenster, George Avakian, Jack Bradley, Oscar Cohen, Digby Fairweather, myself and many others. That can be heard here. And if you missed BBC radio's special on Louis's private tapes, that is also up and running at this link.

Phew, I think that's all for now. My book is still going strong, leading Amazon's jazz charts (though that pesky Miles Davis and his 21-year-old autobiography still makes its presence felt) so thanks to anyone out there who has purchased it (and remember, Amazon reviews are much appreciated!). But it's time to get back to the Summerfest so I'll quit while I'm ahead. Til next time!

1 comment:

Richard Basi said...

I can vouch for that St Louis Blues story folks. It happened just like he wrote it, and at the precise moment, I laughed hard from the pit of my belly. It HAD to be a sign from the Great Man from above. It's gonna be hard to top that hour this weekend, having an uninterrupted relaxed chat with Ricky in a bar in New Orleans with a constant stream of Satch playing behind us, the two of us talking Pops inside and out. Man!