Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Orleans Wrap-up (and other odds and ends)

I've been back from New Orleans for a few days but I haven't been able to write anything more about my trip to the Satchmo Summerfest because I immediately got thrown back into the world of a dedicated archivist (gone for 14 hours a day) for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, father of two (Melody is now ten weeks old and more on Ella in a bit) and husband of one (my poor wife Margaret needed hernia surgery two days before I left for New Orleans so I'm really doing double duty). But internally, my heart has still been beating to a second line rhythm (I've been listening to a ton of Paul Barbarin and Zutty Singleton) and I don't think I can ever wash away the good feelings a trip to the Satchmo Summerfest gives me.

Of course, in the past, I was able to enjoy them as something of a civilian. Not this time: I had a part in six different presentations, I did three book signings and had one live radio appearance, while three others I had taped aired during the same weekend! But am I complaining? Are you kidding? Jon Pult reminded me that my first words after my first Satchmo Summerfest appearance in 2008 were "I'm living the dream." Well, that sure hasn't changed, talking about Pops and signing books for so many devoted fans over the weekend. Heaven on earth!

I won't go on with any more blow-by-blow details but I do want to mention Yoshio Toyama again, the "Satchmo of Japan." In my last post, I mentioned filming Yoshio's group and I managed to update that post with one video. Well, in case you missed it, here's that video again. If Yoshio's speech about the relationship between Japan and New Orleans doesn't get to you, you're dead (and if his horn doesn't get to you, you're REALLY dead!). And again, pay attention to Selma Heraldo, who was born 88 years ago in the house that eventually neighbored Louis's home on 107th street, and who still lives there today, stealing the show at the end:

They immediately followed with a hot "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" with Yoshio proving his fluency in all of Pops's takes on the tune, including the original 1927 stop-time solo, the 1938 Decca masterpiece and all those swinging versions with the All Stars. Reminder, that's the great Lucien Barbarin on trombone:

And finally, the highlight, a video that is already the talk of 107th St in Corona, Queens: during Lucien Barbarin's vocal on "Bourbon Street Parade," Selma got up and "shook that thing!" I had stopped filming because I wanted to just sit back and enjoy the performance but when I saw Selma stand up, I lunged for the camera and this is how it came out:

Fun stuff! But onto more serious business, how about that Yoshio? Just days before, he visited New York City and sat in with my favorite big band, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. Yoshio brought along two arrangements he made of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Chinatown, My Chinatown," both patterned off the original OKeh recordings. Well, there were no rehearsals but my goodness, did everyone involved hit it out of the park. Here's "Chinatown," which I watched three times in a row after Yoshio sent it to me:

And "Ain't Misbehavin'":

So thank you Yoshio and thank you Vince for all the great music!

Back to the Satchmo Summerfest, here's some great photos taken by Johnny Martinez, an excellent AV guy AND a fine photographer to boot! Here's Fred Kasten interviewing Dan Morgenstern:

Mr. Big Shot, signing books...

Me and Jon Pult, the guy who took a chance and booked me for one of these in 2008, when I was just a painter with a blog.

Fred Kasten interviewing George Avakian, aka "Uncle George"!

And then a real wild moment. While I was preparing my next presentation, I was rushed on stage, along with Richard Havers of Universal and the great Armstrong historian/tuba player David Ostwald. The next thing we knew, a representative of New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu was reading a statement to us:

The next thing we knew, we were being handed proclamations from the Mayor!

Here's how it read. Again, another sign of living the dream...and thank you Mr. Mayor!

Then it was showtime, as I discussed and screened "Satchmo the Great." Here's a beautiful shot of me enjoying it, sandwiched between the beautiful couple, Anahid and George Avakian:

Maison, the venue for the seminars, was packed all weekend long. Here's the crowd, digging Pops:

Even the bar area--which had hi-definition TVs connected to my presentation--was packed (they were selling Satchmo Spritzers and Louis Armstrong Shots for good measure):

Afterwards, I posed with Richard Havers for a picture with two representatives of French Quarter Festivals, the good people that make Satchmo Summerfest happen every year, Heather Twichell and Director Marci Schramm

A few weeks ago, I wrote about trumpeter Lionel Ferbos turning 100, becoming the oldest living jazz musician of today and well, probably ever. I couldn't wait to hear Lionel play and see him get interviewed for the Summerfest, but alas, a few days before, he suffered a hairline fracture of one of his ribs and was sidelined for the weekend. It was very unfortunate but I fully expect to see him celebrating number 101 next summer. In place of his interview, David Ostwald and myself threw together a second presentation around our hero, Dan Morgenstern. Here's David and Dan:

And finally, a nice shot of David Ostwald, Jon Pult and myself:

I have many, many more photos (as you'll know if you've found me on Facebook) but I'll quit while I'm ahead and say thanks to everyone who attended who made it such a special weekend!


Other quick notes from the weekend and everything that's preceded it and followed it....

While in New Orleans, I did a signing at a charming bookstore, Octavia Books. Before I left, I signed every copy of my book in the joint, about 40 in all. Octavia is now selling them on their website at cover price, $28.95. They're not advertised as signed on the web but you can go to their site and order it and they'll ship it anywhere around the world. A great way to get a signed copy...thanks to Tom and everyone else at Octavia!


I mentioned that the Universal boxed set, "Satchmo: Ambassador of Jazz," was unveiled at the Satchmo Summerfest. Since it's actually coming from Universal's London branch, it's not the easiest thing to find in the United States. However, it does look like Amazon Amazon has begun carrying it, selling it for the great price of $151 (only 19 left in stock as I write this). And if you're in the New York area, we are carrying it at the gift shop of the Louis Armstrong House Museum so stop by, take a tour of Pops's pad and bring home the boxed set to end all boxed sets.


I've mentioned that one of the best parts of this set is it issues for the first time, Louis's complete set at the Hollywood Bowl on August 15, 1956, possibly my favorite all-time single set. I've already received e-mails from Armstrong nuts inquiring about the Hollywood Bowl show, asking it if will be available apart from the set Good news: this Tuesday, August 16, Hip-O Select is releasing not only Louis's set but the rest of the concert in a deluxe two-disc set with notes by Bob Porter. In case you didn't know, Pops was the closing act of a Jazz at the Philharmonic show produced by Norman Granz. The rest of the concert contains appearances by such hacks (that's a joke, son) as Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Eldridge, Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich, Illinois Jacquet....should I keep going? You can get it here.


In the disappointing news bin, press releases had been circulating online for a few weeks that Louis's recordings with the Dukes of Dixieland were finally going to be released in proper fashion, supervised and blessed by the Assunto family and released on the SRI label. At first, I was skeptical; I have this material on LP and various CDs including the latest "Complete" three-CD set that just ripped off Blue Moon CDs (complete with a skip on "Wolverine Blues") and Hank O'Neal's old Chiaroscuro LPs of alternate takes. The late Gösta Hägglöf had told me that he had heard parts of the session tapes and they contained fascinating rehearsals, breakdowns, alternates, you name it...Audio Fidelity head Sid Frey pretty much let the tapes roll for the sessions. Still, nothing of substance had ever been done with this material in the digital age, especially coming from the United States, and at first I wasn't sure what to think when I heard about these two new volumes, "Lost Treasures."

Then in New Orleans last week, WWOZ DJ Sally Young told me she had Deano Assunto in and they played the new sets for two hours straight and they were fantastic, with all sorts of alternate takes and such. That began playing with my mind, so last night, I looked it up on Amazon, where it's available as MP3 downloads. I listened to a few tracks....hmmm, they did sound different, including a slower take of "Limehouse Blues." And I checked the timings against what I already had and some takes did seem to run longer. Hmmm, maybe the Assuntos did have access to the complete session reels Gösta told me about and created two new discs of material guaranteed to make Armstrong fans celebrate!

Well, call off the celebration. And let me say that I hate to play Debbie Downer...the Assuntos are a great family and this is obviously a labor of love. Every citizen of the world should hear this music and rejoice in it. But this is not the great release it should have been. Whoever did the mastering knew nothing about pitch correction, for one. Remember how I said some songs sounded different when I listened to the samples? That's because they were transferred at the wrong speed! Take "Avalon" for example, one of the highlights of the sessions and one of the greatest moments of Louis's later years. The original version is in F, the standard key the song is usually played in. The "Lost Treasures" series contains two versions. The one on volume 1 is a 6:21 alternate; actually it's an unedited take originally issued by Hank O'Neal in the 1970s on Chiaroscuro and containing more solos. Fine. But volume two contains the celebrated master, with the original splice intact from the end of Louis's vocal to the start of his trumpet solo. Here's the thing: it's in E!!! A half-step lower! What are they, rock musicians? It was so disappointing hearing this classic recording in the completely wrong key. And in the liner notes to the Chiaroscuro LP, Nat Hentoff wrote that Louis ad-libbed different lyrics every time he sang "Avalon," but the same vocal is heard on both versions, so there's nothing new to report on at all.

Sad to say, it doesn't end there. "Dixie" is in A. "Limehouse Blues" is in G, down again Ab. I could keep going but honestly, I couldn't listen anymore, hearing everything slowed down and dreary. Thus, the "lost treasures" are the alternates already issued on Chiaroscuro LPs and the Essential Jazz Classics three-CD set (which has its own problems). And all of the original masters, beloved for over 50 years, are in the wrong key. As someone who has owned this material in so many incarnations, I'm frankly annoyed the I spent $18 on these versions that I'll probably never listen to again. If you've never heard the material, by all means, find a way to get it but you might be better off getting the original LPs and a turntable.


And finally, the book continues rolling along, garnering a fine review in the Christian Science Monitor this week (the author's "sour note" had to deal with my sounding like a "gushing enthusiast"....Jesus, I hope he never reads the blog!). And on a personal note, I opened this entry by mentioning my family and I have to close with a quick tale of my daughter Ella, still going strong at two-years-and-four-months of age. Here she is, with a t-shirt and kazoo I brought back from the Satchmo Summerfest (look out Red McKenzie!):

She continues her quest to be the world's youngest moldy fig and Armstrong historian. I usually sing to her to put her to sleep at night, a variety of children's favorites ranging from "Twinkle Twinkle" to "Old McDonald." A few weeks ago, she mentioned that we were in a rocking chair so I starting singing "Rockin' Chair." Well, that was that. Since then, every night she says, "Sing old Rockin' Chair's got me!" So I started playing Louis's version and now she can identify it just by the opening trumpet notes.

Then I peppered in "When It's Sleepy Time Down South." She came into my basement yesterday and started requesting, "Down South! Down South!" So I put on a video of Louis doing "Sleepy Time" and she cooled it for a few minutes. Then I played "Dinah" on the piano and sang that to her. Now every time she's near the piano, she requests, "Play Dinah!"

I could keep going but my favorite story occurred a few weeks ago when, tired of watching "Sesame Street" and "Blue's Clues" before bedtime, I threw on Louis doing "Basin Street Blues" in "The Glenn Miller Story." She laid in the bed next to me for all five minutes and as soon as it was over, turned to me and said, "That was amazing." She ain't kidding....


coyote said...

Just finished your book; what a great service you did for Pops, jazz, and the world. Thank you for this heart-filled work. dick prosapio, san pedro, nm

jm said...

Hi Ricky
i gotta tell you a quick story . Im a Louis freak and i wanted to get some kind of a tattoo that celebrated the maestro and i came up with the idea of using the font and words"What a wonderful world " from your terrific book . So im in LA for a few days and i went on line and found a place near to the hotel im staying at on Sunset and off i went .
So im in this tattoo parlor on 9026 Sunset Blvd and i get your book out to show the fellow there exactly what i want and he disappears in the back with it . A few minutes later a tall distinguished looking guy comes out and says to me " Whose is this book?" and i say its mine and tell him about my idea for the tattoo and he tells me that this place used to be Bing Crosbys LA hang out and Louis Armstrong and many other musicians used to come here and play and smoke weed and generally hang out with Bing Crosby ! So there i was getting this Louis Armstrong type tribute tattoo in the very place he used to come and jam . I couldn't believe it . Pops was working his magic yet again !!!!!

Ricky Riccardi said...

First off, thank you Dick, for the kind words...the pleasure was all mine! And JM, that is the craziest story I've ever heard! Did you get the tattoo? Could you take a picture and e-mail it to me at And can I share it on the blog or're too much! Thanks!


jm said...

Totally !! ill get the pic done asap ! It looks fantastic !