It's been a wonderful year for Louis Armstrong: new books, new boxed sets, radio documentaries and a lot of beautiful attention paid to our hero 40 years after his death. But it's also been a sad year as two champions of Pops have passed. First was the discographer Jos Willems, who passed away in November. And now it pains me to announce the death of Louis and Lucille Armstrong's neighbor Selma Heraldo, who passed away on December 2. Anyone who ever met Selma will never forget her....and because she was such a frequent presence at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, that meant she met thousands of people from around the world. I've been too broken up about it to properly eulogize her on this blog but fortunately, my pal Michael Steinman did an excellent job of conveying Selma's feisty spirit on his Jazz Lives blog. Michael only met her a few times but he captures her essence perfectly. And Selma even got a grand send-off in the December 14 "New York Times," which you can read here.
As for me, I had gotten to know Selma quite well at my 2+ years at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. She was always present at my lectures and other events at the House, including my book party (in which she took a picture with my family and friends, a photo I'll always cherish). But her real last hurrah was at the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans this past August where, at 88-years-old, Selma was the Queen of the city. I had my video camera present and sat next to Selma during a performance by Yoshio Toyama, who was close with Selma. Here's "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," in which Yoshio introduces Selma and gives her the microphone for the closing "Good Evening Everybody":
And on the next tune, while Lucien Barbarin sang "Bourbon Street Parade," Selma got up from her wheelchair and started dancing! I couldn't grab my camera fast enough and ended catching an endearing moment that actually became the centerpiece of Selma's breathtaking eulogy delivered at Corona Congregational Church last Friday:
Thanks for all the great stories and memories, Selma. 107th St. will never be the same.
On to happier news: in my last blog, I mentioned that the CBC was going to broadcast a radio documentary on Louis's private tapes. Well, the special aired on Sunday and it was fantastic. Huge props go to Sean Prpick, who was engaged in the project from day one, really wanted to get it right and in the end, gave the public the best glimpse yet into the private Louis Armstrong. And you'll also hear Deslyn Dyer, Terry Teachout and yours truly gab about Pops. But best of all, you'll hear Louis uncensored....unless rough language makes you uncomfortable, in which case you might want to skip this and listen to "Disney Songs the Satchmo Way" instead. But if you want to jump in for yourself, here's the link. Thanks, Sean!
It's the holiday season and every family must have one person (or more) who enjoys Louis Armstrong. It's not too late to order some stuff for your fellow Pops nuts, so here's a quick gift guide featuring some of this year's Louis-related items.
First, because I'm completely shameless, perhaps you've heard that I wrote a book? Indeed, TEXTWhat a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years is still going strong (and available for 34% off on Amazon). Makes a great stocking stuffer (if I say so myself....).
If you're sick of reading about Louis's later years and want to go back to his 1920s work, Brian Harker did an excellent job with his Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Seven Recordings. Even if you know the Hot Fives and Sevens by heart, Harker will make you hear things you've never heard before.
And though the Universal boxed set got all the publicity (thank you, Elvis Costello!), there was another fine box that came out this year from the Storyville label. The Armstrong Box features 7 discs of mostly live performances from 1947 to 1967, a DVD of Armstrong's 1950s's "Timex All Star Jazz Show" television appearances and a hefty liner note booklet once again penned by yours truly. The price is a bargain, too, so this is one you don't want to miss (and Amazon is saying there's only 9 left in stock...get on it!).
For those who don't want to go for boxes, the wonderful people at Hip-O Select released a two-disc set
Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl, featuring one of the greatest assemblage's talent in the history of jazz: one evening, one concert with Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Illinois Jacquet, Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich, Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald and an entire set by Louis Armstrong and His All Stars that might be my single favorite All Stars set.
And to give my bosses a plug, the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens is the only place left selling Gosta Hagglof's Ambassador CDs. We have all the rare ones, ones you will not find online so come out to Corona to pick up some gifts for the Armstrong completist you know...and take a holiday tour while there!
Well, I think that's enough for one year. Happy Pops Shopping!