Saturday, December 10, 2011

Louis Armstrong's Private Tapes Come to the CBC (and a word about the Universal boxed set)

Hello all. As most of you probably know, Louis Armstrong was an avid user of reel-to-reel tape. He made his first tape in December 1950 and continued making them until the last week of his life. Those tapes are the hallmark of the Louis Armstrong House Museum's Archives (where, of course, I'm the Archivist) and they also played a huge role in my book. People ask about them all the time and there's always the dream that one day they'll be issued commercially so the public can hear what Louis clearly wanted to be heard.

That day is not here yet but Sunday, December 11 is going to be a good day for those interested in these tapes. This past summer, Sean Prpick of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation came to NY and visited me at the Armstrong Archives to find out more about the tapes. I sat down for a long interview and played him some of my favorite tapes. While in NY, Sean made time to visit Joe Muranyi, George Avakian and Terry Teachout. He spent some time editing everything together and on December 11 at 3 p.m. EST, the CBC will broadcast a one-hour documentary on Louis's tapes, featuring almost a half-hour of original private recordings.

I have not heard the finished product but I did have heavy input in the final selection and can attest that it will have some great stuff (especially if you've read my book) such as Louis's letter to Joe Glaser regarding marijuana, Louis describing incidents with racism and a terribly poignant unaccompanied version of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," played by Louis in his den in late 1970. If you're an Armstrong fan, you really don't want to miss this. It will air live at 3 p.m. EST and can be heard on the CBC's website. Within 24 hours, it will be posted on the CBC's Inside the Music page, where it can be listened to at anytime. I sincerely hope that programs like this will drum up more interest in Armstrong's private tapes and perhaps lead them to be issued publicly one day. We can dream, can't we?

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I've been terrible at keeping this blog updated lately, so I never reported on the entire Elvis Costello controversy when the British singer-songwriter told his fans not to buy his new, overpriced boxed set and instead pick up Universal's 10-disc "Satchmo: America's Jazz Ambassador Box" instead. I might not have had anything on the blog about it but I was write in the thick of it as my employer, the Louis Armstrong House Museum, had already bought up every remaining copy sold by the set's North American distributor. Excited, we put out a press release of our own (that I helped write) through Queens College, telling people that the only place left to buy the set Costello recommended was at the Armstrong House (the New York Daily News even picked it up).

Well, just like that, what started as 40-odd boxed sets soon started dwindling. Our phone was ringing off the hook and I can now report that on Friday, December 9, the last and final boxed set was sold. Incredible, huh? Sure, some people are selling them privately on Amazon and all (with prices skyrocketing) but you can no longer walk into a store and buy it or buy it new from major online retailers such as Amazon. 3,000 sets were printed up, going on sale in August and gone by December. I think that's incredible, especially during this day and age of the digital download (I told multiple people about this set in the summertime and got occasional snarky comments like, "Uh, who buys CDs anymore? Why would they make such a set?"). I'm sorry they're gone but thrilled that 3,000 people are going to be having a very swinging holiday season with Pops.

S'all for now, much more to come later. Thanks for reading!

2 comments:

Lars-Erick Forsgren said...

Oh, I just read about the Universal-box, and felt so curious and excited.
Read in danish Jazz Special # 123.
Read about a Storyville-box too.
The problem for an old Armstrong-fan is that I already have 60-90% of the music before. But there are (almost) always some track that I dont have, and that seems interesting...

And now you say that the boxes are already sold out... Hm.....

Swingin' Drummer said...

Great on the CBC show, I'll be listening online.

And I must admit I'd totally missed the Elvis Costello story and just checked it out online after reading your blog. Hilarious! But good on Elvis, it was a nice and heartfelt to pops calling him "one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived".

And I must say that although the Universal boxset is definitely the most expensive CD release I've ever bought(and like Lars-Erick I already did have a good 60%+ of the tracks), I'm extremely happy with it. It really is a thing of beauty and a fitting tribute to Louis' genius.