We interrupt our slow-as-molasses crawl through Louis's Hot Seven's to bring some very important news: Satchmo at Symphony Hall 65th Anniversary: The Complete Performances is released today! I mentioned this long ago because this project has been my baby for one year, almost to the day. How so? Well, I'm the co-producer, along with the legendary Harry Weinger, I wrote new liner notes, I helped select the photos from the Louis Armstrong House Museum, I scanned the original album covers from our Jack Bradley Collection, I spent hours with the great Seth Foster at Sterling Sound working on the mastering....man, I usually hate blowing my own horn but what can I say, I'm very proud to have been involved in this project.
My notes have a lot of backstory but a quick blog shout-out to the late Gösta Hägglöf, one of my friends, mentors, influences and a frequent presence in the early days of this blog. Gus, as friends called him, was one of the first people to really latch on to my rantings. (If you'd like to know more about him and our relationship, please click here.) He wrote me for the first time in August 2007, two months after I started this thing, and we corresponded weekly, sometimes daily, until he passed away in March 2009. In one of his earliest e-mails, he told me that he was working on a complete version of Satchmo at Symphony Hall. He never told me the source or his exact plans but he did hint at it from time to time, always tantalizing to me.
Flash forward to 2011 when I, now serving as Archivist to the Louis Armstrong House Museum, excitedly waited for Hagglof's collection to arrive. You see, in his will, the ever-generous Hagglof donated his entire Armstrong collection--which he had been compiling since he first heard Louis do "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" 60 years before his death--to the Louis Armstrong House Museum. The collection arrived in August 2011 and I immediately tore through the boxes looking for the complete Symphony Hall concert. Well, long story short, I found it and it was a knockout.
I had recently helped Universal with their 2-CD Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl release, which is how I met Harry Weinger. I invited Harry out to the Armstrong Archives in October 2012 and played the Symphony Hall concert for him. He loved it (how could you not?). It turns out that Universal didn't have the unreleased material so Hagglof's version was IT. Harry green-lighted the project and started off a one-year process which has finally resulted in the complete concert being issued for the first time.
Anytime I've posted about it on Facebook, someone always asks, "Yeah, that's great but what's so new about it?" To backtrack, the original 2-LP release in 1951 was about 90 minutes and Milt Gabler had to do his damndest to squeeze it all on there. Still, it became a classic of classics and no one ever questioned what was missing. Then in 1994, Decca put it out on CD again but this time Orrin Keepnews, staring at 90 minutes of music in the era of 74-minute CDs, shaved off three performances to make it fit onto a single disc. Going one step further, Keepnews shuffled the original track order. And that has been the only way Satchmo at Symphony Hall has been available for nearly 20 years (and the CD has been out-of-print for ages; only a download has remained).
So first off, the new release has all of the original 1947 material from the 1951 release, back in the original order of the concert. Great! If I say so myself, that's cause enough for celebration. But there's more: Gabler had to eliminate all of the original spoken word announcements. All of them have been restored. Then there's the theme songs: two versions of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" and "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues." There's even a snippet of the band tuning up and Louis introducing the musicians, which adds to the "complete" nature of the performances. And some of Gabler's smaller cuts have resulted in restored material: Dick Cary now has a piano solo on "Royal Garden Blues" and a slightly longer introduction on "Black and Blue" while Barney Bigard's noodling goes on for a few more seconds on "Tea for Two."
For completists, this is all wonderful but I know there's a cynic out there saying, "Hurumph, all this hoopla over a Dick Cary piano solo?" Okay, let me unleash the big guns: FOUR complete performances cut from the original album. They are (with running times), "Back O'Town Blues" (5:55), "St. James Infirmary" (4:03), "Velma's Blues" (6:48), and "Jack Armstrong Blues" (4:09). How about them apples? Four main events, my friends--even if you're not a fan of Velma's singing, trust me, this version has an encore, resulting in the All Stars playing the blues for almost seven minutes (and oh, to hear Big Sid Catlett playing for Velma's dancing, catching her every move!).
The other question I get after I explode with all of the excitement about the unreleased tracks is, "Okay, what about the sound quality?" And here's where I have to be honest: the original 1951 material (aka about 80% of the set) has never sounded better, remastered from the original tapes. But all of the unreleased material came from a variety of sources: Hagglof's original CD transfers from acetates, Hagglof's remasters, a 16-inch acetate disc donated to the Armstrong Archives in 1995, etc. Sound quality varied from source to source and Seth Foster did a remarkable job in editing them all together seamlessly and getting every track to sound as best as possible. Really, the worst is gets is some of Louis's announcements are scratch. The good news is, they usually last 5 to 10 seconds. The unreleased tracks also have a little more hisses and pops than the originally released tracks but overall, still sound very, very good. A few seconds of crackle now and then shouldn't deter anyone from enjoying the music of that truly special night.
And that's another thing: I did mention it's complete, right? God knows, there's countless All Stars concerts floating around out there but very few are complete, two-set shows, everything from tuning up to the closing good-nights. With the announcements and everything, you really get to feel what a prime, 1947 All Stars concert sounded like from start to finish.
Well, that ends my promotion of the release on the blog; like I said for more of my blathering, check out the CD. But seriously, who cares about me? It's Pops, Big T, Barney, Dick Cary, Arvell, Big Sid, Velma, for two glorious hours in 1947. It's the Pops release of the year and you know I'd be saying that even if I had nothing to do with it. So run to Amazon (I'd say run to your local record store but they don't exist anymore), pick it up and please let me know what you think!