Saturday, July 13, 2013

Six Year Anniversary of the Blog!

Six years ago today, I finished a grueling summer day of painting houses for my father’s painting business, my summer job since high school and my permanent job since graduating with a Master’s degree from Rutgers in 2005. But this was an unusually exciting day, and not just because it was a Friday, the end of the week. I had the idea of starting this blog, one that would be devoted completely to Louis Armstrong’s music. I had been shopping around my book for a year and was getting soundly rejected at every turn so I figured it was time to try and make a name of myself. At 5:51 p.m., I made my first post, Introduction to This Blog, followed by my first real entry on We'll Be Together Again.

It ended up being one of the most important decisions of my life.

As they say, the rest is history. It's been a joy doing this for the last six years. And the anniversaries have always been extra important to me because of what else was going on in my life. My first anniversary was less than one month away from my first appearance at the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans and right after my first Armstrong lecture at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem . My second anniversary was right before I handed in my finished book manuscript to Pantheon (and I was also a new father!). By year three, I was the Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum. In 2011, I spent my fourth anniversary in a TV studio in Baltimore, celebrating the arrival of my book with a book tour through the east coast. Last year, I was prepping for my 17th Armstrong lecture at the Jazz Museum in Harlem and writing liner notes for Armstrong sets for Universal and Sony.

And today? Things keep getting more and more surreal (by that, I mean better). The book is now out in paperback and doing very well. I'm still the Archivist for the Armstrong House and I still pinch myself every time I show up for work. I'm now prepping for my SIXTH appearance at the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans (one that will make use of my "talents" as a piano player--more on that later). And if you've been with me recently, you know that another dream has come true as I'm co-producing and writing liner notes for a Mosaic Records 9-CD box of Pops that should be out this winter. 

I also just got back from my first trip to Chicago, where I gave two presentations on Pops for the "Straight Ahead Jazz Camp" thrown by the Jazz Institute of Chicago and Columbia College. The headliner was the Wycliffe Gordon, who not only worships Louis but is one of the nicest people I've ever met.
 A special treat was a visit to Meyers Ace Hardware at 35th and Calumet....former home of the Sunset Cafe! Here's how it originally looked inside:

 There's not much left from the days when Louis, King Oliver--and the mob--ruled the South Side of Chicago but David Meyers, who owns Ace Hardware, is most appreciative of his location's history. In fact, he gave me a tour of some of the original remnants from the Sunset Cafe, including a mural that originally appeared on the bandstand:

If you're in Chicago, and have time to make the trip to Ace Hardware, do so. Not only is David a great guy, but he sells beautiful mementos including postcards and framed photos of the Sunset in its heyday. 

While in Chicago, I also made the pilgrimage to what is now a luxurious Bloomingdale's department store...but on the evening of June 1, 1956, it was Medinah Temple and the site of Louis's famous "Chicago Concert."

I was listening to the "Chicago Concert" as I approached the building (it will be on the Mosaic set, by the way). I wanted to go in but didn't want to be harassed by salespeople as I wore my headphones. But when I got to the climactic last chorus of "You'll Never Walk Alone," I did enter and stood in the lobby for about a minute. It was quite emotional.
And of course, being in Chicago, I ate like a maniac. For those grisly details, look me up on Facebook. But speaking of Facebook, this has been my cover photo for many months:
If you permit me a bit of self-promotion, that's a photo of my desk at home, loaded with projects I have been lucky to work on over the last few years.  From left to right:
 Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl - Universal's 2011 reissue of one of the greatest concerts of all time: a JATP set, Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, the Oscar Peterson Trio and the best edition of the Armstrong All Stars all in one night. I was more of a consultant on this one, though I did offer my version of "Mop Mop," which was missing from Universal's copy.

Louis Armstrong in Philadelphia Volume 1 - This was the last hurrah of my late friend, Gosta Hagglof, on his beloved Ambassador label. It was also my first liner notes gig, which was an honor. It wasn't ready until just before Gus passed away so it never saw the light of day but he did have several hundred copies pressed that are now in the possession of the Louis Armstrong House Museum. We sell them in person at our gift shop but hope to set up an online store soon! Stay tuned.

What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years - Yeah, yeah, my opus. Apparently, you can get it used for about 24 cents these days. Regardless, if you do get it, I thank you sincerely and don't forget to search "Listening to the Book" for my never-ending chapter-by-chapter audio soundtrack.

The Armstrong Box - The good folks at Storyville put out this 7 CD + 1 DVD box that's a great summary of live Louis from 1947-1967. I wrote the liner notes booklet and blogged about it here.

Satchmo: Ambassador of Jazz - Universal put out this beautiful set that caused quite a sensation upon its release in 2011--remember when Elvis Costello recommended it over a new release of his own music? I was lucky enough to be an insider on the project, helping with photos, doing the track selections for most of the discs, and wading through unissued material for three bonus discs at the end. It quickly went out-of-print but you can still find it used on Amazon. Here's my old blog about it. 

The Complete Columbia/OKeh and RCA Victor Recordings 1925-1933 - I was lucky enough to write the liner notes for this major release last year, produced the recently departed Seth Rothstein. Though the finished set had some issues--chronicled here--it was still an honor to write about this music and especially to work with Seth, who was really wonderful. He will be missed tremendously. 

Satchmo at Symphony Hall 65th Anniversary: The Complete Performances - This one was really my baby as I found the complete concert in Gosta Hagglof's collection at the Armstrong Archives, brought it to the attention of Universal's Harry Weinger, became co-producer of the set overseeing sound restoration and photo selection and ended up writing the liner notes. Again, this blog has more details about my involvement, but I remain very, very proud of how it turned out.

That covers everything in the photo....but there's been more! I haven't mentioned this on the blog, but earlier this year, I was contacted by Dave Bennett of the UK's Avid Records label with the proposition to write liner notes for a new reissue of one of my all-time favorite albums, Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography. Avid split the original album onto two budget, 2-CD sets, the first part containing the first 3 LPs (and my notes) and the second part containing the remainder of the album, as well as the complete Louis and the Good Book and Satchmo Plays King Oliver. Grab 'em!

And finally, on July 4, I went outside in the ridiculous humidity, sat in my car with the windows up and engine off and preached--and sweated--about Pops on the nationally syndicated Jim Bohannon Show. I thought it was a fun interview; you can listen to it online here.

Now I am not vain enough to say, "None of the above would have happened if I didn't start the blog!" That's ridiculous; the liner notes writer is never the most important person of any project. Having said that, I'm very proud of my involvement in all of the above (and don't forget the Mosaic set!) and it's safe to say, I would not have had anything to do with any of those projects if I didn't start the blog. The only reason I started it was because I wanted to promote Louis Armstrong's life and music more than I was doing as a mere house painter/fan and so any time I get to write liner notes, offer consultation, produce a set, well, I'm just doing what I've always dreamed of doing. 

And I sure wouldn't have kept it going without the support, e-mails and comments from you, my dear readers. I'm sorry I don't get to post as regularly as in the old days (though this year has had its flurries!) but it's still a joy to be able to write anything I want--and as much as I want!--about old Pops here whenever I can. So thanks for everything and for supporting all of my Armstrong-related endeavors and here's to the next six years and beyond!


LOUIS said...

Happy birthday, and many more to come !
Thanks for the thrills.

RICHIE said...

Congratulations Ricky. You are living an American success story.
Your passion has become your profession, now that is success. You have brought hours of joy to me and your many readers and we thank you. Now get to work on that Mosaic set, I can't wait!
Rich N

Unknown said...

Cheers Ricky - thanks for the great book and the blog - continued success and happiness to you and your family!

Ehsan Khoshbakht said...

Happy sixth anniversary Ricky!

richard said...

Congrats. I never go a week without reading your blog.

Faustian Man said...

Happy Anniversary! You do Satchmo and the world a service with this blog and through your work.