First off, earlier this year, I almost burst apart at the seams with excitement over the announcement that Mosaic Records was going to put out the Armstrong set I had been pitching for six years, as detailed here. We rushed like mad trying to get it ready for a late summer release but just before entering the mastering stage, Mosaic got word that a Chick Webb-Ella Fitzgerald set they had already started working on the previous year, finally got green-lighted from Universal and would become the Fall release. (I got it this week by the way, and it is dynamite! Grab it for the holidays--or for any reason--here.)
Thus, Louis was put on the back burner....until last week, when EVERYTHING showed up at audio guru Andreas Meyer's studio in Astoria. I'm happy to report that for the past two weeks, Andreas has been knocking everything out beautifully, most of the time with Mosaic's Scott Wenzel by his side. I was fortunate enough to be a part of two sessions and it was thrilling. This is what Andreas and Scott do so they were probably bored with my excitement but since I don't know if I'll ever get to do this kind of thing again, I just HAD to take some photos to document the experience.
For the first session, we had the six originally released tracks from the historic May 17, 1947 Town Hall concert on everything possible: metal master, test pressings, lacquer discs, etc. We sat there and played every single track, choosing the very best sounding version for release. Here's Scott and Andreas listening hard to "Rockin' Chair":
And have you ever seen a metal master, dear reader? Behold, again from Town Hall:
And then it was time to move on to the tapes, the glorious tapes. It was a week full of surprises, all good. The previously unissued November 15, 1947 Carnegie Hall concert is going to be a highlight of the set for many. It's not the complete concert as some tunes were removed by RCA in the 1950s and have not been located. But the copy I had from the late discographer Jos Willems included many incomplete performances. Well, I'm happy to report that we found some of the missing segments and Andreas is putting them back together meaning there's going to be even more great stuff to enjoy....including a full Sid Catlett feature on "Steak Face" from two weeks before Symphony Hall! And then we moved on to the George Avakian-produced material from the 1950s which is so exciting, it almost boggles the mind. Scott and I just kept turning to each other, expressing utter amazement at how much fire that Armstrong-Hall-Young band produced. Here's Scott and I holding up one of the original tapes:
I could keep going and going and going.....but that's why liner notes were invented. I'll continue polishing those, Andreas and Scott will keep doing what they do and hopefully, sometime in January, the All Stars Set To End All All Stars Sets will be released, 9 discs of glory. Start saving NOW!
More exciting news, though on a much smaller, more personal scale. First, a sad bit of business: trumpeter, historian, educator and author Howard Brofsky passed away in October. Howard was a great, great man and a lover of Louis, as related in this obituary by Tom Reney. Howard was more responsible than anyone else from the Armstrong House and Archives going to Queens College back in 1987. I was lucky to meet him a few times and he was always so warm and enthusiastic about the music he loved.
Though 86, Brofsky will still playing bebop in Brooklyn and teaching a Jazz History course to jazz performance majors at Queens College. When he passed in the middle of the semester, the College was stuck for an immediate replacement to handle the final eight sessions. The great pianist and QC alum Jeb Patton picked up four of the eight but they still needed someone to pick up the rest. I agreed to do it on a Sunday night and was in the saddle by Monday afternoon. I had no time to prep and didn't know what they had been taught but when I noticed they seemed sketchy on their knowledge of Armstrong, I dove right in. When I finally stopped the following week, it was clear that they had got it (some didn't even want me to move on from Pops).
It's been a pleasure introducing these young performers to Louis, Chu Berry, Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Jack Teagarden and other greats from the Swing Era. I taught Jazz History back at Rutgers in 2004 and always wanted to get back into. Fortunately, Queens College, apparently satisfied with my job and pleased that I stepped in for Professor Brofsky, have given me my own class to teach next semester! And the subject? Music of Louis Armstrong!
I can't tell you how excited I am to be doing this. As far as I know, it's the first semester-length survey of Armstrong....can anyone out there tell me of another? And instead of graduate student musicians, it will be an undergraduate course as part of the "Writing About Music" curriculum. 25 students, 3 hours a week, 15 weeks, all Louis. It's going to be a gassuh.
And in my six years on Facebook, I've posted photos of the births of my daughters, the publication of my book, my wife and dozens of doughnuts, but nothing has ever quite exploded like this simple screenshot of the Queens College class description:
In case you're curious, my birth name is Ricky, not Richard; I think as "Assistant Professor," the college thought "Richard" sounded classier! Regardless, "Professor Riccardi" does have a nice wring to it...
A quick book recommendation for the fabulous, gigantic, beautiful Verve: The Sound of America. I don't think I've ever owned a more eye-pleasing book. So many gorgeous photos and literally thousands of Verve album cover are reproduced throughout the 400 pages. It wouldn't mean a damn if the text was terrible, but fortunately, Richard Havers--the man who wrote the book included in (and was a driving force behind) the 10-CD Satchmo: Ambassador of Jazz Universal boxed set from 2011. Richard does a great job telling not only the history of the label (lots of great spotlights on classic Verve albums) but also the history of jazz in general. Another perfect gift for the jazz lover in your family this holiday season (and as we know, every family has a jazz lover....even if it's one kind-of-weird uncle who complains about Christmas music and rails against other family members clapping on 1-and-3).
(Speaking of which, I went to the mall with the family. Everything has been Christmas'd up since Halloween ended, which is a little ridiculous. I've been moaning every time I hear a Christmas carol played in the single digits of November....but tonight I heard Pops! Yeah! 'Tis the season, right? It was "Zat You Santa Claus," a good ol' good one from 1953. But through the din of the mall, something didn't sound right. It was Pops, but something was amiss. I literally walked the kids to a quieter part of Macy's and listened carefully: an electric rock guitar! Tutti Camarata's swinging arrangement butchered to pieces! Single lines in the original arrangement repeated over and over for no good reason! It was.....it was......it was.....a REMIX! Why, in the name of the Lord, must we remix classic Christmas songs? I know there's only about a dozen good ones so I understand when singer after singer and musician after musician continues to tackle the same songs each December; it comes with the territory. But let's stop remixing the classics, okay? And no more duets with dead people either. That's just creepy. And that ends my Scrooge-rant....)
And finally, a plug for the Louis Armstrong House Museum (my employer), who is throwing its third annual gala on December 11. This is a big one because among the four honorees are two legends and friends of Pops: Dan Morgenstern and Quincy Jones! Yes indeed, Quincy will be in the house. And on top of that, music will be provided by the always-terrific Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. So it is going to be THE thing to do on December 11....or dare I say the event of the YEAR. (Decade, too, while we're at it.) If you're in NY, you can purchase tickets by clicking here and if you are not in NY, you can still support us with a small donation by clicking that same link. Might I recommend becoming a member, which includes two issues of "The Dippermouth News," our Armstrong House newsletter, now being edited by yours truly. And as always, if you're coming to Queens, let me know and be sure to say hello!