Friday, March 28, 2014

Here and Now (And Looking Ahead to the Mosaic Set!)

Hello folks. It's been another two weeks between posts but I have plenty of news to share so let's get rolling.

First off, on March 16, I had my nine-minutes-of-fame with an interview on ABC's "Here and Now" broadcast in the tri-state area but now available online. I had a ball! It came about after the "Here and Now" people contacted the Louis Armstrong House Museum to do a story about Louis and the Armstrong House. My co-workers thought I'd be the man for the job and the next thing I knew, there I was in the ABC green room (eating cookies) with our Marketing Director, Jennifer Walden, waiting to go on. The show is hosted by the lovely Sandra Bookman, who became responsible for the highlight of the interview: her calling me "Ricky Ricardo" at the very end!

As soon as she was introduced to me, she said, "You know, I'm going to say 'Ricky Ricardo,'" and we had a big laugh.  The cameras rolled and we were off and running, cramming everything you need to know about Louis into the short interview. Once we began winding down, Sandra thanked me and called me the name of Desi Arnaz's most famous creation. I laughed loudly and thought there'd be a retake....but no, there it is, preserved "for posterity," as Pops would say. Check it out here!

And in other Armstrong House news, finally, for the first time in ten years, we've started an Online Store! If you've been with me from the beginning, you know about my friend and mentor, Gösta Hägglöf. For years, Gösta ran Ambassador Records, devoted to issuing some of Louis's rarest recordings, always using his own sources. When Gösta died in 2009, he donated his entire Armstrong Collection to the Armstrong House and I was lucky to spend a full year arranging, processing and cataloging it....what a treasure! But Gösta also left us his entire inventory of Ambassador CDs and insisted in his will that we sell them. We've been peddling them in our gift shop at the House for some time, but now, thanks to the Online Store, anyone from anywhere can order them. This includes some really rare favorites that I've written about here, such as "At the Cotton Club" and "In Philadelphia Volume 1," my first liner notes gig and Gösta's finally production; he died just as they were printed up and they were never sold commercially. So if you want to stock up on some rare Pops, head over to the Louis Armstrong House Museum Shop and order away! Thanks, Gus....

And now for the big Mosaic update....we're almost there! Phew. One year ago, on April 30, I broke the news and said it could be a summer release. But then the Mosaic box of Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald got bumped up and Louis got pushed to January (if you wanted the Satchmo Summerfest interview I did with George Avakian, I keep repeating January throughout....oops). But the whole process of getting everything together took up so much time, it got delayed again. And then we got to the final steps of the project, transferring Louis's 1956 and 1958 Newport sets....and all hell broke loose (more on that in a bit). And then our engineer Andreas Meyer had to put Pops on ice for a bit as he had to turn his attention to an urgent project by one Spike Lee.

February turned to March, March turned to maybe an April 30 "International Jazz Day" launch, that turned to "mid-May," etc. I've posted incessantly about it on Facebook and I've been getting the feeling that people have stopped believing the damn thing is even going to happen....but not only is it going to happen, Scott told me the street date this week: June 1. June, January....close enough, right? I got my J months confused....

But what a process. Holy cow. The biggest lesson I learned is one that Scott told me is Michael Cuscuna's mantra: "Sometimes things are unissued for a reason." Truer words have never been spoken. I wish I could go back and delete some of my ancient blogs from 2007 and 2008 when I would rant about Sony not issuing this 1950s live Pops material. Having lived through it, I can't blame them....but at the end of the day, the hard work and delays have been worth it and I'm very happy that this stuff is finally getting the first class treatment.

I could probably write ten blogs on the bumps along the way, some small (not being able to find the unedited master to "Twelfth Street Rag" until Andreas found it buried on a Liberace reel!), some big (not being able to find a LOT of stuff at Sony until we realized most of it was in George Avakian's basement, about to go to the New York Public Library!). But Pops has watched over us and we've managed to overcome every possible setback, right to the very end.

The Newport concerts.....whoa. I knew Columbia recorded the complete 1956 and 1958 sets and couldn't understand why they wouldn't issue them. Now I know. In 1956, there were two microphones on stage: the main Columbia one and another broadcasting the sets for the Voice of America. Famously, Paul Gonsalves played his "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" solo into the VOA mike. Well, Louis sang four numbers at Newport...and sang them all into the VOA mike. When we ran the tape for the first time, our jaws dropped when we heard him sounding like he was singing in the parking lot. OK, so that's why George didn't issue it....

But then Sony said they had the VOA reels, too. Great! However, when we got the reels, the boxes stated, "Distortion throughout." I don't know who was manning the VOA controls, but everything was recorded so hot that whenever the horns played, it was a distorted mess. But what of the vocals? The vocals--and introductions--had tiny traces of distortion but nothing terrible. You know where this is going: we decided that Andreas should edit the vocals out of the VOA reels and insert them into the Columbia performances. Yes, there'd be traces of distortion but at least Louis could heard! And that's how delays are born...

Newport 1958 wasn't a picnic either as for much of the concert, Louis again sang into either the wrong mike or into a defective one, causing more distortion that probably led Sony not to issue the set for so many years. We couldn't do much with it but the set is so smoking (and Louis is in such good humor), we just had to release it. But before going on with the All Stars, Louis did "On the Sunny Side of the Street" with the Newport International Youth Band....and that wasn't on the reel. We had it from a later LP compilation of Newport rarities, but we couldn't find the tapes. Again, at the eleventh hour, Andreas called Sony and ordered the reels with the set of numbers directly before Armstrong's. The reels arrived stating "Chico Hamilton"....but at the very end of the reel, there was "Sunny Side of the Street"! Phew....

Once Andreas had everything straight, he had to start making reference copies. The reference discs began arriving at my door throughout February and early March, always cause for celebration. But there were still minor tweaks to be made....I think Andreas had to address 15 changes in all (sorry, Andreas!). And one more eleventh hour story on this front. Louis sat down with Edward R. Murrow and recorded the "Paris Interview" in 1955. On the "Satchmo the Great" LP, it clocked in at 7:00. But I had audio of the original interview as it aired on "See It Now" and it was 8:24. The sound quality was inferior but we said, let's go with the longer interview. Great.

But I got my reference copy last week, and while listening to it, I thought, "Wait a minute....where's Murrow asking about the difference between 'gutbucket and boogie-woogie'!?" And then I realized it: the "See It Now" and "Satchmo the Great" versions were edited differently and each had material that the other one didn't. So about two weeks ago, I spent my Saturday morning at home making a master edit of the two different interviews--in the original order (the topics were scrambled for "Satchmo the Great") and I'm happy to report that my 10:07 edit will be on the final box.

And that was just two weeks ago, in mid-March....which is when I wrote that the box could be released when I blogged about it in January. Oops.

But stop the presses! Andres made his 15 changes and this past Wednesday, the "Edit-2" reference CDs arrived. Scott and I made it through and only found two small changes to be made. Once made, we will have audio!  But if you know anything about a Mosaic set, it's not just about the audio, there's also the gigantic booklet. Well, the first galley of that also arrived on Wednesday (talk about a banner day!). As I've mentioned in the past, my notes are a hefty 27,000+ words and Scott and I selected about 25 ultra-rare photos so the booklet is really something else. In fact, it's the first galley I've received since the one for my own book....and I'm just as excited about this one. Remember, I first wrote to Mosaic with this idea in 2006 so for me, the end of an eight-year journey is upon us.

Thus, I might disappear for a quick minute again as not only to I have to read an edit my 27,000 word liner notes, but I'm also writing a 3,000 word review on a new Armstrong biography and working harder than ever at work, mounting a new exhibit on The Real Ambassadors that goes live on Tuesday, just in time for Jazz at Lincoln Center's first NY live performances of Dave and Iola Brubeck's landmark work on April 11 and 12 (each concert will feature pre-concert talks by myself and Keith Hatschek of the University of the Pacific).

So Pops is Tops, but Ricko is pooped. Thanks for all your support and interest in the process but all I can say is, it won't be long now....(for real this time!).

1 comment:

Peanuts Hucko said...

Great post! It sounds like it has been a long haul but I'm sure it will be worth it in the end. I for one can't wait to get my hands on a copy. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the Ambassador records are still available. I'm a huge fan of Louis' Decca records from the 30's and 40's, as such I've been eyeing up the Mosiac set to compliment the copies I already own from Definitive Records. Besides the obvious differences such as rare tracks on the Ambassador, which set presents these tracks in the best sound quality? Keep up the good work.