Saturday, August 23, 2014

Detroit Jazz Festival, Mosaic Roundup and a House Call from Dr. John

And we're back! It took me some time to decompress and get back to the swing of things after the Satchmo Summerfest, but there's no rest for the weary. Next weekend, I'll be flying to Detroit to attend the very popular Detroit Jazz Festival. I'm really looking forward to it as it'll be my first time in Detroit and I've heard nothing but good things about the Festival. I'll be taking part in two different talks. On Sunday, August 31, I'll be part of a panel on "Louis Armstrong and American Music," featuring two top trumpet men, Wendell Brunious and Marcus Belgrave, and moderated by Bob Porter. (Brunious and Belgrave will also be joining Nicholas Payton for a musical salute to Pops that same afternoon.) Then on Monday the 1st, I'll be talking about my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years, and showing lots of footage to support some of my themes. Signed copies of the book will also be available on the grounds of the fest all weekend long. If you're attending, please say hello! (See JazzTimes for a preview of the other fabulous lectures and presentations lined up in the Jazz Talk Tent next weekend.)


The Mosaic Records box of Pops I co-produced with Scott Wenzel keeps rolling along. For one thing, the 4-LP set containing just the complete 1956 and 1958 Newport Jazz Festival concerts is now available. If you already have the 9-CD set, there's nothing different from a content perspective but my notes have a different opening section and according to our engineer, Andreas Meyer, "This was a pure analog chain: original master three track reels, mixed in analog, mastered in analog and delivered on 30ips half inch analog tape to the vinyl cutters for 180 gram pressings. Audiophiles, drop the needle and eat your heart out!"

Me and the LP set. 

The reviews keep coming in for the 9-CD set and so far, we're still batting a thousand. One of my very favorite reviews came from John Swenson in the New Orleans periodical Offbeat. Other good ones have arrived from Scott Yanow and Sally Young of WWOZ. Thanks all! And I'm happy to report that both the set itself and my liner notes have been submitted to the Grammys for consideration as of last week. Note: this is NOT a nomination. Far from it. But it's in the running and by December, we should know how it stands. I'm a bit superstitious about the whole thing and don't even want to talk about it or get my hopes up....but one helluva endorsement came from Terry Teachout earlier this month, who wrote, "It was assembled, and the superlative liner notes written, by Ricky Riccardi, the well-known Armstrong blogger and biographer, and if it doesn't win him a Grammy Award, there is no justice in this world." For your consideration, Grammy voters out there....
Scott Wenzel and I in front of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, holding the Mosaic set, August 16, 2014.
Also last week (it's been a busy month), the one and only Dr. John stopped by the Louis Armstrong House Museum. His new album, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, was released this past week, leading Mr. Rebennack to do a whirlwind of publicity in New York City. While there, he made his first trip out to Corona to sit for a photo shoot and interview for Esquire. I had some free time that afternoon and made my way from the Armstrong Archives at Queens College over to the House for a most memorable experience. Dr. John was just so relaxed, so real, so down-to-earth. He spoke of meeting Louis at Joe Glaser's office in 1968, the same year Dr. John and B.B. King were signed by Glaser's Associated Booking outfit. I gave him a copy of my book and he promised to "read the shit out of it."
Ricky Riccardi, Dr. John and Hyland Harris at the Louis Armstrong House Museum.
Before the photo shoot officially began, Dr. John asked if he could play Louis and Lucille's piano in the living room. We treat the piano as a museum artifact and don't let anyone play it....but there's obviously exceptions to be made! I gave it my blessing, he sat down and started playing some soulful slow blues. Immediately, my brain exploded with a tough decision: I wanted to get photos....but I also wanted to shoot a video! So I split the different and shot 95 seconds of him playing. When my ears heard him go into a bridge, I took it as a sign to switch to taking still photos. While still on the subway home that day, I began posting some images to the Louis Armstrong House Museum's Facebook and Twitter pages....and the damned things blew up. Finally I got around to uploading the video I shot, which has gotten almost 7,000 views in one week!

Something else, huh? Don't miss the finished Esquire piece by Jacob Blickenstaff, filled with some striking black-and-white images.

That's all for now; believe me, there's more (a lot more) but as I once joked on this blog, this is "The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong," not "The Wonderful World of Ricky Riccardi" (which is also known as my Facebook page) so I'm going to quit with these few odds and ends, get ready for Detroit and hopefully resume writing just about Louis--the man, and his music--come September. Requests are already coming in for some subjects, plus I'd like to revive the "Encounters with Louis Armstrong" series I started earlier this year (did you encounter Louis? Tell me all about it!). And as always, there'll be news; I can't say anything yet but let's just say it looks like I'll be co-producing yet another Armstrong release before the year is out so stay tuned for that announcement, as well.

All Pops, all the time!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Satchmo Summerfest Recap

The 14th annual Satchmo Summerfest has been here and gone...but it definitely won't be forgotten. A record-breaking crowd of over 57,000 people spent three days basking in Pops and believe me, it was heaven right here on earth. I haven't missed one since 2008 and though I might say this every year, this time it's really true: this was the best Summerfest yet!

I've been posting incessantly about this year's Summerfest on my Facebook page so I don't want to repeat myself here. If you'd like to see over 90 photos of me, my wife, friends, musicians and food, click here. No, for me and my circle of Armstrong nuts, it was all about the seminars, which fortunately were filmed, streamed live and currently housed on the web. There's LOTS of great stuff from historians and scholars such as Bruce Raeburn, Thomas Brothers, Michael Cogswell, Randy Fertel, Wycliffe Gordon and more. You can spend hours and hours and hours reliving it all simply by clicking here.

I've always done multiple presentations but this year, I broke a record: a keynote conversation with Scott Wenzel on the Mosaic set, three video presentations, two joint presentations with Dan Morgenstern and Daryl Sherman, one piano performance with a band of "All Stars" and three presentations where I supplied nearly all the content beforehand or from the sidelines. Phew, I'm tired just writing it out, but I can't really complain because it's all Pops.

The Mosaic set was really the star of the Summerfest. Scott and I had a ball delivering the Keynote as we took turns reading the e-mails we sent to each other during the original planning phase between 2006 and 2011, when I had the idea and basically wore down Scott's resistance until he caved. Mosaic sent 20 sets to the Summerfest....and they sold out within one day!

The Producers: Ricky Riccardi and Scott Wenzel at the Satchmo Summerfest Opening Reception. Photo by Rachel June.
The next day, Scott and I, along with Summerfest Director Marci Schramm, did an interview about the set with Keith Hill on WWOZ. We had a great time and even got to play a few tracks. If you'd like to hear it, here it is in its 45-minute entirety:

But after that, it was seminar time. I already shared the link to the complete set, but here's some of the ones I was involved in if you're interested. First, a screening of the ultra-rare "Satchmo the Great." The quality isn't great as it's basically a camera shooting a TV screen (a modern day kinescope!) but I like it as you'll hear the live audience react to the film:
Watch live streaming video from directionofsky at

The next day, I teamed up with Dan Morgenstern to do something on Louis's rich history in Denmark:
Watch live streaming video from directionofsky at

I closed day two with some of my favorite examples of Louis Armstrong on television, including some things that have only recently surfaced (some thanks to my pal, Robert S. Bader):
Watch live streaming video from directionofsky at

If you need a break from me, the one real can't-miss seminar came from clarinetist Evan Christopher, who discussed and demonstrated the different ways New Orleans clarinetists (Johnny Dodds, Barney Bigard, Edmond Hall and Sidney Bechet) played with Louis. Brilliant, brilliant stuff (and I'm always a fan of anything that references the Three Stooges, as Evan does here!):

Watch live streaming video from directionofsky at

Then it was music time, as I was made leader (in name only) of the second annual edition of the Satchmo Summerfest All Stars. Besides myself on piano, you'll see and hear Yoshio Toyama and Brice Miller on trumpet, Louis Ford and later, Evan Christopher, on clarinets, David Ostwald on tuba, Keiko Toyama on banjo and Bruce Raeburn on drums. Every band needs a vocalist and this one had two: the great Daryl Sherman and my hero, Dan Morgenstern! In fact, it's been five days and people are still telling me that Dan's vocal on "You Rascal You" was a highlight of the Summerfest! What a joy to play with such fine musicians (though I'm only sorry the director didn't move the camera over when Daryl and I did a four-hands piano duet on "Swing That Music"; it sounds like chaos without seeing us constantly running around each other!):

Watch live streaming video from directionofsky at

And finally, I closed with a look at the last two years of Louis's life, once again including rare footage of Louis on "The Dick Cavett Show" given to me by Robert S. Bader. Lots of tears flowed at the end of this one, which resulted in Louis getting a standing ovation (I just push buttons and talk; he did all the hard work):

Watch live streaming video from directionofsky at

That's just a small taste of what happened last weekend. I encourage you to watch some more of the seminars while they're still up on the web for next month or so....and even more, I really encourage you to make your reservations NOW for next year's Satchmo Summerfest!