In July 1965, the world was preparing to celebrate what was then perceived as Louis Armstrong's 65th birthday, as well as Armstrong's 50th anniversary in show business. Dan, who was then Down Beat's New York Editor decided to mark the occasion by interviewing Pops at his Corona home on May 22 for what would become the magazine's "Salute to Satch" issue. The resulting portrait would be published in the July issue.
If you'd like to read Dan's beautiful finished portrait, it appears in his indispensable Pantheon volume Living With Jazz. But if you'd like to HEAR it, you've come to the right place.
Though Dan had known Armstrong for about 15 years, he hadn't spent much time at the Armstrong home. Thus, he asked Louis's good friend Jack Bradley to put in the good word to secure some time when Louis would be home. Jack did just that, got the okay and accompanied Dan on May 22, taking a bunch of photos, some of which appeared in the final Down Beat article. Most of the watermarked images appearing in this blog have never been seen before. Here's Louis, Lucille Armstrong and Dan in the backyard that May day:
Jack wanted to get in on it but Dan, not being a trained photographer left our man in Cape Cod a little blurry!
Armstrong's career was just as busy as ever, but Dan actually caught Louis during a rare break. After a historic tour that found Armstrong breaking down the Iron Curtain by playing such places as East Berlin, Prague and Yugoslavia in March and April, Armstrong took over a month off for a dental procedure to fix his chops. Armstrong's mentor King Oliver lost his chops because of bad teeth (pyorrhea) and Armstrong wasn't about to do the same. He had also just won a Grammy for "Hello, Dolly!," which he was eager to show Dan and Jack once they got up in his den:
During Dan's interview Armstrong was resting from the dental procedure, but about to embark on yet another tour of Europe. Surrounded by his friends Jack and Dan (with Lucille chiming in now and then from the background), Louis sounds very relaxed and friendly. But there was something else present that made for the relaxed atmosphere: a bottle of Slivovice plum brandy Armstrong brought back from Europe earlier that year. Slivovice (now known as Slivovitz) is still around as an online search quickly shows. Louis and Lucille both testify early on about the powers of Slivovice. They warn Dan and Jack that it's pretty much going to knock them on their asses. Dan and Jack are up for the challenge, so the bottle of Slivovice is cracked open.
Not only will you hear the sound of ice clinking around the glasses during this interview, but you'll also hear Dan and Jack get progressively sillier as the interview goes on. Pops doesn't change much but the laughter certainly gets goofier towards the end. Here's some Bradley photos of Louis and Dan and the bottle of Slivovice that day:
I should mention the length of the Slivovice interview: two hours and ten minutes. Thus, I obviously don't expect anyone to set in front of their computer for the next 130 minutes and listen to every second of this. But I still want to share it and let it be known that it will always be here to savor if you want to listen to it in bits and pieces. And to make it easier, I've broken it into three small segments (see below for my notes). Here's the 50-minute first part:
Here's the 50-minute second part:
And finally, the 30 minute third part:
It's a fascinating interview from start to finish (this is the one where Pops finally came out and admitted he wrote "Muskrat Ramble") but it's also a fun way to feel like you're spending an afternoon with the Armstrong's in Corona in 1965. Thanks to David Ostwald for the tapes and thanks for Dan and Jack for just plain being there.
Oh, and as a postscript, you should know by now that I was hired as Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in 2009 specifically to process Jack Bradley's Collection. It's monumental but what's my favorite artifact?
Yes indeed, that's the ORIGINAL Slivovice bottle polished off by Jack, Dan and Louis on that May day in 1965, now an artifact that's been preserved and displayed at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Incredible.
One final note on this 50th anniversary. I recently listened to the entire interview on one of my 2 1/2 hour commutes, pulled out my iPhone and typed up the following notes. It might not make sense but if you're looking for a specific part, the timings can help. Enjoy!
0:00 opening, Louis gives upcoming schedule
4:15 Iron Curtain
5:40 Slivovice introduced, Jack's great line
6:35 back to iron curtain
9:15 Lucille enters, back to Slivovice
11:00 Lucille takes lead, gifts
11:50 common ground, music, no politics, ambassador
13:00 convoy story
16:45 no Checkpoint Charlie
17:40 no Russia
18:50 Louis opens window, pour Slivovice
20:35 Dan tells him about Downbeat issue
21:40 Lucille talks about traveling.
22:55 Lucille talks about her organizations
26:00 Louis talks about few days off, stuff piling up, cleaning basement
27:00 Louis toasts Slivovice, mention of Zutty
28:15 Louis talks about opening up a club
29:55 is jazz dying, jazz musicians need chance to record, stay before the public, being forgotten , watching TV
32:40 Erskine Tate
33:50 Louis shows Dan books from Europe
34:25 big bands, 1931, switching to All Stars, preference
36:25 singing with Fletcher Henderson , reading music, leaving Henderson and going back to Chicago, doubling
39:55 Chicago in the 1920s, other acts
40:40 Tom Anderson's and Tuxedo Brass Band in NOLA, Fate Marable, Jack Teagarden hearing him, in the land of beginning again, steamer sidney
44:15 getting experience, going out on his own, Carroll Dickerson, ain't Misbehavin' , never go to tables only dressing room
45:55 Louis musicians drunk on NYE, never professed to be a saint, having a ball, missed very few gigs
47:05 writing another book, needing time to do it
49:20 Bunk Johnson
0:00, Bunk continued, Aquarium, as long as you're alive you can always do something, Bunk playing with him in 1949
1:40 Zulus 1949
5:15 Louis's tapes, no time to listen
5:40 opening nightclub on corner, giving lessons, stop traveling
7:37 Lucille comes back, drinks, Jack talks about food in New Orleans
9:45 Suburban Gardens
15:30 the south, Arkansas
16:30 the Music's always good. More Slivovice. Trojans
17:15 being around the youngsters, no regrets about life and music
17:50 Bechet, Louis lists New Orleans musicians, "they were all soul musicians"
19;45 Kid Ory
20:45 if a cat can play a beautiful lead, anyone can scream out a high note, Joe Oliver, bop, play more lead
22:10 sad ending of King Oliver, dead and forgotten,
23:05 Hoagy Carmichael songs from 1930s, Louis remembers every record, has them all
23;55 Louis admires the youngsters, Watusi , playing for dances, TV
25:50 writing tunes, Kid Ory, Muskrat Ramble composer, Sister Kate
29:00 first trip to Europe
32:54 Booker Pittman
34:30 musicians moving to Europe
37:35 Louis retiring to Ghana? Edmond Hall in Africa, adopting baby
42:05 life's wonderful if you look at it the right way, joint joke, Louis shaking hands, autographs (great stuff)
0:00 Dancing, Nicodemus, "going to stay there with you"
0:49 criticism, as long as they spell my name right ,
1:20 public is a funny thing, they love you, how fast America is
2:12 falling on stage in Germany
4:00 Europe, cassette recorder, demonstration
9;10 Trummy didn't write anybody after he left
10:30 Talk about an award ceremony, having a suite, wishing Dan came, playing with Woody Herman
12:14 Took Joe Glaser while to realize Louis could play with white musicians
12:45 working with Jimmy Durante , making records, checking out tunes
13:50 some people try to do too much in life, as long as I'm in music,
14:30 back to tapes
15:30 Redd Foxx, turns off cassette, shows off tapes, Erroll Garner, cassette player
20:00 Chop time, back to work, that's his profession, toothache
21:40 hospital in Chicago , Slim Thompson
23:45 big laughs with tonsils
26:40 human body is like a car
29:44 upcoming Steel Pier engagement , Newport (big laugh), Jack goes to bathroom (Louis joke)
31:54 ending, Louis says thanks, Dan closes