Louis Armstrong with Sy Oliver's Orchestra
Recorded June 26, 1950
Track Time 3: 26
Written by Mack David, Edith Piaf and Louiguy (Louis Gugliemi)
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Melvin Solomon, Bernie Privin, Paul Webster, trumpet; Morton Bullman, trombone; Hymie Schertzer, Milt Yaner, alto saxophone; Art Drelinger, Bill Holcombe, tenor saxohpne; Earl Hines, piano; Everett Barksdale, guitar; George Duvivier, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums; Sy Oliver, arranger, conductor
Originally released on Decca 37113
Currently available on CD: It's on "Satchmo Serenades" and about a thousand compilations.
Available on Itunes? Yes
65 years ago today, Louis Armstrong tapped into his French side by recording two songs he'd perform for the rest of his career: "La Vie En Rose" and "C'est Si Bon." What follows is a slightly updated version of my original 2010 posting on "La Vie En Rose" and I'll be back in a few days with a fresh look at "C'est Si Bon." Enjoy!
For the last couple of decades, "What a Wonderful World" easily wins the title of the most ubiquitous Louis Armstrong recording, being used in a countless amount of films, television commercials and high school reports (just check YouTube). But "La Vie En Rose" is definitely a close second. According to Imdb.com, it's been used in at least eight major motion pictures since 1994, most notably in the Pixar classic "Wall-E," as well as television shows, commercials, you name it. And anyone who has spent three minutes and 26 seconds in its presence can easily understand the phenomenon. You'd have to have the heart of the Tin Man (pre-Oz) to not be moved by it.
Of course, the song truly belongs to Edith Piaf, the legendary French singer who co-wrote it and made it famous to the point where a documentary and a feature film about her life each bear the title "La Vie En Rose." Piaf apparently wrote the song in 1946 and sat on it for a while before she finally gave it a go in public, where it was received tremendously. In 1948, she sang her original French lyrics on a recording that was picked up in the United States by George Avakian of Columbia Records. I'll let George tell the story, as he eloquently did in the liner notes to an Armstrong boxed set on the Hip-O label, "An American Original":
"That same year, Edith Piaf took New York by storm an me by surprise. I was doubling as International and Pop Album director at Columbia in those days, and when Piaf's manager told me she was coming back to New York despite a cool reception the first time 'round, I asked our Paris affiliate to send me samples of her interim releases so that I could try to choose something which might appeal to the American public. I recognized one melody as 'You're Too Dangerous, Cheire,' a failed pop tune I had liked a couple of years earlier. The label said 'La Vie En Rose,' and the impassioned French lyric was far superior to wishy-washy English words I knew. We gave it a shot and to everyone's astonishment but 'Ay-deet's,' it sold a million copies."
For those who aren't familiar with it, hear's Piaf's original French version, courtesy of YouTube:
As of today, multiple YouTube versions have amassed over 20 million views, a testament to the lasting power of Piaf and that song in particular. But who is in second place? Ol' Pops with just over 19 million views himself. As Avakian added, "Of the countless cover versions that followed, Louis' was easily the best, and he never stopped singing it."
So how did Louis ever get around to recording it? The answer is pretty simple: the song was incredibly popular and Decca, Louis's label at the time, was in the habit of having Louis cover other people's hits. Louis had a big seller in 1949 with "Blueberry Hill" and "That Lucky Old Sun" and Decca wasn't about to quit. Though they let the All Stars do their thing from time to time, producer Milt Gabler knew that Louis's manager Joe Glaser only wanted hit records so Gabler consistently had Louis try to piggyback the top of the Hit Parade. Of course, these records drove jazz purists to their ledges, which has led many of them to be ignored to this day. I've attempted to shine the light on some of the lesser-known outings on this blog in, devoting space to records such as "Congratulations to Someone," "Because of You," "I'll Keep the Lovelight Burning" and "Indian Love Call."
Though these are all terrific records, many of them weren't big sellers. But occasionally the formula worked and when it did, stand back. In addition to the aforementioned coupling of "Blueberry Hill" and "That Lucky Old Sun," Decca--and Louis--also struck gold with "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" backed by "I Get Ideas" and the two songs recorded 60 years ago this week, "C'est Si Bon" and "La Vie En Rose." Except for "That Lucky Old Sun," all of these songs became almost permanent parts of Louis's live repertoire.
"C'est Si Bon" is a marvelous song, one truly worthy of a blog of its own so I'm not going to say anything more about it now. "La Vie En Rose" is our main event and without wasting any more space, I'd like to share the audio right now. Prepare to be melted...
Now didn't that feel good? Did all your troubles go away for three minutes? I know mine did. The power of Pops, right? It's a tremendous record because it allows Louis to exhibit some of his many wondrous talents, from the quiet, lyrical, hit-you-in-the-gut melody statement, the absolute warmth of the vocal and the operatic drama of the final trumpet reprise, ending on that unbelievable high D. Really, who else could do it all?
(Quick side tangent: the other day marked the six-year passing of Michael Jackson. I can't deny Jackson's brilliance but I actually read stories, such as one in "The Atlantic" that called him "the most influential artist of the 20th century." These kinds of articles--"Jackson's the best!" "No, Elvis is the best!" "No, Sinatra is the best!"--are always silly but this one mentioned Louis, giving him credit for "inventing jazz" (?) and adapting his art "for records and radio." Yep, that's it. Ho hum. Never mind that he created the musical language for just about everything that followed him and that he had arguably equal impact as an instrumentalist AND a singer. And just records and radio? What about 30 films? Countless television appearances? The man wrote two books, was on the cover of "Time" magazine in 1949, was the subject of an Edward R. Murrow feature documentary, knocked the Beatles of the charts, stopped a war in Africa....should I keep going? But never mind those accomplishments, as lofty as they are. All it really boils down to, to me, is the playing AND the singing. To play that melody so tenderly on "La Vie En Rose," then open his mouth and sing with such warmth and feeling, I'm sorry, nobody else could do that.)
Aside from Louis's gigantic offering, the Decca recording of "La Vie En Rose" also benefits from Sy Oliver's arrangement, which is remarkably simple, yet totally appropriate to the mood, with its repeated bass line and accent on every fourth beat. Even the alternating reeds and brass behind the vocal adds some gentle charm. Also, props go to Earl "Fatha" Hines, who I have beaten up in the past for his failure to listen to his surroundings and play obtrusively. Here, from his opening glisses onward, he makes his presence felt but does so with plenty of taste, his offerings a special part of the song's magic.
"La Vie En Rose" almost immediately entered the All Stars's live repertoire. In face, a broadcast performance survives from Bop City in New York with the date "late June 1950." The studio recording was made June 26, itself pretty late, so this might have been just hours or mere days after the wax was dry on the studio version. It's an interesting performance because the band is still a little tentative. Even more interesting is the key is different, starting in Bb and modulating into Eb, where the record started in C and modulated to F. Maybe Louis realized that he could nail that closing solo in a studio session but as part of a 2 1/2 hour show with so much other blowing? That could have been much. (Thanks to the great trumpeter Menno Daams for catching this!) For one thing, at Bop City, Louis doesn't take his opening trumpet solo, which is missed. Also, he botches two lyrics, singing "Hold me tight" instead of "Hold me close" and later singing, "And when you speak, heaven sings from above" instead of "angels sing from above." The closing trumpet solo is fine but the rest of the band sounds a little empty. Could this be their first public run-through? Give this fascinating rarity a listen:
By the fall of 1950, "La Vie En Rose" had proved to be a big seller and became something Louis began featuring on television and radio appearances. Here's another unissued treasure, courtesy of my late friend Gosta Hagglof, Louis on Kay Kyser's NBC television show on November 9, 1950, featuring a slightly different version of Sy Oliver's great arrangement, though back in the original higher key:
Interesting, huh? Louis doesn't play any horn at the start but otherwise, it's exactly the same Oliver arrangement as the Decca recording until Louis does pick up the trumpet. At that point, it heads off into a surprising direction with Louis taking a full, dramatic chorus. Louis starts off high and never comes down, playing the melody and offering variations all in the upper register, a terrific display of endurance but one he never again repeated.
About two months later, Louis performed the tune on Bing Crosby's radio show. I've included Louis and Bing's original kidding around from the introduction but Louis is all business during the performance. Here 'tis:
Did you notice Louis get a little turned around after the vocal? He picks up his horn and seems a little confused by the arrangement as he plays his signature two-pitch riff three times instead of two. But he soon hears where the band is and immediately makes amends before anyone notices and still makes it up to that final trumpet high C. Quick thinking.
But did you notice something else about this performance? After alternating between keys on the Bop City and Kay Kyser versions, beginning with that Crosby version, Armstrong lowered the key for all future versions of "La Vie En Rose," starting in Bb and modulating into Eb. (Thanks, Phil Person for alerting me to this the first time around!)
That'll take care of our television and radio versions but I don't want to forget the All Stars. When we last left them, they were tentatively performing it for possibly the first time at Bop City in June 1950. By January 1951, they had a better grasp on the tune, as heard on this performance from a concert/dance in Vancouver, Canada:
Great stuff. As can be heard, Louis finally gets to play his opening chorus of tender melody and it's a doozy. Clarinetist Barney Bigard and trombonist Jack Teagarden offer snatches of countmelodies but also team up for some arranged harmonizing to support Pops. Hines still does his opening runs but disappears for most of the rest of the performance. Louis's passion calls everyone home at the end but the other All Stars still seem to be going through the motions a wee bit. That was, alas, a fault of this edition, even though most people assume the Teagarden-Hines-Bigard band was the Super Group.
No, that distinction belongs to the mid-50s version with Trummy Young and Edmond Hall in the front line, Billy Kyle on piano, a revolving bassist and either Barrett Deems or Danny Barcelona on drums. Fortunately, a couple of versions survive from this period and I'd like to share one now from the Orpheum Theatre in Seattle from September 7, 1957:
Now that's more like it. Hall and Young's support is more cohesive than that of Bigard and Teagarden; they've clearly worked out the routine. That goes for Louis, too, whose opening statement has been honed to perfection. But just grab on to your chair after the vocal. Trummy steps up to the mike and really pours everything into the melody, drummer Barrett Deems starts laying down a sledgehammer backbeat, the crowd goes wild and Pops picks up his horn and proceeds to give everyone within listening distance the chills. A terrific version.
That version was slow but it still had the teeniest hint of a bounce, an ever-so-slight foot-pattin' tempo that just managed to keep everything swinging. Most of the times, when a band plays the same song night after night, year after year, it tends to speed up. With Louis, just check out "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It," "Mack the Knife" "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" and "Someday You'll Be Sorry" to see what I mean, especially in the 1950s.
But as the 1960s dawned, something happened. First, I think Louis began to see his lip give in ever so slightly. Though he played magnificently until at least 1965, certain one-time staples such as "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Lazy River" and others began getting phased out. And interestingly, around the same time, Louis began SLOWING down numbers such as "Mack the Knife," the "Saints" and "Now You Has Jazz." And incredibly, "La Vie En Rose" was affected by this slowing down period in Pops's career.
That might sound hard to believe but for exhibit A, I'd like to share perhaps my second all-time favorite version (after the Decca original) from a Chicago concert in late 1962. This is the last "La Vie En Rose" to have survived but what a killer rendition to go out on. Somehow, the tempo has slowed to the point where there's almost no tempo. I've made a lot about Pops's ability to navigate superfast paces ("Tiger Rag" anyone?) but he also had such command of rhythm that he was perfectly comfortable at a tempo that could only be described as a crawl. My good friend trumpeter Phil Person has pointed this out to me, specifically using "La Vie En Rose" as an example. Louis just likes the tempo there and thrives from it. And give credit to the rest of the All Stars for keeping it afloat; as many musicians can attest, it's easier to play fast than to play slow. And this slow? Jesus...
Here's the audio:
Isn't that something else? That version is almost a full minute longer than the one we just heard from Seattle. Again, Louis and the All Stars (now with Joe Darensbourg on clarinet, Billy Kronk on bass and Danny Barcelona on drums) are tight as can be; the little slide Louis and Trummy play together after the first bridge is just plain delightful. The vocal is just as warm as ever while the final trumpet solo is still triumphant, 61 Louis shooting out the lights on a song he had been playing for 11 years, infusing it with the same artistry and passion as he had from that very first Decca version. That's artistry, my friends.
And I'd like to close with a video, if you don't mind. I mentioned "Wall-E" earlier, a film I found absolutely delightful. I won't go into plot details or anything other than to say it's a love story between two robots told almost entirely silently in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world. Yeah, I know, that doesn't sound like much but it charmed the pants off me. And when the title character becomes smitten with another robot named Eva, it's time for a montage that's equal parts funny and charming. And what's used on the soundtrack? The Decca "La Vie En Rose." It's a perfect fit. (And since I wrote this in 2010, my daughters--now 6 and 4--have fallen in love with this scene and always have to yell, "Louie!" every time they hear this song.) So I'll close with a YouTube video of this scene. Here's to 60 years of Louis Armstrong's "La Vie En Rose." Now pick up the phone and tell someone you love them...
Friday, June 26, 2015
Saturday, June 6, 2015
On June 6, 1969, Louis Armstrong's longtime manager Joe Glaser passed away at Beth Israel Hospital in New York. On June 6, 2015, Terry Teachout's play Satchmo at the Waldorf will be performed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Glaser's death will be discussed onstage tonight and each succeeding night of this sold-out run, just as it has been discussed since opening in 2012 and how it will be discussed in Chicago, San Francisco and more such venues into the future. Aside from the stage, it will also be discussed by theatergoers afterwards, who might have trouble separating fact from fiction. This blog will be my attempt to answer some of the questions that have arisen because of the play.
I saw Satchmo at the Waldorf twice when it was playing in New York in 2014 but have never publicly commented on it; I'm not a critic. Since it opened, a great number of people have asked me the same question over and over again: "Is it true?" I have always answered, "No, it's not," and offered my supporting arguments but I never felt it was anything I needed to go public with.
Why? Well, for one thing, I think Terry would agree that’s not entirely true; in the program, it clearly states that Satchmo at the Waldorf is a "work of fiction based freely on fact." Last year, he told the Wall Street Journal, “The difference between writing a biography and a play about the same subject is you don’t have to tell the truth in the play. In Pops, I could only speculate. In Satchmo [at the Waldorf] I could imagine things and create them myself. It was liberating.” Yet it seems to me that just about everyone who sees it, takes it as the gospel truth. This is a problem.
In full disclosure, I consider Terry a friend and colleague, I enjoyed his book Pops very much (my glowing review of it in the San Francisco Chronicle is on his paperback jacket), he has always supported my various Armstrong-related endeavors and he was helpful in getting my book published. I admire him tremendously. On top of that, the actor in the one-man play, John Douglas Thompson, put in multiple sessions at the Armstrong Archives where I work. He was the sweetest guy imaginable and really did his homework. It shows on the stage; he deserves every accolade you've probably heard.
But the play contains a bit of a twist at the end that I have never bought (this whole blog will be filled with SPOILERS so you might want to stop reading now if you haven't seen it!). And unfortunately, that twist—“fictional” warnings be damned—has now become an accepted part of the Armstrong narrative. After opening in Los Angeles last week, Terry gave an interview for KPCC in which he tackled some of the questions the play addresses: "What was the exact nature of the relationship between Armstrong and Joe Glaser, his manager? Why did Armstrong feel at the end of his life that Glaser had sold him out? Why did Glaser do the things that led Armstrong to feel that he had been betrayed?" In its review, the Hollywood Reporter stated as fact, "After making a fortune off the musician, Glaser died and left him nothing in his will. It’s a conflict that strikes at the heart of Armstrong’s relationship with white people....When he learns of Glaser’s will, it can only make him wonder if he’d been a fool to trust the white man." Earlier this week, I did an interview for the New York Post and when it was over, the reporter asked if I had seen Satchmo at the Waldorf and if it was true that Armstrong "died broke." I went into my defense case and she thanked me, saying she was "so relieved" because the play had left her feeling that Armstrong had no money at the end of his life.
This is something we've been dealing with at the Louis Armstrong House Museum since Satchmo at the Waldorf opened up: people going to see the play, then coming out to the Armstrong House in Queens and pumping our docents full of questions: "Was he exploited?" "Did he die broke?" "Is that why he had to keep performing?" Sometimes the questions arrive as statements: "I saw the Terry Teachout play. What a tragic ending Louis had."
Where does this all come from? One source and it is one Terry and I disagree on. He's made his case clear in his biography and in his play but now I'd like to do the same today, the anniversary of Joe Glaser's passing in 1969. I have dug deep through the Armstrong Archives, listened to tapes, analyzed wills and estates, and interviewed people who were alive at the time to present what I hope will be a more accurate portrait of not just Louis Armstrong's financial standing at the end of his life (he did not die broke) but more importantly, a thorough examination of how Armstrong truly felt about Glaser after Glaser died.
First, a little backstory on the Armstrong-Glaser relationship, which was complex. Both my book and Terry's book have lots about it (that we agree on!) so I suggest seeking out those for more information. Many people would probably sum it up this way: former gangster Joe Glaser takes over Louis Armstrong's career in 1935, builds Associated Booking Corporation off of his talents and gets wealthy beyond his wildest dreams while working poor Louis to death. Louis, afraid to speak up to the tough white boss, keeps working like the devil as his health fails. Glaser dies as a millionaire in 1969, leaves Louis nothing and Louis has to continue working, bitter about how he was fooled into trusting Glaser. The end.
This is wrong on many levels. For one thing, it's too easy to measure the Armstrong-Glaser relationship in dollars and cents. From 1935 to 1969, Joe Glaser took care of every aspect of Armstrong's life, not just salary: finding gigs, publicity, hiring musicians, firing musicians, paying taxes and on top of that, paying for everything imaginable that Louis asked for: cars for friends, remodeling for his house, sometimes money just for the sake of needing more money. Glaser even paid the alimony of various All Stars band members such as Jack Teagarden and Trummy Young.
Like I said, my book is full of such stories, but here's a few more quotes that didn't make it in from the private tapes, especially one featuring a conversation with friends from 1951. In it, Louis brags about Glaser’s respect for him: "Nobody—Bill Robinson, since Bill Robinson, nobody gets billed over Louis Armstrong. You’ve got to be a big sonbitch, boy. You’ve got to be the President of the United States before Joe Glaser stands for it. That’s the kind of manager I have. Regardless of his traits and all, he watch that spot."
"Regardless of his traits." Armstrong did not allow anyone to criticize Glaser in his presence but he also knew that Glaser wasn't infallible. His nickname for his manager was "Nervous Charlie" for how he could overreact to things. For that reason, Armstrong and Glaser never "hung out" together, as Satchmo at the Waldorf makes clear, but they did check in every day and write letters to each other constantly. Armstrong always referred to him as his “best friend.”
More from the 1951 tape, showing that Armstrong was proud of Glaser's gangster background: "That’s why I told Joe, I said, ‘Listen, man, you just tend to business.’ I look around, I was hung up with gangsters and everything else. So you get a gangster to play ball with a gangster, you’re straight. I could relax and blow the horn like I want. I got signed up with a cat, assured me he’s a millionaire. He could give me a hundred thousand dollars on my contract and it wouldn’t have done as good as telling one of those bad sonofabitches, ‘Well, Joe Glaser is my manager.’ ‘Jesus Christ!’ See what I mean? Where both of you all would be extorted all the time, every time you look around, extortion, you and and your millionaire boss. Money ain’t all of it. And then eventually you get a million dollars anyhow; peace of mind. You know what I mean? If a sonofabitch ain’t always sticking you up for this amount of money, that amount of money. Ain’t nobody bother you, you still have what you want in the long run. And when you sum it up, it’s better."
In that same conversation, Armstrong made it clear that Glaser had him set up if he ever needed to retire: "I don’t even know what my income tax is no times and that alone, is heaven. You know all them cats got their own bands, they got to figure it out. And Earl and Big Sid, ‘Oh, I’ll pay it next week, well, maybe next week.’ And when you look around, I don’t owe nobody nothing, nobody. Now you can’t beat that. Peace of mind is the greatest thing in the world. Cats come up to me, ‘Well, what the hell, what you do with your money?’ I say, ‘What you mean whatcha do with your money?’ I said, ‘Well, Goddamn, anytime a sonofabitch could put a horn down tomorrow and get $200 a week the rest of his life, he’s got to be doing something with it. He’s got to have at least a hundred-thousand-dollar trust fund, at least. And show me one colored man living that can bolster that. Not your biggest. Isn’t that all right, Pops? If I decide tomorrow I ain’t going to play no more trumpet, I’ll get $200 a week for the rest of my life. If I live to be a thousand years old. Now what’s more than that? And I ain’t thinking about putting the horn down. So ain’t that enough consolation for anybody in the world?"
Louis also made it clear that his wife Lucille wasn't the biggest fan of Glaser’s methods, but he didn't care: "I don’t do nothing behind Joe Glaser’s back. Nothing. I don’t sign nothing. You know, we went through that experience and like Lucille said one time, ‘You gotta let the white man do everything!?’ I said, ‘No, it ain’t that! It ain’t one of them old fogey, phony things like that. Here’s a man I know is in my corner and he’s just like a father to me and we come up together. We’ve both had our ups and downs. See? He’s been broke three times. He’s been a millionaire three times. So you know he knows life and he knows his friends, you understand? So it ain’t like that, see?’ ... But to Lucille, I say, ‘Damn all that business, busting your brain. It ain’t gonna happen no more.’ Anytime she want money, she go up to Joe Glaser and he don’t ask her what she should take, or whatever; ‘What you want?' That’s what he asks her, you know? If we don’t work for six months, every week she could go in, just like I get my salary, and get whatever she wants. How in the hell you going to beat that?"
Eight years later, speaking to his friend Babe Wallace in Israel, Louis made it clear that such criticism still didn't bother him: "We ain't looked back since we signed up with Joe, whether we work or not. There you go. 'Oh, that nigger making all that money for a white man.' So I just keep saying, 'You ever see Louis Armstrong look like anybody who needs something?' They say, 'No.' Well, what the hell? Figure that out. You know? There's always some old spade who's going to say some shit."
On and on I can go with stories of Louis in private praising Glaser's way of handling Armstrong's business affairs. On a 1961 tape, Louis barked at Lucille during a fight, "The horn comes first--then you and Joe Glaser."
Having said that, it was definitely not all rosy. For all the "Mr. Glaser" respect, Louis was not afraid to tear into Glaser when he felt like he was being wronged. In a 1961 letter, he roared, "I think that I am entitled a little bit somewhat as sort of being treated like a man instead [of] just a Goddam Child all the time." Dan Morgenstern remembered overhearing Louis on the phone with Glaser in the early 1960s, “giving as good as he apparently was getting in the foulmouth department. No 'Mister Glaser' in evidence there, but it ended calmly. Armstrong was never afraid of Glaser's tough-guy demeanor." And Joe Muranyi remembered a blow-up on the road in the late in 1960s where Muranyi heard Armstrong scream, "Joe Glaser thinks we're a bunch of niggers!" to himself in his dressing room. It wasn’t all “I love you” but longtime doctor Alexander Schiff described them as “brothers” and that seems a little more accurate: they were almost the same age, they started together as young men, and could yell and scream but at the end of the day, they did love each other.
Okay, let’s now head to the problematic area: the years between Glaser’s death on June 6, 1969 and Armstrong’s death on July 6, 1971. Glaser’s death had been reported on for years. I am not a fan of James Lincoln Colllier’s 1983 book, Louis Armstrong: An American Genius, but Collier did interview Lucille Armstrong at length, as well as Glaser associates such as David Gold and Doc Schiff. As evidenced above, Lucille wasn’t the biggest fan of Glaser but she was the first one to tell the story about Louis finding out Glaser was in a coma. Both men were at Beth Israel Hospital but Lucille didn’t want to tell Louis about Glaser’s condition (he had had a stroke). Then Dizzy Gillespie showed up, visited Louis and said he was there to give blood to Glaser, telling Louis, “Joe Glaser’s sick as a dog right around the corner in the hospital here.”
“Well, the worst thing they could have told Louie was that,” Lucille told Collier. “And when the doctor came Louie chewed the doctor out. By the time I got to the hospital he had enough left in him to chew me out.” Louis was so shaken by his visit to Glaser, he told Lucille, “I went down to see him and he didn’t know me.”
That seemed to be the story for about 35 years, until George Wein wrote his autobiography in 2003. In it, Wein mentioned going to Armstrong’s home in Corona in 1970 to film an interview with him for a documentary Wein was making on his tribute to Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival. In his book, Wein recapped the above story about Louis visiting Glaser in the hospital, but then added some new information:
"As [Wein’s wife] Joyce and I spoke to Louis a year later, though, he told a different story. 'When we started,' he said, recalling Chicago in the 1920s, 'we both had nothing. We were friends--we hung out together, ate together, we went to restaurants together. But the minute we started to make money, Joe Glaser was no longer my friend. In all those years, he never invited me to his house. I was just a passport for him.' Louis was also offended by the fact that Joe Glaser's will bequeathed Associated Booking, Glaser's company, to my friend Oscar Cohen and several other people in the company. To Louis, he had only left the rights to his own publishing. 'I built Associated Booking,' Louis said angrily. 'There wouldn't have been an agency if it wasn't for me. And he didn't even leave me a percentage of it.' Louis also described his bedside visit with Glaser in the hospital. Joe Glaser was indeed in a coma, unable to communicate. Louis, quite ill himself, seated in a hospital-issue wheelchair, leaned in to whisper a message. It turned out to be the last words between them. What Louis said was this: 'I'll bury you, you motherfucker.' Joyce, Sid Stiber, and myself were present when Louis spoke these words. I don't doubt that his feelings of resentment, which had many years to accrue, were sincere. In a sense, Louis may have felt unburdened when Joe died; he was no longer under Glaser's managerial yoke. With precious little time left in his own life, Louis may have simply decided to air long-suppressed emotions."
Strong stuff! I remember reading that in 2003 and thinking, “Wow! That changes things!” But in the ensuing years, I began doing more and more research, collecting every single time Armstrong mentioned Glaser in public and in private after Glaser’s death. Suffice to say, I couldn’t find anything resembling what he supposedly told Wein. Then I read the rest of Wein’s book and it was clear that he hated Joe Glaser—and probably rightly so. Could you imagine doing business with someone like Glaser? I have at least one letter where Glaser angrily wrote to George Avakian about Wein recording Louis at Newport in 1956. In 1957, Armstrong famously blew up backstage at Newport after Wein tried getting him to change his All Stars set. In his book, Wein blames it on Glaser and said Louis was ready to kill him. Again, not true. Audio survives of the concert and Armstrong cheerfully dedicates “Lazy River” to Glaser onstage. Dan Morgenstern was there (he’ll be telling his side of the story at Satchmo Summerfest this year!) and told me that in no way was Armstrong directly upset at Glaser.
So after digging deeper and realizing Wein might have had a little personal vendetta, I decided to leave his story out of my Armstrong biography, saving it for a footnote but even mentioning there that it was the only such story about Armstrong feeling betrayed by Glaser.
Flash forward to the summer of 2011. My book is finally published and I go to dinner with Terry Teachout to celebrate at Birdland. Terry praises my book, but says there’s one thing he had a problem with: I left out Wein’s story and went easy on Glaser. I told him I didn’t quite buy Wein's story. And that’s when Terry said, “It’s on film! George filmed it!”
I felt my insides cramp up a bit. Yes, Wein filmed Louis at home for his Newport documentary….but the Glaser venting was captured on film? How did I not know this? I immediately began regretting my decision to go lightly on this matter.
But not for long. A few months later, the late Phoebe Jacobs contacted me to have me interview involved with the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation. She set up an interview with George Wein, the first time I had ever met him. We talked all about Louis but as often as he could, he’d slam Glaser, saying how Louis “hated” him. Finally, I had to ask: “Does he still have the film of everything he shot for Newport?” Yes, he does. “Did he film Louis talking about Joe Glaser?”
“No,” Wein said, looking down, “I didn’t film that, it was after the interview.” (Wein has released the complete audio of his two 1970 interviews on the Wolfgang's Vault website; one mention of Glaser and it's a friendly one.) And that’s when he got a little annoyed and said this to me:
"Of course, a lot of people, with the legend of Louie and Joe, you know, they were upset with that although they understand that, you know--you have to understand that sociologically, there was something necessary but also something wrong with the kind of relationship that Louie [and Glaser had]. That wrong had to be corrected. Since then, it has been corrected with other people. And so when I told that story, it was a sociological reason for telling it. It had nothing to do with Joe Glaser or Louie. It was a white man with a black man and the white man owned the black man and the black man who was supposedly 'yessuh massa,' hated him. And that was the reason I told that story. If I hadn't my wife with me and we hadn't known--and Sid Stiber was with me—to hear those things directly, I would never have said it because people wouldn't [believe it]—but now everyone's gone so it doesn't make any difference. But that was the reason that I told it because it was wrong. That doesn't mean that Joe Glaser didn't help Louis Armstrong become the big star he became; he did. And that doesn't mean Louis Armstrong didn't make Joe Glaser the major agent he was. I mean, they both benefitted. But the relationship that was built just wasn't—and for people to think that those things are those kind of love affairs, they're NOT those kinds of love affairs. And that's the reason that I told that story."
Now you can make of that what you will. “It had nothing to do with Joe Glaser or Louie.” Wein hated Glaser and was disgusted by their relationship. Did he make up that entire story just to show his disdain for their relationship and how it was "wrong" sociologically? (Another note: Wein told me he enjoyed Pops and Terry reported that Wein saw Satchmo at the Waldorf and raved.)
The only thing I could do was research, research, research. So here is a handy timeline of all Armstrong references to Glaser from 1969-1971 that have survived besides Wein’s.
c. June 1969 - Karnofsky manuscript dedication
While in Beth Israel in March 1969, Armstrong began working on a manuscript about his relationship with the Jewish Karnofsky family in New Orleans. While there, Glaser had a stroke and was admitted. Armstrong ended up going home in April but Glaser died in June. Armstrong continued working on the Karnofsky manuscript into 1970 and some point after Glaser died, penned this dedication on page 3:
I dedicate this book
To my manager and pal
Mr. Joe Glaser
The best Friend
That I’ve ever had
Ma the Lord Bless Him
Watch over him always
His boy + disciple who loved him dearly.
June 28, 1969 - Private letter to Leonard Feather
Louis to Feather, 22 days after Glaser’s passing:
“We are just about cooling down over the passing of our dear pal Mr. Glaser. Lucille and myself went to the church service where he was laid out. A real nice funeral. Everybody were there …all of his admirers and acts….Dr. Alexander Schiff managed all of the funeral arrangements. He was with Mr. Glaser at the hospital the whole time he was sick , and when he passed. So many people were there, I could only wave at them.”
Even with Glaser gone, Armstrong was intent on performing again: “I am just waiting—resting—blowing just enough to keep the chops in shape, in other words, to keep my embrasure up ‘ya dig.’ That’s a big word that I very seldom use. Anyway it all sums up that I’m about to feel like my old self again. I never squawk about anything. I feel like this—as long as a person is still breathing, he’s got a chance, right?”
June 29, 1969 – Glaser’s will delivered to Armstrong
We have Louis’s copy of Glaser’s will at the Armstrong House. It was postmarked on June 29, 1969, so he knew exactly what he was getting. Associated Booking also signed him to a brand new contract around the same time. Much more on this later.
July 29, 1969 – Private letter to Little Brother Montgomery
Louis, now knowing the contents of the will and what he was getting, writes a private letter to musician Little Brother Montgomery .
“Man, I was a sick ass. Yes, my manager + my God Joe Glaser was sick at the same time. And it was a toss up between us—who would cut out first. Man it broke my heart that it was him. I love that man which the world already knows. I prayed, as sick as I was that he would make it. God Bless his Soul. He was the greatest for me + all the spades that he handled.”
Armstrong closed by mentioning he was feeling fine and ready to be “back on the mound again,” though he warned about “fewer one-niters HA HA.” He would not perform in concert for 14 more months.
January 21-23, 1970 – Letter to Oscar Cohen
Admittedly, this is a somewhat uncomfortable letter because Cohen was now Associated Booking Corporation’s President and Louis’s praise in this letter could be seen as a bit thick, a way to insure that ABC would still book him. Armstrong now knows the entire contents of the will and sure doesn’t show any animosity about Cohen being president, writing, “And now that you are president which I think you so rightfully deserve (who else?).” It’s no surprise that the praise for Glaser is pretty thorough here, too: “Mr. Glaser was the man who really Dug’d me and realized that what I was really putting down as far those other Big name ass holes were concerned. That’s why I will low his dirty drawers as long as I live.” Still, it’s not inconsistent with the rest of Louis’s public and private utterances about Glaser in the last two years of his life. Louis really digs into the story of Glaser putting Louis’s name in lights at the Sunset Café in 1927 and concludes, “I could go on forever writing about the man you + I Love. He was so great. I am + you realize that. So let’s you + I keep him happy. Although he’s passed. It doesn’t mean a thing as far as we’re concerned. Because you and I loved him so. The Lord above knows that we’re gonna do everything that we know that will make Joe Glaser happy.”
Early 1970 – Letter to Max Jones
Louis wrote a lot of letters to Max Jones in 1970, giving him information for the eventual books, Salute to Satchmo in 1970, and Louis in 1971. Jones never published dates but in this letter, Armstrong mentions his new record of “We Have All the Time in the World” so it’s at least early 1970:
“You must understand I did not get real happy until I got with my man—my dearest friend—Joe Glaser (Yea man). Nobody will ever touch that man in my books. I can go all night and all day talking about that man.” Armstrong then told his favorite story about the advice he got from “Slippers” when he was a young man ready to leave New Orleans: “He came right over to me and said, ‘When you go up north, Dipper, be sure and get yourself a white man that will put his hand on your shoulder and say ‘This is my nigger.’ Those were his exact words. He was a crude sonofabitch but loved me and my music. And he was right then because the white man was Joe Glaser. Dig, Gate?”
These quotes seem to be from a later letter in 1970:
On the All Stars: “It was Joe’s idea. After all he’s the man who has guided me through my career. Coming from the man I love, who I knew was in my corner, it was no problem for me to change. I didn’t care who liked it or disliked it. Joe Glaser gave the orders and nobody else mattered to me. You see, I knew he was concerned about my life in music. He proved it in many ways….But always remember one thing. Anything that I have done musically since I signed up with Joe Glaser at the Sunset, it was his suggestions. Or orders, whatever you may call it. With me, Joe’s words were law. I only signed but one contract with him, and that was forty years ago. And that still stands. Of course, I am still with the Office, and everybody that is still in his Office feels the same about us. So now you know just what was in the background of all my musical activities.”
February 11, 1970 – David Frost Show
Louis tells the story of the advice he got from Slippers in New Orleans to stunned silence. After the "always have a white man behind you" part, Armstrong added, "Now that’s the way he put it to me. Now you can figure that out yourself. That’s what we’re talking about. [Armstrong smiles broadly] And Joe Glaser came right in the scene. We was just like that. [Holds his fingers close together] Because he knew I wanted to blow my horn and he saw to that. I didn’t worry about battles and this and that–Joe knew that if I didn’t find him, I was going on back [to New Orleans] because I knew they loved the way I blew my horn in that honky-tonk.”
May 25, 1970 – The Mike Douglas Show
Insult comic Jack E. Leonard was on the panel with Louis. It turns out Leonard used to be a Charleston dancer at the Sunset Café in the 1920s. Here’s part of the conversation.
LA (to Mike Douglas): Hey, you know he used to work with Joe Glaser?
JEL: Everybody worked for Joe Glaser!
LA: That’s right.
JEL: Joe Glaser, may God rest his soul, he was one of my dearest friends, he used to give me $2 a night for Charleston contests, before he died, he said to me, “Jack, I’ll give you $3 now.”
LA: He was a good man.
JEL: He loved you, Louie. How long were you with him?
LA: About 40 years.
JEL: 40 years.
LA: Beautiful years, man.
May 29, 1970 – The Mike Douglas Show
Douglas asks Louis to name his “Five Most Admired People.” After Lucille and Dr. Gary Zucker, he names Joe Glaser and once again tells the Slippers story:
LA: That's my manager for over 40 years.
MD: He took care of you, didn't he?
LA: And one of the best friends I've ever had. When that bad colored boy down in the honky tonks, that like to hear me play the blues, and he knew I was going up north, you know, to play with King Oliver, the first thing he said was, "You get you a white man to put his hand on your shoulder and say, 'That's my nigger.'" He meant from his heart. That's the only way he could tell me. Them people didn't have nothing or too much education, but whatever they said, it was [from the] heart. He wouldn't tell that to nobody else. He'd rather shoot you first, you know? But for me, Joe Glaser was that man. Joe Glaser, 'Aw you nuts.' I went, 'No, you my man!' And that what happened.
MD: And he took care of you?
LA: Took care of me? I ain't asked nobody for nothing yet, that's all. (shows off suit) This vine ain't looking too bad, is it? (laughter) That shows, I mean, the vonce was there! So that's my man.
(Above portion in bold because I will return to it.)
Later, Mike asks Sammy Davis about Glaser. Sammy gives long tribute after complaining earlier about not being sent overseas to entertain the troops during Vietnam. Louis interrupts and says, “Joe would have sent him over there! Yes he would have.” Then Sammy says:
SD: You never read about a Joe Glaser act being in tax trouble for $140,000 because he'd give it to you himself.
LA: Or pay it.
SD: Pay it! He'd pay it.
LA: I never did owe nobody anything. No trouble. All my income tax. He always stayed in the background but he'd always come to you.
August-September 1970 – Letter to Max Jones
In July 1970, Louis told David Frost, “Yeah, I’m gonna tell it all to Max Jones for the first time—the way it really was.” He made good on that by sending Jones a letter in August that was all about the joys of marijuana. Combined with the Karnofsky manuscript he was working on concurrently, Louis was all about setting the record straight in the summer of 1970. But between both documents, Louis only had praise for Glaser. In August, Jones sent Armstrong a list of questions to answer and didn’t ask about Glaser, so Glaser is only mentioned twice but both times, in positive light:
“It was Joe Glaser at the Sunset who first put my name up. He had a big sign saying ‘Louis Armstrong World’s Greatest Trumpeter.’ He heard someone say, ‘Who put that up?’ ‘I did,’ he said, ‘and I defy anyone to move it.’”
“After I came back from Europe the second time, I stayed around Chicago then Joe Glaser who I’d worked for at the Sunset became my manager. Our first contract was for ten years, after that we didn’t bother, don’t know whether I was right or wrong but I was happy. He stuck by me.”
January 11, 1971 – Joe Delaney Radio Interview
This interview took place in Vegas when Louis was towards the end of a two-week gig with the All Stars shortly before the Waldorf engagement. Louis is in good humor throughout. Delaney mentions that Louis would give money away to relatives but he had “five dollar relatives and ten dollar relatives.” Louis laughs and takes it from there:
LA: I’m like Joe Glaser, you know, I had five-dollar pockets, you know, a one-dollar pocket. You go up to Joe Glaser’s and say, ‘Give me a hundred dollars,’ he reach somewhere, he’d find it!
JD: A hundred dollar pocket!
LA: Thousands! I learned that from Mr. Joe Glaser.
JD: You know, Louie, I think that in the annals of show business, one of the great relationships has been that of Joe and yourself. Joe passed away last year but you two were together for about 40 years.
LA: Oh, beautiful memories of that man. He was too much.
JD: The exchange of correspondence between you two would make a great book.
LA: Oh yeah, I’m writing a letter, a lot of memories [between] Mr. Glaser and myself. Them days in Chicago at the Sunset. And it’s so beautiful.
[This might refer to the aforementioned letter to Oscar Cohen which goes on for 32 pages mostly about Glaser and the Sunset.]
February 22, 1971 – Dick Cavett Show (promoting the Waldorf engagement)
After playing two numbers and being interviewed by Cavett, Louis stayed on the panel when Kaye Ballard came out. The camera cut to Louis absolutely beaming with pride while she spoke about Glaser.
KB: And you know, it’s so funny, because my darling Louie Armstrong, we had the same agent who meant a lot to Louie and a lot to myself, Joe Glaser. He was one of the last of the originals. [camera cuts to Louis, looking sick, but beaming] I used to call him ‘Mighty.’ And I’d say, ‘Mighty, I need to pay the rent!’ And it would be there in the afternoon without a million papers to sign or anything like that. And those people aren’t around anymore.
DC: Are you sure he was an agent?
KB: [Laughs] Yes. And he was the best! Mighty Joe Glaser.
LA: A great man.
DC: Yeah, I used to hear that a lot about him. His clients had great affection for him.
KB: You know, Dick, it’s thrilling to be hear with Louie because…
LA: Everybody loved Joe Glaser. Everybody.
DC: How old was he when he died?
LA: Well, he’s three years older than I am and I’m 70 years old and he was 73 when he died. And to me, he was Jesus. That’s how much I thought of him.
That concludes all of the times I can find that Louis mentioned Glaser in those last two years. When Terry brought John Douglas Thompson to the Armstrong Archives, I showed them that last Cavett clip. Terry immediately explained it away as Armstrong being on television and needing to say that to keep Associated Booking happy. But the above list includes some private letters that Armstrong sure didn’t expect to be published. And on top of that, he continued to pay tribute to Glaser in other private ways:
Scrapbook – c. 1970
Personal scrapbook made by Louis containing documents dated from July 1969 through January 1970 but also including some photos definitely from 1970. Somewhere in there Louis included a photo of Joe Glaser and wrote on it, “The Greatest!” and “My manager and best friend,” using the white athletic tape he used consistently on his reel-to-reel tapes between 1969 and 1971:
The final collages.
When Louis got home from intensive care in April 1969, he started working on his tape collection, renumbering them from number “1.” By the time of the Waldorf gig, he got to “170,” each one done with white athletic tape and handwritten reel numbers. Louis had a very slow start; in one of the early 1970 interviews, he mentioned that he had only done one small shelf but then I think he spent almost all of his free time in 1970 cataloging the tapes and making new collages. So I can’t date these, but they’re all 1970-1971. In this first example, “Reel 59,” he used a memorial statement he had printed up after Glaser’s passing:
This continued in “Reel 60,” where Armstrong included another tribute to Glaser, edited from the Karnofsky manuscript dedication:
The front of “Reel 60” includes a photo of Louis and Glaser together at Carnegie Hall in 1965:
Armstrong’s still at it on “Reel 86,” with another new collage in tribute to his old boss (“Reel 87” included a short clip of TV news coverage of Glaser’s funeral, sent to Armstrong by his friend Tony Janak):
By Reels 140 and 141, we are at the end of 1970, possibly early 1971 (“Reel 133” included Louis’s October 1970 appearances on The Flip Wilson Show and The Johnny Cash Show). Yet here’s young Joe Glaser and his mother Bertha on “Reel 140”:
And finally, a newspaper tribute to Glaser, with Armstrong superimposing Glaser’s signature on the collage that makes up the back of “Reel 141”:
Between the private letters, the TV appearances, the radio appearances, the scrapbook tribute and the tape box collages, that’s a lot of love for Glaser in the two years after he died. Why would he make collages dedicated to someone he hated? The only dissenting voice is Wein’s and even Wein admitted to me, he basically felt the need to tell such a story because he found so much wrong about Armstrong and Glaser’s relationship.
But from that one paragraph, we now have Satchmo at the Waldorf. Again, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER but these are some excerpts of the climactic moment of the play, when the character of “Armstrong” in 1971 talks about Glaser’s death and how his will left him “nothing” (note: this is my transcription and might not reflect the actual script 100% faithfully):
“Next thing I know, he’s gone and that’s when I found out what a stupid sonofabitch I have been my whole life. It really stung me when Mr. Glaser didn’t leave me nothing in his will. Nothing but a little cash…. But the thing is, I figured he was going to leave me a piece of the business, too, like he should have done. Like I deserved. I mean, he called it Associated Booking Incorporated, but he could have called it Armstrong and Glaser Incorporated cause there wouldn’t be no Associated Booking if it wasn’t for me. … I figured he gonna make damn sure ol’ Satchmo taken care of down the line. It’s kind of my birthright, you know? Maybe I’m just another dumbass fool, but that’s the way I figured it. And there wasn’t nothing for me? Not one goddamn share? It felt like he kicked me right in the nuts, used me up and threw me out....Can’t believe I’m talking like this now. Ain’t never talk like this about Mr. Glaser. Never even let myself think it. Always told folks he was the greatest. But now I look back and I see it plain as daylight. …Man worked my ass like a blue-black fieldhand. Built his whole damn business on my back and then he don’t even leave me a piece of it when he die? Motherfucker screwed me! Screwed me to the wall! All he did was leave me a tip! And that hurt, hurt me bad. That shit ain’t right. I thought Joe Glaser was my friend and he treat me like a nigger!”
At this point, “Armstrong” almost dies onstage, coughing and wheezing and barely making his way to his oxygen tank. It’s great drama and John Douglas Thompson really sells it. Both times I saw it, the theater was chilled to the bone, silent. And in that silence, the theatergoers draw their conclusions: Louis Armstrong was screwed by his manager, hated himself over it and had to continue working just to make a few bucks. That’s how the New York Post reporter explained it to me. A friend saw it in Los Angeles and wrote to me, “The play gives the impression that Louis died broke.”
Now—MORE SPOILERS—Terry does have one final twist. Glaser was forced into joint ownership of Associated Booking in 1962 by famed mob lawyer Sid Korshak. This is true. Terry’s “Glaser” character explains that because of Korshak, “Glaser” couldn’t leave “Armstrong” anything in his will and that “Glaser” knew this and couldn’t bring himself to ever tell “Armstrong.” “Glaser’s” confession makes him a sympathetic character but it does nothing to erase the sad spectacle of broke, dying “Armstrong” onstage.
So let’s get to the main event now, the finances. I’ve already explained that Glaser paid just about everything Louis and Lucille ever asked for. This is an instructive passage from Glaser to Lucille on May 28, 1968, when Lucille wanted to start remodeling her and Louis’s home in Corona, Queens:
“I already instructed Dave Gold to send a check at once for $2,500 to Morris Interiors as per your request and since I am sure Louis will meet with Lionel Crane tomorrow or the next day as he is coming in from London to write a special feature story on Louis, tell Louis to put his mind at ease as this $2,500 that Louis is receiving is going to be applied to Louis account and Louis will not be obligated to pay a penny of it or take the money out of the bank. There is no need saying it will always be a pleasure to do everything I can where you and Louis are concerned and I am very happy he is feeling ok and I am sure he is getting plenty of rest.”
Not the tough Glaser you might expect and sure enough, Lucille began remodeling a few weeks later. Glaser died in June of 1969 so let’s look at his will. There’s lots of interesting things, naturally. Sidney Korshak—“my dear friend”—got 5% of ABC. The will does mention a “certain Voting Trust Agreement bearing date of August 23, 1962, wherein all of the voting rights, dominion and control of said shares of stock have been assigned to SIDNEY R. KORSHAK and myself as joint trustees for the purpose of executing and carrying out said Voting Trust Agreement.” Sounds important but though I’m no lawyer, it doesn’t seem like Glaser sold his life away.
In fact, he split up ABC among many employees and even had gifts for others. There’s a whole list of people he bought bonds for; Dr. Schiff got his diamond signet ring, diamond belt buckle "and one of my good watches”; Dr. Harold Cohen also got a diamond and platinum ring.
Then there’s Louis, with a section of his own:
"I give and bequeath all my right, title interest, legal and equitable, in and to all shares of stock of INTERNATIONAL MUSIC, INC., which I may own or have at the time of my passing to my friend, LOUIS ARMSTRONG, and in the event of his death to his wife, Lucille."
This might not sound like much but believe me, it is more than “a tip.” International Music was Joe Glaser’s publishing firm and it controlled all the royalties of Armstrong’s compositions as well as those of Lillian Hardin and various other ABC acts. It was the gift that kept giving as long as Armstrong music continued to sell (it still continues to sell). Long after Louis and Lucille died, David Gold told a trustee of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation to check International Music because “that’s where the money is.” Giving Armstrong all of International Music insured a steady income that benefitted Louis and Lucille for years to come. Remember, Lucille could have “left” Associated Booking after Louis died; she didn’t. They continued to oversee her bills and payments until her death in 1983. Except for lectures and public appearances, she never had to work a day after Louis died.
Also—and perhaps even more importantly—as Lucille herself mentioned in the Collier book, Glaser did have an account for Louis at ABC and though it is not referenced in his will, Oscar Cohen and David Gold made sure to turn it over to the Armstrong’s immediately. Collier talked to Gold and to Lucille and reported, “Glaser had also set aside money in savings accounts and trust funds, all of which was turned over to the Armstrongs after his death....Furthermore, on Glaser's death the firm turned over to Louis and Lucille everything it had been holding for them. Dave Gold, vice-president and treasurer of the Glaser office, said, 'Because of the unique nature between Glaser and the Armstrongs, at that point we felt that rather than create any question of propriety, we felt it best that they handle their own funds.' The firm arranged for independent accountants to take charge, with Lucille, more than Louis, involved in major financial decisions."
This must have happened immediately because Glaser died on June 6 and on June 12, Cohen and Gold had Louis sign a brand new contract with ABC, something he hadn’t done since 1935. I suppose the new heads of the company thought would be a good faith gesture to let Armstrong know that they wanted to continue representing him.
Louis bragged in those earlier quotes I shared about Glaser having a “trust fund” for him. We might never know what was in it but as the Collier quote illustrates, it was substantial. Armstrong's close friend Ernie Anderson later wrote in depth about Louis and Glaser (he was the first to publicly run with the Korshak connection) and he reported, "But, in some mysterious way, Joe's will made Louis a rich man....[Armstrong] told Bobby Hackett, who was very close to him, that it amounted to 'a bit more than two million dollars.'"
With the "mysterious" money from the ABC account, Lucille continued remodeling the Corona home. At the Armstrong Archives, we have dozens of invoices from 1968 through 1970; I haven’t counted, but there must be $40-50,000 worth of work performed in those years. In December 1969, Lucille led the charge to start the “Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation,” using their own money to do it (Phoebe Jacobs said it cost $40,000). In 1970, the Armstrong’s purchased the home next door, knocked it down and Lucille began installing a lavish, Japanese-inspired garden, which was completed in 1971, just before Louis’s death. Also in 1971, the Armstrong’s decided to have their home covered in brick, along with building a new brick wall that extended to the new garden property, as well as neighbor Adele Heraldo’s house.
So the Armstrong’s were not sitting around, broke, lamenting how Joe Glaser robbed and cheated them; they were spending a lot of money, more than they had in quite some time. It was almost as if Lucille was freed from the Glaser relationship, got the lump sum of money and began spending it on all of these projects.
But Louis was sitting around—and happy to brag about it. Louis entered Beth Israel the first time in September 1968, came home later that year, went back in early 1969 and was released in the spring. After two stints in intensive care, Armstrong’s doctors forbade him from performing. For over 50 years, Louis played night after night but now he was home, unable to perform. Associated Booking got him a few high-paying jobs—singing in a James Bond film, getting $25,000 for a Midas commercial—but there was no more nightly income. In 1970, he began appearing on numerous television talk shows, but again, not for much money.
But it’s on these talk shows where Armstrong began to brag about his good financial standing. I’ll repeat this passage from The Mike Douglas Show in May 1970:
MD: And [Glaser] took care of you?
LA: Took care of me? I ain't asked nobody for nothing yet, that's all. (shows off suit) This vine ain't looking too bad, is it? (laughter) That shows, I mean, the vonce was there! So that's my man.
Before Armstrong’s July 3, 1970 birthday celebration in Los Angeles, Armstrong was interviewed by Bill Stout of CBS News. Stout made the mistake of asking, “How do you feel about not being able to blow your horn?” Armstrong did not appreciate the phrase “not being able” and fought back, saying, “Who said I’m not able to blow? I blow every day at my house!” Stout replied, “Yeah, but you aren’t supposed to work.” Armstrong didn’t wait a second, barking, “I don’t have to work! I’ve got enough money so I don’t have to worry about it. I play when I want.”
Armstrong’s eventually did go back to work but it wasn’t out of necessity; it’s what he lived for. He did two successful weeks in Vegas in September 1970, saying afterwards, “Let me tell you something. I lived two years just waiting for that opening night.” Armstrong was back and was determined to stay there even if it killed him. Which it did.
To me, that is the story of Armstrong’s Waldorf gig: a practically dying legend fights to perform for his fans one last time. That is the drama, not Armstrong complaining about Joe Glaser’s will and his being broke.
But Armstrong did die in 1971 and now it was time to see his financial state. Multiple Armstrong biographies have published this magic number: $530,275.65 That is what Armstrong’s estate was valued at the time of his 1971 passing, about $3 million in 2015 money. Writers have always been quick to say, “Ah ha!” when confronted by this number because Armstrong’s $530,000 is so much lower than the $3 million Glaser left behind.
Not so fast. The government also realized that that number seemed a little low so they audited the Armstrong estate. In 1976, they turned in their findings: the actual value was Louis’s estate was $1,116,833.65! How did it go up? The 1971 estate value conveniently left out $560,000 of royalties! Oops! One can’t blame the Armstrong estate (which was overseen by David Gold) for trying to lower the number because a lower number meant a lower tax they’d have to pay. But $560,000 is a lot of money to leave out, especially when it consists of royalties, Louis and Lucille’s International Music shares. (And yes, Armstrong's $1.1 million is less than Glaser's $3 million but remember that Armstrong gave away money his entire life; Glaser had no kids, wasn't married, was tight with a dollar and represented a bunch of other popular clients from Duke Ellington to Billie Holiday to Barbra Streisand and beyond.)
Examining Louis’s estate yields some interesting finds. The 100 shares of International Music stock were valued at $12,000 ($70,000 in 2015) but like I’ve said, they continued to bring money in every year. There were also $13,600 in bonds, and $9,500 in real estate, which must have also been set up by Glaser. Most interestingly, there were $57,000 in bonds in separate bonds purchased monthly beginning in February 1962, just a few months before Korshak moved into ABC; could Glaser have been purchasing those bonds on the side as a means of extra protection? And even at the time of his death, Armstrong had an $18,867.82 credit at Associated Booking (the Waldorf gig netted him $15,000 in two weeks). Louis bragged about staying out of business and investment decisions so that’s about $106,000 ($620,000 in 2015) that can be traced to Glaser, plus the regular International Music royalties and the presumably large lump sum turned over after his passing.
However you slice it, Armstrong barely worked in the last three years of his life and started a Foundation, remodeled his home, bought the house next door, knocked it down, installed a garden, bricked up his house, etc. and still left a value of $1.116.833.65 (about $6.5 million in 2015 money); he had more than a “tip” from Joe Glaser to work from. Remember what Louis said in 1951: “Money ain’t all of it. And then eventually you get a million dollars anyhow; peace of mind.” Louis had peace of mind his whole life and his million dollars when he died. (And so did Lucille, who died in 1983 without needing to work and left an estate of $991,055.43.)
I could keep going but after 9,000 words, I think I should stop! Still, there are two more things I keep getting asked about and I might as well address them quickly, too: "Did Miles Davis really hate Louis Armstrong?" and "Did Louis Armstrong really hate his white fans?" I think if Terry were asked either of those questions, he, too, would answer, "No!" but regular folks are coming away from the play with those thoughts in their mind, so something is triggering this way of thinking.
Ethan Iverson already did a great job writing about Satchmo at the Waldorf's problematic portrayal of Miles Davis. Terry's "Miles" praises Armstrong's trumpet playing but criticizes his "Uncle Tomming" on stage. He also makes it clear that he hates white people, whereas Louis loves them. But the bulk of Miles's quotes come from his suspect autobiography; as Iverson makes clear, Davis almost always spoke positively about Louis during Louis's lifetime. (Interestingly, Dizzy Gillespie blasted Armstrong much more harshly but Armstrong never returned the favor; Gillespie repented in his autobiography.) The second time I saw Satchmo at the Waldorf, I went with Dan Morgenstern and afterwards, he held court outside the theater (in the rain) to talk about going to see Louis at Basin Street in 1961. Not only was Miles in attendance, but he shushed members of his party when they were talking during the music and clearly enjoyed every second of Louis's performance. And perhaps my favorite Miles quote on Louis came when he was interviewed by Bill Boggs in the 1980s: "[Those who see Louis as an Uncle Tom] don't realize that Louis was doing that when he was around his friends. You know he was acting the same way. But when you do it in front of white folks, and try to make them enjoy what you feel--that's all he was doing--they call him 'Uncle Tom.'" Well put, Miles Davis.
And speaking of white folks, it can not be argued that by the time of the Waldorf gig, Armstrong was playing for almost exclusively white audiences. In Satchmo at the Waldorf, Armstrong talks about the hurt he felt in watching his black audience abandon him (true) but he blames himself in an episode of out-of-character self-pitying, more or less saying that Joe Glaser told him to clown around and "sing pretty" to lure the white audience. Glaser actually did say something like that in the Life cover story of Louis in 1966 but it wasn't true when he said it either. Armstrong was singing pretty ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "I'm Confessin'," "Body and Soul," etc.) and making faces (his 1920s live performance reviews almost focused exclusively on his showmanship) long before Glaser took over his career in 1935 (and for almost exclusively black audiences, too). And as Armstrong always was quick to point out, no one could tell him what to do onstage.
In the play, Armstrong disparages his audience as a "carton of eggs" and towards the end, thinking about playing in front of them instead of black fans, wonders, "What the fuck happened?" Armstrong was too stubborn to ever beat himself up that much. He was 100% real at all times and if you didn't appreciate it, it was your loss. He bristled at being a clown ("A clown is when you can't hit a note!" he said in 1959) and once shouted on one of his tapes, "When the fuck have I ever Uncle Tommed!?" so he sure wasn't doing that stuff with a strategy in mind; it was him.
Recently, I acquired video of Armstrong being interviewed in England in 1968. When asked, "Do you think your warm, emotional kind of entertaining can make better friends between black and white people?" Armstrong smiled and answered with a joke. "I think so," he said. "I mean, I'm black and I have a lot of white fans, so you've got it in technicolor there!"
Armstrong smiled, looked right into the camera and winked. But all of a sudden, the joy disappeared as he thought more about the question. "See what I mean? White people are responsible for all my success. And I don't care how much they march or whatever--I mean, after all, white people, they stood behind Satch to put him right where he is. So you know I got to love them. Ain't nobody gonna tell me nothing. I send in my donations for the cause, whatever they're doing, you know, for the Negro, to the extent. But the Negro didn't put me where I am today, the white people did. Watch that."
Growing angrier, Armstrong remembered a story about playing in the same town as Louis Jordan in the 1950s, something Marty Napoleon witnessed and something Louis told Jack Bradley about in the 1960s (both men told it to me for my book). Louis doesn't mention Jordan by name here but that's who he's referring too: "I played in Dallas, Texas at the Coliseum and they paid a lot of money for our attraction. But at the next block, they had one of them zoot suit saxophone players playing all that [imitates boogie-woogie eight-to-the-bar sound], you know what I mean, the trend--but still in all [Louis makes a first, shakes it powerfully, closes his eyes and nods seriously]--like Mozart. Them people came to see Satch and they was all white. I could count the colored there. That's the night--I remembered that. See what I mean? So now, on the rebound, the credit goes to the WHIIIITTTTE PEOPLE! Period!"
Armstrong is scowling when he shouts, "Period!" and I've never heard him phrase anything like he does, "white people," drawing out the word "white" like a bent note on his trumpet. Again, this is the reality. There's plenty of drama in Armstrong losing his black audience and how he resented them for that, but I don't feel he scorned his white fans one bit. As he put it himself there, they're the ones who treated his music like Mozart and he didn't forget that. (Though I'm sure he'd be proud to see his standing with African-Americans change back towards the positive after the influence of Wynton Marsalis in the 1980s.)
Geez, I did not expect to write 10,000 words on this subject but I thought it was important to publish the facts. I should also mention that nobody asked me to write this; there was no pressure from the Armstrong House, the Armstrong Foundation or anyone else. And I am not a full-blown Glaser apologist; my book includes plenty of stories of Glaser being too crude and messing with Armstrong’s recorded legacy (why, oh why, did he pull Armstrong off Columbia in the 1950s before he could record with the Ellington big band or Gil Evans!?).
But I want to close by mentioning someone who is really far from a Glaser fan: Louis’s longtime friend, Jack Bradley. Jack is still alive, 81-years-old now, and still as feisty as ever. He was as close as anyone could be to Louis from 1959-1971, referred to by Louis as his "white son." As a photographer and associate of Armstrong's, he dealt with Glaser often and didn’t like him, blaming him for not being sympathetic to Louis's needs and for having a somewhat racist side. Once, in the late 60s, Jack made the mistake of criticizing Glaser while having dinner at the Armstrong’s home and Louis, without even looking up, cursed Jack out so harshly, Jack got up and left, crying. Armstrong could explode like that but the next time he saw Jack, everything was back to normal. It still shakes Jack up to this day.
But Jack was Louis constantly during those years and especially during that 1969-1971 period when Louis spent so much time at home. When I saw Satchmo at the Waldorf, I called Jack and told him about everything, especially Louis venting about Glaser after Glaser's death. You could hear the laughter from Cape Cod. “HA HA HA HA HA!” he shouted into the phone before moaning, “Oh no! Jesus Christ, of all things!” Just to make sure I wasn’t nuts, I asked Jack one more time if he ever remembered Louis feeling resentment towards Glaser. “No!” came the reply. “Not once! Louis wouldn’t let anyone talk about Glaser like that, let alone himself. I didn’t even like Joe Glaser but that’s ridiculous. Oh, Louis is probably spinning in his grave!”
Let me reiterate a few things (if you’re still awake): Terry Teachout did the Armstrong community a service by writing Pops and Satchmo at the Waldorf is a great evening at the theater; seriously, John Douglas Thompson will knock your socks off. But each night, a sold-out theater of attendees leaves pitying poor, taken-advantage-of, broke Louis Armstrong and I just wanted to do something to counter it because in my opinion, this work of fiction might be based freely on fact, but it's also based freely on fiction. Sometimes, the truth is not only stranger than fiction, it makes for better drama.