Friday, July 10, 2015

45 Years of Louis Armstrong's 1970 Birthday Tribute at the Newport Jazz Festival

On July 4, 1970, Louis Armstrong celebrated his 70th birthday (though as discussed last week, I think he knew he was born in 1901 but fudged his age while a teenager and had to live with the new date for the rest of his life). Naturally, it was cause for celebration....and what a celebration!

By the late 1960s, the jazz world had mostly stopped paying attention to this aged entertainer, who was charting hits like "Hello, Dolly!," "Mame" and "What a Wonderful World." In September 1968, heart and kidney ailments sent Armstrong to intensive care twice and when he emerged int he spring of 1969, doctors told him to stop performing and enjoy his Corona, Queens. He followed their advice and 1969 was the quietest year of his life.

When he began to emerge on a series of television talk show appearances in early 1970, all of a sudden there was tremendous love showered on Louis, from hosts, from other guests, from house band musicians and everyone in between. I think Louis's bout with mortality made people realize how close they had come to losing this incredible human being.

As July 4, 1970 approached, the tributes came in thick and heavy. Saturday Review put Louis on the cover and feature four separate tributes inside. In late May, Louis's recording sessions for Louis Armstrong and His Friends turned into a gigantic pre-birthday celebration with folks ranging from Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman to Tony Bennett and Bobby Hackett coming by to give Pops his props. Dan Morgenstern engineered a remarkable tribute issue in Downbeat, complete with "Roses for Louis," a special section featuring dozens of jazz musicians from Max Kaminsky to Sun Ra waxing poetic on Louis (when he received it, Louis told Dan, "It knocked me on my ass"; there's no higher compliment).

Doctors were still afraid for Louis to travel but as the Fourth approached he wouldn't be stopped. He flew to Los Angeles for a big concert emceed by Hoagy Carmichael at the Shrine on July 3 (the entire concert recording can be purchased through GHB records here). And then it would be off to Newport for the biggest celebration of them all on July 10.

Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein not only engineered the tribute but he also had the foresight to film everything that happened that day, including the rehearsal. He also recorded it all; in Louis's private reel-to-reel tape collection are multiple reels containing just about everything in gorgeous sound, presumably given to Louis by Wein. Because there's so many different artists, it would probably be difficult to have it issued, but it would be lovely to have it issued in full one day.

But at least there's the video! Wein made three short films out of the footage, totaling about three hours of material, beefed up by interviews with Louis at home in his den that were shot after the concert. In 2010, Wein whittled it down to 90-minutes for public broadcasting and DVD release (conveniently cutting out a part that didn't make him look too good, when he tries to convince Louis not to open with "When It's Sleepy Time Down South"). This version is commercially available here on Amazon or can be viewed on Daily Motion in multiple parts at the end of this post.

I think my readers would probably enjoy watching the (nearly) complete original films, correct? For that, we turn to the incredible YouTube channel by my friend in Germany, Franz Hoffman. Franz posted everything in multiple parts a couple of years ago so if you have three hours to kill today--or any day--look no further than the videos below!

First up, the wonderful rehearsal footage and interviews with Louis that make up Anatomy of a Performance. This used to anger Louis's clarinetist Joe Muranyi, who didn't understand why Louis's band wasn't flown in, instead of watching the maestro find keys and discuss routines with a different group. But what a group! Bobby Hackett, Tyree Glenn, Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg and Oliver Jackson. Watching Louis greet the other musicians (including Dizzy Gillepie, Tyree Glenn, Joe Newman and more) and getting an impromptu second line greeting by the Eureka Brass Band is quite a memorable experience. Here's part 1:



And part 2:



Next up is the longer Trumpet Players Tribute featuring spoken and musical tributes to Louis by Bobby Hackett, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Nance, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Owens and Joe Newman. At the end, Louis comes out as a surprise and sings three favorites in charming fashion.


Trumpet Players Tribute (Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Nance, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Owens, Joe Newman and Bobby Hackett play for Louis; Louis sings a few at end):


Part 1 (When It's Sleepy Time Down South):


 Part 2 (Bobby Hackett and Joe Newman):


Part 3 (Dizzy Gillespie):


Part 4 (Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Owens, Ray Nance, Bobby Hackett):


Oh no! The YouTube gods have removed Part 5--Dizzy Gillespie doing "Ain't Misbehavin'"! Shoot, I guess this won't be quite complete. Part 6 is still up but here it is in better quality on Music Vault. This is where Louis comes out for three songs!


 And the short part 7, basically just the credits:


The next portion is somewhat scattered around YouTube. It features the Eureka Brass Band, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the New Orleans Classic Ragtime Orchestra playing the New Orleans music of Louis's childhood. Here's the Preservation Hall Jazz Band with DeDe and Billie Pierce, Captain John Handy, Jim Robinson, Willie Humphrey, Allan Jaffee and Cie Frazier romping on an incomplete version of "Bourbon Street Parade":


Here's the same group doing "I Want a Little Girl":


Here's the Eureka Brass Band on "Lord, Lord, Lord" and "St. Louis Blues." All the Preservation Hall members are back plus Percy Humphrey, Lionel Ferbos, Orange Kellin, Booker T. Glass and Paul Crawford:


Unfortunately, the New Orleans Classic Ragtime Orchestra's set doesn't appear to be online anymore....rats! (Sorry, Lars!)

And finally, the last film, Louis Armstrong at Newport: Finale. Here's the short opening, with the Eureka Brass Band, Louis and Mahalia Jackson doing "When the Saints Go Marching In":



 Part 2 features Mahalia Jackson:


Franz's version of Part 3 was removed but here it is courtesy of Music Vault. Mahalia's version of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" shakes me to my core:


And the finale to the Finale, "Mack the Knife":



As mentioned, the shorter Good Evening Ev'rybody version features better quality. Here's Part 1:

Louis Armstrong - Good Evening Ev`rybody (2010)_1 by zakkie13901

And Part 2:

Louis Armstrong - Good Evening Ev`rybody (2010)_2 by zakkie13901

Hope that gives you enough viewing pleasure for one day--and one lifetime! Thanks to George Wein, the Newport Jazz Festival, all the Hall of Fame musicians and of course, Louis Armstrong, for making and documenting the wonderful music created 45 years ago today.