I don't think I need I to give a minute-by-minute account of all that happened (that's why they invented Facebook; you can even see all my favorite New Orleans photos by checking out this Facebook Album). But as in previous years, all of the seminars can currently be found at the Direction of Sky LiveStream page. That's the good news. The bad news? They all get taken off the web in 30 days....and it has taken me a week to find the time to write this post so the clock is ticking.
However, there was one moment that requires some backstory. If you've ever read my blog, my book or had a single conversation with me in person, you probably already know that Dan Morgenstern is my hero and has been since I read my first sets of Morgenstern liner notes in 1995 (The California Concerts and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man).
Dan has never missed a Satchmo Summerfest in the 15 year history of the event. This year, he wanted to give his personal account of Louis's famous blow-up backstage at Newport in 1957. He asked if I could be his tech guy, in charge of finding photos of Louis at Newport that year, scanning negative columns about the event (namely one by Murray Kempton) and having a few tracks lined up on my iPod in case he wanted to play some music.
Dan's presentation is a knockout and I urge you to watch it in full. About 32 minutes in, Dan finishes his Newport section and continues with an account of the rest of Louis's exploits in the summer of 1957. The first thing he mentions is seeing Louis do "Beautiful Dreamer" on The Ed Sullivan Show on July 7, 1957 and how he wished it survived, though "not even Ricky" (me) has been able to locate it. What Dan didn't know when he said that was I had found it....and I had it with me.
Now, a little backstory to the backstory. About 10 years go, I interviewed Dan for the first time and he told me about "Beautiful Dreamer." A few years after that, after my reputation as the "rare Armstrong" guy grew, he asked about it and demanded I find it. But I couldn't find anything.
About two years ago, while serving my day job as Archivist of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, I spent probably over a year going through all of Louis's private reel-to-reel tapes and beefing up the descriptions. And there it was, buried on accession number 1987.3.291: "Beautiful Dreamer"! Louis had taped it off TV so the sound quality was subpar--and the tape ran out just before the final note--but Dan was right: it was SPECTACULAR.
What I should have done was say, "Dan, I found it!" But I didn't. I did transfer the track to my work computer but believe it or not, soon forgot about it. Flash forward to this past March. I was representing the Armstrong House at the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival in England and knew I wanted to play a lot of private tapes. I didn't want to take the chance of leaving something crucial behind in New York so I loaded up my iPod with just about everything on my work computer. And after I got back from England, I kept it on the iPod, doing further work on the tapes during my daily commute.
So when Dan mentioned "Beautiful Dreamer" and mentioned that I couldn't find it, the lightbulb went off. While he was talking, I grabbed my phone, went to the Armstrong House Online Catalog, searched for it, found the accession number, grabbed my iPod, went through all the accession numbers....and thank God, there it was! I immediately texted emcee Jon Pult about what was going to happen. Here's our exchange, courtesy of Jon:
And as you watch the following video, that's just what happens. After Dan's finish, I interrupt the applause, mention the surprise and announce "Beautiful Dreamer"; you'll hear a full blown gasp in the audience. And God bless the camera operator at the Old U.S. Mint as the camera stays right on Dan's face as the track progresses and catches all the emotions present in him listening to something he heard one time in 1957 and never thought he was going to hear again. When it was over, Dan leapt up and hugged me with all of his might, one of the most significant hugs of my life. Watch it all unfurl here:
Phew. Pardon me for still being a bit emotional over that moment. And since it occurred, I'm happy to report that inside sources have told me that a sharp print of the full "Beautiful Dreamer" performance exists in the Library of Congress. May we all see it some day! Here's me and Dan the very next day, still talking about it.
Last year, footage surfaced of Louis's complete East Berlin concert of March 22, 1965. I celebrated the footage with a very long blog and posted the concert to my YouTube channel. But this year, I took it down because of two very public showings, the first one at the Museum of the Moving Image on International Jazz Day and the second here at Satchmo Summerfest. Once these videos disappear in a few weeks, I'll probably put the complete concert on YouTube but for now, here it is in two parts, with lots of commentary from me, putting the performance in context. (I also love the sound of the live audience applauding throughout!)
Here's part 1:
And part 2, featuring the second set. (I post these for the Pops not for me but I will admit, I was very touched by the standing ovation that greeted me before I even went on. Thanks to Jon Pult for the beautiful words!)
Those were my three solo presentations but I was honored to be on a panel with Scott Wenzel and Dan Morgenstern discussing the Mosaic Records set of Louis's complete Decca recordings from 1935-1946. I had nothing to do with that set (except for one mention in the liner notes) but was happy to join Dan and Scott to discuss one of my favorite, still underappreciated Armstrong periods. Scott does the heavy lifting with the making of the set and Dan provides some great historical context before I jump in with a fun little montage of Decca recordings at the end.
Evan Christopher is one of my favorite musicians on the planet so I was quite flattered that he did an entire presentation inspired by a series of blogs I wrote in 2010 on Louis Armstrong's musical "battles" with Sidney Bechet. (If you're looking for the originals, here's Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.) Evan didn't necessarily agree with all of my points but it's still entertaining watching him demonstrate his own ideas with musical help from Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, both in town to promote their fantastic new Earregulars CD on the Jazzology label:
Finally, with Marty Napoleon's passing in April, the last surviving All Star is Jewel Brown. Jewel was present at the Summerfest, being interviewed onstage by Fred Kasten before going outside to the big stage to sing with Mitchell Player's Ella and Louie band. Here's Jewel's interview with Fred:
I was lucky enough to spend some time with Jewel backstage (she told some GREAT stories that I wish I had in my book!). But for me, the second highlight of the weekend came shortly after the above interview. I went on with my Berlin footage from 4:30-5:50 but Jewel was due to sing outside at 5:15. I told my crowd how much I regretted not being able to see her but still screened the fantastic footage of her singing in 1965. At around 5:45, while I was starting to wrap up, I got a text that Jewel hadn't sung yet! I announced it to the crowd, wrapped up and made a beeline for the outdoor stage. I got out just in time to hear her launch into "St. Louis Blues"....followed by "All of Me".....followed by "Bill Bailey"....followed by "Every Day I Have the Blues." It was all of her All Stars features! And at 78, she was singing with the power of a woman half her age. The band (with trumpeter Wendell Brunious and trombonist Freddie Lonzo) locked in and the set positively took off. Jewel just destroyed everyone present, many of whom are still talking about it a week later.
When Jewel was done, I went backstage to congratulate her. While talking, she was notified that her car had arrived to pick her up at the main gate. A little shaky on her feet, Jewel asked if she could put her arm around me for support; I wasn't going to say no! And there I walked, out of the festival with the last surviving All Star holding on. Minutes earlier, I was watching her and Pops in 1965 and there she way, still getting it done in 2015. Chills.
And finally, in my last entry, I teased the opening of the big Satchmo: His Life in New Orleans exhibit that will be up at the Old U.S. Mint until 2017. Well, it officially opened last week and I couldn't be any more proud! As I mentioned, it was a joy working with the Louisiana State Museum, who did such a wonderful job in helping execute the ideas of myself and my co-curator (and Archives Assistant), Brynn White. Big thanks to Jennifer Walden of the Armstrong House who was the driving force behind the collaboration, which has already received great coverage, such as a major Associated Press article that is still popping up around the world.
While in New Orleans, Brynn and I stopped by WWOZ to do an interview with Keith Hill in which we talked all about the exhibit and working at the Armstrong House. Here's the complete audio:
And here's me and Brynn, minutes after she made her Summerfest debut with a dynamite presentation on the exhibit (alas, it's not up in full on the Livestream site but I hope it's possible to rectify it!). That's me in "proud papa" mode, happy to see my colleague knock it out of the park:
And the best news is the exhibit was PACKED all weekend long. Imagine my thrill when I popped my head in and there was the great Yoshio Toyama! Here we are, posing in between Louis's first cornet and his last Selmer trumpet.
There was more--lots more (including the heroic tale of my ultra-pregnant, ultra-supportive wife breaking down but still doing her best to be there for me)--but I'll quit while I'm ahead (for a great review, see Mick Carlon's column in JazzTimes...and watch Mick's terrific lecture online!). Watch as many of the lectures as you can before they disappear! And if you're in New Orleans, check out the exhibit and let me know what you think. Thanks again, Satchmo Summerfest.....can't wait until 2016!