New Mosaic Records Louis Armstrong Boxed Set Coming Soon!

Man oh man, I've dreamed about this day for many, many years! If you watched the streaming webcast of my International Jazz Day presentation with Dan Morgenstern on April 30, you probably heard me make a special announcement at the end, something that I promised would be very exciting to my readers: later this year, Mosaic Records will be releasing a 9-CD boxed set Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and His All Stars (1947-1958). And it is with great honor to announce that I will be serving as the set's co-producer along with the amazing Scott Wenzel, in addition to writing the set's liner notes.

However, if you've been waiting for a blog explosion about the set, I apologize for the month-long delay but I actually jumped the gun a tiny bit as we didn't have 100% full clearance (we were at about 98%, which is why I announced it in the first place). Well, last Tuesday night, we got the word from Sony that everything was approved and we're full steam ahead! Huzzah! (Huzzah Cuzzah!)

So what to expect? Well, if you're an All Stars fan, this is heaven on earth. Remember, Sony owns Columbia and Victor, so that's how we got to include so much. Before writing this blog, I already spilled some of the details on the Organissimo forum. If you missed it there, here's the rundown:

1947 Town Hall concert - It was more difficult than  you'd imagine for Sony to locate the original tapes used for the old French RCA set, but they did. I, too, am hoping Andreas Meyer can improve the sound.

1947 Carnegie Hall concert - This is extra special, from November 15, 1947, two weeks before the more famous Symphony Hall concert. Not a second has been issued commercially (but for my faithful blog readers, I've shared the occasional track from my personal copy). RCA, who had Pops under contract, recorded it (probably again thanks to Ernie Anderson) but sat on it. Unfortunately, the complete set of acetates doesn't survive. In the early 50s, someone at RCA dubbed, I'm assuming, what they felt to be the best tracks onto reels. Thus, about 90 minutes of what was probably a two-hour concert survives (in great sound quality). The reels were mislabeled and buried until Ben Young discovered them about a decade ago. He couldn't drum up any interest at BMG to release it so I'm happy it's finally coming out through Mosaic.

Spoken word interviews - To break it up, the "Paris Interview" with Edward R. Murrow will be included, along with a 16+ minute interview between Louis and George Avakian done to promote "Ambassador Satch" (unissued).

Amsterdam concert - On October 30, 1955, Avakian began recording for "Ambassador Satch" by taping an entire show in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the complete concert doesn't survive. (Remember the "Chicago Concert" story about how Michael Brooks snatched it as Columbia was about to throw it out? I have a feeling Amsterdam didn't get snatched.) However, George did copy all of the tracks he thought were worth issuing, so they're all here, two that made it onto "Satchmo the Great," four that made it onto "Ambassador Satch" and a couple of unissued ones (including a great "Back O'Town Blues").

Milan session - This, to me, is a high point. On December 20, 1955, Avakian wanted to record more for "Ambassador Satch" but he wanted to try some different stuff. So he rented out a movie theater, invited a couple of dozen enthusiastic Italian fans, and pretty much ran a recording session, adding lots of fake applause. We have 3 of the 4 original reels, so we'll have unedited versions (without the fake applause, but with the Italians screaming) of lots of stuff that didn't make it onto the album: "Clarinet Marmalade," "Someday You'll Be Sorry," "That's a Plenty," "You Can Depend On Me," "Lonesome Road" and a different version of "Dardanella," in addition to "West End Blues," "Faithful Hussar," "Tiger Rag" and "Royal Garden Blues." An embarrassment of riches, the unreleased tracks are just as good as what got released (my notes, though, will explain why they didn't make it onto the finished album).

Los Angeles session - Not a live date, but it works. On January 24, 1956, Avakian recorded the All Stars at a Los Angeles studio, finishing "Ambassador Satch" with "Twelfth Street Rag" and "All of Me" and then recording a single of "Six Foot Four" and "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along." We found the entire session reels for this date so we'll have multiple, unedited takes of each selection (no fake applause).

Random bits - a version of "Mack the Knife" from Carnegie Hall that ended up on "Satchmo the Great," and audio of a few performances that ended up in the film: "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" from Empress Hall in England and "Royal Garden Blues" and "Ole Miss" from Africa.

The Great Chicago Concert - The CD set has been out-of-print for years so it will be nice to have this fantastic show in one place again (nothing new, though).

Newport 1956 - George recorded Louis's entire set and as Harold pointed out, released a portion on an LP shared with Eddie Condon. But the released portion is a mess: "Indiana" is from the Chicago concert, "Whispering" was a bass feature in which Avakian eliminated the opening bass choruses and "Mack the Knife" had a vocal spliced in from an alternate studio take! We have the whole set and will be issuing it complete for the first time.

Lewisohn Stadium 1956 - This was the big concert that Armstrong shared with Dave Brubeck, ending the evening by doing "St. Louis Blues" with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. However, earlier in the day, there was a rehearsal. Avakian had the equipment ready and as always, was craving new material. So again, in front of a small audience, probably made up of Philharmonic musicians, he recorded multiple takes of "Mahogany Hall Stomp," "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" and "Blueberry Hill." We'll have them, unedited and in multiple instances, unissued. But then George, after recording Louis in Chicago and Newport, figured Louis wasn't going to record perform anything new so he didn't record the All Stars' actual set that evening. But he did turn it on in time to record "St. Louis Blues".....THREE TIMES! This, to me, was the highlight find, hearing this whole sequence go down, with Bernstein addressing the audience, a film camera breaking down, Edward R. Murrow coming out, Louis playing encores to keep the fans satisfied. It's incredible.

Newport 1958 - And finally, another gem, Louis's entire Newport set from 1958, of which only three tracks have ever been released ("Ko Ko Mo," "Rockin' Chair" and the "Saints"). It was recorded in stereo and Louis is in superhuman form. There's virtually no overlap in repertoire from Newport 1958 and it ends where the set began with a reunion between Louis, Teagarden and Bobby Hackett.

So there it is. I hope everyone else is as excited as I am. I know a lot of All Stars naysayers might think, "Ugh, 9-CDs of All Stars many versions of 'Indiana' do I need?" But because of the nature of the set, it's very, very varied: Town Hall was a one-off, no one will complain about hearing the Teagarden-Catlett edition at Carnegie Hall, we have all the different repertoire and unissued material from "Ambassador Satch," two extended interviews, the Chicago Concert with its different repertoire, two totally different Newport sets, the Bernstein sequence, etc. It's a little bit of everything that made Louis so special in this period.

Now that you know what to expect, please indulge me a bit. You see, this has been such a personal project for me for so long, I need to take a minute to talk about my own involvement. To show you how long this idea has been brewing in my brain, let me take you to June 23, 2006. A little background: I graduated Rutgers with a Master's in Jazz History and Research in May 2005 and married my wife, Margaret, one month later. After sending out multiple resumes, hoping to get a gig teaching at a college, I realized that nothing was out there so I started going to work for my father's business, painting houses. Not glamorous, but it paid the bills.

And that was that for a LONG time. By the beginning of 2006, I was panicking that I'd be a painter forever. So I began pushing my love of Pops a little further into the world, giving my first lecture at the Institute of Jazz Studies that February and hiring an agent to hopefully sell my book idea in May. But on June 23, I was still painting houses, now outdoors in the summer time, sweating like a mother. Maybe it was the heat, but that day, I had an idea for an Armstrong boxed set to be issued by my heroes at Mosaic Records. 

The Mosaic website had a link, "Regarding Product Suggestions." I figured I had nothing to lose so I composed an e-mail. It's entirely too long to quote in full, but here's some relevant passages: 

 -----Original Message-----
From: Ricky Riccardi
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 2:52 PM
Subject: Regarding Product Suggestions

From : Ricky Riccardi

Comments :

Hello! I'm a Mosaic supporter from way back, the owner of over 20 boxes. They've all given my tremendous pleasure, but none as much as the Louis Armstrong All Stars Decca box. What a
set! I should reveal right now that I'm an Armstrong junkie who has written a massive thesis on his later years under the supervision of Lewis Porter. I have given a lecture on the subject at the Institute of Jazz Studies and my agent is about to send out my proposal to turn my research into a major biography to hopefully published either late next year or 2008. Thus, when I noticed the Mosaic site takes suggestions I figured maybe something can be done again with Armstrong (I understand multiple sets of Miles, Monk, Teagarden, Basie, etc....why not Pops!).

I think a huge idea would be Armstrong's fifties Columbia recordings, mainly because I've noticed how friendly Sony has been to you guys recently...and in the future with the amazing Ellington small group set (sign me up)....Jos Willems's new Armstrong discography hints that a lot more exists in the Columbia vaults:  For the Ambassador Satch album, George Avakian basically held a recording session in an empty theater after a concert in Milan, Italy. Again, some of this stuff was on the original Ambassador Satch album while two tracks were included in that disc's recent CD reissue so obviously there's more in the vaults. And I personally know that George Avakian has personal copies of the rest of the session, including rehearsals and complete takes of rare Armstrong items such as "You Can Depend On Me," "The Lonesome Road" and "That's A Plenty."

...In July, Columbia recorded the All Stars's set at the Newport Jazz Festival but when they released four tracks from that concert, only two truly were. And over the years, three more tracks were released on a Book-Of-The-Month set so THAT set complete show must also be out there.

Avakian also held a recording session in July, adding applause later on and saying the results were from a Lewisohn Stadium concert. It's not a long session (7 songs) but it would be nice to get them together. And finally, you can jump to the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival where once again, Armstrong's fantastic set has seen a handful of tracks released on Columbia samplers and a handful shown in the film Jazz On A Summer's Day. On the early-90s Columbia sampler "16 Most Requested Songs," a beautiful sounding, unedited "Rockin' Chair" appears. I hate repeating myself but there must be more ofthe concert out there. One of the myths I'm trying to debunk is that the All Stars live shows were always the same uninspired stuff. I've amassed over 2,000 Armstrong recordings, many with the All Stars, and there's all sorts of surprises in their playing. And in my opinion, the band with Trummy Young and Edmond Hall was the best version Armstrong ever had so such a set as I'm suggesting would be the ultimate testament. Oh! I also forgot the amazing "Chicago Concert" from June 1, 1956, which was released by Legacy in 1997 and I believe is now out of print. If indeed all of the above does exist, it would probably make an 8-10 disc set but it would be worth it.

Armstrong is the most important musician jazz ever produced and waiting over ten years is a long time to get a new Armstrong-themed Mosaic!

Well, I thank you for your time and I apologize for going on so long but like I said, Armstrong's music is my life and part of me is a little saddened that jazz fans only know the Hot Fives and Sevens and everybody else only knows "What a Wonderful World." There was a lot more to him. Monk, Mingus, Miles, Trane, they're all geniuses and they're constantly reissued and featured in all the jazz magazines. It's time for Armstrong to receive the same treatment. Thank you for your time and I eagerly anticipate many more purchases in the future (the Bechet's on the way, i want the Duke, the Chu, the...........)

Ricky Riccardi >>

I sent it off and Scott wrote me back two days later, saying, "Thanks for the suggestions. I believe most of the Satch material has been out lately (maybe not in it's entirety as you say), but we'll look further into it." And that seemed to be that.
On April 1, 2007, undeterred, I wrote Scott again with the same exact suggestion. I was still painting houses but also still dreaming. Scott again thanked me and said he'd bring it up with Michael Cuscuna. Silence ensued. 
Flash forward to February 24, 2009. I now had the blog and the book deal....but I was still painting. This time Scott wrote me with some very good news: Mosaic was doing an Armstrong box of Decca recordings 1935-1946. Great! But I used my reply to pitch the Columbia stuff one more time, now that I had friends and collectors like Jos Willems, Hakan Forsberg and Gosta Hagglof sending me copies of sessions and concerts I had only dreamed about. Scott once again said he'd run it by Cuscuna, but did agree that the Newport 1958 I mentioned sounded tantalizing. But with one Armstrong set on the way, there was no way another would follow so quickly. I let the dream die a little... 
Until June 9, 2011. My book was about to come out in two weeks, I was now working for the Armstrong House and I had a hand in helping shape Universal's massive 10-CD Satchmo: Ambassador of Jazz box. The time seemed right so I wrote Scott again and pitched my 1950s live Columbia idea from scratch, over five paragraphs and a thousand words. Re-reading these emails, I'm almost embarrassed that I kept repeating myself so many times...but hey, persistence paid off because this time Scott wrote back, intrigued. He requested the Newport concert from Sony and I sent him what I had from my private collection.  
A few months passed and on October 19, 2011, Scott wrote back: "So we had a little planning meeting yesterday and it looks like we're going to submit to Sony our request for the live Columbia material we spoke of earlier."

Well, you could have probably heard my shout of joy from wherever you were stationed that day. I don't have to continue going e-mail by e-mail to tell the rest of the story. Just know that since October 2011, Scott and I have been diligently working behind the scenes to get this thing ready. It's been awfully hard keeping my trap shut on this blog so forgive me if I've babbled a bit much.

What happens now? Beats me! I can tell you that the great Andreas Meyer will be doing the mastering and Scott and I will be selecting rarely seen photos from the period from the Armstrong Archives.

As for me, last weekend, I started writing the liner notes booklet and if you follow me on Facebook, you know how that went. Over the last several months, I had amassed a 38-page Word document of various notes, quotes and thoughts about the music on this set. Last Saturday, my kids went down for a nap and I started writing the booklet. Scott told me to come in between 10,000 and 15,000 words. Well, after three hours on Saturday, four on Sunday and three more on Monday, I was at 16,474 and only up to about disc 5 of the 9! This will surprise no one who has ever read my blog. Of course, I'm putting it ALL down right now and will go back and chop like crazy (not as hard as it sounds as I'm purposely trying to write everything I know about the sessions to see what will stick; I know some of it is extraneous as I type it but I still want to get it down).

Thus, I'm not sure if my frantic blog pace of 2013 will keep up but do know that I'll pouring my heart into the notes every chance I get (and my friend and fellow Armstrong nut from California, Sharone Williams, might pitch in with a Louis-related blog or two if I get sucked further into the abyss--more on that, and Sharone, soon!). 

Now, to answer the last question everyone has (if anyone is still out there), if all goes according to plan, the box should be released later this year. If everything goes smoothly, it might be here sooner than expected, perhaps in the early fall. But I'm telling myself Christmas, so I'd advise you do the same. Of course, once I know more, my loyal readers will be the first to know.

So keep your fingers crossed and keep watching this space for all the latest updates. I know the set is going to be a winner and I hope all of you out there reading this will enjoy it as much as I will. Thanks, everyone, for all the support over the years!


john schott said…
WOW! Great news - thanks!
Phil said…
Wonderful work, Ricky! Can't wait! Very excited by all this. I love the Hot Fives and Sevens, the 'pop' stuff, Satch's big band music, but for me the All Stars era is the finest, especially the 1950s.
(PS: How's the cloning coming along?!)
RICHIE said…
I would take 9 CD's of Indiana but this set will be amazing. With the back-story of your persistence I am very excited to get my hands and ears on this set. I know the combination of passion you and Scott have will give us a classic product. Don't let them edit your stuff to much, some of us nuts like your over the top analyzing, information and inside stories.
Congratulations and thank you,
That's really great news Ricky! And if you could talk Mosaic into adding a DVD of "Satchmo the Great" itself that would be perfect.
Cheers, Peter
Unknown said…
Congratulations, sir! Can't wait until the set comes out myself.
Sharone said…
I can't wait to hear this George Avakian interview about Ambassador Satch! Well, I can't wait to hear so many things, but Ambassador Satch is very near and dear to my heart. And the Lewisohn Stadium St. Louis Blues...listening to that recording gives me The Feeling. Can't wait to hear more. This whole thing is so dang exciting, I'm jumping around in my chair!
armstark said…
Hi Ricky,
thanks for your overview of the upcomming new Louis Armstrong Mosaic-CD-box.
Unfortunable you made a little mistake in your overview:
Louis‘ Newport set from 1958 is issiued in six tracks plus the interview on CD
Charly (G) SDVD 001. For reference you may have a look at Willems, All Of Me,
page 305.
Best wishes,
Uwe from Hamburg
armstark said…
Hi Ricky,
thanks for your overview of the upcomming new Louis Armstrong Mosaic-CD-box.
Unfortunable you made a little mistake in your overview:
Louis‘ Newport set from 1958 is issiued in six tracks plus the interview on CD
Charly (G) SDVD 001. For reference you may have a look at Willems, All Of Me,
page 305.
Best wishes,
Uwe from Hamburg
Ricky Riccardi said…
Thanks, everybody! Glad I'm not the one ridiculously excited about this project. Uwe, all the tracks on the Charly disc are edited versions taken directly from the soundtrack to "Jazz On a Summers's Day." The only performances Sony has released over the years are "Ko Ko Mo" and "Rockin' Chair," about 7 minutes of the concert's near 80-minute length. So you're right, some of it has been out before but I still think it's worth celebrating the fact that it will finally be issued for the first time in complete form and in fine sound quality. Thanks!

David T. said…
Best news ever. I got the other Louis Mosiac set, and Eddie Condon set. This will definitely be the best yet! One thing - what if the set was a few more discs and included the Califonia concert set? Would be cool...either way I'm happy!

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