Satchmo Summerfest 2013 Recap (With Videos!)

Hi all! Well, the 13th annual Satchmo Summerfest is over and in Pops's parlance, it was a gassuh. If you were there--or if you follow me on Facebook--I don't have to tell you that. It was my sixth Summerfest and speaking for myself, it was the best one yet. The seminars were great, the music was great and the fans were great--an estimated 53,000 people attended this year! Louis lives!

Now, I've written recaps of my previous five Summerfest appearances here on the blog, usually consisting of lots of photos and sentences like, "Wow, what a weekend!" Friends from around the world then write in with something akin to, "Boy, we would have loved to been there and seen your presentations." Well, the Satchmo Summerfest gods heard your pleas! This year, for the first time ever, the Seminars inside the Old U.S. Mint were filmed and live streamed on the web. Of course, I did not know this until ten minutes before my first lecture, otherwise, I would have alerted my blog readers (I did quickly mention it on Facebook and had friends from Israel, Germany, Austin and all parts of the world watching).

But then I found out that not only were the seminars being live streamed, they were being archived on the web for 30 days after the Summerfest! It's taken me about three days to recoup from weekend and get around to blogging so now, it's probably down to 26 or 27 days, but that should be plenty of time to enjoy it all. (They also gave me a personal copy of everything and said I could post it so if the links expire and there's still interest, I might do just that.)

The master list of ALL seminars (and other great evenings of music at the Mint) can be found here. As for the seminars I was involved in, I'll post them directly here.

I actually got the ball rolling on Friday afternoon, interviewing one of my idols--and friends--Dan Morgenstern. This was the third straight year Dan was interrogated, but this time we did it a little differently by focusing on his days as a writer. Here 'tis:

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The next two Friday sessions I'm sharing don't directly involve me, but they do involve my place of business, the Louis Armstrong House Museum. First up, Director Michael Cogswell presented a look at Louis's record collection, with lots of great excerpts from Pops's private tapes:

And then Curator David Reese took the crowd "Inside Pops' House," with a room by room, insider's look at the Armstrong House. Some great pics and stories luck I am to work here!

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I closed the show on Friday with my first "Cinematic Satch" presentation, focusing on some of Louis's televised duets. A couple of these have surfaced on YouTube but most should be pretty rare to my readers: Louis with Sinatra, Rex Harrison, Bing, Velma, Jack Teagarden, Danny Kaye, Jimmy Durante, Dean Martin, Pearl Bailey, Harpo Marx, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Cash and Lambchop. I was told I had an hour slot but I totally over-prepared. Fortunately, the Festival people told me I could go long so I went for 91 minutes instead of 60...and was rewarded with a standing ovation for my efforts! (Oh, who am I fooling; it's Pops's efforts, I just pushed the button.)

Watch live streaming video from directionofsky at

Friday was great but Saturday, August 3rd will go down as one of the most memorable days of my life, for two main reasons. First, there was my musical coming out party as part of the Satchmo Summerfest All Stars. If you permit me, a little background. I've been playing the piano since I was 7 and have been leading bands in NJ since I was 19 (I'll be 33 next month) but it's always been strictly minor leagues. We have fun and have our little friends-and-family following but it was always just a hobby with me. Not bragging, but practice, for one this, is nonexistent, especially since the advent of kids in my house. And once the economy went in the tank around 2007, full band gigs became more or less nonexistent. These days I play once, maximum twice a month, in a duo setting with a friend from high school who uses the stage name Bootsy Spankins, PI. We have a lot of fun and get a great response but Carnegie Hall it is not (nor is that what I've ever aimed for).

But last year, Summerfest Director Marci Schramm looked at the list of seminar presenters and thought hey, David Ostwald plays tuba, Bruce Raeburn plays drums, Yoshio Toyama plays trumpet, David Sager plays trombone, Ricky plays piano, Dan Morgenstern said he'd sing....there's enough historians to form a band! It seemed like a fun idea so I said sure, let's do it, thinking we'd do a little indoor jam session/seminar and call it a day.

Well, about a month before the festival the thing blew up: there'd be a rehearsal at Preservation Hall in front of media, we'd do a one hour set on the big stage in front of hundreds of people plus there'd be a hourlong set indoors as part of the seminars. And besides the names listed above, Tim Laughlin and Wycliffe Gordon--absolute masters of the clarinet and trombone respectively--would join, as well as Yoshio's wife, Keiko, on banjo. When I got down to New Orleans and checked Offbeat magazine, the blurb for the "Satchmo Summerfest All Stars" said nothing about it being a gimmick featuring historians but rather a jam session featuring "stars from all over the world." I almost died.

There was a rehearsal at Preservation Hall on Friday, in which nerves got to me and I thought I played poorly. That night over dinner, I beat myself up to my wife and our friends, about how I was an Italian restaurant pianist on the Jersey Shore; who was to hang in there with Wycliffe and Yoshio and the rest? It was the closest thing to a midlife crisis I've ever had.

But come Saturday, as soon as I hit the stage, everything disappeared and I felt completely at home. I thought I played very well and everyone else seemed to agree, complimenting me and saying "the secret was out" about my "hidden talent." I'll let you decide. My wife did shoot a few videos of the outdoor performance so here they are. First, this one has the introductions followed by the go-to openers of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" and "Indiana." When the band modulated during the final rideout chorus on "Indiana," it became one of the most emotional moments of my life. I've never experienced a surge of music like that from the bandstand and the next thing I knew, I was almost levitating from my bench. Now I know why so many have devoted their lives to playing this music....

Unfortunately, that giant video depleted my wife's phone of all its memory. Yoshio followed by absolutely nailing Louis's "When Your Smiling" routine, at the same tempo and key as the 1956 "Autobiography" version. Again, I had the chills, but as of now, no video has surfaced. When Margaret attempted to film the next number, "St. Louis Blues," she was told there was no space so she spent the first chunk of the tune deleting like crazy. When she got the green-light to film, she only got 2:40, missing the last bits of the rocking rideout. However, she did get another personal highlight, as my two-chorus blues solo was given a "one more" gesture by Yoshio (visible in the video), leading me to make one more two-fisted attack that shows why Dan Morgenstern once christened me "Barrelhouse Ricky"! When Dan saw me afterwards, he shouted, "You broke it up! You broke it up!" Midlife crisis over...

And speaking of Dan, he was our boy singer! David Ostwald celebrates Dan's birthday every October at Birdland and the evening usually climaxes with Dan singing a ballad. But the Summerfest was his official debut in front of a giant festival crowd and I thought he did a great job on "After You've Gone." The routine was to end it after the second chorus but the band was feeling good and we swung out into an unplanned third go-around. Dan handled it like a pro, first making a joke, then entering perfectly with a righteous closing "after you've gone away." A great memory!

That was that has turned up--for now--but we kept going for the full hour--"Rockin' Chair," "Struttin' with Some Barbecue," "I'm Confessin'," "Swing That Music," and a closing "Sleepy Time"--and were rewarded with a long standing ovation. One of the great moments of my life, hands down.

I spent the next hour receiving congratulations and talking about how nothing could top it. But I was wrong. Thankfully, I was wrong. Next up, David Ostwald and myself had to interview George Avakian about the upcoming Mosaic Records boxed set of Armstrong material I'm co-producing with Scott Wenzel (January release date!). I had a gameplan with regards to some questions I had for George and some excerpts I wanted to play, but I never had time to converse with George about that beforehand.

Now, George is 94 and though the mind is sharp as a tack, he's a little quiet and sometimes bounces from story to story, hard for any interviewer to reign in. And sure enough, 15 minutes in, we're talking about "Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy" and playing excerpts from that....all fine, but nothing to do with the Mosaic set. The crowd was enjoying it but I knew I had great stuff from "Ambassador Satch" in my back pocket and I was worried I wasn't going to get to it.

Finally, David and I got George back on the subject of "Ambassador Satch." Once I started playing some of the unissued material, a funny thing happened: George's voice got stronger and he got more animated. Things were going great, but again, time was not on my side. I had a 16-minute interview between George and Louis that I wanted to play but by the time I checked the clock, there was less than 15 minutes to go. But as you'll see, I didn't care, announced we were running over and played the full 16-minute interview. George hadn't heard it in over 55 years and it didn't take long before tears filled his eyes. The more he listened to his easygoing rapport with Pops, the more emotional he got, finally breaking down after Louis said, "You know, George, there's no such thing as old age in music." George buried his face in his hands and just listened. I didn't want to be tactless but I also knew I had the best seat in the house so I discreetly snapped this picture:
Some friends were surprised that I took it--and that I posted it--but I couldn't resist. There's something beautiful about George's raw emotion and the light shining down from the upper left corner. It's as if the spirit of Pops was shining down on everyone and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. If you make it to the end of this video, the standing ovation and following "hip, hip hooray" led by emcee extraordinaire Jon Pult gave me the chills. God bless George Avakian! A true MOMENT in a weekend filled with them.

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After the "All Stars" performance and George's moment in the sun, I was emotionally exhausted but still had to go for one more round of "Cinematic Satch." When I originally pitched the idea to devote an entire session to the 1962 German special "The Satchmo Story," Franz Hoffman hadn't posted the whole thing on YouTube. But even though it's now easy to find online, almost nobody at the Mint had ever seen it so it was still full of fresh material. Here's how it went down:

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Sunday the 4th--Pops's birthday--was my best chance to have a day as a civilian with my wife, so I missed some great stuff including a presentation by the great David Sager and a panel featuring three excellent trumpeters, Wendell Brunious, Mark Braud and Connie Jones (I'm looking forward to watching those two seminars myself!). But I was back for the final "Satchmo Summerfest All Stars" performance, this time in a seminar setting. We started off as a small group as three of the horns--Yoshio, Sager and Laughlin--couldn't make it, leaving Wycliffe alone out front. However, Ed Polcer had been in the audience and though he was walking the festival grounds, he was eventually spotted and recruited to join the front line. Then banjoist Seva Venet, in between gigs, noticed the rhythm section was missing his instrument of choice so he jumped on stage. And eventually, Sager's gig ended and he made the second half. Only in New Orleans, folks, do you get world class musicians jumping up on stage at a moment's notice (or less)!

"Sleepy Time" and "Indiana" opened it and we did another stomping "St. Louis Blues," but then we did some different stuff: "Blue Turning Grey Over You," a Morgenstern vocal on "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," Jon Pult's vaudevillian turn on "On a Coconut Island" and finally, another swinger to close the proceedings, "Chinatown My Chinatown," hot hot hot. Again, an absolute thrill to a part of this band! (Side note: in 1996, I attended my second jazz concert of all time, Lincoln Center's "Who Is Jelly Roll Morton," which featured Wycliffe Gordon. I've been a fan ever since. He's a wonderfully sweet guy and it was a pleasure getting to spend time in Chicago with him last month. But to play behind him? And to look up, see him look at me, smile and nod his head? Well, pardon me while I gush!!)

And then it was left to me to close the proceedings, as I reprised a lecture I originally did four years ago on "Louis and New Orleans." Very, very little from this is on YouTube; if you only have time for a little, watch the complete "Boy from New Orleans" from "The David Frost Show" in 1971 and try not to cry:

That was it for me but as I mentioned, there's a ton of great stuff to watch (and a ton of great pictures on my Facebook page, including an entire album devoted to pics of what I ate) so you can continue living the 2013 Satchmo Summerfest vicariously through the magical internet. Thanks to every single person who helped put on the festival, as well as anyone who stopped to say hello and talk Pops. Counting the days til next year!


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