Louis Armstrong, Joe Glaser and "Satchmo at the Waldorf" - 2016 Update

Warning, the following post is a long one but I think it's an important one. Last June, I wrote a small novel about Terry Teachout's play Satchmo at the Waldorf, focusing on, what I feel, is a false representation of Louis Armstrong's relationship with Joe Glaser. I thought it was all I could possibly say on the matter but it inspired some interesting comments, a lively social media discussion and this rebuttal from Teachout himself.

This past Monday, January 25, I was supposed to take part in a symposium with Terry in Chicago, as part of the Court Theatre's current production of Satchmo at the Waldorf and its monthlong Louis Armstrong Festival. Unfortunately, the freakish blizzard known as Jonas kept me grounded in New Jersey, leaving Terry to handle the symposium by himself.

I had thought about updating my original blog before the Chicago trip but the blizzard put an end to that idea. I was going to scrap the idea entirely but spent part of the weekend reading the reviews Satchmo at the Waldorf is currently getting in the mainstream Chicago and San Francisco press (it's playing in San Francisco simultaneously and just opened in New Hampshire) and the stuff I'm reading in such articles is illustrating that these critics, writers and theatergoers are ignoring Terry's characterization of the play as "a work of fiction based freely on fact" and buying it all as fact. The Chicago Tribune review, for example, writes off Joe Glaser as "A Judas-like figure of betrayal."

(True story: I originally published this update at 5:46 p.m. on January 26. At 7 p.m., I got a Google alert with today's Louis Armstrong-related stories, including a rare mostly negative review of Satchmo at the Waldorf in SF Weekly. And even in that, the author writes, "Instead, Teachout focuses on Armstrong's conflicted relationship with his manager, Joe Glaser. Glaser was like a father to him, a father who screwed him out of money in the end." And later, "Requisite poignancy is delivered through Armstrong's sadness that father-figure Glaser betrayed him, seeing Armstrong not as a friend but as a cash cow." Needless to say, I ran to my computer to add these lines at 7:15.....it's not going to stop anytime soon.)

Terry isn't looking to change anyone's minds, matter-of-factly telling SF Weekly, "The play is about the uneasy relationship between Armstrong and Glazer [sic]. Louis came to feel that Glazer, who had been seen as a kind of father figure to him, had betrayed him."

Now, my original entry on this subject was one of my most widely-read but my fighting-for-four-figures readership is peanuts compared to huge entities like the Chicago Tribune and the Huffington Post. People are fascinated by Louis and Joe Glaser and if all they have is Satchmo at the Waldorf to go by, their might be a little skewed. The San Francisco Examiner review wrote of Armstrong and Glaser, "That relationship, which is at the heart of the play, is complex and troubling." I agree with that assessment but still feel like there's aspects of their relationship not covered in the play. And as I wrote towards the end of the original article, I'm not a full-blown Glaser apologist; in fact, as a young white liberal-type, I find it a little strange to be sticking up for the white manager with gangster connections and how he treated his prize African-American client.

Maybe part of this is because I think I have spent more time with Louis Armstrong's personal artifacts than any other human being not named "Louis Armstrong." I've listened to all 700+ reel-to-reel tapes, including transferring 120 no other researcher has heard; I've gone through dozens of autobiographical manuscripts, including many that were recently discovered and are still unpublished. I really feel like I know what Louis Armstrong thought because I've spent so much time inside of his mind. That's why I write pieces like the following, to give Louis's own opinions an airing so the world can judge for themselves after hearing what he had to say.

As everyone knows, Satchmo at the Waldorf is a play and Terry has dramatic license to tell the story he wants but most theatergoers aren't going to go the extra step to investigate what's true and what's not true. Well, this is my little attempt to make it easier, though it will now require more time because I've actually added new quotes, audio excerpts from my personal collection and some other material that I've come across since originally posting it. The Armstrong-Glaser relationship is the kind of thing that is easy to characterize from afar but actually gets more complex and surprising the deeper you dig--and brother, the following essay is about as deep as one can dig! So sit back, enjoy and keep the discussion going!


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. [And 2016 update: on this evening in January, it's playing in Chicago, San Francisco and New Hampshire (!) and upcoming runs include Colorado and Palm Beach and who knows where else; it's in the top ten most-licensed plays of the moment and I don't think it's going to slow down anytime soon. Thus, a lot of people in a lot of cities are going to be thinking a lot of things about Louis and Joe Glaser in the years to come and I just hope the following blog is helpful and remains relevant.]

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 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, 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." Last June, 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." 

[2016 note: Terry called me out on this in his rebuttal, arguing that he included a line in the play where Armstrong says, "It ain't about the money, got me plenty of that" and mentioning that he spoke to "dozens" of people since the play first opened in 2011 and "none of them has ever asked me if Armstrong was penniless when he died." That's fine for Terry's experiences but at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, we get about 20,000 visitors a year and when this exchange was posted last summer, the one employee who gave more tours than anyone else in the time Satchmo at the Waldorf was running off-Broadway wrote me to say, "I just about died when I read this. 90 minutes of 'woe is me' and one line is supposed to rectify that? Then for him to speak of the dozens of people he's met and not one of them took away the sense of a penniless Armstrong. Nearly every person who came to the House having seen that play thought Louis hated Glaser and was taken advantage of."]

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. 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.

[In the comments to my original post, writer Pam Ward pointed out that Glaser wasn't doing Armstrong any favors, he was using the money that Armstrong himself had earned. All true. But Armstrong had seen many fellow artists blow their money and he had contemporaries like Earl Hines get ripped off their own managers. Armstrong getting a weekly "allowance" and letting Glaser take care of his money might seem demeaning on the surface but it was how Armstrong dictated it go down, not Glaser, and in the end, Armstrong had all the money he ever needed and he stayed out of financial trouble. Glaser tried offering advice but Armstrong had the final say. Recently, I fell in love with this passage from a 1957 Reader's Digest profile of Armstrong by Gilbert Millstein: "Back in the United States, astronomical offers awaited Louis. He came to earn as much as $500,000 a year. He bothers himself with money as little as possible, except to give it away with a pointed lack of selectivity until restrained by his manager, Joe Glaser. But Glaser meets with only intermittent success. 'Louis' idea is to make everybody happy,' he is apt to grumble. '"What are you doing with all those bums?" I've asked him over and over. He tells me, "I'm just a bum, too--but I'm a lucky bum."' Still, Glaser always made sure Armstrong's finances in order, a luxury many other artists did not have. See the audio further below of Louis and Sammy Davis Jr. on The Mike Douglas Show in 1970 and Davis talking about how Joe Glaser's acts never got into tax trouble.]

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 African-American 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 boast 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. And now in 2016, I will go a bit further. Again, Pam Ward wrote in after my original posting to ask if I had spoken to any black people because, "What blacks say to whites in public is often a far cry from what they say amongst themselves." I didn't have to as Louis did it for me...and taped the results. The above long quotes about gangsters are with African-American friends in 1951. Babe Wallace was a prominent African-American entertainer. And in March 1961, Louis had his black actor friend Slim Thompson visit him in Corona for the following exchange, joined by Louis's wife Lucille:

Slim: You know why I like Joe Glaser, boy? Let me tell you that's one white man I like. Because Joe does the little things that you can appreciate, you know? The little things, the man does. And another thing, Joe's not a cheap son-of-a-bitch. You know that? Shit, Joe's a sport. Pops, you know that?
Louis: He's a sport when it's necessary.
Slim: Yeah, when it's necessary, he's a sport! But here's what he does. Every nigger that dies that they can't do a damn thing, he says, 'Let me take that....'
Louis: Shit.
Slim: He did that with....
Lucille Armstrong: Everybody! You don't have to call no names! You don't have to call no names. Honey, I've been in this organization for 20 years, I know what's happening.

Slim mentions Glaser paying for the funeral of Honi Coles's mother and later Louis and Lucille praise Glaser's handling of the funeral of the recently deceased Velma Middleton. Continuing about Honi Coles's mother's funeral:

Slim: And Joe was right there, boy. Listen, Joe's something else.
Louis: Man, he just don't believe in a whole lot of bullshit.
Slim: Joe Glaser's a nigger. Joe Glaser's in love with Negroes.
Louis: He was raised up with niggers!
Lucille: They raised him.
Louis: He went to school with them.
Slim: That's right!
Louis: Frenchy [road manager Pierre Tallerie, whom they had just been slamming], he don't know nothing about colored people. Never will!
Slim: I take Don Redman up in that fucking park [Yankee Stadium], I get tickets and take Don up there and sit in Joe Glaser's box and Don Redman says to me, says, "Slim," he say, "You know one thing?" He said, "This is the finest Jew I ever saw in my life."

The Slim Thompson tape is actually our most requested one at the Louis Armstrong House Museum since it ends with a famous fight between Louis and Lucille over sex, one that gets derailed when Louis utters the immortal line to his wife of almost 20 years, "The horn comes first--then you and Joe Glaser!" That tape also ends with Lucille discovering that Louis has been taping the entire conversation and when she tells him to "erase off that shit," he replies, "No, it's for posterities!" All three of the above conversations were made without the participants knowing it and in each one, in complete privacy, Louis praised Glaser to his black friends (and derided African-Americans who thought negatively about Glaser).

I'm sure this won't sway over folks like Pam Ward, who read my entire 2015 blog and after calling it a "great" article, still summed it up by scolding me, "Glaser was a two-faced, racist gangster who raped young girls and never once had his 'friend' Louis at his home. Do the math." I can't argue with some of that but I think Louis would take issue with it (the rape charges were while Louis worked for Glaser in Chicago so he didn't care about this when he chose Glaser to be his manager in 1935). And it's not just an African-American thing as many white writers have taken similar stances towards Glaser.

Having said all of this, the Armstrong-Glaser relationship 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 told Collier 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.”

Recently, in 2016, I came across an article in the June 19, 1969 edition of the Toronto Star, "Satchmo: Swan song or comeback," written by Shirley Fischler. In it, Fischler publishes this story for the first time, writing, "Another factor [in Armstrong possibly retiring] is that Armstrong's manager and mentor of 7 years, Joe Glaser, entered the same hospital shortly before Louis left. And for quite some time nobody told Louis that the man who had discovered him in Chicago in 1932 [sic] was a dying man. 'Later, Louis knew that Joe was seriously ill,' said David Gold, representative of Glaser's powerful theatrical agency, Associated Booking. 'He knew that there was little chance for Joe.'"

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. Pam Ward says this was a veiled threat by Louis to send Glaser "up the river," but I don't hear it that way. Glaser didn't attend every Armstrong show but when he did, Louis always tried to dedicate something to him and affection in his voice sounds legitimate to me. On the other hand, Louis was pissed at the backstage shenanigans, but Dan Morgenstern was there and told me that in no way was Armstrong directly upset at Glaser.

[2016 update: Dan beautifully recapped his 1957 Newport experience at the 2015 Satchmo Summerfest, gently taking his friend George Wein to task for the Armstrong-related errors in his book.]

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 folks involved with the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation. [Recently a very close friend of Phoebe recently told me that she went to dinner with Phoebe and George after the book was published and Phoebe's opener was, "So George, rewriting history I see!" The two almost needed to be restrained.] She set up an interview with 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 19, 1969 - Shirley Fischler story

The aforementioned Toronto Star article by Shirley Fischler doesn't directly quote Louis but does include these passages with quotes by Associated Booking's David Gold. "'I told Louis the morning after Joe died,' explained Gold, who will be dealing with Louis--if he returns to active performing. 'Of course he reacted strongly--but he's an old pro, and knows that life goes on.' Gold also mentioned that the rumors of Glaser managing every penny of Armstrong's finances--even to a weekly allowance--were completely unfounded. 'Those kinds of statements are 100 per cent wrong,' he said emphatically. 'Louis always was and always will be taken care of, whether he ever plays again or not."
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 African-American 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.

AUDIO (runs long to include humorous episode of Louis pulling out his Star of David and telling Leonard he knows more about gefilte fish than he!) :

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.)

Of course, "vonce" was slang for "sex" but here, Louis seems to be using it as "love."

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.

Here is the complete audio of this segment because I find Davis's assessment of Glaser very illuminating and also, Louis tells one of his favorite Glaser stories at the end. Run time is about four minutes (as if this blog isn't long enough!):

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 (if you can't read it, it says "In Memory of a real good man, my manager and pal Mr. Joe Glaser, the best friend that I have ever had. May the Lord bless him and watch over him always. From his boy and disciple, Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong):

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? Who forced him to dedicate a private scrapbook page to "My manager and best friend"--"The greatest!"--after Glaser died? 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”:

“Next thing I know, he gone...and that’s when I found out what a stupid son of a bitch I been all those years. It really stung me when Mr. Glaser didn’t leave me nothing in his will. Nothing but a little cash. It ain't about the money, got me plenty of that. Shit, I know where all that other cash went. I ain't no baby in the cradle. I knew he been working for bad guys. But the thing is, I figure gonna leave me a piece of the business, too, like he shoulda 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 wasn’t for me. Now I never did ask him to cut me in. Wouldn't never ask him 'bout a thing like that straight out. But he's a stand-up guy, and the way he always talked, I figure he gonna make damn sure old Satchmo taken care of down the line. It's kinda like my birthright, you know? Maybe I’m just another dumb-ass coon, but that’s the way I figured it....and there wasn’t nothing for me, not one goddamn share, felt like he kicked me right in the nuts. Use me up, threw me out (on the verge of tears.)....Can’t believe I’m talking like this now. Ain’t never talked this way 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, his only client 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 benefited 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. Remember David Gold's line in the Toronto Star article from after Glaser's death: "Louis always was and always will be taken care of, whether he ever plays again or not." Gold saw to that for Louis and Lucille until each of them passed away.

But it's easy to get caught up in the will. To me, the most important aspect of the "What-did-Glaser-leave-Louis" debate can be found in a quote Lucille gave in the Collier book, mentioning that 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.'" 

2016 update again: I can't believe I forgot to mention Jack O'Brian, the popular columnist and TV critic. O'Brian was a friend of both Armstrong and Glaser's and frequently discussed an incident that happened when he visited Glaser with the Armstrong's in 1962. This telling is from the August 22, 1981 Herald-Journal a time when rumors were swirling about a planned biopic on Armstrong:

There's Bdwy talk that comedian Jack Carter may play the role of super-agent Joe Glaser in the planned super-filmography of Louis Armstrong. Joe Glaser managed Satch from his earliest Chicago days--and made Louis rich, famous and happy; Joe, too.

It might be good casting--Jack Carter's a better actor than his lunacy onstage suggests, but just assigning a comic to play Joe Glaser indicates plans for a lot less of Joe than met the private eyes of many of his amused and admiring friends and acquaintances. For all Joe's aggressive wit and explosive bluster at work or play he was a dedicated lover of talent and a major judge of it. He early analyzed both the brilliance and the happiness Louis Armstrong spread ultimately around the world.

Louis' well-being and income was Joe's almost fatherly concern. For instance: 10 years before Louis died, Joe Glaser, Louis and his wife Lucille and yours admiringly were in Joe's office. We conversed an hour and suddenly Louis rasped, "Show Jack the books." Joe reacted as if mad. "Why should I show him the books?" he demanded in mock anger. "Because I want him to see them," Louis said, simply.

Joe went to a huge walk-in wall vault, reached high for a large leather case, upended it on his desk and said, "Start counting. There's $15,000 to $20,000 in every book--all insured by the government."

They were bankbooks: Joe ticked them off, more than a million dollars, maybe much more; we couldn't keep up with Joe's count.

Please click the above link for the rest of O'Brian's profile, which mentions Glaser's "secret philanthropic favors," including sending students through medical school and how he would tip every person he'd meet from the newsboy to his doorman to everyone working at Yankee Stadium (he even describes Glaser as a "sport," the same term Slim Thompson used in 1961). O'Brian even mentions Glaser's unique hobby of raising thoroughbred dogs, including one champion terrier, Bit o' Honey, who won "best in breed honors" at the Boston Terrier Club in 1953. How many gangsters were raising championship dogs? (Glaser signed a copy of Dog World with a cover photo of another champion dog, Debutante, for Louis in the early 1950s; we still have it at the Armstrong House.)

Back to O'Brian, he returned to this story numerous times over the years. After Louis's death in 1971, a very interesting O'Brian item on October 23 mentioned, "Late great Louis Armstrong told his wife, Lucille, just before he died he'd made a lot of one-of-a-kind tapes covering his music for the last 50 years; told Lucille: 'You'll be richer than you ever imagine.' Louis left Lucille financially independent. Once in his manager Joe Glaser's office, Satch told Joe, 'Show Jack the books.' The 'books' were bankbooks, piled high on Joe's desk, maybe more than a million dollars in very safe savings accounts." (I love the mention of Louis's tapes, too. He knew they were special and could have made Lucille rich; thank goodness she held on to them!)

And to go back one step further, O'Brian told this story on his radio show, telling it to African-American guests Dr. James J. Flynn, author of Negroes of Achievement in Modern America, and Augusta Baker, administrative head of the children's programs at the New York Public Library. O'Brian even insisted Armstrong wasn't an Uncle Tom, defended his handkerchief and took some shots at deceased gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, whom he doesn't mention by name. O'Brian's show was broadcast in the summer of 1970, over a year after Glaser's death, and sure enough, Louis cataloged it in his reel-to-reel tape collection in 1970! Here's the rare audio:

That's all for Jack O'Brian but I don't think he could have made that story up. And he was close enough with Louis and Lucille to know that Glaser was looking out for Louis and Louis was able to leave Lucille "financially independent" because of Glaser's "fatherly concern" with his finances.

With the "mysterious" money from the ABC account, the same money O'Brian must have seen with his own eyes, 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.”

2016 update: this interview with Bill Stout is one of my favorites; I've shown the video in public and people usually applaud. Here's the audio (all that's missing is the visual of a pissed-off Armstrong lighting up a cigarette like a bad ass!):

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 Glaser's 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.)

The end is near but 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.

Last detour, but only because this came up in the comments last time.  After Glaser died, Bradley was asked to write an article for the Saturday Review in July 1970 where he'd talk to black trumpeters Clark Terry and Ray Nance and white trumpeter Billy Butterfield about Louis. In the conversation (we have it on tape), Jack started dumping on Glaser, hoping that the other musicians would join in. They didn't. Here's my transcription of what happened next:

Clark Terry: “The only thing I could say about that situation is that Pops seemed to be very happy with the arrangement he had going with them. And I understand, I don’t know the exact figures, but I understand whatever his salary was, x amount of dollars, which was sufficient for him to live like a king, and x amount of dollars for his wife Lucille, which was enough for her to live independently, as she chose. And the rest, the taxes and all the worries and so forth with keeping up with the government and staying abreast, staying clear of tax problems was left up to Joe Glaser. Now if he made a million dollars behind that, I understand that it was none of Pops’s business in the agreement. And if he didn’t make that, Pops expected his salary right on and I understand it was a very substantial one. If it went down the way I heard it went down, it ain’t a bad deal. It ain’t a bad deal."

Jack then said that Louis felt he wouldn't have made it as big without Glaser, which Jack felt was ludicrous. Ray Nance responded, "It’s possible because, I’m telling you, you’ve got to have good management. I don’t care how great you are. You’ve got to have good management. Good management goes hand in hand with success, with talent. Like we all know there’s a whole lot of people that are talented but they never get the right management. Or business! You might have a helluva idea for business but unless you have that business is done right with good management, you go bankrupt. You could go out of business without good management."

Billy Butterfield chimed in, "[Glaser] kept him clean all the time and he never got in any trouble with government and all of that like a lot of other guys."

Clark Terry: "So when you think of it, who’s to say? The most important thing is that Pops is an intelligent man, although he wasn’t the most educated kid when he was brought up, he still was an intelligent person. And at the time he agreed to this agreement, I think he pretty much knew his way around. So I don’t think anybody put a pistol on him and made him do it."

And when Bradley finally complained about Louis working 50 years of one-nighters, Terry--who lived down the straight from Louis in Queens and used to hang with him in his den--shot him down with a quick, "He loved doing it."

Jack didn't end up using any of that in his final article, but he continued to spend a lot of time with Louis, 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 (in more and more cities) leave 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.


Greg Beaman said…
Read this again last night and appreciate the new information. This morning, I came across another example of misinformation on the Armstrong-Glaser business relationship in the Winter 2015 edition of the "Oxford American" magazine. In an otherwise fine article on Fletcher Henderson, the author writes, "If Henderson's career fadeout was a tragedy, what did success look like? Louis Armstrong's white agent was on cordial terms with the Chicago mob. He routinely skimmed half of Armstrong's earnings, before deducting his agent's percentage, up until the day Armstrong died." I can't really say if Teachout's play had anything to do with the author's assertion. Clearly, though, shedding factual light on the relationship is an uphill task.
Uncle Jack said…
I'm convinced. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

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