Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Eve Arrest

To celebrate the beginning of 2011, here’s a story Louis loved to tell—his arrest that led to music making:

As I said, New Orleans throws a heap of noise on New Year’s Eve—they shoot off anything that’s handy. My mother had an old ”38” gun and when time came along towards New Year’s she hid it away because she knew I’d get in trouble with it. Somehow I found it and on the big night, as our quartet was standing on the corner of Perdido and Rampart Streets singing, a boy passed us shooting off his little old six-shooter. So I told my boys, “Watch me show him up!”
I showed him up all right! A minute or so after I shot off that old gun, an old gray-haired detective came up behind me and hugged me and said, “You’re under arrest!” The people who had laughed at me had turned down the street by then and didn’t see it.
         I know lots of men who are successful in life are always saying they owe their success to their hard knocks—and the harder the better. I think that’s sometimes true and it sometimes isn’t. But I do believe that my whole success goes back to that time I was arrested as a wayward boy at the age of thirteen. Because then I had to quit running around and began to learn something. Most of all, I began to learn music.

Swing That Music, Louis’s first autobiography published in 1936, quoted from the De Capo Press Edition, published in 1993, 5.

As for the music, what to mention any day isn’t easy as there’s so much of it and it’s all good. The more I listen the more I hear how little I’ve heard. Example: Since the title of the book is Swing That Music, I figured I had at least one recording in my library [sixteen albums plus assorted odd songs totaling 435 songs (some repeats, naturally) that takes 23.6 hours to completely shuffle], but no, no “Swing That Music.” Back to iTunes where I spend an extraordinary amount of time. I found several versions, but before making a decision I sidetracked to two songs that I decided have more to do with New Year’s Eve. First, “I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues,” the blues is a good share of New Year’s Eve in my book. I downloaded the single from the Sugar album. Second song is from “Laughin’ Louis.” Two friends gave me three CDs from their collection and Laughin’ Louis was one of them. This over the top silly side of Louis is flip side of New Year’s Eve. Here Louis is at his rambunctious best. You can listen to a snatch of it on the Louis Armstrong: Complete RCA Recordings – 4 CD set Remastered.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Louis's Philosophy

“That’s my story, folks. I guess I’m stuck with it. I usually say nice things also about human beings, if they deserve it. I never want to be anymore than I am and what I don’t have I don’t need it anyhoo. I’ve always loved and always lived a normal life, which I appreciate very much and I’ve always loved everybody, still do.”  
—Louis Armstrong, Home Recorded Tapes, Disc 2 from Fleischmann’s Yeast Show, available from LAHM
I mentioned Louis’s Home Recorded Tapes in my December 17th post. So check it out, as this is dandy gathering of Louis talking directly to the recorder as well as conversations recorded with Lucille and friends. Today, maybe because it’s the season or, more likely, because Louis is so easily loved, I enter the last song, so to speak, titled “Philosophy of Life.” He recorded this rather late in his life, but he expressed this many times throughout his life in his writings and in interviews. It’s just good to hear him say it, softly, slowly, in that remarkable voice.
In much the same sentiment Gary Giddins in Satchmo (First Da Capo Press text edition, January 2001) quotes Duke Ellington in one of three epigraphs: “I loved and respected Louis Armstrong. He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone on the way.” This is who he was and the more you read and listen the more you know this. He makes the space around him gentler, better and pulls everyone into his circle in his embrace. What a wonderful force to begin with, to collaborate and work out of.
BTW, if you’re looking to read about Louis Armstrong, Giddins’s book is an excellent first or even solo choice. He records LA’s life in a lively way. Even better, he talks about the music analyzing what Louis did. I reread it when I’m listening to Louis and learn something each time. Originally published 1988, Giddins helped reestablish the preeminence of both the man and his music. Watching Ken Burns’ Jazz, I was particularly taken by his soft delivery and keen observations of Armstrong. There was a time, especially among African-Americans when Louis was not highly regarded, discounted as an Uncle Tom. Gerald Early talks about this in Jazz. Several people mention that Giddins helped them rethink their views.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

West End Blues...and other recommendations

"When you're sick, music is a great help.  Once, in Texas, I kicked a habit on weed, a pint of paregoric and a few Louis Armstrong records."
William S. Burroughs, Junky.  50th Anniversary Edition. Oliver Harris, ed.  New York: Penguin, 2003, 23.

Sick or strong, Louis is a good tonic all day long. What’s in your CD collection that you’d like to mention as favorite listening? When I started in August, I knew only music of the Louis from my childhood, “What a Wonderful World,” “Hello Dolly,” “Mack the Knife.” Besides my Swiss Kriss souvenir at Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM) I found a great CD—Louis Armstrong: Fleischmann’s Yeast Show & Louis’s Home Recorded Tapes. A great mix of his music through the years, but still not enough of the Hot 5 and Hot 7, the early stuff that I was reading about. So I bought West End Blues: His Finest Hot Fives and Hot Sevens 1925-1928. You’ll see when you visit iTunes store thousands of songs and hundreds of albums. Never a jazz listener let alone collector, Louis Armstrong has taken over my Playlists. I have at least ten versions of “West End Blues” somewhat accidently and it’s still number one on my hit parade.  But the early Louis is not the whole or even best story as many have tried to make us believe. An excellent recommendation of essentials CD’s comes from Stanley Crouch in Considering Genius: Writings of Jazz, “Papa Dip: Crescent City Conquistador and Sacrificial Hero” (79): “The best of Louis Armstrong’s work after fifty proves that his expressive ideas didn’t reach their peak until he was nearly sixty…Four collections that prove my point are Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy (1954), Satch Plays Fats (1955), Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography (1956/57), and Echoes of an Era: The Duke Ellington-Louis Armstrong Years (1961).

To potential collaborators: Comments appreciated on Louis favs and sharing of ideas specific to performing, play off of Armstrong’s music in the collaboration.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Last summer I visited Louis Armstrong's home in Corona, Queens NY. If you're anywhere in the vicinity I recommend you take the tour. I came away with a much magnified view of Louis and Lucille at home and a box of Swiss Kriss. I haven't tried it yet. If you can't go, do go to this site. It's the best on Louis. Just added is an online catalog, skillions of fabulous photos.

Louis Armstrong House Museum

An Invitation to Collaborate

Hey Louis, we’re fixin to do something with you
Will you come along and play with us?

Now what we’re gonna do we’re not too sure
but we’ve got a feeling you’ll guide us through

and we’d sure be lovin it and lovin you 

Choosing Louis Armstrong for Dead at 69 is beyond daunting but somehow comfortable. I believe he’s already forgiven me before I’ve begun. 
Collaboration is the core of it. Great as Louis was
he was never just the front man. He blew and blew and blew that horn,
the wide world open, but every note connected with another’s notes:
Joe Oliver, Arvell Shaw, Trummy Young, Earl Hines, Billy Kyle
and what about Billie, Bessie
Bing….Ella, Duke and Velma too.
And then the ones who
laid it out, arranged it, wrote it down.

No, you can’t take the measure of Louie without
all those makers, it all came to push and shove.  When the band started up maybe he played
the first note, maybe he didn’t. Maybe he sang, maybe he didn’t.

So how deep does collaboration go? DEEP
Louis showed me whatever happens
happens in and through the mix.

You’re invited to a think-in, play-in, talk-in. Some of us have collaborated before (Satie/Cage Tango and Mak 3) so you have some idea how far things travel between start and finish.
Louis – the inspiration, music for sure. Dance, Words, Performance, whatever else happens. Is it a happening? could be? Will we work together to make a single work? Maybe. Or many things can happen at once. Audience participation will likely be a component.

Preparation: What in Louis’s music, words, life most excites you? Whatever idea you have please bring it along and we’ll talk.

Let’s get started. Here are suggested days and times: January 6, 7 pm; January 8, 3 pm; January 9, 2 pm.  If none of these work for you, suggest days and times that will.