Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Louis Armstrong's set at 1958 Newport Jazz Festival

This video is taken from Bert Stern’s film, Jazz on a Summer Day, shot at 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Watch the whole film! You can download it from Watch Instantly on Netflix—a grand mix of performers, Anita O’Day, Mahalia Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Big Maybelle and Chico Hamilton. The America Cup happened at the same moment and the scenes of the sailboats shot from a helicopter, the crowd, the town do more than set the scene. You can get a taste of it here in Louis’s set, “Lazy River,” “Tiger Rag,” “Rockin’ Chair,” (duet with Jack Teagarden with some conversation about Aunt Harriet thrown in), ending with “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It seems like a high moment for Louis, but then consummate performer that he is, he prides himself on leaving his self at the door when he’s performing.
Compare this to the previous year’s Newport Jazz Festival performance. There are several accounts of this, here's Gary Giddins from Satchmo. Arriving at 5 pm from long bus trip, scheduled to perform at 8, management informed him they were planning a birthday tribute for him and he’d be playing in every segment. He exploded, “We haven’t rehearsed…and I’m not going to go out there and make of fool of myself.” Another rub was that since Ella Fitzgerald was on the show, Louis was told that Velma Middleton, his soloist, was not to sing. To which he responded, “I’m playing with my band and my singer and none of this other shit.” Photographers and admirers kept bothering him and at one point he stepped into the musicians’ room clad with only a rag on his head and told everyone to get out. He played his set the way he wanted and the reviews were nasty. (126-127). It’s fine seeing him riled.

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