In the past decade, issues of new Louis Armstrong material have most often drawn on the All-Stars period, and are thus energetic, impassioned, but potentially narrow in their repertoire and performance.
The one exception came out on Gosta Hagglof’s Ambassador label (see “Classic Jazz Productions” on my blogroll). It is a collection of previously unknown 1939-1942 radio broadcast performances featuring the wondrous synergy of Louis and Sidney Catlett.
The 2008 discovery that I have been enjoying is a two-disc set on the Jazz Heritage label. One disc comes from Louis’s famous-but-unheard 1937 stint on the Fleischmann’s Yeast radio show, where he was the first African-American to host a program. The performances, “fast and furious,” as the announcer says, are in excellent sound (remastered by our own Doug Pomeroy) and are wildly swinging. The second disc is even more moving, even when the fidelity is lower: excerpts from Louis’s home tapes, including unaccompanied renditions of “Over The Rainbow” and”Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries,” jokes and ruminations, conversations with his wife and friends — priceless private glimpses into the life of a great man.
I won’t rhapsodize about the emotional and musical significance of this set — Louis-scholar Ricky Riccardi has done that with great eloquence on his blog, “The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong,” in a posting of July 14. (It’s also on my blogroll.) This posting is just to say that the CDs are now more widely available for sale. When they first appeared, you could find them only at the Louis Armstrong House in Corona, Queens. Now, they can be purchased through www.jazzstore.com at a very congenial price. You could also become a member of the Jazz Heritage Society: information about that is available at www.jazzheritage.org. And how, you might ask, did I learn all this? Nowhere else but at http://www.satchmo.net.
Although he thought July 4, 1900 was his birthday, Louis was born on August 4, 1901. Even if you order this CD set soon, it won’t come in time for his birthday — but a belated party is better than none. And if you can tell yourself that it’s not important to hear Louis at home and in splendid 1937 form, keep such utterances private. I’ll be listening to “The Love Bug Will Bite You,” and I won’t want to be distracted from it. His story is our story, if we know how to listen to it.