Earlier this year, the Louis Armstrong House Museum held the world’s largest archives dedicated to a single jazz musician. But those holdings have just been enlarged substantially with an astonishing collection of rare recordings, videos, photographs, and unique memorabilia — the collection of a man who devoted sixty years to celebrating Louis.
Gosta Hagglof might not be familiar to those who don’t collect Louis Armstrong’s music or know something about superb international hot jazz. But Gosta, who died in 2009, proved again that you don’t have to be a performing artist to advance the cause of the art you love. And he kept learning how to be generous from the example of Louis — so that he left his entire collection to the LAHM.
From 1949 until his death, Gosta (born in Sweden) devoted himself to Louis Armstrong because of “the heartfelt beauty of his music.” A few days ago, on Sept. 22, 2011, the fine jazz scholar Ricky Riccardi gave a presentation on the riches of Gosta’s collection which now reside in the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College. Typically, Ricky’s presentation was witty, pointed, full of new stories and music even I had never heard before. (Don’t let the oddity of watching a video of a man playing music through a computer scare you off: I can promise you a short segment of Louis, Jack Teagarden, and Sidney Catlett that few have ever heard.)
The mention of Jack Teagarden leads me to point out that there, in the front row, was a fellow intimately acquainted with Big T — his son Joe, a charming and gracious man visiting New York for a few days from his native Atlanta. I felt honored to meet him — a man as friendly and unassuming as his famous father.
The presentation was for the jazz press only, but (if you don’t tell anyone) I can sneak you in through the medium of my video camera.
And where did all this take place? In Corona, Queens, in the house (now a museum) where Louis and Lucille lived from 1943 to 1971 — and where Lucille continued to live until her death. It’s a National Historic Landmark administered by Queens College — the only historic site devoted to a jazz musician that is warm, welcoming place, and the news is that people can get married there . . . what a wonderful idea! To be married in the garden of Louis Armstrong’s house . . . what a way to begin wedded bliss! For details, contact Deslyn Dyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Baltsar Beckeld at the Louis Armstrong House Museum (they will make sure everything is festive — and I am sure they would make great witnesses). Don’t forget to book a swinging band — I can suggest some likely suspects.
I’ll have more to say about the LAHM in a future post — for now, make sure that you’re free December 6, 2011. You won’t be sorry, now or someday.
And now — here’s a wonderful chain of devotion, music, scholarship — from Louis to Gosta to Ricky to us:
And the conclusion:
And for those of us who want to hear every scrap of the music Louis made, one of Gosta’s generosities was his own Ambassador CD label: he issued more than a dozen CDs that document Louis’s work from 1935 into the early Fifties — primarily the Decca recordings (which no less an authority than Ruby Braff thought Louis’s finest work). The Decca period has been well-documented on the Mosaic label, but Gosta’s CDs can be bought one at a time, and they include broadcasts and other rarities — including an entire CD of material, rarer than rare, featuring the best of Louis’s big bands from 1939-1943, spurred on by Big Sid Catlett, and a more recent release of the All-Stars in Philadelphia (Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, Catlett, and Velma Middleton) with the best sound I’ve ever heard and accurate speed-correction.
The Louis Armstrong House Museum is at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York, and it’s open every day except Monday. The staff conducts forty-minute tours through the house Louis and Lucille lived in — worth the trip from far away. And the Museum is creating a Vistors’ Center across the street from the house — $15 million has already been raised for design and construction: it will begin to take shape in early 2012. If you think that Louis — man and musician — helps make this a wonderful world, please consider joining the LAHM: visit www.louisarmstronghouse.org.