Father’s Day, where I live, is a matter of taking Pater to the Diner in the morning, after the giving of gifts. That’s perfectly nice, even though the Old Man has to pick up the bill for the pancakes and orange juice.
But we all are indebted to parents who didn’t share their DNA with us in some direct fashion. I mean no disrespect to my biological father when I write that I’ve envisioned Louis Armstrong as one of my fathers for a long time now. That brings us to the latest Mosaic Records box set, which is at once a great gift and terribly intimidating for anyone, even someone like myself, to write about. Here are the details, complete with sound clips, of this seven-CD set.
Before I presume to write about the importance of this set and of this period in Louis’ art, I will let the music speak.
and Dave and Iola Brubeck’s SUMMER SONG:
I know there are people deaf to Louis’ majesty, the grandeur of his trumpet, the intimacy of his voice, his direct appeal to our emotions. I won’t dignify their deafness by battling it: this post is for those who can, in fact, hear and be moved.
The Mosaic set delineates, in its typically loving, careful way, perhaps the last great period of Louis’ career, where the paradox of his life was most evident: an artist much loved, playing and singing to audiences world-wide, but also being criticized by those who wanted him to be someone else. Thank goodness Louis was wise enough to follow his inner light — enacting the truth that music that pleased people was inherently good and worthy.
Louis made friends by shining that honest heartfelt light, and the Mosaic set, very clearly, documents two of those friendships. (I’m not even referring to the musicians he worked with who loved him.)
The first was with the jazz fan-writer-archivist-record producer George Avakian, who began his devoted work in the service of Louis as a college student in 1939-40 helping to produce jazz records and digging out unissued masterpieces for reissue. When Avakian began to produce long-playing records for Columbia, he eventually made possible Louis’ albums focused on the music of W.C. Handy and Fats Waller, thematic creations that were both jolly effusions and masterful architecture — not just a series of lovely bricks but soaring cathedrals. George also loved to use his editing tools — in his case, scissors and splicing tape — to produce what he felt would be the Platonic ideal, the performance that should have happened — so the Mosaic set presents a mountain of previously unheard material. He was incredibly long-lived, making it to 98 in 2017, and his imprint is on this music, for which we are grateful.
The second friend is the much younger Ricky Riccardi, happily still with us (because he was born in 1980) — Louis’ most loving documentarian, author of two books on his hero with a third on the way. Born nine years too late to be Louis’ actual Boswell, he has made up for it by annotating Louis’ life in prose and by being the energetic force behind a small tower of CD reissues. His notes are funny, warm, loose, and always solidly based on evidence. Mosaic, as always, has generously packaged this music with Ricky’s — what would I call it except a small book? — their glorious sound restoration, photographs, and exact data.
For me, it is both an affirmation of Louis’ glory — not that, for me, he needs any reinforcement — and a winding trip back through my childhood. I had the W.C. Handy, Waller, and Brubeck sets; I had the Columbia 45 of CABARET and the Victor reissues. So to put any disc in the player is to hear once again the music that shaped my taste . . . but since Mosaic has also provided music that otherwise would be unheard, it is two kinds of time-travel in one.
This is a shorter-than-usual review and exhortation to purchase than you might expect. But that someone would not want to hear and rehear SUGAR, I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, LONG LONG JOURNEY from the Victor sessions, new takes from the Columbia discs, Louis singing and playing NOMAD once again: it seems unthinkable. It’s as if someone said to me, “I never look at the sky. That bores me.”
Here is the discography for the set.
That’s my small Father’s Day effusion in honor of the man so rightly and so frequently called POPS.
May your happiness increase!