Tag Archives: Alpha Armstrong

IN PRAISE OF LOUIS: JOE MURANYI, BOB BARNARD, BENT PERSSON (MARCIAC 1997)

In my world, there’s always a time and place for Louis-devotion and devotions.

First, some healthy carbohydrates — the Swedish Jazz Kings playing POTATO HEAD BLUES at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz in 2000:

The Swedish Jazz Kings are a wonderful band with Bent Persson on trumpet or cornet; Tomas Ornberg on clarinet and soprano saxophone.  I don’t know the remaining members of the orchestra, but they all sound better than Pretty Good.

What follows is one of those pleasantly explosive surprises one stumbles across if one is (like myself) deeply engrossed by the YouTube Palace of Pleasures.  I believe the video was shot by Michel Laplace, or at least he is the generous soul who made it available to us.  It features Bent with Bob Barnard — some incredible brass conversations — and the irreplaceable Joe Muranyi.

That’s Joe Muranyi, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Bob Barnard, cornet; Swedish Jazz Kings — Bent Persson, cornet; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Joep Peeters, piano; Ollie Nyman, banjo; Frans Sjöström, bass saxophone.  August 13, 1997 : playing and singing HOUSE RENT BLUES / I’M A LITTLE BLACKBIRD / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / I DIG SATCH.

Thanks again to Michel Laplace.  And to these magnificent musicians.  And of course to Louis, who lights our way.

May your happiness increase!

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LOUIS IN LEICESTER, ENGLAND, SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 1934 . . . AND . . . !

We know that Louis Armstrong visited Europe — once in summer 1932 (England and Scotland) and for a longer time in 1933 and 1934 (England, Scandinavia, Denmark, Holland, France).  Newspaper reports exist, as do the first airshots and the famous 1933 film footage.

But I hadn’t known that Louis and his band had paid a ceremonial visit to a famous gramophone store, Cowlings Bros in St Nicholas Street, Leicester, on Saturday, February 24, 1934, until I’d seen this autograph book up for bid on eBay.  Here is the link.

(A few words about Cowlings Bros, who sold Gilbert gramophones, here.)

Louis and Alpha, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis and Alpha, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

I find the autograph book particularly exciting because, for one thing, most of the autographs I’ve seen of Louis are later in his career, from the early Fifties on. This is the first signature I’ve seen of the woman who would become Louis’ third wife.  In 1934 she was still Alpha Smith — they would not marry until 1938 — but she signed as Alpha Armstrong and was introduced to onlookers as Mrs. Armstrong.  No surprise there, considering the mores of the time.

LOUIS and ALPHA and dog

Louis keeps up with the news:

LOUIS and ALPHA and Melody Maker

Let’s start with the unassuming autograph book itself:

LOUIS UK autograph book 1

Authentic:

LOUIS UK autograph page 1

Mr. and Mrs. is the name:

LOUIS UK autograph page 2

Members of the orchestra (Peter J. duConge, 1st Sax; Hy Tyree, 3rd Sax; Oliver Tines [Drummer]; Lionel Guimares, Tromb; Charles S. Johnson, 1st Trpt; Fletcher B. Allen, Tenor Saxophonist; Germain Arago [Bass]; Jack S. Hamilton, 2nd Trumpet):

LOUIS UK autograph page 3

From another perspective:

LOUIS UK autograph page 4

And another view:

LOUIS UK autograph page 5

Other signatures I do not recognize as connected to Louis:

LOUIS UK autograph page 6

More:

LOUIS UK autograph page 7

More:

LOUIS UK autograph page 8

Seriously amazing, and beautifully preserved for over eighty years, too.

Autograph books can’t make a sound, but there’s always the next nine minutes from the film shot on October 21, 1933, in Copenhagen:

When people ask me (rarely, I might add) what my favorite film is, I usually answer CITIZEN KANE.  But I think I might have been mistaken all these years, and the nine minutes of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Harlem Band that you’ve just seen have edged out Charles Foster Kane, the stagehands holding their noses, Rosebud, and the girl in the white dress.

“I like it, I like it.”

AND . . .

another 1933-34 UK autograph book on eBay — the link is here:

LOUIS second autograph book 27 3 34

Roy Fox, “The Whispering Cornetist” (this looks like a rubber stamp rather than a signature to me):

LOUIS second autograph book Roy Fox page 2

The middle signature is a mystery to me and the seller, but the top is actress Jeanne de Casalis (thanks to Jon Zeiderman for the catch); the bottom, singer George Baker:Louis second autograph book page 3 ID

The team of Layton and Johnstone:

LOUIS second autograph book page 4 Layton and Johnstone

Singer Louis Hylton:LOUIS second autograph book page 5 Hylton

Other signatures in this book —  not pictured but attested to by the seller — are the xylophonist Teddy Brown and singer Les Allen.  But bidding ended on December 15: the book sold for 165 pounds, roughly $250.

May your happiness increase!

DIG, MAN — HERE COMES GRANDPA POPS

The headline in the STANDART NEWS (Bulgaria) STYLE section reads

GRANDSON OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG AWARDS BULGARIAN STARS

Grandson of legendary Louis Armstrong awarded the rising stars of Bulgaria

Four Bulgarian talents have sparked furor at the Pride of the Nations entertainment show in Moscow. The rising stars grabbed the highest awards and made claims for bright future. The grandson of legendary Louis Armstrong in person handed the gold medals to the Bulgarian prodigies. Peter Todorov (12) from Russe grabbed two gold medals in the Talent and Fashion categories and the Grand Prix for the best vocal. The boy enchanted the public with the song by Philip Kirkorov, Diva. The smallest participant in the Pride of the Nations, Radina Penkova from Burgas won two gold awards for her Sheherazade song. Yet another Gold went to 17-year-old Mikhaela Ilieva. The participants appeared on the catwalk designed by the legend of the Russian fashion Slava Zaitsev.

Tsvetelina Terzieva

It’s a wonderful story, but since Louis — and Daisy, and Lil, and Alpha, and Lucille — produced no children, I wonder who the happy “grandson . . . in person” is.  Louis would have been amused at all this sparking of furor. 

May your happiness increase.

PLEASE READ THIS!

This is Tom Cosentino’s incredibly touching piece on Clarence Armstrong, Louis’s adopted son — someone Tom knew in his Bronx childhood.  Blessings on Tom, on Clarence, on Louis, and on Ricky Riccardi for letting us know about this essay:

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CLARENCE ARMSTRONG

Last night I watched a documentary on the Ovation television network on jazz legend Louis Armstrong. I’ve always been fascinated with the man known as “Satchmo,” not only because of his music, which I love, but because of a boyhood tie that I have to him.

During the course of the documentary, reference was made to Louis’ adopted son, who was retarded. No name was given, but I knew what they were talking about, for he was my friend Clarence, a person I first knew as a little boy as Ooga Booga.

I grew up in the northeast Bronx on a street called Oakley. The cross street was Fenton Ave, and a few house up that block was a woman named Miss Lillian. That was the house that Clarence lived in as well. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends until I was 8 and I was allowed to start playing in the street and nearby school yard of my boyhood school, P.S. 78. From my backyard, I would see Clarence pass my house every day, wearing his Mets cap. I never really talked with him. Then, when I started playing ball in the street with the other kids up my block, I heard them call him by another name, that of “Ooga Booga.” The kids were afraid of him and would tease him for chewing on his tongue. When they would see him they would taunt him with the cry of “Hey, Ooga Booga, Hey Ooga Booga” and then run. I’m ashamed to say, I joined in.

Then, one day, Clarence called me out and said he would tell my father. When I was home that night, I asked my parents about Clarence. They then told me that he was the son of Louis Armstrong. They even told me that Louis used to come up to the house to see Clarence when they first moved in. I knew Louis Armstrong was a musician, and knew him from television and the song, Hello Dolly. What I didn’t know was that Miss Lillian had married Clarence under an arrangement with Louis Armstrong. They had a son who used to play the trumpet out of his window all the time. However, he later died, although I do not know the reasons.

Knowing now the background of Clarence, I was carrying the guilt of being one of the abusive kids taunting him. The next time I saw him, I didn’t run but said hello. Clarence started talking to me about his love, baseball. This would begin years of dialogue on the Mets. Even though I was a Yankees fan, Clarence knew I loved baseball too. He would make up trades for the Mets, ringing my door bell to tell me the Mets got Reggie Smith from the Red Sox or Tony Perez from the Reds and other such All-Stars. Of course, they never traded anyone for these players, but I caught on and just kept the discussion going. Many times, he would ring my doorbell to tell me his news. My dad or mom would have to rescue me by coming out to tell me to finish my home work or have dinner.

I remember the one trade that was really made that thrilled Clarence was when the Mets got Willie Mays from the Giants. Clarence was literally jumping for joy that day. He would often jump up and down when he was excited, yelling as loud as he could. He was a little boy in a grown man’s body.

I communicated my discovery of Clarence’s background and love for baseball to my friends and they quickly caught on too. Soon Clarence began hanging out with us, watching us play. We’d even let him coach some times. He quickly became our mascot and lookout, watching for kids from other blocks that might look to start trouble with us.

Not only was I able to get to know Clarence, but I would visit and say hello to Miss Lillian nearly every day. Sometimes she would even give me a present.

When Louis Armstrong died in July, 1971, I remember WPIX carrying the funeral live on television. There, I got to see Clarence getting into a limousine. It confirmed for real, his relationship with the famed trumpeter.

As the years progressed and we all got older, we continued playing ball all the way through our college years. Clarence was there with us, watching and cheering us on as always. He was still making up trades. In fact, if the Mets hired Clarence, they may have won a few more pennants.

Clarence was Catholic and I would often walk and attend Mass with him at St. Phillip & James Church on Boston Road. Many parishioners would shy away, but I would sit with him in a side pew.

Sometimes when Clarence would ring my bell it wasn’t always about baseball. I can remember one time when he called on me to tell me a member of his daddy’s band had died.

After watching the documentary last night, I decided to look up information on Louis Armstrong, hoping to find mention of the adopted retarded son I knew as Clarence. Why I never did this earlier, I don’t know, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a link in the Wikipedia entry to a story written by Gary Giddins in the Village Voice in 2003

that outlined the history of Clarence. It turns out; Clarence was the son of Louis Armstrong’s cousin Flora. As Giddins’ account, posted below, points out, Louis began supporting Clarence when Louis was just 14. It became a lifelong pursuit, as Clarence was Louis’ only child.

“A few steps into the archive I was stopped dead by a pasteboard blowup of a photograph that had never been published, showing Armstrong and his adopted son, “Clarence Hatfield.” I had never given Clarence much thought, having heard he was mentally retarded and died a long time ago, hidden away.

But here he was: beaming backstage at the Band Box, a club in Chicago, in the 1940s, nattily dressed in a double-breasted suit not unlike the pinstripe tailored for Armstrong, who also beams, with unmistakable paternal pride. Clarence and their relationship sprang to life, sending me back to Armstrong’s account in Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, to appreciate for the first time its affectionate candor regarding his only venture into paternity. Clarence was born in 1915 to Louis’s teenage cousin, Flora, apparently after she was molested by an old white man her father felt powerless to challenge. Louis’s first sight of the baby washed “all the gloom out of me.” He took it upon himself, at 14, to get a job hauling coal (immortalized in the 1925 “Coal Cart Blues”) to support the baby and the ailing mother, and assumed full responsibility after Flora’s death, marrying his first wife and adopting the three-year-old at 17. In that period, Clarence fell off a porch and landed on his head; doctors judged him to be mentally impaired. When Louis married Lil Hardin in Chicago, Clarence joined them, and Louis never forgave Lil—who claimed that Clarence was never legally adopted—for her impatience with him. When he left Lil for Alpha, he brought Clarence along.

Eventually, Clarence was set up in the Bronx, where he was married in an arrangement of convenience financed by Louis.”

Miss Lillian eventually passed and I got married and moved to New Jersey, losing any connection I had with Clarence. My dad and brother who were still living there told me that his house had been boarded up and Clarence taken away one day. They never knew what happened. After reading Gary Giddins’ story, I now know he died in 1998. I now have to read Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans and learn more.

Clarence Armstrong forever changed my life for he taught me how to deal with others. Appearances and background don’t matter. It’s what’s inside a person that counts. It’s something I’ve tried to carry through on throughout my professional career.

I can still see him cheering for us, tongue hanging from his mouth and his Mets cap hanging sideways on his head as he jumped up and down. “Tommy, Tommy” I can hear him yell. “The Mets just got Albert Pujols. They gonna have a bad ass team this year!”

Tom Cosentino

THAT REEFER MAN

My long-time friend Rob Rothberg told me about this — by way of an AOL story that Barbra Streisand’s ex-lover — as far back as 1959 — was auctioning off her earliest private tapes.  I can see my readers politely stifling yawns, even when I point out that anyone wishing to bid on these admittedly rare items would be required to put $100,000 in escrow.

But Rob doesn’t give up easily, nor is he easily bored.  He followed the link to see what else the auctioneer had to offer — and it’s a rare batch of letters from Fredric Douglass, Sigmund Freud, Grover Cleveland, and a colored trumpet player and singer named Louis, making travel plans that involve his buddy Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow and some “arrangements.”  The handwritten letter runs sixteen pages:

Birmingham, England, September 18, 1932. “Well Papa ‘Mezz’, Here I am in Dear Ole Birmingham, but not Birmingham Alabama, Ha Ha. How’s everything Pal? I was awful sorry to hear of your being sick, I hope you are well by now. Alpha and I are well as usual. She + Mr. + Mrs. Collins sends best regards to you and the family. We’re playing here this week at the Empire Theatre. I shared the star honors last with the beautiful movie star Miss Esther Ralston. She has a lovely act. She also stayed at the same hotel with us in Liverpool. The name of the hotel was the Adelphi Hotel. My English boys are still swingin’ like nobody’s bizzness. Yeah, man. They’re all lovely chaps (BOYS). We have about four more weeks tour through the provinces (BIG TOWNS) of England and then we’ll disband the orchestra in England. Then we’ll go over to Paris which we’ll only stay about two weeks. Then back home to Death Ole America. Mr. Collins was telling me last night in my room that when we leave Paris to return home we’ll go the round about way which will take a little longer to get home but will give us a chance to see a great big part of the world. You see we’ll go by way of Japan, Honolulu and oh lots of places I’ve longed to see. Now won’t that be wonderful if he goes through with it? So Mezz, I’d like very much for you to co-operate with me on this proposition. Then we’ll take it over when I arrive. Understand? I’d like for you to start right in and pack me enough orchestrations to last me the whole trip. Will ya? Now you must look into this matter and give it your best attention, hear Gate? If you ever done anything at all for your Boy, do it now, then our troubles are over. You know what I’ve often told you about the future? Well Gate, the future is here. And Papa Collins is the Victor. And Boy, believe me success is just ahead now. That sounds good to your ears, eh? You know, Gate, I’ve often told you that my success is your success. Just wait, we’ll give the whole world something to think about. Here’s some more good news for ya …. The Victor Record Co., has just won the case from the Okeh Record Co. and wired Mr. Collins that all’s well and I can start on my new Victor contract which replaces the Rudy Vallee anytime. Gee, Gate, what a victory that is to win from our boy Rockwell. Looka heah, Looka heah. Now just watch those good royalties – dividends – shares – ‘n’ everything else. Ha. Ha. And the contract pop’s (MR. COLLINS) made with these people for me, why you’ve never heard of one like it before. And that includes the ole King of Jazz himself Paul Whiteman. Nice, eh? Oh boy, I have lots of good sparkling news for you. I think of them in spots. So all you have to do is pay strict attention to things that I tell you because I am your Boy and you must stick to me regardless of how the tides running, hear? And you must really see that I receive those orchestrations. And you’d start right now Gate and see to your Boy being well fixed because I wouldn’t want to run short because it might bring me down. No might isn’t…. It would. Ha. Ha. Now here’s the line on the trip. Papa Collins said that the trip would take about 12 weeks, which is three months. Now figure that out Gate. But be sure and figure right. Send it to the American Express Company, Paris, France. If you mail it now, it’ll about get there the same time as me. No doubt you’ve received the money I wired you, eh? There’ll be lots of nice things happening when I get back. The Paramount people are trying their best to get Papa Collins to take charge of all the bookings of all the Paramount Theatres. Now you can guess what that’ll mean to me if he decides. Oh, Gate, we have millions of opportunities. I just like to let you know what’s going on because I know you appreciates. How’s all the cats around the ole Berg? Have you seen Batie or Buck? Zuttie or any of the ole Bunch? I received a wonderful letter from Batie. Oh yes, by the way, Gate. I appreciate the write up you sent me. Mr. Collins asked me for it so I let him have it for some publicity or etc. He’ll return it and I’ll put it in my scrap book. I know Ole Alpha’s gonna enjoy herself on that round the world tour. Mezz, I sho wishes you was taking this trip with me, but it’s impossible…. first place it all happened too sudden to amount to anything;. So I figured since I am taking this trip, I’ll observe all the spots that’s of interest and maybe some day after I get my bank roll together we can take a trip like this on our own. Understand? We’re expecting to make another tour down south when we return (THAT’S WHERE THE MONEY LIES). I can’t say how Pop’s (MR. COLLINS) gonna do, but in case you should see fit to join me for a while you’ll be more than welcome. I’m sure you’ll enjoy a trip like that for a change (IT WILL DO YOU GOOD). Then I think after the trip down south we’ll step into the Big Apple. Oh, I’ll tell you more about that later. Lot’s of time yet. What we want to keep in mind now is the orchestrations (MUTA) in Paris. We’re expectin to pick up the same jigg band (COLORED ORCHESTRA) that played the London Palladium with me when we go to Paris. Gee won’t we be glad to see each other, yeah man. They’ve just written ‘n’ told me they’re waiting with Bells On. Tell Mrs. Mezz I received the wire – and don’t you forget your Abilene Water. Good night Gate. Don’t forget Paris, hear? From your Boy Louis Armstrong c/o American Express Co. Paris France – Savy?”

The auctioneer wants fifteen thousand dollars for that, and it is (to quote David Ostwald) worth every penny.  Not only because it’s Louis and Mezz, but because of the invaluable advice for travellers.  Savy? 

Visit http://momentsintime.com/autographs.htm to learn more and to bid!

A LOUIS ARMSTRONG CONTEST (with a real prize!)

louis-heebie-jeebies-jpegLast night (Wednesday, March 18), the Beloved and I went to Birdland to be part of the joyous celebration of George Avakian’s ninetieth birthday, with stellar music from the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band to elevate us all.

I had my video camera and hope to post some live clips from this very happy evening.

Midway through the evening, David Ostwald announced a “Louis Armstrong trivia contest,” with the prize — courtesy of Michael Cogswell — a two-for-the-price-of-one ticket to the Louis Armstrong House / Museum in Corona, Queens.  I knew the answer to the question — who was Louis’s third wife? (Alpha!) and I won the prize.

But I’ve been to the House before, and I’d rather give this wonderful experience to someone who hasn’t ever had the chance.

Here it is — the First Official Jazz Lives Louis Armstrong Contest.

To win this ticket (good until January 1, 2010) write me no more than 500 words on what your favorite Louis Armstrong recordings are.  I will post the comments.  Entries will be judged on their originality and perceptiveness, as always.  The contest will end on Friday, March 27, at midnight.  And, of course, all entries become the property of the Management, whatever that means.

Seriously, I would like to hear from people who have never been to the House but love Louis.  And if you live in Colorado or Oaxaca, you might have to convince me that you actually are going to visit New York City before next January.

Let the fun begin!