Tag Archives: Ambassador Records

CONSIDER THIS, DEAR FRIENDS!

It is now December 21, 2011, so I wish all of you a happy Solstice! 

But if the evidence around me is to be taken seriously, many people are rushing around in search of the perfect last-minute holiday gifts.  I have a great deal of ambivalence about this, although I haven’t renounced materialism entirely.  The holiday season intensifies the loud drumbeat of the online entreaty BUY THIS NOW AND BE HAPPY!  Once you are past childhood, you sense that some purchases lead to nothing more than January remorse.  How many sweaters does anyone need, especially when we know that some people don’t have sufficient clothing to keep them warm?

But — even with all that in mind, I wish to quietly offer a few last-minute JAZZ LIVES  suggestions for gifts that won’t be tossed aside on December 27.

Tops on my list is a membership in support of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.  Here’s the link: LOUIS!  There are benefits and perks to becoming e member, supporting the best museum I know.  But even if you don’t have the minimum amount for membership, generosity is possible on a smaller scale.  If everyone who ever was moved by a Louis Armstrong recording or video sent the museum a dollar, it would make it possible for the LAHM to keep the legacy of Louis vivid and tangible in this century. 

Perhaps you would like something for your contribution?  If you live close enough to Corona, Queens, New York, to pay the LAHM a visit, paradise awaits those who walk through the front door, in the gift shop.  Alas, the SATCHMO box sets have all been bought up, but there are racks and shelves of Louis-related gifts, from bags of rice with his picture on them, boxes of Swiss Kriss (something for Secret Santa at work, perhaps?), wonderful books by Ricky Riccardi, Michael Cogswell, and Jos Willems, DVDs and compact discs. 

Did someone say “compact discs”? 

The LAHM is the only place on the planet that has Gosta Hagglof’s lovely Ambassador series of discs — a wonderful labor of love, documenting Louis’ great work in the Thirties and Forties (and beyond) — with the Decca recordings, broadcasts, and more.  In fact, several of the Ambassador CDs contain music you can’t find anywhere else: the “Dancing Parties” one, devoted to Louis’ live recordings with Sidney Catlett, many of them from the Cotton Club, is extraordinary, as is the first volume of Louis and the All-Stars in Philadelphia 1948.  Unfortunately, the LAHM can’t ship you a boxful . . . you’ll just have to come to Corona in person, which is a life-changing experience. 

Other jazz gifts? 

Michael Zirpolo’s new Bunny Berigan book is a wow.  Find out more here

So is Dr. Judith Schlesinger’s feisty and compelling THE INSANITY HOAX.  Check it out here

Dawn Lambeth is coming out with a new DVD (hooray for Dawn and Chris Dawson) and there is a DVD documentary devoted to Marty Grosz, RHYTHM IS HIS BUSINESS.  Details to follow! 

Another possibility — giving thanks directly — is to go to a local jazz club.  Listen closely to the men and women swinging so deliciously.  Put something more than a dollar in the tip jar.  Buy a CD or DVD directly from the players.

And if all of this is beyond your capabilities, make sure you have jazz playing in your house . . . to lift your spirits, to make the rafters ring ‘way up to Heaven, and to enlighten your visitors.  If one more person gets to hear the 1938 Basie band, or George Wettling, or any jazz that makes you tingle, we are that much closer to creating and maintaining the wonderful world Louis sang about.

Happy holidays, dear friends!

“KEEP UP THE GOOD WORKS”: GOSTA HAGGLOF’S LOUIS ARMSTRONG COLLECTION IS HERE!

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 (deslyn.dyer@qc.cuny.edu) 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. 

REMEMBERING GOSTA HAGGLOF

gosta-hagglof-1965

You know the man on the right in this 1965 picture, taken in Sweden.

The man shaking Louis’ hand is less well-known, but he was one of the most generous advocates of jazz that it has ever been my privilege to know.  His name was Gosta Hagglof, and he died on March 8, 2009.  Gosta had been ill for some time, but he never gave any indication of it.  He was as enthusiastic as ever about the music in what were the last emails I was to receive from him.

For a much fuller appreciation of his life, I would have you “turn over the leaf and choose another page,” to quote Chaucer.  The other page is Ricky Riccardi’s extraordinarily touching essay on the man:

http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2009/03/in-loving-memory-of-gosta-hagglof.html

But a few words of my own might be apt here.  I first encountered Gosta in an extremely indirect but effective way.

In 1927, the Melrose brothers of Chicago, music publishers, had wanted to capitalize on Louis’ clearly increasing fame — not by making records, but by publishing a folio of music for aspiring trumpeters to copy.  Or to attempt to copy!  The story goes that they gave Louis a cylinder phonograph and a goodly number of blank cylinders, asked him to play solos on familiar jazz tunes (many of them published by Melrose) as well as recording many of his famous jazz breaks.  The pianist Elmer Schoebel transcribed the music, and the folio was published (the solos and breaks only, no harmony supplied).  That was 1927.  By the way — and it’s an important comment — the cylinders have never surfaced.  louis-hot-choruses

Gosta thought it would be a brilliant idea if the phenomenal cornetist / trumpeter Bent Persson recorded the solos and breaks.  But the idea didn’t stop there.  It would have been easy to hand the folio to Bent, somene who is himself a rich treasury of Armstrong-lore and music, and ask him to play them with rhythm accompaniment.  Gosta and Bent went far deeper — and the records that resulted are extraordinary, not only in the instrumental playing, but in their conception.  Each performance is clearly the result of creative investigation and experimentation, and the formats are varied and rewarding.

I didn’t know anything of this, one day perhaps thirty years ago, when I found myself at J&R Music in downtown Manhattan.  It is even possible that in those pre-internet days I had not heard of either Bent or of Gosta.  But I bought one of those “imported” records as an experiment, a leap of faith.  If it hadn’t worked out, I would have squandered perhaps seven dollars.

When I played the record at home, the jazz leapt out of the speakers at me in the very best way.  I couldn’t believe it.  Some day I will write more about Bentlouis-hot-choruses-lp1 Persson, but for now I would simply send you to his site (listed on my blogroll, as is Gosta’s “Classic Jazz Productions”).   When I could, I returned to J&R and bought the remaining volumes in the series.  Happily, this music has been issued on CD.  Incidentally, this for was Gosta’s “Kenneth” label, its actual paper label an ornately witty takeoff on the Gennett logo.  I looked for all the Kenneths I could find — some featuring Maxine Sullivan in her finest recordings, others spotlighting Doc Cheatham.  Each one was better than its predecessor.

And then I learned about the “Ambassador” label.  Gosta loved swinging jazz, but his heart belonged to Louis.  At that time, Louis’ most under-reissued and misunderstood recordings were the series (usually done with a big band) for Decca between 1935 and 1942, with later sessions here and there.  Gosta took it upon himself to create a series of the Deccas, in chronological order, in the best sound possible, speed-corrected without annoying “improvements” to the sound.  In addition, to compile as complete an aural portrait of Louis’ life in those years, the Ambassador compact discs offered radio broadcasts, concert performances — whatever evidence there was.  They were and are beautiful recordings, beautifully researched, full of new discoveries.  However, in the United States, they were not well-known.  Decca had very intermittently issued a number of records and eventually compact discs, but the Ambassadors were unequalled.

In 1999 or 2000, I wrote to Gosta and asked him a favor.  I was then writing reviews for the IAJRC Journal, a publication that let me review whatever I wanted as long as I bought the recordings myself and paid for my subscription.  (That’s another story.)  Gosta generously sent me a set of the Ambassadors, and I wrote a leisurely appreciation — perhaps twenty thousand words.  I don’t know how many people ever read it, but it made us friends.  And the Ambassadors are among my most treasured discs.

This led to what I consider a stroke of luck for me.  One day a letter came from Gosta: he had noticed the number of times I had reverentially mentioned Big Sid Catlett in my writing.  Would I like to write the notes for a CD that would make available new material by Louis and Sid from 1939 to 1942.   I can’t remember how quickly I wrote back to say “Yes,” but I think it was the same day.  And that CD is something I am very proud of — it also has rare performances by Louis  of “As Time Goes By” and “Don’t Take Your Love From Me,” unbelievably tender and knowing.

When I began this blog, I looked for opportunities to tell everyone about Gosta’s handiwork — most recently CDs featuring Doc Cheatham and Dick Cary (the latter a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael).  Those CDs are rewarding in every way but also clearly labors of love because Gosta never made much profit, if any, on them.

I was heartbroken to read of his death, and not just because he and I loved the same music.  Gosta was devoted to something larger than himself.  And he was one of those lucky individuals who gave his energies to something he loved passionately.  What Gosta loved so deeply and so well he also shared with us.

I have read no obituaries of Gosta except Ricky’s, but I tell you that we have lost someone rare.

FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS AND DOC

Louis Armstrong understandably provoked awe, admiration, protectiveness, gratitude, reverence.  And those who know his life will think without hesitation of the people who cherished him: his beloved wife Lucille, his manager Joe Glaser, his friend Jack Bradley, recently celebrated in The New York Times for his astonishing collection of sacred artifacts. 

You can read the story about Jack here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/29/nyregion/29satchmo.html?_r=2&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

But Gosta Hagglof, perhaps less famous, has done heroic things to keep Louis’s music alive.  Gosta is an Armstrong scholar and aficionado as well as an enterprising record producer.  On his own Ambassador label, he has created a wonderful multi-disc edition of Louis’s 1935-49 recordings, primarily for Decca, including alternate takes, airshots, and film soundtracks.  Much of this material is not only new to CD but new to everyone.  And it’s beautifully annotated and carefully speed-corrected: the ideal!  On his Kenneth label, its label imitating the Gennett company’s baroque whorls, he also made it possible for us to hear Bent Persson’s awe-inspiring recreations and imaginings of Louis’s 1927 Hot Choruses and Breaks.

With typical generosity, Gosta has just issued / re–issued a Doc Cheatham CD tribute to Louis, a gem.  It’s called THE EMINENCE, VOLUME 2: DOC CHEATHAM: “A TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG,” and nothing in that title is hyperbolic.  (Kenneth Records CKS 3408)

doc-louis-kenneth-cd

Cheatham is someone I think of as jazz’s Yeats, getting wiser and deeper and subtler as he grew older.  Brassmen have a hard time because trumpets and trombones require such focused physical energy and skill just to get from one note to another with a pleasing tone.  Doc truly did seem ageless, pulling airy solos out of nowhere, then embarking on weirdly charming vocals that mixed crooning, speech, and bits of Wallerish comedy.  He hasn’t been well represented on compact discs, and this one is a particular pleasure because his Scandinavian friends, both reverent and playful, inspire him to majestic yet casual playing and singing.  Those players, as an aside, are Gosta’s stock company — many of them playing nobly behind Maxine Sullivan in her finest late recordings (five compact discs worth!), the ambiance being somewhere between the Teddy Wilson Brunswicks and the Fifties John Hammond Vanguard sessions.

The original sessions from 1988 and 1989 also feature wonderful playing — piano and Eb alto horn — and arrangements by Dick Cary, someone who knew Louis well, having been the first pianist in the All-Stars at the irreplaceable Town Hall Concert.  (Gosta asked Cary to replicate his original piano introduction to “Save It Pretty Mama,” which Cary does here.  It is immensely touching.)  The gifted but less-known pianist Rolf Larsson shines on two songs not originally issued.  The gutty, loose trombone work of Staffan Arnberg is delightful, and the reed section — Claes Brodda, Goran Eriksson, Erik Persson, and Jan Akerman are all original, fervent players.  I heard hints and echoes of Pete Brown and Charlie Holmes, of Herschel Evans, early Hawkins and Hodges, but they have their own styles, a swinging earnestness.  The rhythm section, collectively featuring Mikael Selander, guitar; Olle Brostedt, bass, guitar; Goran Lind, bass, and Sigge Dellert, drums, rocks in a gentle, homemade, Thirties fashion.  I imagine everyone in shirtsleeves.  I especially enjoyed the hardworking lyricism of Selander, combining the great acoustic guitar styles of the period without imitating anyone: he has a Reinhardt eloquence without entrapping himself in QHCF cliches.

The sessions embraced the expected hot tunes: “Swing That Music,” “Our Monday Date,” a version of “Sweethearts on Parade” with Cary’s alto horn and Cheatham’s trumpet in jousting tandem, “I Double Dare You,” and “Jeepers Creepers,” all essayed with the looseness you would expect from expert players who love to take chances.  The Swedish All-Stars play with daredevil ease — I don’t mean high notes or technical displays — but we hear them experimenting with the possibilities of the songs and the ensembles.  The result is impromptu rather than overly polished, and I can imagine the musicians grinning triumphantly at the end of each take, as if to say, “Hey! We did it!” or the equivalent.

But the best performances here are painted in deep romantic, yearning hues.  “Confessin,” a trio performance for Doc, Selander, and Lind, is the very epitome of tenderness, as is “I’m in the Mood for Love,” complete with the rarely-heard verse.  “Save It Pretty Mama” has Cheatham at his most convincing as a singer; he pours his heart into “A Kiss To Build A Dream On,” a rueful “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home” (the song with which he concluded his Sunday brunch performances at Sweet Basil for years), a slow “Dinah” and “Drop Me Off At Harlem,” “Sugar,” and “That’s My Home.”  We often associate Louis with bouncy numbers, with “Tiger Rag” and “Indiana,” but Cheatham draws on his awareness of Louis the romantic, early and late.

Especially in these performances, Cheatham and his young colleagues get at Louis’s huge heart — his wistfulness, hopefulness, and deep feeling, without ever overacting.  Many of these slow performances left me with a lump in my throat.  The results are music to treasure.  Visit Classic Jazz Productions (http://www.classicjazz.eu) for more details.

PRIME LOUIS!

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.