Tag Archives: Gosta Hagglof

LOUIS’ VICTORIAN ERA

No, not the steely Queen or Julia Cameron’s photographs.  This man.

LOUIS and ALPHA and dog

Some people celebrated yesterday (August 4) as Louis Armstrong’s “real” birthday.  I disagree, but choose to stay away from such disputes.  To me, every day we can think about or hear or see Louis is a collective cosmic birthday.

People who are drawn to Louis — magnetically, but his spiritual warmth — often gravitate to particular periods: the Hot Fives and Sevens, the later period — whether you define that as JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES, WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR, or WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.  Thanks to Gosta Hagglof, Ricky Riccardi, Dan Morgenstern, and Mosaic Records, we’ve had the opportunity to rediscover the Decca classics of the Thirties and the All-Star gems.

But there’s a particularly rewarding period of Louis’ recordings that has been almost overlooked — the Victors of 1932-33.  Those who live to find fault have found plenty with the backing band — although they are at worst uneven, with beautiful solo episodes from Keg Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Budd Johnson, and the earliest recorded evidence of Louis and Sidney Catlett working together in deep harmony.  If one drops one’s prejudices, the material is also excellent — songs by Fats Waller, Tony Jackson, and the immortal Harry Woods.

And Louis is in spectacular form, playing the melody with all his heart, singing earnestly (and often with delightful floating levity), and improvising so very memorably.  Listen to what he does on the middle-eight / bridges / channels, as if he had decided earthly boundaries didn’t matter, and he could just lie back in the upper atmosphere no matter how fast the band was playing.  Some contemporary brass players — I think of Rex Stewart — took it as a stylistic point of honor to play more notes per bar as the tempo increased; Louis lazed over the pounding rhythms, as if he were a giant cat awaking from a splendid nap.

Spousal commitment of the highest order:

Friends don’t pass you by:

Revenge, served hot yet sweet:

May your happiness increase!

PREACHERS OF BEAUTY: “SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL,” COMPLETE and HEARD ANEW

“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, men would believe & adore & for a few generations preserve the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these preachers of beauty, & light the Universe with their admonishing smile.”  — Emerson

It is a substantial irony that some may regard a new recording — or a new complete issue of an already beloved Louis Armstrong recording — as we do the stars: beautiful but to be taken for granted, because they are and will always be there.

I am listening to the new complete issue of SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL (the sixty-fifth anniversary issue) with my own kind of Emersonian delight.  And my pleasure isn’t primarily because of the extra half-hour of music and speech I had never heard before, although thirty minutes of this band, this evening, is more than any ordinary half-hour on the clock.  Permit me to call the roll — not only Louis in magnificent form, playing and singing, but also Jack Teagarden, Sidney Catlett, Arvell Shaw, Dick Cary, Barney Bigard, and Velma Middleton.  Some of my joy comes from hearing music once again that has been dear to me for thirty years — the sweet ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, the charging MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Teagarden’s tender, delicate STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, the serious BLACK AND BLUE, the electrifying STEAK FACE and MOP MOP (formerly titled BOFF BOFF).

What strikes me once again is the beautiful cohesion of this band.  I know that others see this period of Louis’ artistic life as a gentle downhill slide into “popularity” and “showmanship”; these views, I think, could be blown away with an intent hearing of HIGH SOCIETY.  This edition of the All-Stars (with or without hyphen) is uniformly superb, happy, and focused.

Teagarden’s playing is simply awe-inspiring (ask any trombonist about it) and his singing delicious, with none of the near-fatigue that occasionally colored his later work.  Arvell Shaw never got the credit he deserved as a string bassist, but his time and tone couldn’t be better, providing a deep, rocking rhythmic foundation for the band.  Dick Cary, nearly forgotten, is once again an ideal pianist — never setting a foot wrong in ensembles and offering shining, individualistic solos that sound like no one else.  Barney Bigard is sometimes off-mike but his work is splendidly energized, his tone full and luscious.  Velma Middleton fit this band beautifully — emotional and exuberant, clearly inspiring both audiences and the All-Stars.  And readers of JAZZ LIVES should know how I revere Sidney Catlett, at one of his many peaks that night in Symphony Hall.  Much has been made of the ideal partnerships in jazz — Bird and Dizzy, Duke and Blanton, Pres and Basie . . . but Louis and Sidney deserve to be in that number, with Sid not only supporting but lifting every member of the band throughout the evening.  The little percussive flourishes with which Sid accents the end of a performance are worthy of deep study.  But this band is more than a group of soloists — they work together with affection and enthusiasm.

Louis himself is sublimely in charge.  Consider the variety of tempos — almost a lost art today — and the pacing of a two-hour show, not only so that he wouldn’t tire himself out (there is much more playing here, even on the “features” for other musicians, than one would expect) but so that the audience would be charged with the same emotional energy for two hours.  And his playing!  There are a few happy imperfections, reminding us that he was human and that trumpet playing at this level is not for amateurs.  But overall I feel his mastery, subtly expressed.  I hear a leisurely power.  Yes, there were piles of handkerchiefs inside the piano (playing the trumpet is physically arduous) but one senses in Louis the dramatized image of a jungle cat who knows he has only to stretch out a huge paw to accomplish what he wants.

Inside this package are the original notes (Armstrongians of a certain vintage can quote sections of Ernie Anderson’s text at will) and a new appreciation by our man Ricky Riccardi.  Beautiful photographs, too — several of them including the only shot known of the band at Symphony Hall for this concert — new to me.

Some discussions of this set, weighing the merits of its purchase, have focused on the question of “How much more is there that we haven’t heard?” surely a valid question — although it came to sound as if music could be weighed like apples or peanuts.  Briefly, there are a good number of “new” spoken introductions by Louis and others, short versions of SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH and I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, complete versions of previously edited performances — BLACK AND BLUE, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, TEA FOR TWO, and performances wholly “new”: a seven-minute VELMA’S BLUES with plenty of Louis and Sidney, a somber ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, a mock-serious BACK O’TOWN BLUES, and a vigorous JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES.  For some readers, that will not be enough to warrant a purchase, which I couldn’t argue with.  However, this is a limited edition of 3000 copies . . . so those who wait might find themselves regretting their delay.

For me, it’s a “Good deal,” to quote both Louis and Sidney — we can’t go back to November 30, 1947, but this set is the closest thing possible to spending an evening in the company of the immortals.  Thanks and blessings are due to Ricky Riccardi, the late Gosta Hagglof, and Harry Weingar . . . each making this wonderful set possible.)

And if you can’t afford the purchase, make sure to look up at the stars whenever you can.

May your happiness increase.

NEWS FLASH! LOUIS ARMSTRONG and THE FINITE NATURE OF THINGS . . .

The new, complete two-disc edition of SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL: 65th ANNIVERSARY — THE COMPLETE PERFORMANCE is a limited edition of 3000 copies.  

I didn’t know about the “limited edition” part of that sentence until a day ago, so I am encouraging JAZZ LIVES readers to act promptly rather than to lament that the edition is all sold out.  You can purchase it here — if you live in the New York area, you can visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, which has its very own stash.

What does “the complete performance” mean?  THIRTY MINUTES OF NEW MATERIAL . . . .

I’ll let Ricky Riccardi, Louis scholar and the Archivist for the LAHM, explain:

The original 1951 2-LP Decca set had the majority of the music, but there were some edits, including four complete performances, all the themes, Louis’s announcements and some solos (Dick Cary’s on “Royal Garden Blues” and some extra noodling by Barney Bigard at the end of “Tea for Two”). When Orrin Keepnews finally put it on on CD in the 90s, he made the choice to strike three tunes (“I Cried for You,” “That’s My Desire” and “How High the Moon”) AND he completely shuffled the original order of performances.   I’m the Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum and last year, we learned that the Swedish Armstrong collector Gosta Hagglof donated every scrap of his Armstrong collection to the Museum. It arrived last summer.  

The first thing I looked for was “Symphony Hall” because Gosta told me in 2007 he was working on a complete edition. And sure enough, I found a disc…and another…and another…and another.  All in all, I found about 30 individual CDs with Gosta’s Symphony Hall work.  He somehow had access to the original acetates and made multiple CD copies of those and then he made extra copies with pitch correction, skips edited out, noise reduction, etc.  

Last October I contacted Harry Weinger at Universal and he came out to our Archives to listen to it. He flipped and we’ve been off and running since.  It’s a 2-CD set on the Hip-O Select label, with the original liner notes by Ernie Anderson and new liner notes by yours truly.  The concert will be sequenced in the original order, starting with the band tuning up. All of the announcements will be heard for the first time, in addition to the themes.  And there will be complete versions of “Back O’Town Blues,” “St. James Infirmary,” “Velma’s Blues” and “Jack Armstrong Blues.”  

They’re all fantastic.  I can only assume “Back O’Town,” “St. James” and “Jack Armstrong” were not on the original LP because Victor had just released versions.  And even “Velma’s Blues” is a knockout, as it’s almost 7 minutes long with a long interlude where Velma danced and the All Stars just played the blues (Sid Catlett catches her every move).  

I’m a biased Armstrong nut who has always loved this concert, of course, but trust me, hearing it complete, in the original order, with the announcements, the new tunes, everything, is a really, really special experience.

For some listeners, this won’t in itself be enough.  I understand that in the linguistic battle between “fixed income” and “limited edition,” the first phrase wins.

But I urge you to consider purchasing this set if you can for a few reasons.  One is the precious experience of going back in time . . . settling into a chair in your living room and being able to sink into a plush velvet seat at Symphony Hall in 1947 while Louis Armstrong and what I think of as the best small band he ever had play for you.  That, in its own way, is far more important than simply being able to hear a new Dick Cary solo.

I first heard this concert (in its edited form) more than forty years ago and I can attest that it is life-changing music.

Secondly, there is the matter of the responsive audience as a motivating force. In blunt words, why do companies like Universal issue Louis Armstrong discs and packages?  Some of it is the spiritual love that people like Harry Weinger have for the music: something I do not doubt.  But if record companies see that their products sell, they create more . . . so that buying SASH is your way — the only effective way — of saying, “Please, sir, we want some more!”

Don’t wait until they’re gone and you’re reduced to desperate means . . .

But make sure you leave enough in the Jazz Piggy Bank for a copy of the Grand Street Stompers’ CHRISTMAS STOMP.  I’ve heard that and it is wonderful.  More to say about that one soon . . .

May your happiness increase.

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!

BILL WOOD, SELMA HERALDO, PAUL BLAIR: “NO-ONE CAN TAKE YOUR PLACE”

There are people, memorably important in the Land of Jazz, who never pick up instruments or sing a hot chorus.  Three of them, dear to me in their own ways, have died in the past weeks.  This posting is by no means the full-scale memorial or obituary each one deserves.  It’s just something I have to write so that JAZZ LIVES readers will know.

Between 2004 and 2010, whenever I went to Jazz at Chautauqua, I inevitably ended up spending time and money at a table where a large quantity of sheet music was laid out enticingly — to admire and to purchase.  Bill Wood and his younger partner Greg Laird came to greet me, to be amused by my comments on the sheets I bought and refused to buy, and I expected to see them there year after year.

Bill looked as if he would have fit in perfectly as a small-town druggist or the wise fellow behind the hardware counter in a small-town store that had refused to be bought up by a chain.

He wasn’t there in 2011, and I missed his quiet, amiable presence, overseeing the coming and going of people and pages of Thirties pop songs.  In mid-November, Greg told me Bill had died: “Bill loved going to Chautauqua and providing his great collection of sheet music.  He loved the music and the people.  He was truly one of the nicest men I have ever known.  Even when he couldn’t use the computer any more, I still read to him what everyone was doing through your blog.”

Now, whenever I go through the stack of sheet music on the piano, I will think of Bill Wood with even more gratitude: someone who made it possible for me to bring home new music to learn, to admire, to enjoy.

Selma Heraldo, who died a few days ago at 88, received less attention than she deserved.  She was a fixture at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, because she had been Louis and Lucille’s next-door neighbor for decades.  Although she was the size and shape of an old-fashioned elementary school pointer, it would have been a mistake to underestimate her.

Had Selma lived in Hollywood, she would have been a renowned character actress, and that’s no stage joke.

She had a lovely wry grin, a nearly theatrical forwardness, and no tolerance for inaccuracy or self-promotion in anyone.  If someone else in the room claimed an unmerited glory, Selma would set the person — and everyone else within hearing — straight.  She was a delightful storyteller, and I will cherish forever the tales she told of her mother making Louis a fried-egg sandwich in the Heraldo kitchen when he came home from the road, wanting something plain to eat.

Selma was a shameless vaudevillian, incomparable in the art of mock-serious flirtation.  On September 22, 2011, she was seated at our table in the pleasant garden of the LAHM, eating dinner al fresco before Ricky Riccardi did his presentation on the Gosta Hagglof collection.

In an instant Selma decided I was both her comic foil and male door prize, leaning forward to ask if I would go home with her. “Not later, today.  I live next door,” she winked at me.  When I demurred, saying (as is my habit) that I was so sorry to turn her down, that I was already in a relationship, that perhaps I would disappoint her, she kept the game at a high level.  “Your wife better keep a close eye on you, handsome,” she said.

I did my best to keep the level of things high by asking Selma where she had been seven years ago when I had been at liberty and would have taken her up on her offer, and she giggled happily.

Being the object of Selma’s attention, even for a minute, was like hearing Louis launch into a second chorus of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING: she was a master improviser, able to negotiate any turn with comic timing that would have pleased Jack Benny.

Paul Blair, the dear editor at HOT HOUSE — the great New York jazz magazine, died of a sudden heart attack.  He would have been 70 in January 2012.  I met him through the Beloved, who had gone on several of his jazz walking tours, and he welcomed me to the magazine.

Although I sometimes chafe against editing, cherishing my own peculiarities, working with Paul was a writer’s dream.  He was careful, witty, tactful — but his suggested changes were so good that I took them without a word of fuss.  Reading my prose, he quickly saw what it might be and moved speedily yet gently to make that ideal possible.  I also enjoyed the witty emails he sent me — often with information I hadn’t known.

I only met him once in person: I had been urging him to come to The Ear Inn to hear The EarRegulars, and one night he did.  I didn’t recognize him in person, but he found me and we had a conversation that began in laughter and ended in an deep friendly empathy.  A casually-dressed man who easily made himself comfortable, he sat near the band and I could see him enjoying the sounds of the music: his face clearly reflected what was being played.  I could see that he was a perfectly intuitive listener, which is why  he was such a fine editor.

Paul was also master of the unexpected sweet generosity.  Once, with no prelude (after he had come to know my taste) he told me of some cassettes he had, recorded at a jazz party in the Seventies, featuring jazz pianists, some of whom are now dead.  Would I like these cassettes?  I was enthusiastic; they arrived a week later; he wanted nothing in return.

With the deaths of Bill, Selma, and Paul, my circle of people I love and admire has constricted, and my world is a little smaller.  I will do them the only honor I can — remembering them with love and hoping that others do so also.

And although I hope to make new friendships with other people memorable for their generosity, their style, these three will not be replaced or forgotten.

“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. 

TRAM / LOUIS / EARL

Holy relics.

Beautiful calligraphy, a widow’s peak, a sharp suit . . .

A letter from Louis to the late Gosta Hagglof — “me and my little Satchmo trumpet.”

Earl Hines, 1965: