Tag Archives: King of the Zulus

HAIL, KING LOUIS!

It’s always a good time to celebrate Louis Armstrong.  What would have been his true 110th birthday is coming up on August 4, 2011 — but why wait?  The photograph below was taken on March 1, 1949, while the All-Stars were in New Orleans.  Louis was feted as King of the Zulus then (a great honor) and ended up on the cover of TIME (an equally great honor).  In the photo, you’ll see Jack Teagarden, Louis, Sidney Catlett, Barney Bigard, and Arvell Shaw.  Earl Hines and his piano, possibly to the left, have to be imagined.

This photograph comes from the Louisiana State Museum Digital Jazz Collection:

http://louisdl.louislibraries.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/JAZ&CISOPTR=2005&DMSCALE=50&DMWIDTH=600&DMHEIGHT=600&DMMODE=viewer&DMTEXT=%20catlett&REC=17&DMTHUMB=1&DMROTATE=0

Now, just to make the whole experience more than silent, I propose that you click on this link —

http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2011/07/listening-to-book-chapter-3.html

which will take you to Ricky Riccardi’s extraordinary blog, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG.  Ricky’s new book on Louis is a treasure (you haven’t bought your copy yet?  It fits perfectly well in your beach bag) and he has been providing a soundtrack to the book on his blog.  Sounds strange if you haven’t got the book, but the music is priceless.  At the link above, you can hear Louis being interviewed on WDSU about being King of the Zulus, as well as two performances from the session depicted above.  The two songs are among Louis’s greatest performances, and I don’t say that lightly: an impassioned, sweetly empathic reading of SHOE SHINE BOY and an explosive ROYAL GARDEN BLUES with some of the most ferocious Catlett drumming ever recorded . . . .

Hail, King Louis!

“BLACK AND BLUE”: LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND RACE by RICKY RICCARDI (Feb. 12, 2011)

Ricky Riccardi has been intensely focused on Louis Armstrong for half of his life, with extraordinary results. 

His book on Louis’s later life and music — a book that will destroy some wrong-headed assumptions with new evidence — will be out in June 2011.  I’ve seen one or two pages of the galleys, and only because the author was across the table was I cajoled into releasing my hold and giving it back.

To whet your appetite — and also to make it easy to find a copy in that rarest of places, the bookstore, here’s the cover picture, an inspiring one.  You can “pre-order” the book online as well.

But this post isn’t about a forthcoming book. 

It’s about a talk that Ricky gave recently at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND RACE.

(That title was so imposing that Michael Cogswell suggested, whimsically, that Ricky could have called it RED BEANS AND RACE, a play on Louis’s favorite dish.) 

Many times, lectures of this sort relate the indignities that African-Americans suffered (and still suffer) at the hands of Caucasians.  We know there’s plenty of evidence. 

And Ricky didn’t ignore it — from the policeman who hit the boy Louis over the head when for politely asking what time it was to the jazz critic who called his performance in the early Fifties “a coon carnival.”  Louis had gone to New Orleans in triumph in 1931 — an international star — only to have an announcer say, “I just can’t announce that nigger on the radio.” 

But what may have wounded Louis much more was his abandonment and rejection by the members of his own race, “my own people,” who called him “a plantation character” (the words are Dizzy Gillespie’s, although Dizzy later apologized) and an “Uncle Tom.”  These slights may have hurt him as much as seeing authorities beating African-American schoolchildren in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Charcteristically Ricky had more than enough material for an entire afternoon (he promises that it’s all in the book) but he gave us an hour filled with insight, pathos, humor, and wit.  Rather than read Louis’s words aloud, he drew on the private tapes Louis made at home and on the road — a priceless document of his expressiveness, his emotions, his consciousness: in his home, his hotel rooms, talking about his hopes and disappointments. 

Here’s Ricky’s presentation, for those who couldn’t make it to the LAHM and those who want to know what’s in store on the 26th:

First, Deslyn Dyer introduces Ricky: through him, we meet the Louis some people never knew — not only the musician, light-heartedly entertaining for fifty years and more, but the man in search of social justice, the civil rights pioneer:

Ricky then shares the story of the young sailor who greeted Louis by saying, “I don’t like Negroes, but I admire you,” a compliment that might have embittered a lesser man:

More stories: the New Orleans policeman; lynchings in the South.  Louis also explains his often misinterpreted relations with manager Joe Glaser:

Next, Louis tells his friends why an African-American artist would need “a white captain,” talks about being elected King of the Zulus in 1949, about recording SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH for Decca, and the pervasiveness of racism:

When Nat Cole, playing for a segregated audience in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1956, was beaten by four men who jumped onstage, the African-American press condemned him, rather than sympathizing with him — which outraged Louis; he also responds to the segregation in New Orleans:

Louis’s violent reaction to what he saw on television in 1957 — in Little Rock, Arkansas: “I have a right to blow my top over injustice”:

And — as a triumphant, mournful climax — Louis’s shattering BLACK AND BLUE in East Berlin (1965), from which I’ve taken the title of this piece:

Louis’s story remains the saga of someone mis-seen and under-acknowledged, a man wounded by the people — of all races — he thought would understand him. 

But Louis prevailed and continues to prevail by embodying great joy in his music.

Ricky will be delivering this lecture again at the Louis Armstrong House Museum on Saturday, February 26th, at 1 and 3 PM.  The house is a remarkable down-to-earth shrine.  And Ricky’s a treasure.

FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS, CLICK HERE.  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS.

https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww

 

THE CELLAR BOYS: FRANK MELROSE, TESCH, WINGY, BUD, WETTLING, “CHARLES MELROSE,” 1930

Thanks to “atticus 70,” here are two wonderful hot sides from the glory days of searing Chicago jazz featuring two sadly short-lived and legendary players, pianist Frank Melrose and clarinetist Frank Teschmacher.  The other musicians on the session had longer lives: trumpeter (or cornetist?) Wingy Manone, tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, drummer George Wettling, accordionist “Charles Melrose.”*  Recorded January 24, 1930.

The musicians took their name from the club (the “joint,” I think) they were playing in, which was called MY CELLAR.

The first selection is BARREL HOUSE STOMP (take A), and Frank Melrose appears right after the accordion solo; he’s propulsive throughout.  And Tesch is clear-toned and rasping as the spirit moves him.  Both Freeman and Manone are instantly recognizable, and although Wettling’s drums aren’t recorded as they would be in the Forties through the Sixties, he and his bass drum are solidly in there:

The other side was — no, IS — WAILING BLUES (also take A), reminiscent of KING OF THE ZULUS (without the vamp).  In the video slide show, the first picture is from 1932 (I think) showing a very serious Jess Stacy and George Wettling, seated, with a quizzically somber Tesch standing in back of them; other photos depict Wettling, Bud, Tesch, and even Jimmy McPartland.  In both displays Frank Melrose is shown in a hand-tinted photograph.  His boater is appropriately cocked to the side; his eyes stare, somewhat narrowed, away from the camera.  A serious man, the craft of playing barrelhouse piano a vocation not to be taken lightly:

This post is for all the devotees of Hot and especially for Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, one of this blog’s most cherished readers.  More about the Melroses in good time!  (Frank always kept good time . . . )

*Aunt Ida told Hal Smith that there was no “Charles Melrose”; Hal thinks the accordionist is Bennie Moten’s brother Bus, sitting in.  Any comments on this mystery?

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  SO PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

THINKING ABOUT LOUIS, THINKING ABOUT RACE

Marc Caparone, Ricky Riccardi, and Michael Cogswell, considering important matters

If you travel in the same musical circles as I do, the name “Ricky Riccardi” won’t be new to you.  He is the creator of an extraordinary blog, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/ — which offers generous helpings of insight, music, and affection on a regular basis; he is Project Archivist for the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College; he is the author of a splendid book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (http://www.amazon.com/What-Wonderful-World-Magic-Armstrongs/dp/0307378446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1295474262&sr=8-1) which will be published in May 2011.  (And he’s an improvising jazz pianist, so a diminished chord is no mystery to him.) 

Ricky is a great jazz scholar and diligent excavator of facts, but he is more than a pale library drone: his love of his subject (that’s Mr. Armstrong) is an intense, enlivening thing — so that Louis, never dead, is even more alive when Ricky talks about him, something Ricky is not reluctant to do. 

But uncritical love can get boring to an outsider: what Ricky offers us on his chosen subject is a deep understanding.  He has carefully and thoroughly undermined many of the shallow but ferociously-held critical statements about Louis: that Louis peaked somewhere in 1927, or 1934, or another date; that Louis relied on memorized routines and had lost all creativity in his last quarter-century; that Louis had abandoned “jazz” for “entertainment.”  His research rests firmly on a constant, day-to-day involvement with first-hand materials, and it is thus evidence-based rather than speculative. 

All of this is prelude to the announcement that Ricky will be speaking on the rich and complex topic of “Louis Armstrong and Race,” in celebration of Black History Month 2011 — not once, but four times — at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  His talk will cover a multitude of fascinating topics — from Louis’s birth and childhood in New Orleans to his mid-Fifties public explosions on behalf of civil rights.  I hope he’ll tell the joke that begins with another musician sticking his head into Louis’s dressing room and asking, “Hey, Pops!  What’s new?” but I don’t know if he’ll be taking requests. 

For those readers who stay in after dark, these presentations will take place in the serene afternoon: 1 and 3 PM on Saturday, February 12, and February 26.  The house is located at 34-56 107th Street, and admission to the museum (which includes the presentation) is $8 for adults and $6 for children.  Space is limited, so please call 718-478-8274 or email reservations@louisarmstronghouse.com. to reserve your seat.  I’ll be there, although I don’t yet know which day. 

Visit http://www.louisarmstronghouse.com. for details.