Tag Archives: Orrin Keepnews

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.

ON THE BACK OF THE FRONT

One of the pleasures of purchasing used long-playing records (as I have been doing) is reading the liner notes.  I offer samples from two recent purchases for your consideration.

From the 1958 Design THE GOLDEN ERA OF DIXIELAND JAZZ 1887-1937 (a Novato hospice thrift shop, one dollar) which features Pee Wee Erwin, Vic Dickenson, Buster Bailey, Claude Hopkins, Milt Hinton, and George Wettling — reverberation free of charge:

Get ready for sheer delight . . . Here is happy music.  Even when you’re listening to the blues themes, you can’t help but feel that this is a music played by men who know and feel their art.  This album was conceived and recorded during those hours that immediately precede the dawn.  I was sitting in Child’s restaurant just off Broadway in Manhattan, one morning at about three-thirty.  Two friends and I were arguing some moot point about the old Duke Ellington Band.  Suddenly, one of them said, “There’s the man who can settle this, Claude Hopkins.”  I’d never met Claude, but I knew his work from the old Cotton Club days and I knew that his background in Dixieland Jazz was as fine as any in the business.  Claude sat down with us and sure enough . . . . He knew the answers and then some.  He regaled us with stories about the races he and Ellington used to have in their thirty-mile an hour hot rods, stories of the greats and near greats from New Orleans, KC, Chicago and New York.  He painted a picture of Harlem when jazz was becoming the language of the low and the lordly.  I asked Claude who he thought were the finest sidemen around today and he came up with a lulu of a list.  On drums . . . there is no one who can drive a band like George Wettling.  Recognized as America’s finest jazz drummer, Wettling makes music on the skins.  On trumpet . . . either Bobby Hackett or Pee Wee Erwin . . . Pee Wee appears here . . . at the time Bobby had his own group at New York’s Henry Hudson Hotel.  Personally I prefer Pee Wee’s sound for dixieland.  It has all of the mellow tones your ear likes to hear plus the mirth and joy of a touch of brilliance.  On trombone . . . glum, sad-faced Vic Dickenson.  Vic gets an old fashioned slush bucket sound and no man alive today can gargle a vibrato into his instrument with more raucus [sic] virility.  Buster Bailey on Clarinet.  Listen to the mellowness that Buster achieves.  A real, honest, woody tone.  On Bass . . . for my money, America’s finest Dixieland bass man, Milt Hinton.  Listen to him get pretty music and a firm slapping sound when he takes off in “Saints.”  You’ve got to jump . . . You’ll have to smile . . . and if you can picture Milt slappng away with a cigar drooped from the corner of his mouth, a big happy grin on his face and all the music in the world coming out of the doghouse fiddle, you’ll have a picture of a true dixieland scene.  Finally, Claude mentioned a group of fine Dixieland pianists.  The guy’s too modest.  Natch, we used Claude.  He set up the session.  We went over the tunes.  It was simple.  I wanted basic dixieland, easy to understand, easy to listen to and primarily music that was indicative of the golden era of this great standard bearer of American Music, the years between the heyday of Storyville in old New Orleans and the Goodman era.  That’s the music we recorded.  The sessions took place at four in the morning, after the boys came off their regular jobs.  They were loose, happy and ready and the music indicates their mood.  I’m glad we got these sessions down on tape.  I’m glad you’re getting to hear them.  I can’t bring myself to believe that you’ll ever hear any better Dixieland.

At least that anonymous writer and apparent record producer has some enthusiasm and feeling for the music.  But — in the forest of ellipses — his prose, mixing side-of-the-mouth slang with an approach to the imagined reader that is a little too chummy for my refined taste.  “Get your hand away from my slush bucket and get back to your own doghouse,” I want to tell him.  “Keep your raucus virility in the kitchen where it can’t do any damage.  Natch.”

Sometimes the liner notes contain a little gem.  On the reverse of the Riverside NEW SOLOS BY AN OLD MASTER, a 1953 Joe Sullivan record, Sullivan was recorded in conversation with Orrin Keepnews, who obviously asked Joe about his artistic influences:

There was Louis Armstrong and there was Bix, and all that each of them stood for.  To this day I love Bix like I love my right arm.  But I go by way of Louis.

To me, Sullivan’s words show an artist deciding, early on, which path to take, not really saying that one musician “was better” than the other, but making a choice.  And when I began to listen to Sullivan’s playing as a reflection of “by way of Louis,” what I have called in an earlier post his “sweet violence” came into even clearer focus.

All praise for Keepnews for asking the artist what he thought — always a fine idea.

Both recordings are superb, by the way.

May your happiness increase.