Tag Archives: Phoebe Jacobs

GIFTS FROM LOUIS — ONLINE!

Louis Armstrong was a generous man and artist — and his legacy of generosity continues through the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, which I visited Wednesday night. 

But this isn’t about the house itself, delightful as that shrine is (a combination of modest comfort and lovely trappings): it was about the splendid news that the museum director, Michael Cogswell, laid on us (as Louis would say).

The Louis Armstrong House Museum has launched an online catalog of its vast collections.  It’s the world’s largest archives devoted to a jazz musician available to all on the World Wide Web. 

The 24/7 offering can be accessed at the LAHM site — http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/.  By the end of 2011, the Museum’s entire catalog will be online.  New items will be added every week!  

The direct link is http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/collections/online_catalog.htm.  But don’t take my word for it.  Try it for yourself!  

The Museum’s collections encompass more that 5,000 sound recordings, 15,000 photographs, 30 films, 100 scrapbooks, 20 linear feet of letters and papers, and (last but not least) six trumpets.  The essential core of the archives is the Louis Armstrong Collection — Louis’s personal treasures: home-recorded tapes, photographs, scrapbooks, collaged tape-boxes, manuscript band parts, and other delights discovered inside the Corona house after the death of his wife, Lucille, in 1983.  

A grant from the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation made it possible for the Museum to acquire the world’s largest private collection of Armstrong material — the loving life-work of Louis’s friend Jack Bradley, the noted jazz photographer.  Hundreds of candid, never before seen photographs taken or collected by Bradley are a highlight of the collection.  The materials are currently housed in the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library at Queens College, New York.  And it’s so delightful that the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences offered a two-year grant that made processing the Bradley collection and publishing the Museum’s catalog online. 

Noted Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi has worked for the past fifteen months documenting, arranging, preserving, and cataloging more than two hundred cubic feet of Armstrong material.  “Working with this collection has been an absolute dream come true, but getting to share it online with other Armstrong lovers from around the world really makes this something special.  And it’s not just for Armstrong experts; the online collection will appeal to music fans, art historians, 20th-century pop culture buffs, musicians, photographers, you name it.  “There’s something for everyone,” says Riccardi. 

And that’s no stage joke!

When I went to the LAHM — the Corona house that Louis and Lucille loved so, where they lived for almost thirty years — I captured Michael Cogswell and Ricky Riccardi describing the online catalog, fielding questions from the audience, and playing one of Louis’s private tapes — in honor of the holiday season, one recorded close to Christmas, 1950.  Some of you might find the prospect of so many video clips daunting . . . but at the end of Michael’s explanation, he hands the stage (in a manner of speaking) over to Ricky to play excerpts from that never-before-heard tape . . . a priceless experience.  (In the second clip, the woman who asks about Lucille Armstrong is Phoebe Jacobs, Lucille’s close friend and intimate of many famous jazzmen.)

Just as a postscript: I just about made myself late for work this morning because I couldn’t stop looking at the rare, delightful, hilarious, moving photographs. 

Long live Louis!  May he never be forgotten!

And if you would like to skip the videos and read a detailed explanation by the young master of all things Strong, go right to Ricky’s blog: http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2010/12/louis-armstrong-house-museum-online.html

MR. ARMSTRONG by MR. RICCARDI (or “DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL!”)

The person pictured at top should be immediately recognizable, although some of you might wonder when Louis joined the armed forces.  (The answer is, “1952, along with Abbott and Costello.”) 

Here’s a candid shot of Ricky Riccardi, my nomination for pre-eminent Louis Armstrong scholar, present and future.

The Beloved and I went uptown to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (104 East 126th Street) on last Tuesday night for Ricky’s presentation of rare Louis films.  It turned out to be ninety minutes of Louis on television — a medium that embraced him and one he was made for. 

In the audience were a number of jazz luminaries — Phoebe Jacobs, who’s been a friend to the music and musicians for a long time, and George Avakian, who’s been responsible for many of the finest jazz recordings on the planet . . . since 1940.  And — dispensing medical assistance and goodwill — the Jazz Acupuncturist Marcia Salter.   

Loren Schoenberg, director of the Museum, introduced Ricky — but reminded everyone that on the next four Tuesdays in September he will be sharing excerpted performances from the very exciting Bill Savory collection — not to be missed!  For the complete schedule, visit http://www.jmih.org/.

Ricky’s cornucopia of films covered the last two decades of Louis’s life.   Those who stereotype Louis might think that these performances would be the offerings of an exhausted man, coasting along on his pop hits.  (Some people still believe that Louis played and sang his final significant notes around 1927.  A pox on such delusions!) 

No, what we saw was lively, moving, creative, and witty.  Ricky went back to 1950 to CAVALCADE OF BANDS for a duet between Louis and Velma Middleton — both exquisite comedic talents — on THAT’S MY DESIRE — also showing brief vies of Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, and Cozy Cole.  On a 1952 Frank Sinatra show, Louis sang and played I’M CONFESSIN’, accompanied by Bill Miller, Sinatra’s long-time pianist.  In that same year, Louis appeared on the COLGATE COMEDY HOUR alongside Abbott and Costello — in a skit that had him blowing BUGLE CALL RAG instead of REVEILLE.  

Ricky jumped forward to a 1958 Times Jazz special — one of those weirdly delightful extravaganzas that offered everyone from George Shearing to Lionel Hampton to Jaye P. Morgan and Garry Moore, Jack Teagarden and Gerry Mulligan.  Louis played SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET and then various characters took over a blues that segued into — what else? — the ST. LOUIS BLUES. 

Because all of these clips were “live,” there were odd, pleasing surprises.  While Mulligan was playing his eloquent solo on a slow blues, you could see Jack Teagarden quickly checking his watch (“How much time do we have left?”)  Considering that the sponsor was Timex, and that there had been commercials featuring John Cameron Swayzee, was this a subliminal plug on Jack’s part?

An extraordinary (and rare) sequence from a 1960 BELL TELEPHONE HOUR had Louis singing SUNNY SIDE (and substituting the word “treaders” for “feet” in the lyrics), blowing splendidly on LAZY RIVER, seguiing into a heartbreaking SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD, and ending up with a bouncy MUSKRAT RAMBLE — accompanied by a gospel quartet of sorts! 

Later, after clips from talk shows where we got to see Louis interacting with everyone including Dr. Joyce Brothers, there were more tender moments — a version of MOON RIVER (accompanied, rubato, by Billy Taylor) and a sweetly loving I’M CONFESSIN’ that Louis sang to Lucille — her choice!  Another precious moment was being able to watch Bing Crosby appreciate every nuance of Louis, singing and playing SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH in early 1971 — and, of course, a deeply felt version of WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD. 

Of course Louis played and sang magnificently — butalso showed himself a moving actor, a natural comedian.  In conversation on the talk shows, he displayed a gift for instant repartee.  (“Why did he have to die?” I kept thinking.)

If you weren’t there, you missed a wonderful evening.  All this is prelude, of course, to Ricky’s splendid book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS.  I am waiting eagerly for its 2011 publication.  I know it will be full of insights, new evidence, and love.

EVERYBODY LOVES BENNY

That was the general mood of today’s hour-long conversation sponsored by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.  “Memories of You,” which was a three-way chat among Martin E. Segal (now ninety-three and a Lincoln Center luminary, emeritus) and Phoebe Jacobs (now ninety, and a jazz / show business beacon) — moderated by George Boziwick.  Because both of the participants had known Benny Goodman (“Mr. Goodman” to Ms. Jacobs) as a friend and as a non-musical employer, there were no stories about the King of Swing being a difficult boss or a perfectionistic bandleader.  So we heard about Benny the pioneer against racism, the salmon-fisherman and sports enthusiast, the generous man who paid Teddy Wilson’s doctor bills and sent money to Wilson’s wife for a year after Teddy’s death, the fond parent (daughters Sophia and Benjie were in the audience, as was a youthful Goodman grandson, as was Mercedes Ellington), loving husband, a son devoted to his parents, a thoughtful brother. 

It was as if the afternoon had been arranged to get rid of those wicked stories about Benny’s inability to deal with people — especially his sidemen and women — decently.  And his famous obliviousness was only touched on once, in Phoebe’s story about Goodman’s having his fly open on the Dick Cavett Show.

But several things rescued the afternoon from amiable blandness.  One was watching Segal and Jacobs, people who won’t see ninety again, sharp, witty, and totally in command of their material and of the audience.  Enthusiastic, too, as Lorna Sass’s portrait of Phoebe in full flight proves:

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And Martin Segal, sly rather than ebullient, kept on reminding me of someone.  This photo doesn’t entirely capture the resemblance, but it dawned on me that Segal looked a good deal like a shorter version of his friend Benny:

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Finally, two other highlights — one before the conversation, one after.  When the Beloved and I sat down, an elegantly dressed woman in a dark paisley jacket chose to sit next to us and said that she had met Goodman at a Segal party (she had been Segal’s right-hand woman when he created the Film Society of Lincoln Center).  Sallie Blumenthal, for that is her name, had many charming stories — most of them about the actor Louis Calhern, a generous and gracious man.  We never got back to her Goodman story, but now I know that Calhern was a sweet man who remembered everyone he had ever met. 

After the conversation, we went to the third floor of the library to look at their Goodman memorabilia — a quite impressive collection of things that were almost all new to me: a Gil Evans chart for the song DELIA’S GONE, another, earlier chart with Mel Powell’s name penciled in; photos that I hadn’t seen — all curated by a quietly industrious young librarian whose first name is Jonathan (I apologize for not getting his full name). 

A pleasant afternoon, with all the usual (occasionally venomous and hilarious) Goodman gossip put to rest for a change.  Next week, slightly later in the afternoon, Goodman’s musical legacy — as opposed to his social one — will be celebrated and considered by a sextet of musicians who are unfamiliar to me.  But I’m sure they will swing: Goodman’s music is a powerful inspiration!

Photographs copyright 2009 by Lorna Sass.  All rights reserved. 

BENNY RIDES AGAIN, PERHAPS

2009 is a great year for jazz centennials — Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Stuff Smith, Chick Webb, and Benny Goodman.  bg-portraitLast year, I began to write an article on the subject –or should I say the subjects — of BG, but eventually gave it up because balancing his many selves got to be overwhelming.  I felt like a novice waiter who takes too many dishes from the table . . . with the inevitable crash.  Goodman was so many people, depending on which angle he was observed from: the cruel skinflint; the star who didn’t want to share the applause; the artist so engrossed in perfection of the art — his clarinet, his band — that his awareness of his fellow musicians diminished and almost disappeared.  But he was also the jazzman who loved to swing, before there was Swing; the supreme melodic improviser; the man who gave Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Cootie Williams and many others the kind of recognition they would not have had otherwise.  (I even have forgiven him for having made Sidney Catlett cry.)  John Hammond, the great mythologizer, would have had it that Goodman was timid, someone who would have stayed in the studios, playing lucrative pop music, if Hammond hadn’t rescued him — perhaps that was true in 1931, but I don’t think it stayed true for long.  Hear how Goodman inspired and was inspired by Jack Teagarden, by Basie, by Jo Jones, and you hear a truly creative improviser.  How many years will have to pass before we can listen to his playing on, for instance, WHO? (by the Trio) and recognize its immense art?

But Goodman may not need my defense as long as the recordings exist.  This post, however, is about public celebrations of his centennial at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.  Both programs take place at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza.

On Monday, June 1, at 3 PM, the discussion is titled, appropriately, “Memories of You.” Martin E. Segal and Phoebe Jacobs will remember Benny — their conversation moderated by George Boziwick.  Phoebe, in case you’ve never met her or heard her speak, is a Genuine Treasure.  She was there; she tells the truth, lovingly and hilariously.

On Monday, June 8, at 6 PM, the emphasis shifts to “The Music of Benny Goodman,” as played by this small jazz ensemble: Miles Brown, bass; Paul Merrill, trumpet; Bobby Weinschenk, alto saxophone; Joshua Abraham, tenor saxophone; Robert Cowie, piano; Kevin Lowe, drums.  These musicians are new to me, but I am sure they know how to swing.  I do find it odd that no one is listed as playing the clarinet, but perhaps the two saxophonists will switch off.  It should be most intriguing to learn who’s written the charts for a group that obviously isn’t imitating any of the Goodman small groups, and what repertoire they choose.

I hope to be at both events.  Admission to both programs is free; first come, first served.  Call 212-641-0142 or visit www.nypl.org/lpaprograms.

And the best part of these centennial celebrations is that no one, I am sure, will even think to say, “Benny, don’t BE that way.”

GEORGE AVAKIAN’S 90th BIRTHDAY PARTY (Birdland, March 18, 2009)

George’s birthdate is March 15, 1919.  So his celebration last night was slightly late — but neither he nor anyone in the audience that filled Birdland to capacity last night seemed to mind.  It made sense to celebrate George amidst the music he loves — Louis, Duke, and Fats, played live and joyously.

We heard heartfelt tributes to George from Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Bob Newhart, Michel Legrand, Quincy Jones, and Joe Muranyi — a stellar assortment for sure.

And Birdland was filled with the famous — Tony Bennett, Dan Morgenstern, Daryl Sherman, Vince Giordano, Michael Cogswell, Mercedes Ellington, Lloyd Moss, Phoebe Jacobs, Robert O’Meally, Ricky Riccardi, the Beloved, and myself.

All of us were there to honor George, who has recorded and supported everyone: Louis and Duke, Brubeck and Rushing, Eddie Condon, Garner and Mathis, Rollins, Miles Davis, John Cage, and Ravi Shankar — in a wonderful career beginning with the first jazz album (CHICAGO JAZZ, for Decca, in 1939), helped reissue unknown jazz classics, made recordings of the first jazz festival.

The Louis Armstrong Centennial Band played a marvelously uplifted version of its regular Wednesday gig — with Paquito D’Rivera sitting in with his clarinet when the spirit moved him — that’s David Ostwald, tuba; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals; Anat Cohen, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano and vocals; Kevin Dorn, drums.  I was recording the whole thing (audio and video) and offer some video clips.

However, I have not chosen to post the version of ST. LOUIS BLUES during which my tabletop tripod collapsed and sent the camera, still running, into the Beloved’s salad.  It’s cinema verite as scripted by Lucy and Ethel.

Here’s a tribute by Wycliffe to Louis, to Hoagy Carmichael, and to George — ROCKIN’ CHAIR:

And a gently trotting version of the 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic, THOU SWELL, remembering George’s reissuing the best of Bix Beiderbecke:

Duke Ellington said that he was born at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, and George’s stewardship of the famous Columbia recording of that concert was the occasion for the band to recall Duke, pre-Newport, with a wonderfully deep-hued MOOD INDIGO (also for Mercedes Ellington, honoring us all by her presence):

George never recorded Fats Waller, but he did help Louis record the peerless SATCH PLAYS FATS, so the band launched into a perfectly jubilant I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, complete with the verse (“I’m walking on air . . . .”) and an extraordinarily evocative vocal by Mark Shane, who known more about the many voices of Fats than anyone:

Finally, here’s George himself to say a few words.

Happy birthday, Sir!  Thanks for everything!  Keep on keeping on!