A couple of years ago I found myself writing a song called “Louis Armstrong.” Despite the title, it’s not about Louis Armstrong per se, but it seemed to have a life of its own straight out of the box, so much so that I assembled a large cast of acoustic players to record it at my old stomping ground, Creative Workshop, where I’d been recording and stock-piling various “live in the studio” performances over the previous five years for my Skelly Trilogy project. I used the same core band as before, augmenting the ensemble considerably, and with the invaluable assistance of the great engineer and my close cohort, Joe Funderburk, the result was most pleasing (to me, anyway). This led me to listen to the various acoustic pieces we’d made in this unique musical space, including some songs that had not yet seen the light of day, and the result is “Berry Hill Buzz,” named for the area of town where Creative Workshop has existed since the early seventies, but also as a tip of the hat to its originator and owner, my dear old friend, Buzz Cason, who roared up one afternoon in his sports car to make it to a photo shoot for the album that’s finally going to be released. If it hadn’t been for “Louis Armstrong,” this material might continue to gather dust.
The conclusion to the Louis Armstrong Never Got It Wrong series! If you missed the first three installments you can find them here:
Part 1 of 4- http://wp.me/p2W71Q-9D
Part 2 of 4- http://wp.me/p2W71Q-a2
Part 3 of 4- http://wp.me/p2W71Q-aM
Louis Armstrong can be found on Michael’s upcoming cd release Berry Hill Buzz.
I’ve been meditating on Pops lately for a variety of reasons. I’ve been watching a wonderful DVD of his 70th birthday celebration, held at the Newport Jazz Festival, with a staggering array of talent on hand; the whole thing lovingly organized by George Wein (a legend in his own right). The bonus materials fill a second disc, and it’s all superb and sublime. The title is “Good Evening Everybody” from his famous catch-phrase intro, and even if jazz ain’t your bag, it’s a master entertainer doing just that . . . entertaining at the highest level.
When I was writing my book “Mersey Me!”, I revisited the occasion in Juan Les Pins where I actually got to meet him after his performance at the Antibes Jazz Festival, when he played a midnight matinee at the Voom Voom Club, where I was gigging with Ferris Wheel. He shared our dressing room and invited us stage-side for his set with The All Stars . . . talk about sitting at the feet of a master!
Mersey Me! Excerpt from “War Stories”
The defining Voom Voom memory is the Louis Armstrong moment … one year our stint happened to coincide with the Jazz Festival, so as our band didn’t hit until 9.30, Dave and I would spend the bulk of the day at the festival site, digging all the big boys, and there were some big boys there that year. My wife Patti arrived in June towards the end of the festival, so fortunately she got to share “the moment.” The club owner, an old swashbuckler from Marseilles – Rene, as I recall – had booked the incomparable Satchmo for a midnight matinee after his Festival appearance. Now, Mr. Armstrong was in his later years at this time, but had recently had the most commercial successes of his career with “Hello Dolly” and “What a Wonderful World,” so Pops was still hot (was he ever not?). We were all well pumped at the idea of seeing such a legendary musician up close, but also to catch the All-Stars, at that time with Tyree Glenn on trombone, Barrett Deems on drums, and all those other killers. It was a Friday, I believe, and we were set to wind up our set at eleven thirty, with Louis on at midnight. Now, a Ferris Wheel set was a pretty energetic affair, so we usually hit the dressing room with our reasonably elaborate costumes, and our less elaborate bodies, soaked through. A minute to get changed and compose ourselves was a virtual necessity. Well, this night we were barely off, in the stage-side dressing room, when a phalanx of French security people burst in to clear the space for “Le Armstrong.” We were all literally undressed, Diane too, when these goons made their aggressive appearance, closely followed by His Highness, who cut that shit off at the knees. “Hey boys, can’t you see these folks been workin’ their asses off? This is their room, an’ I just need a little table to set my horn on, and any old chair.” He shoo’ed the security detail off, smoked a joint with us, joking, especially with our black members, “Ofay, Ofay, never gonna go away, heh, heh” and shaking his head. Then came the magic moment … “y’all wanna sit on the stageside, ya welcome.” We did indeed, and Patti and I got to be barely feet away from Louis Armstrong for a wonderful ninety-minute performance, one of those things you can’t really put a price on, can you?
I was a legal alien (to quote Mr. Sumner) for 25 years. I’ve been a citizen for a further 15 years.
I love this country as my home, my childrens’ and grandchildrens’ home, the place where I’ve spent the larger portion of my adult life. I was stunned by 9/11, I was stunned by Lockerbie, I’m stunned by the events in Boston today.
I’m always mainly stunned by the fact that so many international factions harbor such hatred for a country and a population that has always seemed to me the most welcoming and kind of nations. To me, it was the place I always wanted to be, and the realization of that ambition was one of the most significant events of my life.
I don’t agree with some of the political currents; I find some of the social problems and ethical divisions to be difficult for a European liberal to grapple with, but, at the nitty-gritty, it’s still everything that the Great Experiment continues to work towards.
Still an imperfect union in many ways, but so much better than most pluralistic societies, especially the old residues of Empire, where the chickens have come home to roost in often predictable but alarming ways.
Is it envy? Is it age-old religious divisions? Is it just the human race showing once again that we don’t really deserve to be here in what Louis Armstrong rightly labeled “ What A Wonderful World”?
No answers here, I’m afraid, but we’re dealing with yet another national wound, and I had to say something.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG NEVER GOT IT WRONG
Before I ever heard a rock ‘n’ roll record I heard plenty of Louis Armstrong’s music, thanks to my sax-playing Uncle Jack . . . the Hot 5 and Hot 7 recordings, particularly, so I knew there was a lot more to the avuncular showman of the Fifties than cavorting with Bing and Frank on film, mugging on TV, and donning the persona of Jazz Ambassador, although he did all of that with his usual style, grace and good humor.
He provided, almost single-handedly, the instrumental and vocal vocabulary for the generations that followed. Whether we realize it or not, there’s a little bit of Louis in everyone who picks up an axe or walks up to a microphone.
By the age of eleven, I’d read his first autobiography (ghosted, one assumes) three times. Whether his own words, or someone else’s, the flavor of the man came through strong and clear, so even the tidal wave of early rock ‘n’ roll didn’t diminish my big soft spot for Satchmo. There were occasional accusations of Uncle Tomism from the emerging militant groups, but it didn’t seem to phase him, and he just went ahead doing his thing the way he always had, becoming a global icon in the process.
This is part 1 of a 4 part series … stay tuned for more