Louis Armstrong: Fourth of July Fireworks
Here’s a selection of Louis Armstrong clips in honor of his 112th (traditional) birthday anniversary. Even though we learned 20 years ago that Pops was born on August 4, 1901, it’s done little to diminish the association of the Fourth of July with the birthday of the man who transformed American music in the 20th century.
The first is the famous performance by Armstrong that was filmed in Copenhagen in 1933. It’s a soundstage taping with audience intercut to make it appear like a concert. In Terry Teachout’s biography, Pops, he says, “As the film rolls, the veil of the past is lifted and we are brought face to face with the stage-show Armstrong; the white handkerchief; the crouching and springing; the dancing in place during the band’s instrumental interludes, the sudden stillness and concentration each time he puts his horn to his mouth.”
Here he is playing “Jeepers Creepers,” the Harry Warren song he’d introduced 20 years earlier, in a 1958 broadcast of the Garry Moore TV show. Ruby Braff, the Bostonian who'd idolized Pops ever since he first heard him on the radio and visualized a huge golden orb, is introduced by Jack Teagarden as “the Ivy League’s Louis Armstrong.” I doubt the irascible Ruby took kindly to Big T's compliment, but note how Teagarden pronounces Armstrong’s first name as “Lewis,” just as Pops did throughout his life and for all the world to hear on "Hello Dolly."
“Back O’ Town Blues” had been an Armstrong staple for about 20 years when he performed it for this beautifully-filmed BBC production in 1965. Teachout quotes from Louis Armstrong- A Self-Portrait: "Like when I play, maybe 'Back O' Town Blues,' I'm thinking about one of the old, low-down moments-- when maybe your woman didn't treat you right. That's a hell of a moment when a woman tell you, 'I got another mule in my stall'."
And speaking of blues classics, Armstrong and Jimmie Rodgers recorded "Blue Yodel #9" in 1930. Here it’s “recreated” by Pops and Johnny Cash in 1970; the complete segment opens with Armstrong singing “Crystal Chandeliers” and “Ramblin’ Rose” from his recently released Louis "Country & Western" Armstrong album. Pops died less than a year after this touching performance which hearkened back to his great obbligato playing with the Singing Brakeman, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and other Classic Blues singers of the ‘20’s.
Lastly, here's a sampler from the Armstrong documentaryGood Evening Ev'rybody filmed during his 70th birthday celebration at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1970. That's Dave McKenna at the piano, Bobby Hackett on cornet, Mahalia Jackson singing "Saints," and Dizzy Gillespie with the Armstrong imitation he'd created 20 years earlier as "Pop's Confessin'." Diz mocked Pops in lighter moments, but he spoke the truth with his famous dictum, "No him, no me."