Today is Louis Armstrong’s 113th birthday anniversary. His legacy was celebrated again this weekend at the 14th annual Satchmo SummerFest in New Orleans. August heat and humidity always dissuade me from attending, but reports invariably maintain that the fest transcends the discomfort of 95 degree days and upper 70’s nights. Sooner or later I’ll get there. Had I gone this time, I would certainly have attended Lionel Ferbos’s funeral, which was held on Saturday. The 103-year-old trumpet legend died two weeks ago on July 19, so one assumes his service was delayed to coincide with the fest. The Times-Picayune reported on Lionel’s jazz funeral, complete with a eulogy by New Orleans Archbishop Aymond and a sprawling Second Line.
Ferbos was born only a decade after Armstrong. His professional career began in the late 20’s, and until recently he appeared with the Palm Court Jazz Band and the Louisiana Shakers. Here’s a glimpse of him at age 101 singing “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” That’s Uncle Lionel Batiste, an iconic member of the Treme Brass Band, on drums. He’s also passed on since this was filmed at the Palm Court two years ago.
While I missed the events in New Orleans, I spent a good deal of this overcast weekend conducting a SatchmoFest of my own. In addition to the close reading I’m giving Thomas Brothers’ richly detailed study of Armstrong in the 20’s, Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, I listened to all nine CD’s contained in the new set from Mosaic Records, Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars. That’s a cumbersome title for this box of performances spanning the All Stars’ debut at Town Hall in 1947 to their appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. Kudos to Mosaic for a brilliant job of transfers and mastering, and to Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi for proposing and producing the set. Riccardi and Mosaic’s Scott Wenzel gave the keynote address to the weekend fest in New Orleans. Riccardi is an archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, and writes the Armstrong blog, The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong. He’s a passionate enthusiast for all things Satchmo, and the blog makes use of an impressive array of resources in telling the Armstrong story, “One song and video at a time.”
Here’s one of my favorites from the opening set of the Town Hall Concert, where Armstrong, who’d been fronting a big band for the better part of 15 years, got back to basics with the Hot Five classics “Cornet Chop Suey” and “Butter and Egg Man,” a duo with pianist Dick Cary on “Dear Old Southland,” and this swinging take on “Our Monday Date” the Earl Hines original first recorded by Pops and Fatha in 1928. Hines joined the All Stars the following year; think of this as a shout out.
We’ll hear plenty of Pops in tonight’s Jazz a la Mode. If you miss it (or want to hear it all over again), the show will be available as a podcast for a week until August 11. Click here for the Monday podcast.