It's official: I'm back from New Orleans. Well, my physical being might be sitting here in a basement in Toms River, NJ, but my spirit and heart still remains back in the city that gave me the greatest weekend of my life. I don't have any more pictures to share but I can attest that the final day was hands down one of the greatest experiences of my life. I presented more rare Armstrong footage but technical difficulties forced me to nearly run out of time before getting to my show-stopping last clip, a televised version of "What a Wonderful World" from 1970. I asked for kind permission to run over and show this clip, a request that was met with overwhelming applause by the nearly 200 members of the audience. When "What a Wonderful World" ended, people had tears in their eyes. The entire room rose and gave me a standing ovation, something I will never, ever forget.
But though I felt proud of myself (my wife cried for the next 20 minutes), I was prouder for Pops. I've been crusading to get Louis Armstrong more respect since I was first exposed to his music as a 15-year-old. I've gotten friends interested, family members, disbelieving jazz fans, know-it-all undergraduates, anyone and everyone I've come into contact with. My lectures at the Institute of Jazz Studies were all a success but they were aimed at hardened jazz historians. This time, I had three audiences made up mostly of regular people and armed with about two hours of footage of Louis Armstrong in the 1950s and 1960s, I had people laughing, crying, applauding and finally standing up and cheering. But that's the thing...I didn't make them cheer, it was all Pops! Looking out over the auditorium and seeing people ranging from young kids to the 97-year-old trumpeter Lionel Ferbos, I could feel all the love in the room for Armstrong. As I've written for so long, Armstrong's later years are his most understood. Hell, Armstrong himself is probably one of America's most misunderstood geniuses. But there he was, singing, playing, joking around, telling stories on talk shows, interacting with other celebrities, swinging with the All Stars and still giving people the most entertaining shows imaginable, 38 years after he died.
Louis Armstrong has become so damned taken for granted by so many different people: he's a commercial sellout to certain sectors of the jazz world, he's the guy with the funny voice who sang "What a Wonderful World" to most of the general public, he's still an Uncle Tom to certain members of both the black and white community...it's so frustrating, I can't even convey it accurately in words. But when people sit down with open minds and watch Pops onstage, in his element, nobody can deny his genius, nor the timelessness of his being. I might have gotten the standing ovation this weekend, but it was Pops who did all the work.
Otherwise, the weekend was an absolute dream in every way and I can never thank Jon Pult enough for taking a chance on a nobody like me--an average, unknown jazz pianist who has published nothing but this manic blogs and paints houses and plays Italian restaurants to pay the bills--and letting me take my Pops crusade right into the heart of his birthplace.
One nifty thing that happened was I spread the word about this here blog, mentioning it in my lectures and handing out about 75 cards with the address on it to those who were interested. Thus, if you caught me at the Summerfest and are checking this space out for the first time, hello! I know some people got a little confused and got the impression that I house all the rare clips I showed this weekend on this blog. I don't, mostly for copyright reasons. But whenever something good pops up on YouTube, I always try to discuss it, including the clip with Peter Davis on "I've Got a Secret," which I could not show because I ran out of time on day two. You can look through the archives and find my older posting on that one, as well as dozens of others on videos, songs, records, concerts and anything else Pops related. Comments are always appreciated, as well as e -mails. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I mentioned this briefly the other day but I'll really go public with it now: this Wednesday, August 6, I'll be at Birdland in New York City to catch David Ostwald's Louis Armstrong Centennial Band. I know Vincent Gardner will be on trombone and the astounding Yoshio Toyama is flying from New Orleans to New York for the gig before heading off to Japan. Kevin Dorn on drums and Ehud Asherie on piano will round out the group. You do not want to miss the music, but the company should be good as we've been jokingly referring to this as "Satchmo Summerfest - New York Edition" because it'll be a reunion of sorts of the Satchmo Summerfest crew. Ostwald has had this gig for nine straight years and I really think Armstrong nuts from the New York and Jersey area should make it a point to meet once a month there to talk about Pops and enjoy the wonderful music. Birdland is such a great room, Ostwald leads a tremendous group and the cover is only a paltry $10. Here's a taste of what to expect, courtesy of a YouTube video of the group doing "Chinatown, My Chinatown," with Joe Muranyi on clarinet, Joe Ascione on drums and fellow Satchmo Summerfest-ite Randy Sandke on trumpet:
Exciting stuff, right? So if you're in the area and have $10 to drop, come by to Birdland. I'll be there around five and you should know what I look like since I think I've posted enough pictures of me in the last week to publish a photo essay in Look magazine.
And THEN, I promise, I'll stop talking about things going on in my life and once and for all get back to all Pops, all the time with the promised blog on "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans." Til then...or for those coming, til Birdland!