The little-known collage art of Louis Armstrong
06:07 am


Louis Armstrong

I consider myself to be a more-educated-than-average jazz fan, especially in regards to the early New Orleans stuff. (I even did a report on Louis Armstrong in the fourth grade!) So how am I just now learning of Louis Armstrong’s cool collage work? Ken Burns, why hast thou forsaken me with thine sentimental and insufficient documentary series?!?

Louis started working in collage some time in the 1950s. Originally, he created them on paper and hung them in his den, but his wife wasn’t too keen on them, and he had to get creative. A dedicated recorder of his own performances, Armstrong always had a handy supply of reel-to-reel tapes with him everywhere he went, and the tape boxes were a perfect surface medium for his hobby. They weren’t really intended to be shown—they were his personal scrapbook, and the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College in Flushing, New York has about 1,000 of these collages on about 500 tape boxes.

Each piece pays close attention to balance—it feels cohesive and organic, and the indiscreet use of scotch tape “shows the seams,” so to speak. I like the use of color and combination of source materials—photos, news clippings, correspondence, concert programs, his own handwritten captions, and even bits of his beloved Swiss Kriss Herbal Laxatives packaging. I also like Armstrong’s use of his own image in his work; there’s something intimate about an artist reflecting on their own celebrity.

I’m getting a very Robert Rauschenberg vibe. You?







Via The Paris Review

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Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash play together, 1970
06:15 am


Johnny Cash
Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash
From 1969 to 1971, ABC aired The Johnny Cash Show first on Sundays but later on Wednesdays; it was taped at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. One of the highlights of the show was the appearance of Louis Armstrong on the October 28, 1970 show. Less than a year before his death of a heart attack, Armstrong briefly sings “Crystal Chandeliers” and “Ramblin’ Rose” before Johnny Cash joins him onstage for a charming duet of the Jimmie Rodgers song “Blue Yodel #9.”

Not surprisingly, Cash knew his history. As he explains on the program, in 1930 Louis played on Rodgers’ recording of that same song, “Blue Yodel #9.” Louis’ voice is not heard on the number; he’s there strictly as a session musician. Louis’ wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, is on the piano. Certainly Cash selected one of Louis’ rare appearances on a country track (if it can be so called) quite consciously to link the triumphant early period of Louis’ career to Cash himself.

Also, it gave Louis an excuse to put on a huge white cowboy hat at the Grand Ole Opry.

According to Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn,

Cash was especially proud of bringing Louis Armstrong onto the Ryman stage, where the jazz great had once been barred from performing because of his race. On the show, Armstrong re-created the trumpet solo he’d played on a Jimmie Rodgers recording of “Blue Yodel No. 9” in a 1930 session in Hollywood; Cash was thrilled to sing Rodgers’s part. By celebrating that historic pairing, Cash wasn’t just saluting his heroes; he was subtly underscoring his message of unity and tolerance.

To hear Louis’ familiar, scratchy voice join Johnny’s yodel chorus is a delight.
Jimmie Rodgers, “Blue Yodel No. 9,” 1930:

Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash, The Johnny Cash Show, 1970:

via William Caxton Fan Club (a.k.a John Darnielle’s Tumblr)

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Louis Armstrong’s ham hocks and red beans recipe: ‘It is my birth mark’
12:39 pm


Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong hosts a big dinner
Let’s face it—we’re still in the holiday season, and what with all the snow much of the country has been getting, it’s okay if you want something utterly yummy to stick inside your belly. Exercising doesn’t start on New Year’s, it starts right after Super Bowl Sunday ... everybody knows that.

So I feel entitled to pass on a delicious recipe for ham hocks and red beans that comes from the unmatchable creative mind of Louis Armstrong. The legendary jazz trumpeter used to sign off his letters, “Red Beans And Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong,” and he talked about red beans a lot in his autobiography, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans. For instance:

They used to laugh like mad when I first began to practice my cornet. Then as the days went on they began to listen and to make little comments, the way kids will. Then we began to understand one another. They were growing rapidly, and the more they grew the more they ate. I soon learned what a capacity they had, and I learned to take precautions. Whenever I cooked a big pot of beans and rice and ham hocks they would manage to eat up most of it before I could get to the table. Willie could make a plate full of food vanish faster than anyone I ever saw. (p. 55)

Or this:

I thought her Creole gumbo was the finest in the world. Her cabbage and rice was marvelous. As for red beans and rice, well, I don’t have to say anything about that. It is my birth mark. (p. 85, emphasis mine)

As Satchmo said, “No need to make folks think I like fancy foods like quail on toast, chicken and hot biscuits, or steak smothered in mushrooms. Of course they taste good and I can eat them, but have you ever tried ham hocks and red beans?” Exactly right. And here’s the recipe the way he liked it:

Louis Armstrong’s Ham Hocks and Red Beans

Serves 6.

1 pound dried red beans water
1 pound ham hock
1 bay leaf
1 pod red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, diced
1 pod garlic, minced

Wash beans and soak two to three hours or overnight if preferred.

When ready to cook, drain off water and put beans in large pot with two quarts cold water. Let water heat thoroughly, then add ham hocks, herbs, onion and garlic. Cook slowly but steadily at least two hours or until tender enough to mash easily.

When done, place in a dish and lay ham hocks on top. May be served with rice.

I propose serving it for your Super Bowl gathering, or barring that, then for the “Big Game.” Doesn’t it look good?
Ham hocks and red beans
Ham hocks and red beans
Source: Freda DeKnight, A Date with a Dish, a Cookbook of American Negro Recipes. New York: Hermitage Press, 1948. Forgive the title, it’s a very old book. Freda DeKnight died in 1963 at the young age of fifty-three. She was the cooking columnist for Ebony and her books are still in print.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Reefer Man: Did Louis Armstrong turn Richard Nixon into his drug mule?
05:36 am


Richard Nixon
Louis Armstrong

Ah, this is a good one. But, before we dive deep down into this wondrous legend, let’s get one thing straight: In the Jazz community no one calls Louis Armstrong “Satchmo.” It’s Pops, got it? You know, as in the local friendly neighborhood patriarch and titular head of the Jazz family. Pops

As for this legend, it should be noted that, like all legends, little details that were not initially explained or transmitted may get explained, or embellished, in later tellings. These latter variations may or may not have much to do with what actually happened, but tracing the sources of this particular legend, it’s pretty likely that something did actually happen, and that something is pretty hilarious.

As the legend goes, some time in the early 1950s, Louis Armstrong and Vice President Richard M. Nixon were riding the same plane together back to the US from Japan (this seems to be the most plausible version). Apparently, Nixon was a big Armstrong fan and noticed the musical great struggling with a number of heavy cases including, of course, that of his trumpet.  Nixon asked Pops if there was anything he could do to help him.

Armstrong reportedly said something like, “Oh that would be a great help, because you know, I’m starting to get pretty old. Do you think you could carry my trumpet case? It’s quite heavy.” So Armstrong gave Nixon his trumpet to carry and, since it was with the well-known and easily identifiable jowly Richard Nixon, Vice President of the United States of America, Nixon and the case sailed right through customs. (There are variations of the tale that make the destination a European country and also Russia, but apparently Armstrong never played there)

Now unbeknownst to Nixon, the trumpet case he was carrying… also contained Pops’ stash. Armstrong was, of course, a “viper”—a lifelong smoker of “the gage,” as they called it back then (and if it’s not obvious, we’re talking about marijuana here).

I heard this through my own father who had in turn heard it from the cats in Armstrong’s band during a NYC run he played in Pops’ band circa 1970. Since my own pop wasn’t a regular, he didn’t hear the story from Armstrong himself, but some of the older regulars told him that Pops relished telling the story and that they’d heard it it many, many times over the years.

As far as I’m concerned that’s just about enough for me to believe it, but some web-based clicking doesn’t reveal a lot in the way of published articles or stories. Indeed, there are lots of different versions of the story that put the event in Paris, Ghana, London, Russia and elsewhere. But stumbling across the “Snopes” message board, there seems to be a fairly reliable source for the story from the late Arvell Shaw, who was in Armstrong’s band in the late 40s and early 50s.

Given Pops’ legendary love of weed, this seems not only plausible but quite likely.

What is equally fascinating is that there may have been a second act to this story…

In 1954 (after the drug mule event), Armstrong’s wife Lucille was busted for cannabis possession. Having returned from Japan, she was in a beachfront hotel room in Waikiki when the cops burst in, searched the place, and carted her—and what was almost certainly Pops’ pot stash—off to jail. Clearly, a tip-off had occurred. Although Lucille Armstrong was eventually released and ordered to pay just a $200 fine, this prompted Pops to write a stunning letter to his manager about getting hassled for ganja:

“Mr. Glaser, you must see to it that I have special permission to smoke all the reefers that I want to when I want or I will just have to put this horn down, that’s all, I can gladly vouch for a nice, fat stick of gage, which relaxes my nerves, if I have any ... I can’t afford to be ... tense, fearing that any minute I’m going to be arrested, brought to jail for a silly little minor thing like marijuana.”...

“Can you imagine anyone giving Lucille all of those headaches and grief over a mere small pittance such as gage, something that grows out in the backyard among the chickens and so forth,” Louis emoted in his letter to Glaser. “I just won’t carry on with such fear over nothing and I don’t intend to ever stop smoking it, not as long as it grows. And there is no one on this earth that can ever stop it all from growing. No one but Jesus – and he wouldn’t dare. Because he feels the same way that I do about it…. Gage ain’t nothin’ but medicine,”

(You can find more details about the bust here...I linked to the cached version because there seems to be some spamware in the ‘real’ one.)

So the obvious question here is, who tipped off the cops in Hawaii? Did, somehow, the Vice President hear about his having been used to move Pops’ weed stash and then had one of his gang phone in a “tip”? That kind of petty revenge is certainly not outside the scope of Nixon’s character. I guess we’ll never know for sure if Tricky Dicky behind this, so deem this “act two” speculative.

But the “drug mule” bit? I’d wager this is true. It’s simply too outlandish not to be: Louis Armstrong got Richard Nixon to move his pot stash across an international border—and that alone deserves all the respect we post-modern ironic types can muster.

Posted by Em | Leave a comment
Satchmo’s chops: Two teenagers interview Louis Armstrong, 1964
11:57 am


Louis Armstrong


“You’ve got to be good or as bad as the devil. ... Even if we had two, three days off I still had to blow that horn a few hours to keep up the chops.”—Louis Armstrong

In 1964, 15-year-old Michael Aisner and James R. Stein, 14, interviewed the great Louis Armstrong in the Chicago area for their high school radio station. The recording of that interview originally aired on WNTH in Winnetka, Illinois and has now been charmingly animated as part of PBS’s ace “Blank on Blank” series.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Can you think of a stupider name than The Beastie Boys?’

Jim Morrison declares ‘Fat is beautiful,’ 1969

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
My Bloody Valentine’s James Bond cover

I thought this Blythe doll looked like Bilinda Butcher

My Bloody Valentine’s lovely, restrained cover of Hal David and John Barry’s “We Have All The Time in the World” was recorded for Island Records’ Peace Together charity compilation for the youth of Northern Ireland, in 1993.

The song, of course, was originally made famous by Louis Armstrong and comes from the soundtrack to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Considering how notoriously unproductive MBV have proven to be over the years, I wonder if there’s a bit of irony in the group choosing this song in particular to record. Some Internet sources claim that’s actually Kevin Shields singing, but I don’t think so. If it is him, well, he’s channeling Bilinda here quite successfully.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra sing Death Metal

Another excellent death metal redub by YouTube user Andy Rehfeldt, with a little help from someone called Bördi. Wait for Louis to sing - why wasn’t the connection between Louis Armstrong and death metal more obvious before now?

Previously on DM:
Louis Armstrong sings Death Metal version of ‘What A Wonderful World’

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Louis Armstrong Sings Death Metal Version of “What a Wonderful World”


Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment