Tuesday, September 4, 2012

not so long ago


While wandering around online yesterday I happened across this picture of Louis Armstrong playing a song for his wife. Do you remember him? Silly question - how could you not? Since Louis Armstrong was my Dad's favorite musician, when it was announced he'd be playing at Toronto's CNE Band Shell in the mid-60's, Dad insisted I accompany him just in case there wouldn't be another chance. Naturally I was a bit more interested in seeing other bands at that point in my life but my father was so excited at the idea  of seeing the great musician again that I agreed to go. I was glad I did. The music was wonderful on a bright and sunny afternoon but best of all was seeing my Dad so transported by the infectious joy that Louis radiated. As well as being a musical genius, kind and generous too, he was also very funny:

When I was a kid, that um.. My mother - we lived in an old town in Louisiana named Butte Louisiana - she sent me down to the pond to get a pail of water one day, and I came back, and my mother was on the porch, and she wanted to know 'where’s that water?' I said, 'Well momma, there’s a big old rusty alligator in that water. 'She said, 'Oh boy, go and get that water - don’t you know that alligator’s as scared of you as you is of him?' I said,'Well, if that alligator’s as scared of me as I is of him momma, that water ain’t fit to drink.'

There are many stories if you go looking, including one about the fact he never had a Christmas tree until he was 40; he was so entranced with it he took it on tour and only gave it up when his wife insisted it was dead. Here's another one I enjoyed just because it highlights his kindness:

One afternoon in the spring of 1928, Louis Armstrong was strolling through his South Side Chicago neighborhood with a young friend, tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, when they came upon a group of street musicians. They were playing 'Struttin' With Some Barbecue', a recent hit song by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five band, and the trumpet player was laboring his way through Armstrong's own song note for note.

When the man finished, Freeman remembered, Armstrong clapped politely, then stepped closer, not wanting to embarrass the performer, and murmured, 'Man, you're playing that too slow.'

'How would you know?' asked the trumpet player, indignant.

'I'm Louis Armstrong. That's my chorus you're playing.'

When he and Freeman passed by the next day, the musicians had put a hand-lettered sign next to their tin cup: 'PUPILS OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG'.


Not remembering the particular song, I looked it up and found this youtube clip of Louis at a 1950's Paris nightclub when he jammed with Claude Luter on 'Struttin'. They don't make them like this anymore:


Louis Armstrong  Claude Luter- Struttin' With... by redhotjazz

I'm old but not old enough to have seen Louis Armstrong in his prime. Still, I feel very lucky that I did get to see him laugh and play with my own eyes.

Is there anyone now gone you feel glad to have seen? or anyone you wished you could have seen?

23 comments:

marja-leena said...

Louis Armstrong is fabulous but I've never seen him live. I've not been to many live events other than opera and classical concerts but with TV back in the days (remember Ed Sullivan, heh?), movies, and all the excellent recordings available I don't feel I've missed out. I know, I'm strange...

Francis Hunt said...

I saw Bo Diddley in Dublin in 1981 - that's one legend I'm glad I didn't miss. Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, of course, but I think most Irish people of my age saw Philo at some time or another.

I wonder how many of his more conventional fans during his lifetime knew of his love of pot, or realised that he spent a lot of his time stoned :-)

Francis Hunt said...

Satchmo, I mean!

jams o donnell said...

I would like to have sen Pink Floyd during Barrett era.

Lydia said...

What a delightful post, Susan. I loved the story of your dad. The piece about those street musicians really warmed my heart, too. And the video....wow, what a glimpse into a time gone by.

I am so glad that I have seen Leonard Cohen (and have tickets to see him again in November). I am sorry I never saw Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.

Randal Graves said...

STREET MUSICIANS, LIKE GRAFFITI AND JAYWALKING, KILL.

Black Sabbath, circa 1972, for starters.

Rob-bear said...

Love the story of your dad and Louis at the Band Shell. (That's a place I remembered well from my "growing up days" in Toronto.) Likewise the story of the street musicians in Chicago. Thanks for sharing those.

Kay said...

My Dad loved Ray Charles, and Willie Nelson! I would have loved to see Ray but I might still get a chance to see Willie

susan said...

Oh yes, I do remember Ed Sullivan with great fondness too. I love live music of all kinds but must admit I've seen far more rock and jazz than opera or classical. You're not weird at all.. well, maybe a little.

susan said...

I saw Bo Diddly when I was 15 at a club I wouldn't have been allowed to enter but for a borrowed (and pictureless) driver's license. Ah, Thin Lizzy was a good band in their time.

Probably not :-)

susan said...

You're in good company. Not many saw PF during those years. Thank goodness for records.

susan said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Lydia.

Leonard Cohen would be great to see and you're most lucky to have tickets. I don't think Halifax is on the agenda. Jim I saw from the back of an airport hangar concert space so I'm not sure that counts :-)

susan said...

We may be seeing a lot more of them in future so wear your protective gear.

Yeah, I can see you at one of those shows.

susan said...

The Band Shell did have some cool events. I've always loved big band music.

I'm glad you enjoyed the stories.

susan said...

Ray Charles was amazing. BB King too but I'm not sure he performs anymore. I hope you get to see Willie Nelson.

Claude said...

I lived so many years...Music is my passion...So many memories... Here are a few:

At 15, I saw a very young Leonard Bernstein, at the Matinées Symphoniques de Montréal, conducting Beethoven's 5th, after having explained it, measure by measure, to mesmerised children...I heard Leonard Cohen's first concerts, in small and then bigger Montreal halls, loving him to pieces (with many other girls) and loving him more and more as I grew old with him...Then, who would ever forget the McGarrigle Sisters original rendition of "Complainte pour Ste Catherine"? Montreal was convulsed with laughter, and also delighted! No wonder our hearts broke when Kate died in 2010...

In Toronto, I sat on the first row, at Massey Hall, so I could hear our genius Glenn Gould humming while playing magnificently his beloved Bach...And there was Zubin Mehta, at the Roy Thomson Hall, with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, mixing with all of us, after the concert, laughing and signing, in a flourishing style, the photo I presented him ...

But the best, the best of it all is the little boy, who had sat at the piano, practicing well the scales his mom was teaching him, and finally grew up to play very well, with a major orchestra, at the age of 20, Haydn Trumpet Concerto. Not anymore does he play professionally. But that performance is on a tape and in my heart forever. And I kept all the programs of his five years trumpet playing with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Thank you for your interesting post, and for hearing my story.






Life As I Know It Now said...

There are way too many people I wished I could have seen to list here but I am glad I've seen the Dalia Lama to name just one.

Gina Duarte said...

Oscar Peterson,Count Bassie with a huge band. Jerry Garcia many times with the Grateful Dead and also three or four times with his Jerry Garcia band.

I discovered that photo of Louis Armstrong and his wife several months ago and fell totally in love with it.

susan said...

Hi Claude,
How nice to see you've been by to visit and that my post about Louis Armstrong inspired such a wonderful flow of memories.

How extraordinarily lucky you were to have attended one of those Leonard Bernstein concerts. I remember seeing him on television when television still had programs worth watching. I've never seen Leonard Cohen either although I've been a fan of his music and poetry for a very long time. We're in Nova Scotia now and not on any of his tour stops this year.. and tickets so expensive these days anyway. The McGarrigles were wonderful and never nearly as popular as they should have been.

You do indeed have some wonderful memories of music heard in Toronto too. I remember concerts at Massey Hall too but I didn't see Glenn Gould. Nice stories.

I do understand how the last one you spoke of was best of all. I can just imagine how your heart swells as you remember that little boy who was so patiently and lovingly taught his first music lessons. I'd still have those programs too.

You're most welcome for the post and my thanks in return for your story.

susan said...

Seeing him was quite good enough for one lifetime :-)

susan said...

Ah yes, jazz and big band music are amazing live. Now you've reminded me of one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs - Box of Rain. See? Memories ignite more :-)

It is a beautiful picture.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

a saw a trumpet player interviewed on TV some years ago - he had a story about how as a kid he'd met Louis at an airport and the great jazz man had taken the time to listen to this 5 year old play his trumpet and then applauded. As you can imagine the experience inspired him tremendously.

I did go through a phase of autograph hunting and met a few minor celebs along the way - but I always say that if i had a time machine the first place I would go is to see Talking Heads on the Stop Making Sense tour - looks like a great concert

susan said...

That's a pretty cool story. Louis Armstrong's joy in life went very deep.

We lived in Providence from '77 to '93 and that was one of the shows we did see. In fact, since they were former RISD students, Stop Making Sense was their homecoming triumph.

Thanks so much for coming by. I will reciprocate.