Jazz Jottings September 2023

The official opening of the Louis Armstrong Visitors Center in early July will provide a deeper dive into the life and art of one of America’s greatest musicians. Located across the street from the Louis Armstrong House Museum on 107th Street in Queens, New York, the $26 million building is now the permanent home for the 60,000-piece Louis Armstrong archives, the world’s largest collection for a jazz musician.

Circles and circular forms dominate the Center’s exhibition gallery, which features historic photographs, display cases of artifacts, interactive stations, and a projector that creates the illusion of a spinning record album where every groove tells a different story about some aspect of Armstrong’s life.

Explore Upbeat Records

Audio plays a major role in the Center’s exhibits. Each display has its own hi-fidelity soundtrack which visitors can listen to on hand-held devices. The Center also has a 75-seat venue where live performances, lectures, films and educational experiences are presented.

View Armstrong’s Five-decade Career

The current exhibition, “Here to Stay,” takes a look at Armstrong’s five-decade career as an innovative musician, rigorous archivist, consummate collaborator and community builder— entertaining millions from heads of state and royalty to the kids on the stoop of his home in the working-class neighborhood where he and his wife Lucille lived for 28 years.

According to Ricky Riccardi, director of research collections, “Armstrong is the one who made the trumpet a jazz instrument; the one who popularized ‘scat’ singing; the one who made jazz into a soloist’s artform. He had so many impacts as a performer, singer, composer and actor.”

UpBeat Records

In the 1980s, the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation donated the Armstrong archives to the Museum and provided funds to purchase the lot on which the new Center was built. CUNY and Queens College, working with state and city authorities, led the advocacy to fund the building.

Outreach Program for Trumpeters

The Museum recently launched an outreach program providing trumpet lessons to students of local schools, made possible by a donation of instruments from Ken Karnofsky, a descendant of the New Orleans family that helped Armstrong buy his first trumpet.

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The Landmarks Preservation Commission of New York City has designated three buildings for landmark status that are connected to jazz history. A three-story multi-family Colonial Revival-style building in Queens was once the home of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie. Bandleader Edward “Duke” Ellington and composer Noble Sissle once lived in a Gothic Revival-style, brick-and-limestone apartment building completed in 1915 in Washington Heights in the most northern part of the Borough of Manhattan. The Hotel Cecil on West 118th Street in Harlem was home to Minton’s Playhouse nightclub for over 30 years.

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The Bix Beiderbecke Museum in Davenport, Iowa was closed to the public this past April due to flooding in the exhibit area. Fortunately, damage was minimal, and the exhibits were mostly unaffected. Work has been slow in getting the Museum open again, which resulted in the loss of visitor income. Board members and donors have stepped up and pledged over $5,200 to expedite the re-opening and develop a plan to avoid future closures. Additional funding is still needed, and tax-exempt donations can be sent to the Bix Beiderbecke Museum & World Archives, POB 3052, Davenport, IA 52808, or by contacting director Nathaniel Kraft at (563) 293-4046 or [email protected].

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San Diego

Andrew Walesch has taken over as artistic director of the world-class Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, succeeding Lowell Pickett. For the past eight years, Walesch has been the music director of Crooners Supper Club in Minneapolis, booking 12 or more shows a week across three venues and myriad genres. During the Pandemic, his Crooners team produced more than 250 virtual and socially-distanced concerts, keeping hundreds of musicians working and bringing positive experiences to music lovers in dire need of connection at that difficult time. Walesch is also a singer, pianist and performer and has served on the boards of music-based non-profits.

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While most musicians tout performing at major venues in large cities, Mike Vax recently took his quartet to a remote town in Eastern Arizona to perform at the Happy Jack Lodge & RV Park. The dance hall, replete with elk heads and bear skins on the walls, always featured country and rock bands, so bringing in a jazz band was a “grand experiment,” according to Mike. “We were joking ahead of time about needing chicken wire around the stage in case people started throwing things at us. But the dancers loved the music, and we had many wonderful comments about how refreshing it was to hear “our kind of music’”

– One-liners –

Ricky Riccardi has submitted the manuscript of his next book, Stomp Off, Let’s Go: The Early Years of Louis Armstrong, to his editors at the Oxford University Press.

Four Freshmen leader Bob Ferreira observed 31 years with the venerable vocal group in August.

Clarinetist Dave Bennett has signed on with Canadian manufacturer Backun Musical Services for endorsement purposes.

Brandi Haga-Blackman has been elected president of the Tucson Jazz Festival, which is scheduled to present its 10th edition January 12-14, 2024.

Howard Alden’s 1994 Concord CD Your Story: The Music of Bill Evans is included among the “Best Jazz Guitar Albums: 75 Essential Listens.”

Glad to see my old hometown held the 10th annual Springfield (Mass) Jazz & Roots Festival this summer, with Evan Arntzen as one of the featured artists.

One pundit noted that apart from his great sense of humor, which had universal appeal, Thomas “Fats” Waller had the ability to play jazz to a public that did not want to hear jazz.

Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards

As TST readers know, I usually end my columns with a provocative saying that relates to music or jazz. The latest listed below is attributed to Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, who enjoyed considerable popularity in the 1920s and early 1930s, specializing in jazzy renditions of pop standards and novelty tunes. He had a number one hit with “Singin’ in the Rain” in 1929 and later in his career, did voices for animated cartoons, his best known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (in which he sang “When You Wish Upon a Star”) and Dandy (Jim) Crow in Dumbo (“When I See an Elephant Fly”).

Edwards left school at age 14 and began entertaining as a singer in Midwest saloons. As many places had pianos in bad shape or none at all, he taught himself to play the ukelele (choosing it because it was the cheapest instrument in the music store.) He was nicknamed “Ukulele Ike” by a club owner who could never remember his name.

He went on to join the vaudeville circuit, played The Palace in New York City, and was featured in Broadway shows and the Ziegfeld Follies. He recorded early examples of “scat” singing in 1922 along with popular hits of the day such as “Hard Hearted Hannah,” “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” and “Paddlin’ Madeline Home.” Edwards died in 1971.

So for all you lovers of Hot Jazz, Ragtime and Swing, Cliff Edwards reminds you that “New songs don’t seem to last, while the old ones come back again and again.”

Lew Shaw started writing about music as the publicist for the famous Berkshire Music Barn in the 1960s. He joined the West Coast Rag in 1989 and has been a guiding light to this paper through the two name changes since then as we grew to become The Syncopated Times.  47 of his profiles of today's top musicians are collected in Jazz Beat: Notes on Classic Jazz. Volume two, Jazz Beat Encore: More Notes on Classic Jazz contains 43 more! Lew taps his extensive network of connections and friends throughout the traditional jazz world to bring us his Jazz Jottings column every month.

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