4 August marks the 110th birth anniversary of one of the most important musicians in the history of jazz - Louis Armstrong. Satchmo By Satchmo, the first of two Radio 2 programmes marking this occasion, takes a visit to the jazz legend's private tape vault.
Broadcaster and journalist Paul Sexton sets the scene for a unique review of great man's life and times - unique because it's by Louis himself, talking about his life and times in largely unheard home recordings. Armstrong was one of the first artists to embrace reel-to-reel home tape technology. He loved to record his own voice for posterity, whenever the occasion allowed, from around 1950 (when he had already been an artist for some 30 years) until shortly before his death in 1971.
The tapes make for an extraordinary and often hilarious first-hand commentary on a singular life. Satchmo looks back on his earlier career, talking about recording in the 1920s with Joe "King" Oliver, "Empress of the Blues" Bessie Smith and others, and describes the contemporary events in his life in this fascinating audio diary.
We hear Louis talk about the day that he and his wife Lucille met the Pope ("such a fine little old fellow!") and how the pontiff prayed for them; there's the time he took a phone call in the middle of one of his "audio letters" from his drummer in the Louis Armstrong All-Stars, "Cozy" Cole; and, to illustrate just how long his incredible career lasted, we also hear what he thought of the Beatles.
In one of the most remarkable excerpts, Satchmo issues a severe verbal reprimand to his fellow jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton, who had expressed the opinion that "scat" singing had started before Armstrong established the style (according to Louis, on the 1926 recording Heebie Jeebies). "I'm not going to let you get away with that, young man," says Louis, before we realise that at the point he makes the admonishment, Morton is already dead.
There are clips of Armstrong singing to himself on his home tapes, (including completely acappella versions of Beale Street Blues and the calypso from High Society) and Louis tells some of his favourite jokes, such as the one about the alimoney and the one about the alligator! Plus, there are songs from his superb catalogue to illustrate the speech, including C'Est Si Bon, When It's Sleepy Time Down South and, as he makes a moving final analysis of his life as it nears the end, Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen.
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