22 May, 2024

Unheard Louis Armstrong recordings to be released

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Unheard Louis Armstrong recordings to be released

Unheard performances by Louis Armstrong at the BBC in 1968, regarded by Armstrong aficionados as some of the jazz legend’s greatest work, are to finally be released.

A compilation titled Louis in London, available in July, will feature well-known numbers The Bare Necessities, Mack the Knife and Hello, Dolly!, the latter of which premieres today with a video of Armstrong performing at BBC Studios. There are also five recordings that have never been released: (Back Home Again) In Indiana, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Ole Miss, Blueberry Hill and What a Wonderful World.

Tracks from the compilation were recorded live at the BBC on 2 July 1968 – weeks after Armstrong knocked Cliff Richard off the top of the UK charts with his original recording of What a Wonderful World.

Ricky Riccardi, director of research collections for the Louis Armstrong House museum and Grammy-winning author of three Armstrong biographies, has written liner notes for the compilation. He said he was asked by Verve Records to suggest a Louis Armstrong archive that could be reissued, and the BBC recording was his instant recommendation.

“For me it captures the last hurrah,” Riccardi said. “It is Armstrong singing, entertaining and doing it all at a very high level.”

By 1968 Armstrong had heart and kidney illnesses, and was slowing down his career on his doctors’ recommendation. Then suddenly, according to Riccardi, he began singing and playing trumpet once again, leading to this BBC recording taking place in London. “He plays wonderfully, he sings great – it was Armstrong at the top. Sadly only two months later he had to fully retire.

“He had a couple of comebacks but died in 1971. Even though there were some heroic moments, it was a struggle for him. So to get him in the BBC studios with this sound quality is amazing.”

Armstrong received a copy of the 1968 London recording at the time, and affixed a note to it reading “for the fans”. “He wanted his fans and the world to hear this recording,” Riccardi said.

Riccardi also credited a growing interest in Armstrong and his legacy for making 2024 the “perfect” time to release this compilation.

He said there has been an increased understanding of Armstrong – especially compared with the decade after Armstrong’s death when many were critical of the musician and his perceived indifference to racial and civil rights issues. “In the last five to 10 years if you mention some old accusations about Armstrong, you realise no one feels that way any more. Everybody understands what he had to endure.”

Photo: Bettmann Archive

Source: The Guardian

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