The highlight of the current reporting period was the 8th annual Satchmo SummerFest (July 31-August 3). It was particularly nice because, for the first time since before Hurricane Katrina, the event was again held in and on the grounds of the Old U.S. Mint on Esplanade Avenue, a wonderfully self-contained space. The music and eats were available outside while the lecture series was presented in the climate-controlled atmosphere of the Mint itself. (I have to add that I, along with many other like-minded souls, greatly appreciated the location of the trad jazz stage in the tree-shaded portion of the grounds at the corner of Esplanade and French Market Place.) The weather was predictably steamy, so it was great to be able to move easily between the music stages outside and the air-conditioned lecture hall. Both locales had so much to offer that it often made choosing between them difficult.
"The Satchmo Seminar Series" opened with a keynote address by George Avakian, a regular presenter at the festival, on the evening of July 31. His talk, "Living with Pops," recounted his personal relationship with Louis Armstrong, emphasizing parallels between their philosophies of life. Highlights of the following day were was an oral history interview of trumpeter Connie Jones by pianist Tom McDermott and another of trumpeter Yoshio Toyama and his wife, Keiko, by Dr. Jack Stewart. Jones, a native New Orleanian (though living in Philadelphia at the time), was a member of Jack Teagarden's last band. The Toyamas, now regular guests at SatchFest, lived in New Orleans between 1968 and 1973. Their new book, The Holy Land: New Orleans, The Saint: Louis Armstrong, is a generously illustrated account of their musical experiences in the city during that period. It was published in Japan, in Japanese (with an accompanying booklet in English), but they are looking for an American or European publisher. The many photographs (culled from a total collection of about 10,000) are of interest by themselves. As yet there is no domestic distributor and there are problems with currency exchanges, but, if interested, one might contact Yoshio by email at email@example.com.
Presentations on August 2 included an excellent illustrated lecture by Armstrong biographer Gary Giddins, who rightly opened by saying, "It's hard to overstate the impact Armstrong had on our world." Giddins discussed the close relationship between Louis and Bing Crosby, about whom he has also written.
Festival veteran Dan Morgenstern then followed with a discussion of Armstrong's "legendary 1937 Fleischman's Yeast [radio] broadcasts," the first sponsored network show starring an African American. Morgenstern has assembled a new double CD with selections of music from those broadcasts and selections from Armstrong's home-recorded tapes now in the Armstrong House Museum in New York. The CD is on the Jazz Heritage Society label and is available on line at www.thejazzstore.com.
Other speakers on Saturday were Michael Cogswell, director of the Armstrong House Museum, and trumpeter Peter Ecklund who deconstructed Louis' solo on "I'm In the Mood for Love."
The final day of talks featured an interesting lecture by Randy Sandke, who explored two "opposing characteristics" of Armstrong -- his fun-loving, spontaneous ("Louie") side and his "master craftsman" ("Louis") side. At the same time, Sandke noted that it is still probably too soon for us to be able to appreciate the magnitude of the trumpeter's impact on subsequent generations.
That lecture was followed by panel discussions devoted to a tribute to the late John Brunious and some local musicians' recollections of Armstrong's birthday at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1970.
Finally, each day of lectures concluded with vintage film and video clips of Armstrong performances by the enthusiastic young Armstrong scholar, Ricky Riccardi.
Live music was heard at four stages -- traditional jazz, contemporary jazz, brass band and children's -- on the last two days of the festival. I was unable to hear all the bands, and space permits only a superficial overview of the live performances.
The bands and/or their leaders that performed on the trad jazz stage included Tim Laughlin, Connie Jones, Yoshio Toyama, Chris Clifton, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (in a tribute to John Brunious), the Last Straws, Lars Edegran, John "Kid" Simmons, Leroy Jones and Katja Toivola, Randy Sandke and Dr. Michael White. Among the leaders and bands that performed on other stages were Glen David Andrews, Jeremy Davenport, Rick Trolsen, Leah Chase, Sharon Martin, James Andrews, Kermit Ruffins, and Wade Barnes. The brass band lineup included the Storyville Stompers, the Rebirth, the Soul Rebels, New Birth Algiers and Treme brass bands, among others.
But the above is just a sampling of what was available at the festival. Other attendant events included the annual Satchmo Art Show, the birthday party at Armstrong Park and the jazz mass at St. Augustine Church and subsequent second line parade. All together, it was a terrific weekend -- and all free! Congratulations to the organizers, new FQF executive director Marci Schramm and her collaborator and admired predecessor Sandra Dartus.
Next year's Satchmo SummerFest is scheduled for Thursday, July 30, through Sunday, August 2.