Sunday, December 27, 2009

Louis Armstrong, 1950

Coming upon a fragment…

My relationship to early television (the period I have focused upon is, largely, 1949-1952; I was born later, 1956) has often been defined by/informed by fragments—segments of kinescopes, partial audio recordings of TV programs, pictures, newspaper & magazine stories, conversations.

Years ago, for example, before beginning to write about the era, I spent much time listening to audio recordings from Your Hit Parade. They had been given to my mother (probably by the program’s advertising agency, BBD&O, though perhaps by NBC; I am unsure) during the period she was a cast member. They were not of entire telecasts, but were extracts: recordings of some of her performances on the program.

Just recently (to my delight), I came upon another fragment from the era—via the blog of Ricky Riccardi, who is the Project Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens. (His blog address: )

In addition to his work at the Louis Armstrong museum, Riccardi has taught jazz history at Rutgers, has delivered lectures about Armstrong (at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, for example), and is the author of the forthcoming book What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years. The book will be published in May, by Pantheon.

In a November blog posting, Riccardi included a wonderful audio recording of an Armstrong performance of the song “When You’re Smiling.” The performance is from a fall of 1950 appearance Armstrong made on Kay Kyser’s television show on NBC. (In a previous blog entry I referred to Armstrong's appearance on the program.)

The recording is an incomplete one—forty-three seconds long.

I asked Riccardi about the audio tape, by e-mail—wondered if it had come from a still-existing segment of a kinescope.

The recording, he told me, was given to him a couple of years ago by a collector, in Europe, of Armstrong’s music; the collector passed away in 2009.

Riccardi did not know of the provenance of the audio segment, but suggested the performance could have been taped off of a television set, in 1950; he noted that dedicated jazz fans, during the era, were known for making such recordings of favorite artists.

In that the tape is of the latter part of the song, perhaps the tape recorder (if this was indeed how the recording was made) had simply not been turned on in time.

The recording from the Kay Kyser program is the initial one in Riccardi’s November posting; the posting also includes two other Armstrong performances of “When You’re Smiling”:

Here, too, is the amazon link to Ricky Riccardi’s forthcoming book:

And lastly, please note the following link to the Louis Armstrong House Museum, in Queens: