Reverse engineering Louis Armstrong’s record stash part 2

LouisHeadphones
I got a fantastic message about Louis Armstrong’s record collection on Facebook this week from my long time record pal and jazz archaeologist, Rob Chalfen. Way back in the early days of this blog, we (mostly he, truth be told) fantasized about the contents of Louis Armstrong’s record collection. Rob had a lot of informed (and musically annotated) ideas what records he might have had which I dutifully documented in my pre-wordpress LOVE beta site. Despite my ham handed coding, it’s a cool bit of research connecting Louis to Caruso via a horn line in Herbert L. Clarke’s “Showers Of Gold Scherzo” (1912) that shows up in Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” (1928). IF that was not enough, he traced connections to Bert Williams and minstrelsy via two Elder Eatmore routines that Louis versioned and flipped. As I read it now, it seems to stand up as a pretty decent bit of freestyle musicology.

At the time, I think we both assumed that this would always remain the realm of informed speculation, because of course, what are the chances that Louis’s New Orleans record stash remained intact? Right. What are the chances?

Rob recently decided to contact contact The Louis Armstrong House Museum and ask. As usual, he sure has a knack for finding old records.

Here was the original message Rob sent:

hey Ricky, on the subject of Louis’ records, this work of quasi-informed speculation might amuse you, from a buddy’s blog with me a few years ago LOVE1_4 libraryofvinyl.org Reverse engineering Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans record stash
If you have a concordance of Louis’ early 78s I’d love to see it!

And then the nearly unbelievable reply:

Hey Rob! Finally getting a chance to sit down and respond to your message. Your piece was great and interestingly, almost 100% spot on! How do I know? Because as the Archivist of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, Louis’s entire collection of records and reel-to-reel tapes is one room away from me. And better than that, when I was hired in 2009, my big project was to create an Online Catalog, which you can browse the link before. The accession number for all of Louis’s tapes and records is “1987.3” so you can search for any artist, just make sure you include 1987.3 as part of the list. So go ahead, search for “1987.3 Caruso” or “1987.3 Bert Williams”….you’ll feel like a prophet! Happy searching and thanks again! http://louisarmstronghouse.org/collections/online_catalog.htm Yours in Pops, Ricky
Louis Armstrong House Museum – Online Catalog
louisarmstronghouse.org
And Happy Birthday a day early!

Happy birthday indeed my man. And good ears, as always. Here’s to many more years of listening together. Keep on sharing what you find and I’ll keep on bloggin it up for the masses.

ChalfenListening

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Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra – Theme from S.W.A.T.

Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra - Theme from S.W.A.T.

Perhaps the most precious experience for a record junkie is finding a grail record that you never knew existed. That’s just what happened to me last week as I was preparing the MagnuSoul Mix Volume 1. Being a Boston native with a love of funk, breaks, Caribbean records, and groovy 60s and 70’s TV and movie themes like S.W.A.T. and Shaft, finding a local record that pulls all those things together was beyond even my wildest dreams.

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Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra – Theme from S.W.A.T.

This version of the S.W.A.T. theme (originally recorded by Rhythm Heritage and famously sampled by L.L. Cool J for “I’m Bad”) is clearly part of a tradition of steel band covers of popular soul, funk and R&B songs. Many of these have been archived on compilations like the Light in the Attic series West Indies Funk, but to my knowledge, this one has never appeared anywhere else.

Indeed, there is remarkably little on the web (or local print media) about The Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra. The record lists Kelvin Griffith as its Captain, which I assume means musical director (though I must say that mysterious nautical/aerospace phrasing only adds to the record’s appeal for me). The record was released in 1976 (during the height of the short lived S.W.A.T. show) on what seems like a local label (Roots Records 01), although no address is provided so its hard to be sure. These cats were clearly incredibly talented musicians and I love that they paired the fuzzy, funky, low brow kitsch of the oft-versioned S.W.A.T. theme with the ultimate highbrow of a Beethoven violin concerto. The levels of genre blending run deep on this one, but apparently, this was part of their act.

According to the folks over at Boston Carnival Village Kelvin Griffith was involved in the Boston Carnival from its second year in 1974. I was also able to find a small article about the group in, of all places, Mass Media, the student newspaper at my very own UMASS Boston! According to the very hard to read digital text, the band was made up of a dozen or so Trinidadians ranging in age from 12 to 32 playing “a little bit of everything – tunes by KC and the Sunshine Band, Mozart, Sousa, and Stevie Wonder, as well as some current West Indian hits”. The inclusion of the Beethoven B side is apparently not some kitschy recording trick as much as an accurate reflection of their diverse live sets.

The fact that the only printed information I can find on this group comes from my own college paper is just the kind of coincidence that makes even the most rabidly atheist among us believe in vinyl forces beyond our control. Indeed, it is rare to meet a real record junkie who does not practice some form of animism (whether publicly or privately).

Mass Media 4-24-79

My buddy Rob believes he used to hear this group in Harvard Sq. back in the 70’s and 80s but has no recent info about them. I would love to hear from anyone else who remembers them or knows where any of the members are now. More and more, I dream of a proper record label to re-release local gems like this! Maybe some day. But for now, I hope you enjoy my humble digital offerings here.

Guru’s first tapes

Insane news of Guru’s coma today threw me for a loop. I thought there would be a lot of people out there in shock and figured it might help to hear some of the old tapes from before things got complicated. For those needing an update, the whole history has been recounted today by Dart Adams.
keith gangstarr spine
Here again (but this time set to video Ken Burns style) are the tapes Keith sent to Magnus at the Lecco’s Lemma show on WMBR in Cambridge in 1986. Among all the tapes in the boxes, he had the most by far (maybe next to DJ Prime – a strange coincidence actually). Its a sad day in Boston hip-hop whenever one of our own gets felled for any reason. Hopin’ for good outcomes and listening to these tapes is helping. Hope it helps you too. We know Guru always had Boston in his heart and recent years proved it. Peace.

Here are two of the tracks

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Epitome Spree

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Take a lesson

P.S.
SUCH great news that he pulled out OK. Man, I was praying hard in my way over here and I know a lot of others were too. Hopes for a fast and full recovery and many more years of dopeness! :-( WTF?!?!?

Cuz Faulkner’s Books Bibles and Records

Cuz Faulkner's 1965 Desk Close

Rob Chalfen came by recently to listen through some more of the Lexington 78 haul. Along with the Brian Rust book, he brought some recently discovered pictures of his original Wax Vallhala – Cuz Faulkner’s Books Bibles and Records on Columbus Ave in Boston, MA. (Close inspection of the picture of the facade makes me think it was 979 Columbus).

Cuz Faulkner's 1965 Front

As any reader of this blog knows, Rob is both a good friend and a walking encyclopedia of early music of the African diaspora. By the age of 12 he had absorbed his family’s pretty extensive 78 collection and was taking trips from the family home in Newton down to the South End to dig for old jazz and blues records in the prodigious piles at Cuz Faulkner’s.

ChalfenAtCuz Faulkners1965

I was particularly struck by the confluence of pictures and dates here. All these shots are from a trip Rob made in March, 1965 with his dad (who brought the family camera). He was 12 1/2 and already knew more about early jazz than most of us will absorb in a lifetime. Rob pointed out the MLK calendar above the desk and noted that it was jut one month before he was to arrive in Boston to lead a march of 50,000 on Boston Common.

Cuz Faulkners 1965 Chalfen Diggin

Sitting here this MLK day 2010, with with images of Hati and Cuz Faulkner’s crossing paths on the internet, it feels like the world is simultaneously imploding on itself and launching new technoutopic wonders distractions by the moment. I stare into these old photos longing for a simpler place and time. Of course, that moment was no less horror filled (Kennedy was killed in ’63 and the cascades of calamities in ’68 were a mere three years hence). But somehow, the notion of a white pre-teen record geek from Newton taking the trolley down to sift through Cuz Faulkner’s 78s in search of the origins of jazz provides some strange solace. I guess it just makes me long for a dusty room full of records, the optimism of youth and the sense that the future was yet to be written. For whatever reason, sitting here at the end of history, this little window into a not so distant past feels comforting. Like its not so far away after all.

Anyway, I have been so fascinated with these shots and struck by the timing that I e-mailed Chalfen asking for more detail. Who told you about this place? How did you wind up with a Nat Hentoff curated record collection as a 12 year old? What do you remember about Cuz Faulkner and his place. Here’s his reply.

[Snip]

Lessee…. I think Henry Schwartz, the great Boston Expressionist painter & pal of my dad’s hepped me to it. He was a classical 78 collector & prob discovered it trawling around for Columbia Vivatonals…My dad dropped me off / picked me up on the occasion when he took these shots, but often I would just schlepp in there from Newton Corner on the trolley, hauling my portable phonograph…The owner had a helper who lived nearby on an upper floor, who’s name I think was Milton or Mr Milton, a thin, hangdog older black man – i would yell up at his window & I even tossed gravel up to his window to wake him up, no doorbell…after a spell he would slowly make his way down & open the place up for me…I could easily spend 5 hours in there without any consciousness of time whatever…Next door was a black barbershop – I wandered in there once on a break from my record trance, looking for small talk, and all conversation ground to a halt upon the the intrusion of the white boy. I only met Cuz on a few occasions…I recall him in a 3 piece suit, cigar, of somewhat florid speech, a neighborhood pontificator; or that could just be an artifact of my reconstruction. He always had a few friends hanging out in the front of the shop, shooting the shit; what they made of me I can’t imagine. On the date shown in the photos he regaled my father about how unusual I was, most kids today have no appreciation etc etc, while I clutched the bag of that day’s gleanings, one of my best hauls ever. When I got it home I found I had taken the wrong bag, or it had been switched on me, I never found out which. I got a bunch of Nat King Cole records of no interest to me whatever. Calls back to the place discovered nothing, or so they said. Evidently it had been sold to someone else. I was devastated. I can still remember some of the records I lost. Curiously, Nat King Cole died almost immediately therafter.

My mom was a typical hit parade/big band swing fan bobbysoxer of the late ’30s…she got the discarded records from the jukebox at her dad’s resort in Gloucester when the were changed over by the distributor, at least once a summer, mostly white big band stuff, Goodman, Miller, Dorsey. (Though I think her copy of “South” by Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra (1928) came from it too). Her girlfriend dated Nat Hentoff when they lived in Dorchester, c ’39/’40, while he was at Boston Latin, see Hentoff’s excellent “Boston Boy – a memoir”, Knopf 1986. Hentoff was already doing radio in Boston at WMEX and wrote jazz reviews while at Northeastern. He was the jazz guru of their set, leading forays to the Savoy Ballroom and other live jazz venues, making sure they were steered away from Commercial Crap and towards the Real Thing. He would lead expeditions to Boston Music Company, Kreys and other downtown record outlets and recommend what was hep amongst the new releases, mostly the 4-record sets then being reissued of classic ’20s jazz for fans of ‘real’ (small combo) jazz, jazz record collectors and other unfortunates: King Oliver, Armstrong Hot 5, Bessie Smith, Frank Teschemacher, Ellington’s Cotton Club band, no Bix for some reason. Sets of early New Orleans Revival stuff like Bunk Johnson. Also misc stuff like pre-war Chicago blues (Big Maceo, Art Hodes), and then-current 52nd St small combo jazz (Cozy Cole, Jerry Jerome & his Cats & Jammers, Chu Berry/Roy Eldridge, Big Joe Turner, Basie, Ellington, Billie Holliday, Eddie Condon, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Muggsy Spanier, Boogie Woogie (Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis), Capitol’s 1943 New American Jazz set, Coleman Hawkins. This constituted the bulk of her collection, prob @ 200 records, which I discovered in waves at various points growing up. So to a great extent my formative musical consciousness was curated by Nat Hentoff. Plus my dad’s classical piano playing & records. Plus the jukebox.

My folks would stack them up on the changer when I was bored on rainy days, age about 4, and I would watch them spin with hypnotic fascination. ( I could go on in this mode but that’s prob another essay, this is only part of the tale of my wax obsessions)

[Snip]

Peace on this MLK day 2010 and thanks to all the people trying to bridge the false divisions among us. Keep the dream alive.

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Old Whirled Music

Olga Bibor and Her Peasant Jazz Orchesra, Out of My Album

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Archive dot org on Olga Bibor.

When you spend enough time listening to and discussing old records, sometimes it seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same. Let me explain. I recently had the pleasure of hosting a lovely couple named Olga and Raph and who had played at Beat Research under the name The Gypsy Sound System. Despite some of the commentary over at Wayne’s mega blog, I have to say I liked the set a lot. In addition to a tasteful selection of tunes, Olga sang mournful melodies over dub instrumentals and they generally played a tight, danceable (if perhaps a little ethnokitschy) set.

Not the make light of the serious issues (of which I am largely ignorant) around the gypsy term in their name, but the whole debate reminded of another Olga who was engaged in a complex re-presentation of Eastern European musical memes and modern dance trends. But this one fronted a band back in 1919. Now this is the kind of coincidence that can only occur if you have paid proper homage to the vinyl gods.

Olga Bibor and her Peasant Jazz Orchestra’s “Out My Album” was recorded in New York City in May 1919 by a Hungarian group led by a woman named Olga. It was also the subject of an old post of mine back in 2006 titled Olga Bibor’s Peasant Jazz Orchestra and the Proto-Jazz Melting Pot and was the most inexplicable record in Rob’s Collection. The post generated a little buzz among a handful of 78 collectors (scroll down), but never went viral. Until now. If you head over there, note that I was not the source of the “world’s first jazz record” question. But these folks do have some interesting notions about the global dance musical goulash represented here.

According to one commentator “like many such emigrant ensembles in New York during this period, their output included folk dance melodies (csardas, waltz, lander), as well as Tin Pan Alley tunes such as Silver Threads Among the Gold.” Rob Chalfen hears this song as blending the sounds of “circus, NY string bands, proto-jazz, klezmer & somehow St. Louis or Memphis-type (?) ragtime riffs in one enigmatic performance.” While others don’t hear as much nuance perhaps, they are similarly clear about the early jazz content. “The tune sounds to me like it’s based, at least partly, on Weary Blues, a jazz standard dating from 1915, by Artie Matthews (prolific African American songwriter and ragtime composer).” Apparently (and not surprisingly), the group also performed under the name Olga Bibor and her Gypsy Ensemble.

So, here we have a woman named Olga fronting an Eastern European band playing a combination of currently popular dance music with jazz in their name (a term which may have been added by recording executives who were trying to capture the exploding interest in this new beat heavy music). But remember folks, this was 1919, just two years after the earliest Original Dixieland Jazz Band releases. Back in the old days, people still managed to share their influences with no assistance from blogs, torrents or rapidshare sites. They traveled around buying records and playing them for (and with) other people. Listening, watching, learning, playing, and partying together as best they could given the social contexts they were coming from/into. In the process, things get creatively scrambled. Trust me. It happened just the other night.

The night Raph and Olga stayed over, I got to chat with them after the gig for a while. They didn’t strike me as boorish exploiters of others’ cultures. Rather, they seemed like kind, open-eared fellow travelers in the musical omniverse. Things got really interesting when Raph pulled out the accordian and I tried to accompany him on some trad sounding tunes. As an old rock guitarist from way back who has gradually lost his chops, I was having trouble finding the right strumming rhythm. After kindly suffering my rhythmic mutilations for a while, Raph finally turned to me and said, “its like ska, chak-chak-chak” as he mimed the guitar strum physically and sang it on the “ands” for me. Somehow, he must have known that a Specials reference would help this half Ukranian Boston PhDj former alterna-rocker learn how to muddle through Eastern European tunes he was still (re)learning himself.

Like I said, le plus ça change.

My best record find ever

Those are big words for sure. But in this case, it has to be true. Last summer, while sorting incoming records at the old lab, I flipped past  this copy of Ofra Haza’s Galbi 12″. As it was heading for the “sell/trade” pile (I already have a few), something caught my attention. The record sleeve seemed a little thick. There was clearly something else in there. “Hunh, might be worth keeping her promo shot/press kit, plus, it has an old WERS stamp on it…,” I was thinking as I removed the printed material inside. Then I fell over.

After a year digging into the basement of Boston hip hop looking for its origin stories, my personal grail had escaped me.  I knew that The Source magazine started in Boston (in the Cambridge dorms at Harvard to be precise) and I really expected to run across an old copy. Indeed, lots of folks reported having copies way back when (before the move, fire, robbery…) but I never was able to track one down. Until now. In the most random way imaginable.

Here, in a record I was about to throw away was a copy of The Source, Vol 1, No. 2, November 1988! Not only was it  still stapled shut but it started right out with a list of “hot picks from streetbeat” (presumably a reference to the weekly rap radio show run by David Mays Jon Shecter on Harvard’s student radio station WHRB). Also, nore the appearance of the local classic TDS Mob track Dope For the Folks along with a pile of golden age gems from national acts.  This amazing bit of Beantown hip-hop history was delivered in a way that only the vinyl gods could have organized. It also put a beautiful bookmark on the end of my year-long quest for the foundations of Boston hip-hop. Grail. Check.

Flipville

The day the records stood still

I’ve been out in Milwaukee for the last week on a writing retreat (and visiting my wife who started her MFA in dance here this summer). I gotta say, its a gem of a town. Great music, art, dance and…records. In my typical style, I had to seek out the dankest, darkest, deepest piles. Along the way, I wound up at Flipville Records where I spent the better part of two days digging til my hands turned black. Aside from the somewhat high prices for standard stuff, there are lots of gems to be found here. I was particularly excited by the boxes of soul 45s that seemed like no one had looked them over in years. I took care of that.

I simply flipped when I found this holy grail of a record for a buck.

Flipville gold

Despite thinking lots about whether early hip-hop djs were rockin this 45 (and if so how) I had never seen or heard the original pressing (though it was obviously high on my “want” list). Needless to say, I flipped on Sunday when it titrated out of the piles at Flipville. Sure, its scratched a bit, but for a buck, hell yeah!

As luck would have it, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has some 70K records (I’m meeting their archivist music librarian tomorrow to talk shop). So I went directly there to listen.

Beat research

As I sat intently waiting for the break, I was marveling over the fact that this iconic jam was split up on two sides of the 45. I was imagining teenage dancers in the heat of some impromptu dance party stopping to flip the record right in the middle of it (did some keep on shaking it while the DJ flipped the wax?). So funny/analog. Side one passed with no break. Flip. Then, just as my hope was wearing out (along with my memory cause I couldn’t quite remember how deep in the track it came), there it was, on the very last grooves of side two. It seemed so odd that the break that became one of the most sampled in all of history appeared almost like a coda on this original pressing. Amazing how retrospective sensemaking works (and also record karma). I had to think that I was doing something right cause the record gods were sure smiling on me today.