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Armstrong File in my mail

About forty years ago, when I was beginning my work on a reissue project that would encompass Bessie Smith's entire Columbia and Okeh output, I dropped by John Hammond's office at Blackrock each day on my way to the studio. John had a secretary, Liz, whom I got along with very well, but sometimes she did odd things. One of her quirky routines was to send a cardboard box to me at my apartment, via the CBS Records mail room. This was at a time when I received LPs from various record companies on a daily basis (one of the perks reviewers enjoy). Liz's package was always a cardboard box of the kind used for shipping LPs, so it blended right in, but it never contained any albums. Instead, it appeared to be an extension of her waste basket: discarded items—trash, if you will. There were cigarette butts, envelopes torn open, candy wrappers, ashes—you get the picture. After receiving three or four of these in the mail, my inclination was to throw the box into my trash, unopened, but sometimes Liz would include a trade publication or two in the odd mix. The magazines—Variety, Billboard, Cash Box, etc.—were readable, once the cigarette ashes were shaken out of them, so I just kept opening these strange "gifts."

One day, however, there were no magazines amid the butts, crumpled up carbons and office trash. Instead, there was a file drawer hang-folder tagged LOUIS ARMSTRONG. It turned out to be a rather large file containing back and forth correspondence and inter-office memos from the 1950s, most of which were exchanges between George Avakian, Joe Glaser, and Goddard Lieberson. The common denominator was Louis, who was under contract to Columbia at that time.

Also included were some notes from recording and editing sessions—interesting reading, which I will share with you in a series of posts.

I will devote this first installment to production and editing notes pertaining to the production of the Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy album.

If you have that album, these scribblings will make you see it in a much clearer light. Remember to click on the images for a readable view.

Tomorrow: The Concertgebouw tapes.


  1. My goodness, Chris! What beautiful history -- somewhere between Wholly Cats and Holy Writ, as far as I'm concerned. Thrilling for Louis-worshippers!


    Michael Steinman

  2. Thank you, Michael. Much more coming from that file. Still checking your blog every day, and enjoying it.


  3. Very interesting - and pretty bizarre behavior by Hammond's secretary! Thanks for posting these session notes.

  4. I found your blog by chance, Chris, and I'm so glad that I did. I've known your writing (Bessie and much else) for some time. Thank you for creating this great archive of musical history here.

  5. Thanks a lot, Chris.
    Love these pages. And everything else you have done.

  6. Thank you all. I have neglected this particular series of posts, there really is much more to come from that file.