Smithsonian Folkway Recordings is releasing Armstrong’s music on CD and digital download after collaborating with the press club and the Louis Armstrong Foundation.
In 1971, not long before his death at age 69, the great Louis Armstrong — “Pops,” to his friends — played at the National Press Club in Washington. It was his last public trumpet performance, and it was recorded by CBS. A few hundred copies were made — then it was pretty much forgotten. Now the recording has been re-discovered and it’s being released. CBS News cultural correspondent and jazz great Wynton Marsalis gave it a listen.
In an audio control room, Marsalis listened, commenting on Armstrong’s performance — and his remarkable life:
“I recently had a chance to hear these recordings,” he said. “And to be honest, I wasn’t even aware of their existence. It was quite a revelation.
“I was shocked by the energy and vigor of his playing. The material — I’d heard those songs many times with the exception of one track — but that he could play with this type of energy and intensity with that amount of time off. It was shocking. And I was also heartened by the type of love and warmth that I felt coming out of the room.
“There’s such a reverence and a love for Louis Armstrong, it’s really touching to hear it, because it’s five months before his death. And everybody at that time was wondering would he ever play again. And on ‘Hello Dolly,’ he plays actually unbelievably well in the upper middle register of the trumpet.
“My favorite track on this recording is Pops’s version of ‘The Boy from New Orleans.’ He takes you through his whole history. He starts with him being born in Jane Alley in dire poverty. And then him developing his trumpet playing and wanting the neighborhood to be proud of him.
“And this is something that Louis Armstrong had his entire life — [the] humility and a desire to please people with great quality music.
“I think that was his gift. He was able to turn the the light of the human soul on. And every time he breathed a note, either playing or singing, he uplift our spirits and the heavens would open up, and we would begin to see the world and feel the world in a different way.
“Louis Armstrong was one of the greatest human beings to ever set foot on this planet. He gave us a healing that still sits with us. Thank you, Pops.”