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“Special — From First to Last”: Dan Morgenstern’s Relationship with Louis Armstrong

Ricky Riccardi

For those who basked in the living presence of Armstrong, it is sobering to contemplate that we are at a point in the history of jazz where many among us know him only in his posthumous audiovisual incarnation, and many, alas, not even that well....
— Dan Morgenstern

The above words were written by Dan Morgenstern in 1994 for his Grammy award-winning liner notes to the boxed set, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Today, Morgenstern is still going strong but the number of persons remaining who “basked in the living presence of Armstrong” grows smaller with each passing year. Morgenstern has assuredly written about every major figure in jazz history and I would be willing to wager that he has written about every minor figure, as well. But of them all, it is Louis Armstrong who seemed to trigger Morgenstern’s most inspired and passionate writing.

And with good reason. Morgenstern first met Armstrong in 1950 and managed to grow quite close to jazz’s greatest genius in the ensuing twenty-one years. During Armstrong’s lifetime and in the four decades since the trumpeter passed away, Morgenstern has written about Armstrong in a variety of ways: liner notes, concert reviews, interviews, remembrances, etc. And an interview seemingly cannot pass without Morgenstern invoking Armstrong’s name multiple times. No one has ever written more about Armstrong and no one has ever written better about Armstrong.

On the occasion of Morgenstern’s retirement as director of the Institute of Jazz Studies, jazz historians, researchers, and musicians around the world wait with fingers crossed for a thorough, definitive Morgenstern autobiography (hopefully with multiple volumes). Until then, it seemed like an important idea to gather over fifty years’ worth of Morgenstern’s writings on Armstrong and to edit them together to tell the story of this unique relationship. Because, unlike most writers, Morgenstern actually got to become quite friendly with Louis and got the opportunity to observe him in a number of situations: losing his temper, performing onstage, relaxing at home, and more. This article will attempt to tell the story of this relationship mostly in Morgenstern’s own words.

What will not be included are samples of Dan’s writing about Armstrong’s historic recordings. He has written about every major period of the trumpeter’s life and has won Grammys for his work on Armstrong’s 1920s Columbia and OKeh sides, as well as his later Decca big band sides. Those writings are marvels in themselves and deserve a separate anthology. Also, Morgenstern has picked up his pen many times in the years after Armstrong’s death to defend his hero against careless biographers and tin-eared jazz critics. Those pieces, too, are wonderful but outside the scope of this one, which will focus simply on what Morgenstern witnessed while in Louis’s presence for over twenty years of their respective lives.

How did it all start? Interested by jazz from an early age, Morgenstern clearly remembered his first Armstrong recording:

One of the things — I had gotten the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers record, “Relaxin’ at the Touro”, which is a beautiful slow blues. I picked up some other Muggsy things. I wasn’t hip to Louis [Armstrong] yet, but I did pick up — the first Louis record I got was — it was part of that German series I had mentioned earlier. It was on the German Odeon label, the Odeon swing thing. They specialized — it was taken off the English Parlophone Modern Rhythm series and so on — they specialized in putting different artists on each side. So the first Louis thing I had was the “Basin Street Blues” by the Hot Five, which was backed by something — I think it was “Freeze and Melt” by Eddie Lang. Not a very logical coupling.” [1]

Morgenstern arrived in America with his mother on April 22, 1947 (for the incredible tale of his pre-U.S. days, read “Reminiscing in Tempo,” which can be found in his anthology Living With Jazz). Already an Armstrong fan, Morgenstern was about to be taken deeper into the world of jazz in general and Armstrong in particular. “The sound of that horn and that voice had already captured me before I first saw the man in the flesh,” he wrote in 1992. “Not very long after my arrival in the United States in the spring of 1947, I started frequenting 52nd Street, where I eventually met the man who was to become my Virgil in the land of jazz, a trumpeter named Nat Lorber, whom everyone called ‘Face.’” [2] Of Lorber’s playing, Morgenstern wrote, “Nat had one of the biggest sounds ever coaxed from a trumpet, and it was a pleasing sound. He adored Louis Armstrong and knew everything there is to know about his records.” [3] Lorber soon offered his protege a crash-course in Armstrong, which led to a moment Morgenstern fondly recalled in 2008 when discussing Armstrong’s Decca recording of “Was I to Blame for Falling in Love with You”.

This one has special meaning for me. Like most young jazz fans, I had arrived at Louis via the Hot Five and Sevens and gone a bit beyond by the time I met my mentor, trumpeter Nat (Face) Lorber, who among other things introduced me to the blue Deccas, and to a listening-enhancing herb. And this was the first Louis I heard under the influence, picked by Nat because I already liked it. Decades later, my friend Loren Schoenberg interviewed the great arranger-composer-pianist Ralph Burns, who, mirabile dictu, had experienced the same initiation! [4]

Lorber might have been Morgenstern’s “Virgil,” but the person who was most responsible for Morgenstern meeting Armstrong was Jeann Failows.

Nat introduced me to a very nice girl named Jeann Failows...who at the time was handling Louis’s fan mail. This is around 1948. At the time he wasn’t getting as much of it as he would just a few years later, but still a considerable amount. He had this form letter, so to speak, which was then about keeping regular. That was before Swiss Kriss. It would say something about Pluto Water. Then it would have his signature on it. So she would get these letters. The ones that she didn’t feel required for him to see them, she would put this thing in return mail. When she felt that it was something that Louis should see and that he might want to return to personally, because he was an inveterate letter-writer. He loved to write letters. So that wouldn’t have been a hardship on him. But to look through all this stuff was a good thing for her to do and relieve him of that. She was, needless to say, close to Louis. So that’s how I first got my introduction to Pops. She knew Nat very well. He had a crush on her. She was the daughter of a dentist from the Bronx. She was a WAC. She was a bit older than me. She was a WAC in World War II. You know what WACs are. [Women’s Army Corps] She knew a lot about jazz. I don’t know that I got to know Jeannie very well. I don’t know who first introduced her to it. I think she got into it, as people did in the Swing Era, through dancing, in big bands. She had excellent taste. [5]

Morgenstern’s first meeting with Louis came during an engagement at the Roxy Theatre in New York City in the spring of 1950 (Billboard reviewed a show on April 28 and said it was booked for two weeks). “It was through Jeann’s good graces that one day in....1950, I found myself backstage at the Roxy Theatre — long since torn down, but then a New York movie palace rivaled only by Radio City Music Hall.” [6]

Jeann Failows had asked Nat and myself to meet her at the backstage entrance there. We were going to meet Louis. Nat had met him before, but I hadn’t. We went up.... There was Louis’s dressing room. Knocked on the door. The person who opened it was June Clark. June Clark had been a famous trumpet player in the twenties in New York. He and the great trombonist Jimmy Harrison were a famous brass team. Harrison worked with Fletcher Henderson. June Clark recorded very little, but he had a great reputation. Then he contracted tuberculosis, and he just stopped playing. [7]

After greeting Clark, it wasn’t long before Morgenstern spotted Armstrong. “Wrapped in a white bathrobe, with that famous handkerchief tied around his head, he greeted us warmly. Jeann had to repeat my name, adding that I’d recently arrived from Denmark. Louis weighed ‘Morgenstern’ and ‘Scandinavia,’ coming up with ‘Smorgasbord,’ his name for me from then on. But when he signed a photo for me, he made it out to Dan; it was the first of many. He had an astonishing knack for making you feel at ease in his presence; it soon seemed as if you were an old friend.” [8] As Morgenstern pointed out elsewhere, “I was flabbergasted at how natural Louis was, sitting there in his bathrobe, towel wrapped around his head, greeting old friends and new. I didn’t have to ask him for a photo; he promptly pulled one from a dresser drawer and inscribed it to me.” [9] Armstrong wasn’t the only jazz heavyweight in the room. “I clearly remember meeting and greeting Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard and Arvell Shaw. I don’t recall Earl Hines, who may have been on leave, but a pianist definitely on hand was Joe Bushkin.” [10] Of Bushkin’s visit, Morgenstern wrote that the pianist “presented Pops with a long-stemmed red rose, a gift from Tallulah Bankhead, sent with love...and something else as well. Pops smelled the rose, broke into a smile, and extracted from the yet unopened blossom an elegantly rolled reefer.” [11]

Soon after, June Clark reappeared to tell Armstrong that it was time to rest. “Louis now excused himself, explaining that he wanted to catch a nap before the next show. He and June disappeared behind a partition, and Jeann gestured to us to be quiet. Soon we heard the most beautiful whistling; it was Louis’s solo from the 1930 recording of ‘Sweethearts on Parade,’ note-perfect, with all the right inflections. June emerged, saying, sotto voce: ‘He’s asleep.’ It was a very special lullaby. Jeann informed us that June could whistle almost all of Louis’s famous solos.” [12] This was the first, but far from the last time Morgenstern witnessed Armstrong’s ability to rest in any circumstance. “Louis had a wonderful talent which I learned later, for taking naps,” he said. “That was one of the reasons why he was able to keep such a terrific work schedule. He was no doubt the hardest-working man in the history of jazz. But he could do it, because on a plane trip or on a bus ride, he could go to sleep just like that.... I remember, years later, being on the bus with him, sitting behind him, and having a conversation. Suddenly his head went back and boom he was out, really able to sleep like that.” [13]

Thirty minutes later, a refreshed Armstrong awoke. “While Pops was getting dressed, Jack Teagarden dropped in to discuss a musical point,” Morgenstern wrote. “The rapport between the two was evident, but I was amazed at Jack’s eyes; in the words of a famous blues song, they looked like cherries in a pool of buttermilk. The stage manager arrived to give the five-minute warning, and Pops promptly entrusted us to him, with firm instructions to find us places from which we could see well, leaving us with ‘Enjoy the show!’” [14] “We most certainly did, but it was typical of Louis that he was concerned that we should. Apparently, one of the most difficult things for certain commentators to understand is Armstrong’s view of himself as someone put in this world to make people feel good.” [15]

Of the show, Morgenstern said, “The show was great.... [T]he co-star, also on the bill, was Chico Marx, who was doing a single. He...was like an overgrown teenager. That was his stage presence. At the end, for the final number, they moved out an upright piano. Chico joined the Armstrong All Stars. They did ‘Waiting for the Robert E. Lee’ and Chico did some of his famous piano playing.” [16] Of that first experience, Morgenstern often invoked Mezz Mezzrow’s words, “Them first kicks are killers.” [17] “That was my first meeting with the great Louis Armstrong. From then on — the moment you met Louis, it seemed like you had known him forever, which in a way you had.” [18]

It would be a few more years before Morgenstern would get another chance to spend so much time up close with Armstrong. He was drafted in the early 1950s and spent much of his two years in the Army in Germany. Back in the United States, he attended Brandeis University, where he occasionally wrote about jazz and even helped organize a few concerts on campus (one notably featuring Art Tatum). Nat Hentoff encouraged Morgenstern to keep writing about jazz and by the end of the decade, Morgenstern was working his way up at the New York Post.

But even during these years, Morgenstern caught Armstrong as often as he could. One memorable evening found Morgenstern watching Armstrong with another famed trumpeter in the audience: Miles Davis.

A fond personal memory of Miles and Louis: some years back, I found myself seated next to Miles at Basin Street East when Louis was appearing there. Davis was accompanied by his then lawyer Harold Lovette, a loquacious man. Louis’s set had begun, but Lovette was still talking. Without taking his eyes off Louis, Miles said: “Shut up, man! I want to hear Pops!” And from the way Miles reacted to that set, one confirmed Armstrong fan could tell he was in the company of another. [19]

The mid-1950s were a period when many jazz critics spent their time hurling barbs at Armstrong (Lovette himself wrote of Louis as being an “Uncle Tom” in an August 1956 issue of Metronome). Armstrong’s biggest detractor was John S. Wilson of the New York Times. Morgenstern read Wilson’s criticism of Armstrong and it actually inspired him on his future path. Writing about it years later, he wrote:

For me, reading stuff like the Wilson piece and worse brought me closer and closer to finally deciding that I should write about jazz and become part of a breed from which I felt profoundly alienated. There wasn’t much else to be done when you had to put up with such Wilson comments as this, concerning a Brooklyn Academy of Music concert: “All things considered, it scarcely seems proper to book Mr. Armstrong’s group in a jazz series such as the Academy is offering. For this troupe is less a jazz band than an ‘attraction’ and, as such, its appeal — which is undeniable — is primarily to people who have little, if any interest in jazz.” [20]

One occasion that resulted in some very bad press for Armstrong was the Newport Jazz Festival on July 4, 1957. Armstrong threw a tantrum backstage when he found out that aspects of his show were being tampered with. He was blasted for his behavior in the press, especially by the influential columnist Murray Kempton of the New York Post. Dan Morgenstern was present backstage to see what really happened but, without any place to publish his views, he was forced to sit on his memories until he finally spared no details in the liner notes to the Armstrong recording Chicago Concert in 1980. Here is what he had to write about Newport:

Newport, July 4, 1957: Louis Armstrong’s and the nation’s birthday. Louis Armstrong Night. Louis and his group arrive at Freebody Park in mid-afternoon, straight from a one-nighter somewhere in New England. That they’re used to; routine. Sometimes they go on within hours after a flight of thousands of miles, in places they’ve never been to before. All in a year’s work; get on, do the show (always a hell of a show; nothing less than all you’ve got with Louis, who never gives less than his all). But this time, in the tent behind the stage that is the Newport Festival’s star’s “dressing room” at this stage of the game, Louis hears from the producer, and the producer’s advisory board, and his own manager, that he is to appear with almost every act on the bill except his own group, with people he hasn’t played with in years, a parade of figures from the past: Henry ‘Red’ Allen, once or twice in his band; Buster Bailey, a 1924–25 colleague from Fletcher Henderson’s band; J. C. Higginbotham, who was with Louis’s big band in the ‘30s; and Jack Teagarden and Cozy Cole, alumni of his All Stars. Plus special guest Kid Ory: the septuagenarian trombonist who gave Louis his first important gigs and was in his Hot Five recording group. And with Sidney Bechet, a boyhood acquaintance and 1924 and 1940 recording partner. Then with Ella Fitzgerald, friend and recording partner. Then with everybody for a “Happy Birthday” jam. Louis, who never in his career has favored unrehearsed public performances, especially on stage before thousands, is stunned. While press and musicians and backstage hangers-on mill about, he considers a compromise. “Maybe a number [or] two, but I go on with my band to close the show — no other way.” Meanwhile a telegram from Bechet (the one he might have secretly wanted to play with; they are old rivals, and Louis has not had many such): “Sorry, but unable to come to America. Happy birthday to Louis.” Now there is room for Louis’s band — even a need. Okay, the band will close the show (“We don’t do less than an hour,” says Louis), but — without Velma Middleton, the All Stars’ singer. Louis can’t believe what he hears. Velma has been with him almost uninterruptedly since 1942. He knows the critics find her distasteful.... The rationale, of course, is that Ella is on the bill and one female singer should be enough.
Louis has had it by then, and he withdraws behind the tent flap that contains his ‘private’ area. Soon Velma hears the news, and bursts into tears. Louis, who has fantastic ears, hears her crying. Suddenly he appears from behind the flap, wearing nothing but a handkerchief tied around his scalp. Shouts and alarums. Women shriek, grown men flinch, and everyone scatters to the winds, Louis’s curses in their ears. Like an ancient African king, he smites them with his righteous wrath. A special society dinner party has been arranged, with Louis as guest of honor. (That it would take the place of his only chance to rest before the performance did not occur to the well-bred planners.) Louis does not appear, nor does he play with any act but his own. Velma performs. The show goes down in style; no one not in the know senses anything wrong. At the end of Louis’s set, a giant birthday cake is wheeled on stage, and Ella and Johnny Mercer sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ Louis has fine manners; he joins in, backing them up on his horn. As Ella cuts the cake, someone (perhaps the producer himself) whispers to Louis that Ory and the other musicians are waiting to come on stage with him for a jam-session finale. “No one hangs on my coattails,” says Louis, and intones the national anthem, his band falling in behind him. He doesn’t taste his cake. That night, Louis Armstrong didn’t eat anything they were dishing out. [21]

Morgenstern was present the following year, too, when Louis, after prior clearance, returned to Newport and invited special guests Jack Teagarden and Bobby Hackett to the stage, showing no trace of animosity for the previous year’s events. Of that night in 1958, Morgenstern wrote:

Louis had a way of “hitting something” inside people. At Newport in 1958, I was listening to Louis’s set with James Baldwin. As always, Louis concluded with the National Anthem. It was early in the morning — the show had run very late — and the music carried beautifully in the damp air. The crowd had roared for more, but now they were still. After Louis’s final golden note had faded, Baldwin turned and said: “You know, that’s the first time I’ve liked that song.” [22]

By 1960, Morgenstern was still at the New York Post and beginning to make his first real forays in jazz journalism with some pieces in Jazz Journal. He was still a member of Louis’s unofficial New York fan club, still following Armstrong around with his friends Nat “Face” Lorber and Jeann Failows, in addition to another new Armstrong disciple on the scene: Jack Bradley. Bradley had come to New York from Cape Cod in 1959 and almost immediately began dating Failows. It wasn’t long before he met Armstrong and immediately became a part of his inner circle: acting as a photographer, writing about him in Coda, helping with fan mail, and generally worshipping the trumpeter as he began to assume the role of the world’s foremost private collector of Armstrong-related material. Bradley let Morgenstern sub for him a few times at Coda, and it was with Bradley and Failows that Morgenstern enjoyed Armstrong’s 1960 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, even though it took place in the pouring rain.

It was another performance in the rain from 1960, however, that still stood out to Morgenstern over fifty years later as he related it to an audience at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem in January 2012. The gig was in Tuxedo Park, New York and is best known to some Armstrong fans for a photograph Bradley took of the trumpeter — completely naked — from behind. Morgenstern was present for that moment and remembered, “When the shutter went off, Louie turned around and said, ‘I want one of those.’” Morgenstern also never forgot what happened next:

Anyway, we were chatting and Louie was getting dressed and everything and then all of a sudden, there was a tremendous thunderclap and lightning and it started to pour. There was still some time to go before the first show, the afternoon show, and well, the water was coming down and everything. So the manager, the stage manager came in and said, “Mr. Armstrong, there are only about 70 people in the house.” This could hold close to 2,000, it was huge, it was one of those in-the-round things. He said, “I think we should cancel the show.” Louie was sitting down, he jumped up and said “What!? These people came to hear us and you’re going to send them home? In this weather? We’re going to do our show, we’ll do the same show that we would do as if we had a full house.” And that’s exactly what he did. He came on, he told — you know, people were scattered because they were holding tickets for different sections — “Everybody come down front.” And he did the show exactly as they would have if they had a full house. [23]

Soon after, Armstrong headed to Africa for a tour that was partially sponsored by the State Department. He did not return until March of 1961 and was rewarded with a rarity: a bit of an extended vacation to recuperate from the grueling four-month tour. While Armstrong was on this break, Roulette Records producer Bob Thiele realized that both Armstrong and Ellingon were in New York City and quickly pulled the two giants of jazz together for a record date that was held over the course of two sessions in April. Morgenstern missed the first session, but was there for the second one and never forgot what it was like to watch Armstrong in the studio.

The second session commenced at 2 p.m. the next afternoon, and this writer was now on hand, noting, when greeting Pops, that he was dabbing his lips with cotton balls dipped in spirits of nitre. He’d blown hard the night before, after an unaccustomed layoff, and now the chops were a bit tender. But that didn’t dampen his spirits, or cause him to hold back. And the new (and improved) lyric he devised for “Drop Me Off in Harlem” put everyone, including Duke (who’d complained of a headache) in a happy mood, and that horn was as strong as one could ask for. (No one ever made — or ever will make — a trumpet sound like that... — no reproductive device can fully recreate what Louis Armstrong sounded like in person, or recapture the aura he gave off.) [24]

Armstrong hadn’t recorded many Ellington songs throughout his career, but he relished the challenge of learning the new material. “Much nonsense has been written about Armstrong as an ‘intuitive’ artist,” Morgenstern wrote in 1994. “Having had the privilege of seeing him work on new material, I can assure the reader that this was a man who combined remarkable natural gifts with thorough discipline, and that he was able to sight-read highly sophisticated music and absorb it instantly.” [25] One song in particular encapsulated this ability in Armstrong: “Azalea,” which Morgenstern described as “the biggest kick” of the session.

According to [Stanley] Dance, Duke wrote this bit of Southern romanticism 20 years before with Louis in mind. He’d previously attempted it in the studio with two hapless singers — Chester Crumpler in 1947 and Lloyd Oldham in 1951. Both efforts remained unissued, and indeed the extravagant lyric is practically unsingable, the more so when coupled with a not exactly simple melody. But after “Lucky So and So” had come off so well, Duke mustered up the courage to pull out a lead sheet for “Azalea.” He pulled up a chair, sat down facing Louis, and held up the words and music. Louis donned his horn-rimmed glasses, smiled that matchless smile, and began to hum and sing. An expert sight-reader, he soon had the melody down. The lyric, even with Duke having moved to the piano, was a bit more challenging, but it, too, fell into place. As all this was taking shape, Ellington was positively beaming, and when a take had been made, he was ecstatic. If indeed he’d had Louis in mind when he created this hothouse conceit, he had chosen properly, for no one else could have made it credible but the incredible Mr. Strong. [26]

Those words were written in 2001, forty years after the session, but they echoed Morgenstern’s original feelings, which were published shortly after in June 1961:

The easy, warm rapport between these two great artists, their understanding of each other’s needs and purposes, their mixing of high seriousness and frivolous banter, were a unique personification of jazz, at its warmest and tightest. It was a joy to be there, and a wonder to reflect on and bask in the youthful presence and spirit of these two men in their seventh decade of life, still finding challenges and discovering joy in their work.[27]

That quote came from an article Morgenstern began writing the very next day after the Ellington sessions ended. He joined Armstrong and the All Stars for a trip up to Scarsdale, where Armstrong was performing at The Fort Hill Restaurant, the first in a stretch of one-nighters. Morgenstern was there as a fan, as usual, but now he was also there in another capacity: to report on “a working day in the lives of Louis Armstrong and his band” for Metronome.

On the bus, on our way from mid-town Manhattan to pick up Louis at home in Long Island City, there was much kidding about the recording session, and that joking and teasing about age which is a custom among maturing musicians.... With Louis and Lucille aboard, the trip to Scarsdale continued, the musicians studying the schedule of one-nighters ahead, then reading, talking or dozing as people who spend a large portion of their lives traveling in buses will do. When we reached Fort Hill, Louis was fast asleep. Moments later he was in action again. [28]

After discussing the trip, Morgenstern provided a review of the performance, not just a rundown of songs, but a thorough look into the evening itself; from the musicians on the stand, to the songs performed, to the composition of the audience, Morgenstern captured every facet:

The first music of the night, familiar but always fresh, was “Sleepy Time Down South,” and there was the sound of Louis — the trumpet still and always with tone and presence that are matchless; the voice the one that more people in the world can recognize than any other — the sound and presence of jazz incarnate. One often hears carpings about Louis’ unchanging repertoire. They have become tiresome. The music hasn’t. The band is a good one. That night, Louis, Trummy Young, Barney Bigard, Danny Barcelona, Mort Herbert, and Rod Rodriguez played four sets: a total of some 25 selections. All but one of these had been played hundreds of times before, but they delivered with a spirit that made them seem as fresh as ever. There is no shucking when you work with Louis.
The audience, not a strictly jazz one nor very sophisticated, and, like all Louis’ audiences, encompassing a broader ranger in age than customary in jazz, was wrapped in Louis’ charisma from the start. There are people, musicians among them, who believe that music must be hard to understand to be of value. This sickness only hurts themselves. Louis has long since stepped far beyond the reach of ignorance and envy. But it is axiomatic to this observer of the jazz scene that any jazz musician or fan who hasn’t let the message of Louis Armstrong reach him is less than he could be.
Among the highlights of that night were the muted solo on “Lazy River” with its exquisite choice of notes; the beautiful ensemble playing on “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” with a delicacy of timbres and feeling for melody and dynamics a far cry from so-called Dixieland; an impassioned closing solo on “That’s My Home”; a deeply felt vocal on “Black and Blue” (with Louis’ revised text: “I’m right — Inside,”) and the short, fiery chorus on Trummy’s feature, “Undecided.” Plus a rare treat: a full version, with trumpet at both ends and an updated vocal, of “I Can’t Get Started”, which we had never heard him do before. It was an Armstrong interpretation — with due respects to Bunny Berigan, definitive. [29]

Morgenstern also adeptly caught the backstage side of Armstrong in action:

Backstage between the early sets, Louis, patient as ever, received admirers of all ages, signed autographs and seemed genuinely interested in each new face, each little story. Later, with only a few friends around, Louis relaxed. Through the back door, a cook appeared and stood silently and reverently, digging Louis. It appeared that he was from Trieste, and had seen Louis there years ago, obviously with lasting aftereffects. He was too shy to ask for anything, but Louis requested a picture from Frenchy, his road-manager, asked the cook how his name was spelled, and signed and dedicated the photograph. The cook was in seventh heaven. Later, an old friend asked Louis: “Don’t you ever get tired of people staring at you like that — like we’re doing now?” Louis laughed. “He’s used to it,” said Mrs. Armstrong. “Have the boys been told the kitchen closes at 12?” Someone asked Louis about a story in the papers that the band had lived on just eggs for a few days in Africa. “Nothing to it,” said Louis. “We had plenty of good food everywhere. But you know, when they write the stories in the papers they have to make it a little interesting.”

Morgenstern ended this, one of his first major published pieces about Armstrong, by summing up the 60-year-old trumpeter’s career at this juncture:

When the last high C had sounded, Louis Armstrong & Co. changed and got back on the bus. The next night, they were due at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. For more than thirty years, Louis has traveled like this, playing his music for every conceivable kind of audience, never losing his love for his work, never failing to bring happiness to those who come to hear him, still giving his best music he did so much to shape. Poll winners and new stars come and go, but Satchmo is still with us, making everybody blow. [30]

Armstrong’s tour of one-nighters continued throughout the summer but in September 1961, the All Stars found themselves back in New York, playing for four days at the amusement park Freedomland. (A Jack Bradley photo taken backstage shows Louis in a robe with a handkerchief around his head surrounded by a beaming Morgenstern, Lorber, Failows, pianist Dick Wellstood and others.) Morgenstern was already present for one rare All Stars moment when Armstrong performed “I Can’t Get Started” in Scarsdale. But what happened at Freedomland also made an impact on Morgenstern, as he chose it to end a career retrospective on Armstrong that he wrote for Jazz Journal in 1962:

Whenever Louis Armstrong is in town — or nearby — I try to see and hear him. (And I don’t ever seem to get tired of “Indiana.”) It’s always a treat to see and hear Pops, and sometimes there is something extraordinary — in addition to the very extraordinary presence of Louis per se. Take one night last year at Freedomland, for instance. It was relaxed and happy and Louis’ chops were up. The first set was fine, and backstage when we went to say hello there was Doc Pugh, without whom things wouldn’t go right, and all the cats — and some visitors as usual — and Pops, with a good word for everyone, just as real and warm and strictly human as can be. And then it was time to go on again, and there was some more good music and then — then Louis Armstrong played “West End Blues”. And that was one of those things: I had heard him play it before, and there is the record — three records, in fact. But I’d never heard it like this. And while Louis was playing, I stood transfixed — and there was just Louis and I and the music — and a presence I don’t very often feel was there too.” [31]

A few days later, Armstrong remained in New York to record Dave and Iola Brubeck’s original work, The Real Ambassadors. Made of all-new material with a political edge to it, it represented one of the most challenging sessions of Armstrong’s career. But as with “Azalea,” Armstrong rose to the challenge throughout the dates and one song in particular. Morgenstern was present again for this moment and wrote about it decades later:

Perhaps the finest piece in that score was “Summer Song,” and it was evident that Dave felt a bit awkward, having to present it to Armstrong sight unseen. Dave gave Louis the lead sheet, sat down at the keyboard and outlined the melody and changes while Louis looked things over, and then hesitated until Louis said, “Let’s try it.” A tempo was chosen, the composer played a brief introduction, and the singer proceeded to offer not the anticipated first attempt but what amounted to an interpretation, and a moving one at that. In what seemed like little more than an instant, this great artist had grasped the essence of a sophisticated piece of music and given it perfect life and shape. Tears came to Brubeck’s eyes, and this bystander had witnessed yet another Satch miracle, comparable to the ‘Azalea’ one.[32]

Spending so much time around Armstrong, Morgenstern soon came into contact with the trumpeter’s manager, Joe Glaser. “I would see him walking his poodles sometimes (he lived in the 50s between Fifth and Sixth) and once observed him at the 6th Ave. Deli, where he was permitted to go behind the counter and fix his own sandwich and trimmings which he did quite methodically,” Morgenstern wrote to the author. He also witnessed the Armstrong–Glaser relationship in action, which wasn’t quite the master-and-slave dynamic it sometimes gets portrayed as: “I also overheard Louis on the phone with Joe, giving as good as he apparently was getting in the foulmouth department. No ‘Mister Glaser’ in evidence there, but it ended calmly.” At another session in early 1962, Morgenstern saw another side of Glaser: “He was in a jolly mood at the Louis Goodyear filming session, where we exchanged some pleasantries, and then he suddenly said, probably inspired by the international nature of the Goodyear project: ‘You know, I’m the only man who’s been around the world without getting laid!’ I was taken aback, but wanted to laugh, and since he smiled, I did.... I think I kinda liked the guy.” [33]

Soon after the Goodyear session, Armstrong departed for another world tour and would spend very little time performing in New York in the next couple of years. But Morgenstern clearly recalled one particular evening in 1964: “Perhaps the most glorious night at the Copper Rail was when Louis Armstrong’s All Stars did a one-night stand a the Metropole and the musicians threw a party for Pops across the street. This was just after ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and there was a banner that read: ‘You Beat the Beatles!’” [34]

By this time, Morgenstern was serving as New York editor for Down Beat. After topping the charts with “Dolly” and conquering the Iron Curtain with a major eastern European tour in early 1965, Armstrong was on top of the world as he approached what he believed to be his sixty-fifth birthday on July 4 of that year. To celebrate, Morgenstern had the idea of conducting a long interview with Armstrong at his home in Corona, Queens, bringing Jack Bradley along to serve as photographer. Morgenstern cleared the interview with Joe Glaser and got the permission to record an afternoon hang in Armstrong’s den on May 22, 1965.

“It was a marvelous know, an interview with Louie had to be good,” Morgenstern said in 2012.

It’s in my book, ‘Living With Jazz,’ but it was much longer than that and we got into all kinds of things. And Lucille kept popping in and trying to get us to leave. But it didn’t work, Louie felt like talking. This is now known as ‘The Slivovice Interview,’ because Louie had been on tour behind what was then called the Iron Curtain and came back with a lot of stuff and we talked a lot about this. But one of the things he did come back with was a bottle of Slivovice. You know what Slivovice is? Slivovice is a plum brandy, very good, very strong, which, at that point in time, had come from Yugoslavia, which doesn’t exist anymore. Anyway, after about ten minutes in or fifteen minutes in, Louie offered us this Slivovice. And Jack and I consumed this bottle. We were feeling pretty good by the time it was over. It turned out to be a wonderful, wonderful day. We got into all kinds of subjects. He just felt like talking and we were privileged to be the recipients of that generosity because, as you know, he was one of the busiest people on the planet and that particular time, he was really, as he says in the beginning, getting ready to leave again. He had just recently come back from a strenuous European tour. But he was an iron man.” [35]

Armstrong might have been an iron man, but Morgenstern and Bradley caught him just before he started to break down (though shortly after the interview, Armstrong filmed an appearance in the film A Man Called Adam, which featured Morgenstern in the background at a party scene!). Armstrong was in the middle of recuperating from major dental surgery during the interview and when he went back to work, he soon realized that his chops no longer responded as he wanted to. With diminishing powers and a never-ending schedule, Armstrong began to grow weary and a bit depressed offstage. Morgenstern described this side in 1971.

I’ll never forget, either, seeing him backstage in the mid-’60s, at a last-minute one nighter disrupting some much needed rest. Louis had never complained about tiredness before; even when he was ready to drop. He was the world’s champion catnapper and had enormous recuperative powers. But now he was ill and in pain. At intermission, he was relaxing with a few friends, serious and sad. “As Bert Williams used to say, in show business, you have to die to prove that you’re sick,” he said, and meant it. But then he went out and gave his beloved public as great a show as he was able (and he was never less than great).” [36]

Armstrong continued to give his all during his live performances but the tiredness and declining trumpet work were becoming hard to miss on his recent Mercury recordings, which were of an erratic nature. Morgenstern reviewed Armstrong’s Mercury work for Down Beat and still gave it a five-star review, opening with a defense of his hero. “New albums by Armstrong are too few and far between to allow for indulgence in that favorite critical sport, nitpicking,” he wrote in 1966. “That this very great man, after 50 years of making music, still gives of himself so unstintingly is something to be thankful for, and this album is a potent reminder of this elementary fact. A single golden note from his horn is worth a shelf-full of everyday jazz records, and there are moments on this album when he proves beyond debate that his genius continues to shine as brightly as ever.” Nevertheless, after a track-by-track analysis, Morgenstern made some very important points about how Armstrong’s studio work was no longer being treated with much respect.

The choice of material is further indication of a lack of thoughtfulness. Several of these performances are taken from singles; “So Long” and “Mame”, both from the pen of Hello, Dolly! composer Jerry Herman, are obvious attempts at followups to that great hit. But hits are born, not manufactured (the reverse of “Dolly” was originally the “plug” side). Of course, this is a general practice in the recording industry and one of the consequences of fame. But imagine what Armstrong could do with a better selection of currently popular pieces, especially ballads.... [I]t is obvious that the time and care devoted to, say, a Barbra Streisand album production is missing. A first-class arranger (Benny Carter, for instance), a larger group, well-planned programming, adequate time for preparation, and a relaxed, non-rush recording atmosphere could make a framework for truly marvelous music from this great artist. It’s about time somebody realized this and acted accordingly.

Still, even in these settings, Morgenstern could focus on what Armstrong continued to bring to these sessions. “Meanwhile, Armstrong’s genius, discipline, craftsmanship, and unrelenting dedication to his life’s work often break through the clouds and the sun shines. Louis has done so much for us that it is high time we ask that things should be done right for him.” [37]

Up to this point, Morgenstern had been a chronicler of Armstrong’s performances and recorded work, but now he found himself in the role of the trumpeter’s chief defender. By 1967, Armstrong’s health was failing and he was being ignored by a great number of jazz purists. But in addition to defending Armstrong’s current work, Morgenstern also began the task of defending Armstrong’s past works, as well. In October 1967, Decca released an LP titled “Rare Items 1935–1946” that featured extremely intelligent liner notes by Morgenstern that presented a strong case for the greatness of Armstrong’s Decca big band period. This was the same year that Gunther Schuller’s revered book Early Jazz put the spotlight on Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Hot Sevens recordings of the 1920s. But those were recordings that everyone already agreed were great; in choosing Armstrong’s Decca work, or his early 1930s big bands (on the album V.S.O.P.) or various anthologies of the All Stars, Morgenstern began shining the spotlight on other phases of Armstrong’s career that had become unfairly neglected. Liner notes became Morgenstern’s greatest form of expression; in just a short amount of space, he could make a case for almost any Armstrong recording and since his notes were packaged with the recordings in question, all one had to do was listen to hear what Morgenstern had been hearing all along.

But by the late 1960s, there were fewer and fewer new Armstrong performances to write of. In 1967, the same year as the Rare Items release, Morgenstern was named editor-in-chief of Down Beat. But in 1968, Armstrong suffered major kidney and heart ailments and was forced to stop performing for well over a year. During his time off, a certain bitterness crept into Armstrong’s private writings, as he was hurt by the various slings and arrows he had suffered over the years by members of the African-American community and by other, younger jazz musicians.

By 1970, Armstrong’s health had improved enough to begin making some television appearances. With his seventieth birthday celebrations coming up in July, Morgenstern decided to offer a present to the music’s most influential figure by dedicating the entire July 1970 issue to Armstrong. In his introductory note, Morgenstern wrote, “We are proud to dedicate this issue of Down Beat to Louis Armstrong, the true King of Jazz. For more than half a century, this dedicated and beautiful man has been spreading joy on earth. Steadfastly, he has affirmed the eternal verities of love, beauty and goodness — as an artist and as a man. He is one of the few glories of our age.” Morgenstern was proud of the “Roses for Satchmo” section, which offered up tributes to Louis by dozens of jazz musicians, including ones who had previously criticized him, such as Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. He also offered spots for two well-regarded writers, Martin Williams and Leonard Feather, to give tributes. However, both men found space to trot out the usual criticisms of Armstrong’s showmanship and entertaining ways. Morgenstern called them out in his introduction:

You will also find tributes from two leading jazz critics. Unlike the musicians, they circumscribe their praise with comments defining Louis “the entertainer” as someone distinct from Louis “the artist.” Only this confused century could have spawned a theory that views art and entertainment as incompatible. What artist worthy of the name does not first of all desire to communicate — to touch the hearts and minds of others? And is this not what Louis Armstrong does so supremely well? Trumpeter, singer, actor, entertainer, human being: all these are the one and only Louis Armstrong, a whole man. Long ago, Louis dedicated his life and art to a noble purpose. “It’s happiness to me to see people happy,” he has said, and he has turned millions on with his smile, his voice, and his horn. Through thousands and thousands of one-night stands, on that hard old road, he has never given his public less than his best. Off stage, he has been just as generous. Louis was born with the knowledge that black is beautiful. Unmindful of fashions and trends, he has been true to himself and his heritage — a heritage he has enriched and transmuted to a degree not yet fully comprehended, and perhaps not fully comprehensible. All true art partakes of the mysterious. Louis Armstrong has always been in style, and always will be.[38]

Morgenstern concluded with a personal wish, “Happy birthday, blessed Satchmo, and many more! You’ve made this world a better place with your magic wand.” After sending the finished issue to Armstrong, Morgenstern eagerly anticipated his reaction.

The greatest compliment I ever got was from Louis Armstrong. I had sent him an advance copy of the special issue of Down Beat we had prepared for his seventieth birthday, and for which we had gathered warm greetings from more than eighty musicians, spanning the length and breadth of the music. Within days, a letter arrived in that familiar hand (Pops always addressed his personal envelopes himself). ‘I received the magazine,’ it began, ‘and it knocked me on my ass!’ No raves from critics could ever top that.[39]

Armstrong and Morgenstern had become so friendly by this point that the trumpeter could tell him just about anything. Morgenstern didn’t rush to publish every word Armstrong spoke, but he retained it all in his incredible memory to unleash at the appropriate time. For example, in discussing Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson’s relationship for the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man boxed set, Morgenstern drew upon one of his last personal memories of Armstrong:

During my last visit to his home, in December 1970, he was in a feisty mood when the conversation brought up Henderson. We already knew some things. There was a weekly talent contest at the Roseland, and sometimes when the customers proved shy, the bandsmen would offer some specialty numbers — comedy and so on. On one occasion Armstrong sang and brought the house down, but Henderson did not respond; at most, he sometimes let Armstrong sing when the band performed for black audiences.
This we knew, but now Armstrong, who seldom uttered an unkind public word, let go. Henderson, he said, was a light-skinned, college-educated Negro who’d never accepted the darker Armstrong for what he was and could do. Louis didn’t mind sharing trumpet solos with Howard Scott, who could play, but resented getting barely more solo space than the third member of the section, Elmer Chambers, a Henderson favorite, “with his nanny-goat sound and ragtime beat” (here Armstrong gave a devastating imitation of Chambers’s corny phrasing and tone). Fletcher wouldn’t let him sing, he said, because his gravel voice actually embarrassed the “dicty,” high-toned bandleader — though he did let Armstrong do a Bert Williams imitation! It was clear that Armstrong had never forgiven Henderson, and it is also clear that he was right: for more than a year, Louis Armstrong sat in Fletcher Henderson’s trumpet section at one of New York’s famous ballrooms, and apparently the only people aware of his presence were fellow musicians, black and white. [40]

That story might have come out during Morgenstern’s last visit to Armstrong’s house, but the two men still shared one more great evening of bonding in late January 1971 when Armstrong appeared as a guest on the David Frost Show and brought Morgenstern with him. Like the Scarsdale and Freedomland gigs, like the Ellington and Brubeck sessions, like every other experience the two men shared together, Morgenstern drank in the entire scene from backstage to the actual program and later recounted it in a profile of Dr. Billy Taylor, Frost’s musical director.

A cozy little room backstage allows the visitor to view the proceedings in color in a screening-room atmosphere. Set off from this is an area reserved for last-minute warm-up and makeup touches by guest performers. Here, on the day in question, one could see and hear special guest Louis Armstrong playing along softly with the band’s musical breaks while main guest Bing Crosby was out front with Frost — and to hear Pops doing “More Than You Know” and “Pennies from Heaven” with a practice mute was worth the trip in itself. [41]

In a later series of liner notes, Morgenstern admitted, “He played ‘Pennies’ and made me cry.” [42] Morgenstern was also present when Armstrong and Crosby met to rehearse their performance:

It took them just a few minutes to decide on the tune (“Blueberry Hill” — Louis reminding Bing that they’d done it together on a radio show years ago), the best key, and the routine (arrangement by Mr. Armstrong). They ran through a chorus, gave each other some skin, and nothing further was needed. Earlier, Louis, Billy Taylor, and trombonist Tyree Glenn (Louis’s musical director) had just as quickly established that “Blueberry Hill” would be no problem to the band (Glenn was to play obbligato), and that Louis’s two other numbers would be “That’s My Desire” (with Glenn as “Madame Butterfly,” re-creating the late Velma Middleton’s role in the piece) and “The Boy from New Orleans,” a song with autobiographical lyrics set to the tune of “The Saints.” Deciding on keys and humming a few bars of melody was all the “rehearsing” required.
The actual performance went down just as smoothly, with no mishaps. The band’s small-combo feeling was to the fore, Wess creating clarinet parts to the Armstrong context, and Glenn giving simple but effective cues. Having been involved in other television scenes, this writer can say without hesitation that it was the most relaxed, effortless, and non-uptight taping he has ever attended — and it would have been even faster and simpler if Frost’s plane had not been delayed, requiring a few hours of waiting around. (Considering the company, that was a bonus.)
When it was over, [Jimmy] Owens (a great Louis fan) and other members of the band visited with Pops and were promptly promised copies of his latest album. The feeling was warm. A bit later, Louis opined that it was always a ball to do the Frost show and “work with all those fine musicians.” [43]

Morgenstern’s published recollections of the evening end there but for him personally, the night was just getting started. Armstrong invited Morgenstern to dinner, choosing Sardi’s as the venue and insisting Morgenstern order whatever he wanted off the menu, regardless of price, as Armstrong was paying for it. It was a memorable evening but Morgenstern couldn’t have known it was the last time he would spend such quality time with Armstrong. As January turned to February, Armstrong’s health began to fail, as shortness of breath became a major issue. Still, Armstrong refused to cancel his two-week engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria in March, knowing that his fans would be there and he couldn’t let them down. This brave decision would turn the Waldorf into Armstrong’s final stand. Once onstage, Armstrong couldn’t quite hide his frailties, as he had difficulty blowing the trumpet and needed help walking on and offstage. During the engagement, Morgenstern ran into Armstrong’s bass player Arvell Shaw. Morgenstern expressed interest in attending a performance at the Waldorf but Shaw told him not to, that he didn’t want to see Armstrong in such bad shape. Morgenstern heeded Shaw’s advice and did not go. Forty years later, he told a Satchmo Summerfest audience in New Orleans that he still wasn’t sure how he felt about that decision. Yes, he was spared the sight of an ailing Armstrong faltering onstage, but he also missed the trumpeter’s final performances. Armstrong had a heart attack almost immediately after the Waldorf, and though he seemed to rally briefly back home in the early summer of 1971, it was too much to overcome and he passed away on July 6.

Morgenstern was there to cover it in his capacity as DownBeat editor-in-chief. “One of the greatest men of the 20th century is dead,” is how he began his obituary. He concluded it by mentioning the previous year’s tribute:

Last year, on the occasion of his 70th birthday Down Beat dedicated a special issue to the true King of Jazz. He told us that it gave him great pleasure, and it brought us more happiness than we can express to have brought the man who gave us and the world such marvelous gifts some small token in return. We’re glad we did not wait too long. God rest his sweet soul. [43]

On the very next page ran a series of tributes from jazz luminaries such as Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington...and Dan Morgenstern. Dropping the formal tone of the obituary, Morgenstern told his story about meeting Armstrong and even gave previews of stories he would write about in the future, such as Armstrong’s blowup at Newport in 1957. He also used his platform to once again serve as Armstrong’s chief defender, grousing over some of the other eulogies and tributes published after Armstrong’s death. “No matter,” he concluded:

Distasteful as such unconscious insults may be, the essence of Louis is inviolably pure. No man I know of more fully realized Nietzsche’s dictum for human greatness: Werde, wer du bist! (Become who you are!) Louis Armstrong was absolutely, utterly himself, as incapable of speaking a false word as he was of playing or singing a false note. He had a limitless sense of self and no ego; the greatest pride but no trace of vanity. The beauty of his soul infused his work, which will stand, as long as man can hear among the choicest of treasures humanity has created. Louis Armstrong is dead, but he will live forever. Now, perhaps, even those who were deaf to his message of universal love will be able to comprehend it. [44]

With those words, Dan Morgenstern set up his role as Armstrong’s most passionate defender and greatest documenter, devoting hundreds of thousands of words in a variety of different settings to ensure that future generations would not be “deaf” towards Armstrong’s accomplishments. His book reviews, liner notes, and other pieces about Armstrong should be mandatory reading, but for this writer, it’s Morgenstern’s tales of his personal encounters with Armstrong that remain the most special. In his personal tribute to Armstrong after the trumpeter’s death, Morgenstern summed up the many sides of Armstrong he witnessed: “Relaxing at home, on the bus, or backstage; working in concerts, theaters or clubs, in recording or television studios, this marvelous man was always gracious, generous and gentle; never too busy to grant a moment or two to a lowly fan, always ready with a smile, a handshake, a joke — if need be, a handout.” [45]

Perhaps Morgenstern’s greatest summation of Louis Armstrong came in his liner notes to the Chicago Concert release:

All this to say that Louis Armstrong was a complex and proud man, who gave his life’s work (I should say his calling) everything he had — a reasonable man, but not one to be pushed around, and a tiger when his special people were pushed. And also to say that Louis Armstrong was the greatest musician of his day (which means our time) and one of the greatest entertainers of his day, both things (not contradictory, fashionable esthetics to the contrary notwithstanding) rolled into one. To know Louis was to understand that, and those who knew could find untold joy in hearing, yes, again and again, how he had perfected those same pieces — the way you could tell, form the way he kicked off the opening “Indiana,” or even the way he intoned his theme song (written especially for him by a team of black songwriters including the famous actor Clarence Muse, and a thorn in the side of confused liberals), “Sleepy Time Down South,” if this was going to be an extraordinary night or just (just!) an ordinary very special one. Every encounter with Louis Armstrong, every note from his horn or vocal cords, was special — from first to last. [46]

Thanks to Dan Morgenstern for making all of those special encounters come alive over the years with his series of unforgettable writings on Armstrong.


  • Morgenstern, Dan. “Rotating with Satchmo and Mingus,” Metronome 78, no. 6 (June 1961), 19.
  • ———. “Pops in Perspective.” Jazz Journal 15, no. 5 (May 1962), 8.
  • ———. “Louis Armstrong — Louis (Mercury),” Down Beat 33, no. 17 (August 25, 1966), 24.
  • ———. “Roses for Satchmo,” Down Beat 37, no. 14 (July 9, 1970), 14.
  • ———. “Louis Armstrong: 1900–1971,” Down Beat 38, no. 16 (September 16, 1971), 14.
  • ———. Liner notes to Louis Armstrong: The California Concerts. Decca GRD-4-613, 1992, CD.
  • ———. Liner notes to Louis Armstrong: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings. BMG 09026-68682-2, 1997, CD.
  • ———. Living With Jazz. New York: Pantheon, 2004.
  • ———. “Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program NEA Jazz Master Interview.” Interview by Edward Berger, March 28–29, 2007. Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
  • ———. Liner notes to Louis Armstrong: The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions. Mosaic MD7-243, 2009, CD.
  • ———. E-mail to the author, April 1, 2010.
  • ———. “Louis Armstrong: Discussion Led By Ricky Riccardi,” at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, January 7, 2012. Audio at


[1] Dan Morgenstern, “Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program NEA Jazz Master Interview.” Interview by Edward Berger, March 28–29, 2007. Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, transcript p. 21.

[2] Dan Morgenstern, liner notes to Louis Armstrong: The California Concerts (Decca GRD-4-613, 1992, CD), 2.

[3] Dan Morgenstern, “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in Living with Jazz (New York: Pantheon, 2004), 10.

[4] Dan Morgenstern, liner notes to Louis Armstrong: The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935–1946) (Mosaic MD7-243, 2009, CD), 4–5.

[5] Morgenstern, “Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program NEA Jazz Master Interview,” 33–34.

[6] Morgenstern, The California Concerts, 2–3.

[7] Morgenstern, “Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program NEA Jazz Master Interview,” 42–43.

[8] Morgenstern, “Reminiscing in Tempo,” 13.

[9] Morgenstern, The California Concerts, 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Morgenstern, “Reminiscing in Tempo,” 14.

[12] Ibid., 13–14.

[13] Morgenstern, “Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program NEA Jazz Master Interview,” 43–44.

[14] Morgenstern, “Reminiscing in Tempo,” 14.

[15] Morgenstern, The California Concerts, 4.

[16] Morgenstern, “Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program NEA Jazz Master Interview,” 44.

[17] Morgenstern, “Reminiscing in Tempo,” 14.

[18] Morgenstern, “Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program NEA Jazz Master Interview,” 44.

[19] Dan Morgenstern, “Miles Davis,” in Living with Jazz, 221.

[20] Dan Morgenstern, “Satchmo and the Critics,” in Living with Jazz, 74.

[21] Dan Morgenstern, “Chicago Concert,” in Living with Jazz, 65–66.

[22] Ibid., 70.

[23] “Louis Armstrong: Discussion Led By Ricky Riccardi,” at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, January 7, 2012. Audio at

[24] Dan Morgenstern, “Louis and Duke: The Great Summit,” in Living with Jazz, 95.

[25] Dan Morgenstern, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” in Living with Jazz, 47.

[26] Morgenstern, “Louis and Duke: The Great Summit,” 96.

[27] Dan Morgenstern, “Rotating with Satchmo and Mingus,” Metronome 78, no. 6 (June 1961), 19.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid., 19–20.

[31] Dan Morgenstern, “Pops in Perspective,” Jazz Journal 15, no.5 (May 1962), 8.

[32] Dan Morgenstern, “The Making of The Great Summit,” in Living with Jazz, 97.

[33] Dan Morgenstern, e-mail to the author, April 1, 2010.

[34] Morgenstern, “Reminiscing in Tempo,” 13,

[35] “Louis Armstrong: Discussion Led By Ricky Riccardi,” at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, January 7, 2012. Audio at

[36] Dan Morgenstern, “Louis Armstrong: 1900–1971,” Down Beat 38, no.16 (September 16, 1971), 14.

[37] Dan Morgenstern, “Louis Armstrong — Louis (Mercury),” Down Beat 33, no. 17 (August 25, 1966), 24.

[38] Dan Morgenstern, “Roses for Satchmo,” Down Beat 37, no. 14 (July 9, 1970), 14.

[39] Morgenstern, “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in Living with Jazz, 15.

[40] Morgenstern, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” in Living with Jazz, 25.

[41] Dan Morgenstern, “Billy Taylor,” in Living with Jazz, 203.

[42] Dan Morgenstern, Liner notes to Louis Armstrong: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (BMG 09026-68682-2, 1997, CD), 32.

[43] Dan Morgenstern, “Billy Taylor,” in Living with Jazz, 203–204.

[44] Morgenstern, “Louis Armstrong: 1900–1971,” 12.

[45] Ibid., 14.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Morgenstern, “Chicago Concert,” 66.

Author Information: 
Ricky Riccardi is the author of What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years (Pantheon, 2011). He is the archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, NY, and he maintains the blog The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong.

Over the course of two decades, Dan Morgenstern developed a close relationship with Louis Armstrong, resulting in some of Morgenstern’s most inspired and passionate writing. This article examines what Morgenstern witnessed while in Armstrong’s presence.

Louis Armstrong, Dan Morgenstern

How to cite this article:

  • Chicago 15th ed.: Riccardi, Ricky. “‘Special — From First to Last’: Dan Morgenstern’s Relationship with Louis Armstrong.” Current Research in Jazz 4, (2012).
  • MLA 7th ed.: Riccardi, Ricky. “‘Special — From First to Last’: Dan Morgenstern’s Relationship with Louis Armstrong.” Current Research in Jazz 4 (2012). Web. [date of access]
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