WASHINGTON (AP) - A live recording of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong playing his trumpet for one of the last times is being released to the public for the first time.
On Jan., 29, 1971, Armstrong was a featured performer at the National Press Club in Washington, celebrating the inauguration of fellow Louisiana native Vernon Louviere as the club’s president. On Friday, Armstrong’s performance is being played back in the same place for musicians, historians and some who were there for the original performance.
The new album is called “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours: Satchmo at the National Press Club.”
Looking back, the performance was Armstrong’s goodbye in many ways. It was the last recording made of him performing live that was meant to be played back some day. His only later performances on trumpet were quick TV snippets with Dick Cavett and Johnny Carson.
His health had been suffering for years after a heart attack and trouble with his kidneys. Armstrong stayed home resting for much of 1969 and 1970, according to Ricky Riccardi, the archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in New York and author of “What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years.”
He felt strong enough, though, to make a comeback with a few short performances in Las Vegas and then in Washington. That’s when he surprised the crowd by pulling out his trumpet for tunes like “Hello Dolly” and signing his autobiography with “Boy From New Orleans.”
Armstrong died less than six months later on July 6, 1971.
“He had such a love of performing,” Riccardi said. “He had been off the scene for so long that I think he cherished any opportunity to get in front of an audience if he was feeling up to it.”
His doctors tried to pace him. Riccardi found a letter from Armstrong to his physicians not long before the press club concert where he complained of having shortness of breath. It was becoming too much for him.
Armstrong told fellow musicians that the best way to die would be to die on stage. By 1971, he was thin and ashen _ still telling great stories, but a little of his spark is gone, Riccardi said.
His performance in Washington, though, sounded as good as ever and better than some of his material from the year before, Riccardi said. And the audience knew this was a special moment.
“To me it’s just one last little testament of Armstrong and his audiences connecting. … This is really our last glimpse of Louis on stage, doing what he did best,” Riccardi said.
“The solo he plays on Hello Dolly is a knockout. It’s one of my favorites,” he said. “But it’s with the knowledge that this was basically a dying man playing this beautiful song.”
A limited release of 300 LPs on vinyl were copied from the press club for those in attendance. Over 40 years, they were largely forgotten.
Chris Royal, the music department chairman at Howard University and a fellow trumpet player, heard the recording for the first time this week after it was released on CD, iTunes and Amazon.com.