March 24, 2014
A very rare memory of Louis Armstrong
I had occasion over the weekend to read Lyn Murray's Musician: A Hollywood Journal, whose second subtitle is "Of Wives, Women, Writers, Lawyers, Directors, Producers and Music." Published in 1987, it's a gossipy diary that Murray, who wrote music for TV, films, and radio, kept between 1947 and 1983. While the book is as forgotten as its author--Murray only scored one film of any distinction, Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief--it's full of fascinating tales about better-known people.
One of them is Louis Armstrong, which whom Murray worked on a couple of widely separated occasions. Had I read Musician prior to writing Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, I would certainly have quoted from the following entries, which are, so far as I'm aware, unknown to jazz scholars.
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Wednesday, Sept. 15, 1954 I haven't seen Louie for 19 years. In 1935 we made some records for Decca. "Shadrack" was one. A big hit. We made friends on that date and we corresponded for awhile--his letters, most amusing, came from all over the country and were done in elite type. Big thrill for me. Louie is a wonderful, original man. His autobiography Satchmo is out now. He is working on a sequel and let us read a chapter (in elite type). The chapter we read deals with marijuana. He smokes it every day and feels that J. Edgar Hoover is wrong to put it on the same level as hard stuff like heroin and cocaine. He says his book wouldn't be honest if he didn't talk about "shuzzit" (his name for marijuana), since he has blasted with hundreds of friends all his life. To preserve his health and happiness his mother told him to do three things: gargle, move your bowles (that's Louie's spelling) and smoke a stick of gage (marijuana) every day....
Friday, Sept. 17, 1954 Sid [Kuller] and I had a breakfast date with Louie in his [Las Vegas] bungalow at three p.m. Colored acts are not allowed to stay at the Sands so we went up the Strip a hundred yards to the Bon Aire Motel. He was in #7 naturally. We knocked on the door. Miss Lucille Preston his secretary [and girlfriend] opened it a crack, saw who we were and invited us in. Louie was in the bathroom following his mother's advice, gargling, moving his bowles and smoking. The air in the bungalow was nice and thick. He came out of the bathroom with a white towel round his head (he wears it in his dressing room between and after shows), a pair of nylon shorts, which didn't quite cover everything, around his loins. He gave us a big happy greeting, led us into the kitchen and presented us with two B-52s [large joints] which we lit up. The tape machine was going. He had his supply of "shuzzit" in a Sucrets can. At one point he went into the bathroom and came out with a herbal laxative called Swiss Kriss. He said it was basically "gage" and it was good to stretch out the real stuff if you were running short. Velma Middleton [the female singer for Armstrong's All Stars] came in with a perfectly beautiful little girl, daughter of Trummie [Trummy] Young the trombone player [for the All Stars]. Louie gave the child one of those dime slot machine banks. The back door of the bungalow was open so the little girl didn't get high....
Posted March 24, 2014 11:00 AM