Each day I receive a Google Alert e-mail on Louis Armstrong, and each day I wonder as I read it whether someone somewhere has discovered a primary source that contradicts something I’ve written in Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong. So far, so good, but I got a bit nervous over the weekend when I learned that a hitherto-unknown sixteen-page letter written by Armstrong to Mezz Mezzrow in 1932 was being auctioned off by the same firm that’s currently selling private tapes of Barbra Streisand’s 1960 nightclub debut.
The complete text of the letter can be viewed on line. I was relieved to learn upon reading it that I won’t have to tear up Pops at the very last minute in order to shoehorn the letter into the book. Even so, I wish I’d known about it six months ago, for the letter, which Armstrong wrote midway through his first trip to England, fills in several small but significant factual gaps in our knowledge of that important episode in his life. It is also, like all of Armstrong’s letters, written in an amazingly vivid and personal style:
The Victor Record Co., has just won the case from the Okeh Record Co. and wired Mr. Collins [Johnny Collins, Armstrong’s manager] that all’s well and I can start on my new Victor contract which replaces the Rudy Vallee anytime. Gee, Gate, what a victory that is to win from our boy Rockwell [Tommy Rockwell, Armstrong’s previous manager, who sued to stop him from switching record labels]. Looka heah, Looka heah. Now just watch those good royalties-dividends-shares-‘n’ everything else. Ha. Ha. And the contract pop’s (MR. COLLINS) made with these people for me, why you’ve never heard of one like it before. And that includes the ole King of Jazz himself Paul Whiteman. Nice, eh?
Alas, you won’t find that paragraph in Pops, nor has it been published anywhere else, though I sincerely hope that a complete run of Armstrong’s surviving correspondence will be brought out in book form at some point in the future. (In the meantime, a fair number of his letters can be found here.) Until then I’ll be keeping an eye on Google–and hoping that nothing of indispensable importance surfaces for at least another six months, if not longer.