Ricky Riccardi: Dedicated Disciple of Pops

Keeping the legend of Louis alive

These days, if the legend of Louis Armstrong is busy (and it always is), you know that Ricky Riccardi is busy. The archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, as well as the author of What A Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years (Pantheon 2011), Riccardi is all things Pops.

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Ricky Riccardi at Armstrong Archives
By Mark Finkenstaedt
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Ricky Riccardi at Louis Armstrong House Museum

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“On May 24 the Archives will be celebrating its twentieth year of being open to the public,” says Riccardi. “We’ll be celebrating that with a new exhibit that will open at the Armstrong House on May 20. On May 10 we’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Louis’ ‘Hello, Dolly’ knocking the Beatles off the top of the charts at the Museum of Moving Image, with a screening of the film, Hello, Dolly, and a presentation by yours truly about Louis’ history with the tune. Otherwise, at the Archives, it’ll just be about getting everything straight for the big move to the Education Center in Corona.”

If you’ve visited the sublime Louis Armstrong House Museum—a truly spiritual experience for the Pops fancier—you might recall the parking lot across the street. That lot is now history, to be replaced with the impressive Education Center. Says Riccardi: “The Education Center is going to be a game changer for us. We’ve already raised about $20 million and we recently kicked off the construction phase. The building probably won’t be ready until 2016 at the earliest but when it opens, it’s going to be a big day for Armstrong fans, and a big day for me. Right now the Archives are situated at Queens College, which is a bit of a hassle to get to from the Armstrong House in Corona. Most of our visitors have to choose between either the House or the Archives, and the House is the first choice because that’s where our core program is. But when the Education Center opens across the street from the House, every single object will be packed up and moved over to the new building. Thus, for the first time, anyone who takes a tour of the House will be able to walk across the street to see the Archives, a brand new exhibit gallery, listen to Louis’ tapes, see his scrapbooks, and more. And right now, we really can’t do lectures or presentations at the Armstrong House because our Exhibit Area only holds about 20 people. The Education Center will have a 72 seat Jazz Room that will ensure more concerts, more lectures and more live performances.”

The mission of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, as stated on its website, is to:

*Operate the Louis Armstrong House, a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark, as a historic house museum.
*Collect, arrange, preserve, catalog, and make available to the public materials relating to the life and career of Louis Armstrong.
*Serve as a reference source for information about Louis Armstrong.
*Present public programs, such as concerts and lectures, that preserve and promote the cultural legacy of Louis Armstrong.

Riccardi points out that the last three bullets pertain especially to the Archives. “At the Archives, we now have NINE separate collections, making us the world’s largest archives devoted to a single jazz musician.”

What’s a typical day at the Archives like? “A typical day doesn’t exist—no two days are ever the same. We get about 50 to 60 visitors a year, typically researchers or students who are writing about Armstrong. When they come in, I give them my full attention. As our Mission Statement states, one of our goals is to make the treasures in the Archives available to the public, so I love when researchers come in to do work. On days when researchers aren’t booked, there’s always new acquisitions coming in, whether it’s people donating letters Louis wrote, rare magazines, personal photographs, etc. If it has to do with Louis and if we don’t already have it, we continue to collect it. So once we have the artifacts in hand, that means doing any necessary preservation work, numbering the artifacts, writing descriptions in our catalog, sending thank-you notes to the donor, etc. When there are no acquisitions, there are always photo agreements that need to be handled. We administer the rights to thousands of images in our collections and there’s always an author or a documentary filmmaker or a website or some other entity interested in using a photo of Louis. I also get reference questions on Louis on a daily basis. And on top of all this, I write and edit The Dippermouth News, our biannual newsletter for our Museum members; I curate and install at least two new exhibits at the Armstrong House each year; and I’m constantly speaking to classes or giving interviews on behalf of Armstrong House. It’s a lot and I’m the only full-time employee at the Archives, so it can be really dizzying on some days; (it doesn’t help that I commute a total of more than five hours a day, four days a week!). It’s one reason why the Archives are open by appointment only because there are some days when I just can’t get to everything and serve the public, too.”

No discussion of the Louis Armstrong House Museum and Archives is complete without talking about its director, Michael Cogswell. “Michael is terrific to work for,” says Riccardi. “As a saxophone player with degrees in both Jazz History and Library Science, he was the right man for the job when he was hired as Archivist in 1991. When Queens College named him Director of the Armstrong House, he threw himself into the job completely and managed to open the House by 2003 and raise almost $20 million for the Education Center. We couldn’t have done any of this without the major funding from the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation but Michael has constantly had the vision to turn Louis Armstrong’s legacy in Queens into something major, something to compete with Elvis’ Graceland, and something that Louis truly deserves.”

Speaking of Cogswell, besides being a nifty second line dancer, he is an exceptional writer and his book, Louis Armstrong: The Offstage Story of Satchmo (Collectors Press), (like Riccardi’s What A Wonderful World), is an indispensable addition to Armstrong literature.

So how does a New Jersey lad, Ricky Riccardi, born in 1980, become a foremost Louis Armstrong scholar? “I’ve been blessed with probably the two most supportive parents in the history of parenting. Seriously, they’ve supported all of my crazy interests one hundred percent since the day I was born, and they remain my biggest fans to this day. My mom read to me constantly when I was a kid and I became obsessed with books at a young age. I was reading at the age of four and it wasn’t too long after that that my parents realized that I was happier when they took me to a bookstore instead of a toy store. That love has never really went away.”

As child, Riccardi’s interests varied: from baseball to vintage comedy. “My first obsession was baseball, as I grew up in a houseful of Yankee fans. When I was five, my dad got me the World Series program that year between the Royals and the Cardinals. There was a list of all the World Series winners and losers in the back and within a few weeks I had it memorized completely. That became my party trick, being escorted around at weddings and family functions as older relatives would throw years at me and I’d tell them the World Series winners and losers.”

After diving into a love of boxing and Muhammad Ali, Riccardi discovered the joys of Moe, Larry, and Curley: “I was transfixed (by the Three Stooges) and spent the next six or seven years studying obsessively about black-and-white comedians: Laurel and Hardy, the Stooges, Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Our Gang, you name it.” The olfactory sense triggers memory more than any other sense: “My parents were happy to take me to used bookstores and video stores on almost a weekly basis so I could add to my collection. I can still smell some of those stores. My parents got a condo in Deerfield Beach, Florida and we’d go on vacation every year. I didn’t care about the beach or the warm weather; I wanted those used book stores! And they were happy to take me.”

Besides his parents, another influence on young Ricky Riccardi was a sixth grade teacher. “Nick Cuccarese was a baseball historian and a lover of old comedy and we immediately hit it off. He’d have the rest of the class quiet doing seatwork and then he’d call me up to his desk to look through books like The Image of Their Greatness or to trade Honeymooners quotes. He was the first to realize that my brain was wired for writing and researching and I think he was the least surprised when my book came out so many years later.”

Although he was born in the year of the Clash’s London Calling, Riccardi did not grow up listening to British punks or even New Jersey saint Bruce Springsteen: “I always say that I was born in 1980 and have enjoyed almost no popular music created after 1980.” After enjoying Motown, Stevie Wonder, and the wonders of doo wop, Riccardi dove even further back: “I went completely backwards and discovered Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante, and other vaudeville entertainers, which got me through the always crazy years of middle school. I knew that knowing all the words to ‘Josephina, Please No Lean-a on the Bell’ would only get me beat up, so I’d go home and watch MTV so at least I could hold a conversation about what was going on in music. Students would come up and angrily ask, ‘What are you—hip hop or alternative?’ I’d look them up or down, take a guess and respond appropriately. They never gave me a third option of, ‘Vaudevillian.’”

The Riccardi household was filled with music. “My father, uncle and grandfather all played guitar and when we had family functions, they’d get their instruments out and jam on songs like ‘Caravan,’ ‘Sweet Georgia Brown,’ and ‘Sweet Sue.’ I still didn’t know what jazz was, but I liked these songs and eventually added them to my repertoire after I started taking piano lessons at the age of seven.”

So when did the Big Bang moment—discovering the endless joys and soulful profundities of Louis Armstrong’s music—occur? The seeds were being carefully sown, with Spike Jones, Louis Prima, and Woody Allen’s Sleeper soundtrack (featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) all fertilizing the soil. In September 1995 Riccardi’s parents and grandparents brought him to see and hear the Preservation Hall masters in concert in Atlantic City. “It was my first concert and I was transfixed.

“But the explosion came in October 1995, when I was a freshman in high school. I had graduated past comedies and was just interested in any old movies I could find. I liked Jimmy Stewart so one afternoon I found myself checking out The Glenn Miller Story. Well, in the middle of the film, here comes Louis Armstrong! I had known the name and I think I had liked seeing him with Bing Crosby in one of those That’s Entertainment compilations. But now, I was hypnotized by the whole package: his look, his smile, his voice, his singing, his trumpet playing, the whole sound of the band doing ‘Basin Street Blues.’ I watched that part a few times over and over and told my mom, ‘Let’s to the library; I need to check out more of this Armstrong guy.’”

And thus an important career was born.

“Naturally, the Ocean County Library in Toms River had a pretty good-sized Armstrong collection. I was looking for a general compilation and saw one that sounded promising: 16 Most Requested Songs. It turned out to be a collection of Armstrong’s 1950s Columbia recordings produced by George Avakian, who also wrote the notes for this set. From the opening of ‘Mack The Knife,’ I knew I was home. Each track was better and better until track 14, the epic nine-minute version of ‘St. Louis Blues’ from Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy. That whole performance just builds and builds and when Trummy Young’s roaring solo gave way to Louis’ Herculean lead towards the end, I felt something shift in my brain. Nothing would ever be the same.”

I felt something shift in my brain. Louis Armstrong had rocked the world of yet another convert. As the great cornet player Rex Stewart wrote about hearing Pops for the first time in the 1920s: “From the time Louis catapulted onto the New York scene, everybody and his brother tried to play like him… I tried to walk like him, talk like him. I bought shoes and a suit like the Great One wore… What he carried with him was the aroma of red beans and rice, with more than a hint of voodoo and ‘gris-gris.’”

Seventy years later, Pops had yet another disciple, a young man born nine years after Armstrong’s death. Says Riccardi: “As was my habit, I now had to read every word about (Pops) so I could learn him inside and out. And the first book I chose was James Lincoln Collier’s Louis Armstrong: An American Genius, which has been called one of the most mean-spirited jazz books ever written. Well, there I was reading about Armstrong ‘failing his talent’ and generally dong nothing worthwhile after 1929. I had only been listening to 1950s and 1960s Armstrong and I sure didn’t see any reason to complain about it.”

Louis Armstrong—a titanic artist up until his last breath—had to endure short-sighted (and dead wrong) critical opinion during the 1950s and 1960s. “This line of thinking,” says Riccardi, “stated that Armstrong used to be a serious artist in the 1920s, but then he sold out, became a clown, went commercial and was an Uncle Tom when it came to issues of race. Those perceptions followed Armstrong into his grave and continued to infiltrate a lot of the writing done about him in the first fifteen years after he died. Everything started to change with Gary Giddins’ Satchmo and I don’t think it was a coincidence that Giddins was the first person to have access to the Armstrong House and to Armstrong’s manuscripts and letters. Armstrong was very concerned with his legacy and left behind hundreds of private reel-to-reel tapes and dozens of manuscripts that contained his candid opinions on race, music, women, drugs and more.” Why did Pops do this? Says Riccardi: “(Armstrong) answered that himself numerous times: ‘For posterity.’ You can see the change in both attitude and interest in Armstrong shift once people got to explore the gifts Louis left us.”

As always, Mr. and Mrs. Riccardi supported their son’s latest interest. “That Christmas of 1995, my parents bought me the boxed set Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, four cassettes and a giant booklet by Dan Morgenstern that’s still the best collection of 1923-34 Armstrong. Naturally, I had my mind blown, but I couldn’t get Collier’s words out of my head. Why the need to disparage later Armstrong? Eventually, I found Giddins’ book, which was really a big influence. And the more Armstrong releases I picked up, the more I realized that I agreed with every word of Dan Morgenstern’s various sets of liner notes. But then I’d pick up jazz magazines, and there’d always be some knock about what Armstrong became in his later career.

“In 1997, Laurence Bergreen’s massive Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life was published. I was so excited, I read it in record time. I was digging it all but I couldn’t help but feel that Bergreen went into fast-forward mode when he hit the later years. He spent 424 pages on Armstrong’s life up to 1943 and only 70 pages on 1943-1971. Something was wrong and for the first time, I found myself thinking, ‘If someone wrote a book on Armstrong’s later years, I would read that book.’ The wheels were turning.”

After graduating from high school in 1999, Riccardi attended Ocean County College for two years. “Just using books, magazines, liner notes and other materials in my own collection, I wrote 125 pages on Armstrong’s later years…I also became editor-in-chief of the OCC weekly newspaper and gave myself a jazz column, winning a few statewide awards for articles about Armstrong. The paper’s advisor, Karen Bosley, taught me more about writing in two years there than anyone else before or after.”

After graduating from Ocean County College, Riccardi earned a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Rutgers University. “I kind of went through the motions there because I had my eyes on the next step: earning a Master’s degree in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers Newark. Lewis Porter started this program and I was already a big fan of his work, so being there was like being in heaven, especially since the classes were filled with so many other jazz historians, many of whom I still keep in touch with.

“Early on, Lewis (Porter) said that we’d each have to write a Master’s thesis and to have our topics ready. Obviously, I chose Armstrong’s later years. But now I had the Institute of Jazz Studies right there on campus, when the director was Dan Morgenstern. The Dan Morgenstern! You can ask my friends from high school, but I used to talk about him like he was my idol, so just being in the same building with him was always a thrill. I copied everything I could from the Institute and now had a mountain of research to pull from. Heading into my last semester, I told Lewis my thesis was up to 350 pages…and I still had ten years of Armstrong’s life to cover! Lewis just about physically restrained me and said, ‘Stop! That’s more than enough! Save it for the book!’ I graduated in 2005 with this unfinished behemoth of a thesis and now just had to figure out what to do with it and what to do with myself.”

With his Jazz History degree under his belt, Riccardi began…painting houses—honorable, lucrative, yet exhausting work. So how did he go from Ricky Riccardi House Painter in 2006 to Ricky Riccardi World-Known Louis Armstrong Author and Scholar? “Here’s how it went down,” says the man himself. “During my final years at Rutgers, I taught two semesters of Jazz History to undergraduates and absolutely loved it. I was also playing a lot of piano at this time. I graduated in May of 2005 and got married in June. I envisioned this life of teaching at a university by day, playing the piano by night, and writing books on the side. I put together my resume, sent it out, and waited for my career to begin.

“In the meantime, I went back to the only job I had ever known since high school: painting houses for my father. My father had been a painting contractor for decades and starting in 1995, I’d spend my summers painting for him. It was always a fun job because I liked working with my brother and eventually, my brother-in-law. It was hard work but it was a good paycheck and I liked helping out the family. So the day after I graduated, I picked up the old paint brush, expecting to do it for a couple of months. Long story short, I painted houses full-time, five days a week, for the next four-and-a-half years. This wasn’t what I had planned…but it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

“In February 2006 I was booked for my first lecture on Armstrong at the Institute of Jazz Studies. It was a big night (even though I spent the day painting houses). Dan Morgenstern was by my side and the room was filled with people I admired such as Randy Sandke, Ed Berger, Ross Firestone, and more. It was kind of my coming out party and when it was over, multiple people came up and said, ‘You need to write a book!’ I agreed, but how? Soon after, Tad Hershorn of the Institute of Jazz Studies put me in touch with an agent, Tony Outhwaite. I pitched my idea on Armstrong’s later years to Tony and he agreed it was a good one. We whipped up a proposal and Tony began sending it out. Just as quickly, the rejections started coming back in.

“I didn’t fret because my research was growing all the time. I interviewed five surviving members of Armstrong’s All Stars—Danny Barcelona, Joe Muranyi, Marty Napoleon, Jewel Brown and Buddy Catlett—and others who knew Armstrong, such as Jack Bradley and George Avakian. I now had all my arguments lined up and I had the words of my interview subjects and the words of years of articles and books I had amassed. I just didn’t have much of Armstrong’s own words.

“That changed in January 2006 when I made my first trip to the Louis Armstrong House Museum and the Louis Armstrong Archives in the same day. When I got to the Archives, I knew about Armstrong’s famed habit of making reel-to-reel tapes but I didn’t really know about the contents or even where to start. On a whim, I asked for a tape containing an interview Louis did in Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1956. And on that tape, Armstrong bragged that he was playing better than ever, railed against critics who insisted on placing musicians in different ‘styles’ and defended then-recent works like Ambassador Satch. It was everything I dreamed of and it was straight from Armstrong’s own mouth. I began making almost monthly trips to the Archives, listening to dozens of tapes in the process.”

Like it was for hundreds of writers before him, success did not come quickly for Ricky Riccardi. “By the summer of 2007, nothing had changed. Tony kept updating me with more rejections and I was still painting houses every day. It had been two years and I was starting to become something of a joke on the job sites. One time a construction worker asked, ‘Is it true that you have a Master’s degree?’ I assured him it was. He asked to shake my hand and I complied. Then he turned to all the other trades and shouted, ‘I just shook hands with the smartest painter in the world!’”

Yet, unlike so many others, Riccardi did not give up. “I knew how important the research I had been doing was and I felt I had to share it in some way to help give me some kind of reputation. In July 2007 I decided to start a blog called The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong (at dippermouth.blogspot.com). I started just writing as much as I could about various Armstrong performances, quoting from my research and from the private tapes for good measure. This is when I realized that painting was really coming in handy. Painting could be physically taxing but mentally it could be pretty boring. I started bringing my iPod to work and would just listen to Armstrong recordings while I painted, for hours and hours each day. My mind started hearing things and making connections and when I’d get home, I’d have a blog pretty much written in my head that then needed to come out through the computer.

“For a few months I didn’t receive any feedback at all…but then the emails started and they haven’t stopped. Terry Teachout, then researching his book Pops, started writing me. Musicians like David Ostwald were checking out (the blog). And importantly, I had a contingent of European readers—led by Jos Willems, Gosta Hagglof and Hakan Forsberg—who completely opened up their private collections to me. Almost every week, I’d go to the mailbox and there would be packages with cds and dvds of previously unissued Armstrong performances.

“I was hitting my stride and decided to take advantage of it. I called my agent and said, ‘Let’s gut the proposal. Let me add some of the stuff I’m discovering at the Armstrong Archives and let’s add some testimonies from some of the people who have been reading my blog.’ He agreed and we sent out a new proposal in the spring of 2008.

“Around the same time, I was contacted by a man named Jon Pult, representing the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans. I had never been to New Orleans but always drooled when I read about the Summerfest. Jon had been checking out my blog and noticed that I had some very rare Armstrong footage. Did I want to come to New Orleans to do three ‘Cinematic Satch’ presentations in August? Did I!”

The Satchmo Summerfest—held the first weekend of every August to celebrate Pops’ true birthday—is absolute heaven: three days of music, talks, films, and rip-roaring New Orleans food, held on the grounds of the Old U.S. Mint in the French Quarter. If you’ve never gone, you’ve missed a gassah.

“I brought my wife Margaret with me,” remembers Riccardi, “for that first unforgettable trip. During the opening reception, I was simply star struck. I looked around the room and there was George Avakian, Dan Morgenstern, Gary Giddins, Michael Cogswell, David Ostwald, Peter Ecklund—all these giants I had admired for years. Though I knew a few of them, I was too stunned to even speak. I more or less stood with my wife in the corner and thought, ‘Oh, my God, what the hell am I doing here?’

“The next day I had my first Armstrong footage presentation and the room was almost empty. However, those who were there really enjoyed it and by day two, the room was filled with more of my heroes occupying the front row. By the third and final day, the room was at full capacity and when I closed with ‘What a Wonderful World,’ I was greeted with a standing ovation. My wife was crying, calling my parents back in Jersey, and I didn’t quite know what was happening. I’ve gone to Satchmo Summerfest every year since and I give Jon Pult full credit for ‘discovering’ me.”

Duke Ellington once said: “There are two rules to life. Rule One: Never give up. Rule Two: Never forget Rule One.” Despite the setbacks and rejections of his book, Riccardi followed Duke’s advice.

“In August 2008…I was driving the paint van home by myself, going down Old Freehold Road in Toms River when my cell phone went off. I normally don’t answer when I’m driving but it was my agent, Tony, who said, ‘RR, just wanted to let you know we have a book deal with Pantheon, part of Random House.’ I almost drove off the side of the road. I flew home and celebrated with my wife, Margaret. We had also just found out that we’d be having our first child and the book advance would be crucial in helping with that.”

However, with the economy tanking, both the piano gigs and the painting jobs began to dry up. “There were lots of Burger King value menu meals to get us through that winter. I realized my wife was right and started taking the tests to become an elementary school teacher.”

2009 turned out to be a pivotal year for Ricky Riccardi. “Our daughter was born in April and I was still painting by day and furiously trying to finish the book on nights and weekends as it was due in August. But it was in that month that I noticed the Louis Armstrong House Museum was looking for an archivist to work on a two-year grant specifically to preserve, arrange and catalog the monumental Jack Bradley Collection.”

Jack Bradley, a native Cape Codder, became dear friends with Pops in the 1950s. A gifted photographer, Bradley’s photos—both candid and in performance—are some of the most soulful Armstrong photos ever snapped. In addition, Bradley is a born collector and over the years Armstrong—who called Jack “my white son”--gave him trumpets, clothing, even a pair of slippers. Bradley, who turned 80 in January, lives in Harwich with his beautiful wife, Nancy.

Riccardi was wise enough to glimpse a golden opportunity. “This was it. I didn’t have a lick of library experience, but applied anyway. During the phone interview, the first half included questions like, ‘Tell me about Louis Armstrong’s life in the 1920s’ and “Name three important Louis Armstrong records.’ Piece of cake. But then came the library questions like, ‘What are the pitfalls of retrospective conversion?’ I went into my Ralph Kramden hommina hommina routine and barely escaped with my dignity. I still didn’t know what would happen.”

Fortunately, Riccardi was called back for an in-person interview. “Michael Cogswell brought me into the stacks to show off the Bradley Collection. It was still in boxes and in no particular order. Michael grabbed a box of contact sheets and said, ‘This is the kind of thing you’ll be working with.’ He showed me the contact and, like a robot, I looked at it and said, ‘Mercury recording session fall of 1964.’ It didn’t say that anywhere on the sheet. The search committee looked at each other and Michael asked, ‘How do you know that?’ So I explained that the images were taken in a recording studio; they featured trombonist Russell “Big Chief” Moore and clarinetist Eddie Shu; that that edition of the band was only together for six months; and in those six months, they only recorded twice, both times for Mercury in October and November. Three hours later, they let me know the job was mine if I wanted it. Needless to say, I wanted it!”

In the years since, Riccardi has been living the Armstrong dream. “If it had all stopped right there, I’d have no complaints, but fortunately, I’ve been able to do so many other Armstrong-related things in the ensuing years: lectures at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem; the Piacenza Jazz Festival in Italy; the Monterey Jazz Festival and more; liner notes for Sony, Storyville and Universal; co-producing the upcoming Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and His All Stars, 1947-1958 for Mosaic Records; giving Armstrong lectures to students of all ages; radio interviews, TV interviews, web interviews and more. I’m the Ambassador of Ambassador Satch. Dreams come true.”

Dreams have come true for Ricky Riccardi in his personal life as well. “My wife and daughters are everything to me! I met my wife Margaret when we were both at Rutgers in 2004. We knew we’d end up married by the end of our first date…We had just found out she was pregnant with our first daughter, Ella, when we got the word from Pantheon about the book deal, and the first copies of the book were actually ready on the day my second daughter, Melody, was born. Talk about a banner day. Now Ella is five and has already been to about a dozen jazz concerts. She could identify ‘Louie’ just by the sound of his trumpet before she was two and has recently commandeered my record player and a bunch of vinyl. Melody will be three soon and she, too, loves pointing to all the pictures of ‘Louie’ around the house. Both of them seem baffled by all these Armstrong books around the house with Daddy’s picture in them.”

In his fine book Louis Armstrong in New Orleans (Norton 2006), Thomas Brothers writes: “(Armstrong’s) success was due in part to his ability to convey in performance something of his own warm and inclusive spirit…When we are drawn to him, we may sense the nurturing of a young child in the loving warmth and encouragement of the Saints.”

When asked, What can the music and message of Louis Armstrong add to an individual’s life?, Ricky Riccardi answers: “One word: Joy. Louis Armstrong makes people feel good and who doesn’t want to feel good? That’s what attracted me to him when I was 15 and that’s what still keeps me going all these years later: Joy.”

On June 1 we’ll all be feeling joy when we listen to Mosaic Records’ latest box set: Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and His All Stars, 1947-1958.

“The upcoming months,” says Riccardi, “will be filled with lectures at Jazz at Lincoln Center; the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans; the Detroit Jazz Festival; and, perhaps, in 2015, my first trip to the United Kingdom. Louis in the daytime, Louis at night, Louis on the weekends, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I’m all Louis Armstrong, all the time. In other words, I’m living the dream.”

1 Comment

  • May 12, 2014 at 11:41PM Eli Yamin

    Thanks for the great article. I love Ricky Riccardi and its great to learn more of his story here. His book on Armstrong's later years is such a celebration. And, I especially loved hearing in the book and in this article how important Armstrong's recording of St. Louis Blues from Armstrong plays W.C. Handy is to Ricki. I've always been transported by that number too!

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