As part of their celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, the Smithsonian Institute announced earlier this week the release of Louis Armstrong’s very last recorded performance. Available through their Folkways label, the recording took place on January 29, 1971 at the National Press Club’s inauguration of their new President, Vernon Louviere, who, like Satchmo, was a son of New Orleans.
In spite of ill health and orders from his doctor to cease blowing his horn, Pops appeared in good spirits, performing five songs, singing each and playing for two. Following “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”, “Hello Dolly” (where we hear his brilliant and joyful trumpet), and then “Rockin Chair”, the man with the ultimate chops sang in his signature warm and gravelly voice the autobiographical “A Boy from New Orleans”. In the last verse of this song that he performed only in his last year, Louis sings:
Now all through the years
Folks I’ve had a ball
Oh, thank you Lord
and I want to thank you all
You were very kind
to ol’ Satchmo, yes
(a nice looking boy, too, yeah)
Just a boy from New Orleans
He ends the performance with “Mack the Knife”. The consummate entertainer and Jazz’s greatest died five months later.
The recording, originally a souvenir for the inauguration attendees, is aptly titled. The liner notes for “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours – Satchmo at the National Press Club” include a cook-booklet subtitled “Recipes from New Orleans that Louis Loved”. The “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours” is how Louis signed his letters.
The recipes were compiled by native New Yorker Christopher Blake, who after time spent in Paris as Gertrude Stein’s last protégé (after she read his short story “The Bride Chewed Gum”), and cooking lessons from Alice B. Toklas, he moved to New Orleans and became a champion of its cuisine. His cookbook “Easy Elegance” was published in 1978.
On that extraordinary night in January, 1971, inauguration guests enjoyed Blake’s shrimp mousse, jambalaya, Charles Street Trout, and Jamaica Rum Pie. Recipes for these dishes, in addition to 30 others appear in the booklet, as well as instructions for mixing some New Orleans classic cocktails – Hurricane Punch, the Sazerac and Ramos Gin Fizz. On a restricted diet due to his illness, Satchmo was unable to partake of this meal honoring his home state.
The clear and concise booklet contains expected recipes like Po’ Boys (three types), Seafood Gumbo (for 25), Dirty Rice, Butter Grits, Shrimp Creole, Fried Chicken and, of course, Red Beans and Rice. But it also offers dishes that are less-expected, and in some cases, curious: “New Orleans’ Pussy Fingers” (fried catfish nuggets), “Old-Fashioned Grillades” (made from “veal seven steaks” (?)), and “Louisiana Caviar” (a baked eggplant spread enhanced with onions, garlic and Tabasco).
Armstrong once said, “The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician. Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the back yard on a hot night or something said long ago.” The same might be said for cooks.
Download the music ($9.99) or purchase a CD ($16.98) from Smithsonian Folkways. Downloading the liner notes alone is free.