The Only Known Footage of Louis Armstrong in a Recording Studio: Watch the Recently-Discovered Film (1959)

1959 was a water­shed for jazz, a form of music that often looks back­ward and for­ward at once. That year, vir­tu­oso com­posers and soloists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Min­gus, Dave Brubeck, and Ornette Cole­man pulled jazz in all sorts of tem­po­ral and spa­tial dimen­sions, giv­ing new shape to bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, and what­ev­er Ornette Cole­man was up to. 1959 also brought us per­haps one of the most tra­di­tion­al records by a jazz great that year, Louis Armstrong’s Satch­mo Plays King Oliv­er, a trib­ute album to his “ear­li­est musi­cal hero,” writes All­mu­sic, “and the man who enabled two of his break­out gigs” in 1918 and 1922.

Arm­strong reached back to those years in his selec­tion of mate­r­i­al, with his All-Stars play­ing such clas­sic Oliv­er com­po­si­tions as “New Orleans stomp” and “Dr. Jazz,” along with a hand­ful of tunes Arm­strong “admit­ted with a sly smile, ‘Joe [Oliv­er] might have played.’” The record­ing ses­sions for that album end­ed up on a “33-minute, 16mm film,” writes The Guardian. “The record pro­duc­er, Sid Frey, had the film pro­fes­sion­al­ly shot but wound up not doing any­thing with it or telling any­one about it.” Just recent­ly, that film was dis­cov­ered in a stor­age facil­i­ty and acquired by the Louis Arm­strong House Muse­um. It’s the only known footage of Arm­strong in the stu­dio.

See Arm­strong and his All-Stars record “I Ain’t Got Nobody” at Audio Fideli­ty in Los Ange­les above. Here, as in the oth­er cuts, Arm­strong revis­its his New Orleans swing and rag­time roots, in stark con­trast to the for­ward-look­ing wave of records from a new gen­er­a­tion. But in doing so, he also cre­at­ed an instant clas­sic trib­ute that “deserves to be placed on the shelf along­side Arm­strong Plays W.C. Handy and Satch Plays Fats,” writes Jaz­zviews, “and in some aspects is supe­ri­or to them both.… ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’ is a tune that could have been writ­ten by Louis and the group, it fits them well. The whole group are in top form and Louis’s vocal is a gem.” It cer­tain­ly puts David Lee Roth’s ham­my ver­sion to shame.

This rep­re­sents one of “two com­plete takes,” The Guardian notes, pre­sum­ably the first. After­ward, at 4:22, watch Louis and the band take five and talk things over. There’s no audio, but it’s cool nonethe­less to see them casu­al­ly lounge around smok­ing cig­a­rettes and crack­ing jokes. “For now, the muse­um will post one com­plete song on its web­site and social media”—it’s cur­rent song being that above. “It plans to show the com­plete film at a future date.” For now, it’s housed at the museum’s Coro­na, Queens loca­tion, “in the mod­est brick build­ing where Arm­strong lived for 28 years and died in 1971.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Louis Arm­strong and His All Stars Live in Bel­gium, 1959: The Full Show

The Clean­est Record­ings of 1920s Louis Arm­strong Songs You’ll Ever Hear

Louis Arm­strong Plays His­toric Cold War Con­certs in East Berlin & Budapest (1965)

Watch the Ear­li­est Known Footage of Louis Arm­strong Per­form­ing Live in Con­cert (Copen­hagen, 1933)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • says:

    Am famil­iar with the record­ing ses­sions as my father Edward Kid Ory had just wrapped up his ses­sions with Verve.
    Louis, my Dad Tum­my would hang togeth­er.
    As for 1918 That year marked the end of Louis in the Ory Oliv­er Band, because 1917 Papa Joe said to my Dad give.Louis my Chair, Louis was 16 ‚had short pants no prop­er shoes or white shirt and tie.
    May god Kid told Louis be back at 8pm dressed, that became Louis Arm­strong’s first pay­ing gig, when he’d com­plet­ed the year he said he was 18 bit in fact was 17,that’s how he met his first wife in the river­boat.
    I’d lose to Louis, my Dad,Trummy,Barney,Johnny St Cyr talk for hours after big fam­i­ly meal, bears, Scotch and mar­i­jua­na..
    Child­hood of Jazz
    Babette Ory
    Los Ange­les

  • Steven Reich says:

    Thanks for shar­ing your infor­ma­tion on these jazz greats. My dad was a big fan of Kid Ory, and I still like to hear Kid Ory’s Cre­ole Jazz Band!!

  • Louise Tobin Hucko says:

    Brings back so many won­der­ful mem­o­ries! Loved see­ing my hus­band, Michael ‘Peanuts, Hucko, play­ing his clar­inet along side Louis. They were very good friends! I am 101 years old and so enjoyed see­ing this rare footage of my won­der­ful friends!

    Love you all! Thank you and miss you.

    Louise Tobin Hucko
    Car­roll­ton, Texas

  • david jellema says:

    That was a deli­cious clip of the All-Stars. And so mes­mer­iz­ing to see Louis in the stu­dio with those superla­tive musi­cians.

    I was so hap­py to see Peanuts in this footage! My own men­tor, clar­inetist and sax­o­phon­ist Ron Hock­ett, was a big pro­tege of Peanuts Hucko..

    I did get to hear Peanuts live in March 1994 in St. Louis at the Mid-Amer­i­ca Jazz Fes­ti­val. He was play­ing with Peter App­le­yard, John­ny Var­ro, Bucky Piz­zarel­li, Mike Bar­nett and Frankie Kapp. What a treat that was–a love­ly gen­tle­man, a devout man, an amaz­ing play­er… I have record­ings of his per­for­mance that week­end. :)

    (I do love his record­ings on “Jazz Ulti­mate” with Bob­by Hack­ett and Jack Tea­gar­den..)

    I’m so amazed to see you here, and am grate­ful for your pres­ence!!
    I too live in Texas, in Austin. Peace and love to you, dear lady!!


  • Bobby Dias says:

    In the late 1950s I had a half-hour of the Tonight Show(Jack Paar) for 707 shows- two of which Louis Arm­strong sang, one was Hel­lo Dol­ly and the oth­er was What A Won­der­ful World. Both of those shows was the the two most watched of the 707- both in the 17 mil­lion plus(I aver­aged 16+ mil­lion over the 707 shows).

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