Armstrong made his first tour of England in 1932 and then lived in Europe between July 1933 and January 1935, but he did not return to the continent until the 1948 Nice International Jazz Festival, the brainchild of one of Armstrong’s staunchest supporters, Hughes Panassie.
After his triumphant return to France in 1948, Armstrong returned for a longer tour of Europe in 1949 but didn’t stop in postwar Germany. He finally made it to Berlin on October 12, 1952 for a memorable concert that was broadcast on RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) in beautiful sound quality. The concert tape was collected by RIAS volunteer Winfried Maier, who donated his comprehensive collection of Armstrong-in-Germany materials to the Louis Armstrong House Museum and Archives in 2016.
1952 was something of a rebuilding year for the All Stars as biggest of the early “stars” had moved on. Arvell Shaw was back on bass after a year studying in Switzerland and Cozy Cole was still on drums, having replaced the ailing Catlett in 1949. Bigard decided to take this European tour off, replaced by Texas-born clarinetist Bob McCracken. The other two new members, pianist Marty Napoleon and trombonist Trummy Young–the latter having joined just weeks earlier– were exciting and excitable players who lit a spark behind their leader and started transforming the All Stars into famously incendiary outfit it would blossom into in the mid-50s. “Coquette” was actually a holdover feature of Russ Phillips, whom Young replaced, but he quickly makes it his own, turning it into a Jazz At the Philharmonic-styled romp.
But as in Nice, the star of the show is still the leader, showcased on a wide variety of material, including a comic duet with Middleton on “Can Anyone Explain,” a slow, throwback instrumental treatment of “Tin Roof Blues” and one of his biggest Decca hits of the period, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.” But Armstrong was most tickled by the reaction the Berlin fans had to the lowdown treatment of “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It.” Reminiscing to Edward R. Murrow in 1955, Armstrong said, “We played in Germany one concert, the first time we went there, and the people was sitting there with those lorgnettes when they first come in. And when we got down to ‘The Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,’ they put them down and [starts clapping and stomping his foot], ‘Yeah, Daddy!’”
Listening to these glimpses of the marvelous music Armstrong made in France and Germany–two countries that still love him in the 21st century–there’s no better way to sum up the feeling than YEAH, DADDY!
(Note. The French performance are available on the Armstrong In Europe CD on Dot Time Records. The vinyl format of the French shows are scheduled to be released in March 2020.)
Ricky Riccardi is the Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum and the author of “What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years.” Special thanks to Winfried Maier, Detlef Ott and Jerry Roche.