By Norm Harris
Oct. 15, 2003 was a landmark day for the history of Queens and jazz music. Jon Faddis, a Dizzy Gillespie contemporary, world-renowned trumpeter and music educator, paid a royal tribute to the great legacy of the iconic Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong when he played one of the maestro’s gold-plated Selmer trumpets atop the roof of the legend’s 107th Street residence in Corona.
A little more than eight years later on Dec. 6, 2011, some of the most highly regarded and influential members of the professional jazz and educational communities gathered in Manhattan at the famed 3 West Club on 3 West 51st St. as the Louis Armstrong House Museum held its first annual fund-raising gala. The gathering was a gwho’s who of the music world, mass media, jazz lovers, education and business movers and shakers.
Throughout the evening some funny and nostalgic stories were shared by Queens Borough President Helen Marshal, National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master George Avakian and Jon Faddis.
The first-ever “Louie” awards were also distributed during the event to Avakian, Faddis and Queens College President Dr. James Muyskens.
Marshall spoke on the museum’s educational mission and how important it was to preserve the legacy of a such an iconic Queens figure. She also spoke of how it was Louie’s wife, Lucille, who urged the city to preserve the house as a historic site.
Michael Cogswell, Louis Armstrong House historian and vice president of the Louis Armstrong Foundation, talked about the future opening in 2014 of the new visitor’s center across the street from the present museum and praised City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras for her diligent work in spite of budget cuts and their effect on school music programs.
He also told a story of how another famous Queens native with the moniker of Tony Bennett created a personal painting for Louie to hang in his home and it is in the den in the house. According to Cogswell, Satchmo said to Bennett, “Man, you’ve out Rembranted, Rembrant.”
Avakian, a jazz producer, received a hearty applause from the guests as he accepted his award. He spoke affectionately about his relationship with Selma Heraldo, the lifelong friend, traveling companion and next door neighbor of Lucille and Louie who had just died at the age of 88 in her home only four days prior to the gala. He also spoke of his early and long relationship with both Louis and his wife and how Lucille “was a feisty lady like pops himself and that he missed her dearly.”
Avakian praised Michael Cogswell’s dedication to the cause of keeping things going and how the whole Armstrong House process would not have flourished just like “Pops would have liked” it if it weren’t for Cogswell’s efforts. “Michael’s work, 365 days of the year, is a unique memorial to the man who has been called quite accurately, the most beloved American of our time, Louis Daniel Armstrong,” Avakian said.
Faddis upon accepting his “Louie” shared some personal and humorous remembrances about his early connection to his mentor Dizzy Gillespie and Gillepsie’s “living-around-the-corner relationship with Satchmo.” He related how one day Dizzy went to visit Louie to bring him a birthday present. Louie met him at the door and, to Gillepsie’s surprise, presented a gift to Gillepsie as a way of celebrating his own birthday with his friend.
Faddis also noted another interesting facet of a man loved by many. Armstrong didn’t play strong or flashy if he didn’t want to, Faddis said,. He demonstrated his exceptional skills as a musician when he “played the melody of the tune Azalea.” He closed by mimicking Satchmo’s distinctive elocution, to the delight of the audience,saying, “What A Wonderful World.”
Muyskens, the last “Louie” awardee, as was noted by Michael Cogswell, had contributed an article in the Fall 2011 edition of the Louis Armstrong House newsletter,“The Dipper Mouth News,” entitled “A Great Musician, A Great Man.” Muyskens spoke of how the 25-year-old relationship between Queens College began when Lucille took the first step to make things happen.
Muyskens spoke of the long and productive collaboration between the college and the Louis Armstrong Foundation and indicated that the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College, the largest of its kind in the world for any musician, wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for “the support of our principle partner, the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation,” and its President Stanley Crouch and Vice President Phoebe Jacobs.
He said $18 million was raised for the new visitor’s center through the collaborative efforts of the LAEF and CUNY.
To finish off the evening in a real jazzy fashion, the Jon Faddis Quartet — of acoustic bassist Dr. Todd Coolman, drummer Dion Parson, David Hazeltine on piano and Faddis playing trumpet — delivered the goods in a very fashionable way that Satchmo himself would have admired. Starting with Faddis getting everyone’s attention by hitting a few high notes from “Toccatta” while in the small balcony overlooking the dining room, he proceeded to walk through the room and commenced to bring back the memories with his ensemble.