Satchmo under the Geary


Writer Terry Teachout, director Gordon Edelstein & artistic director of ACT Carey Perloff, under the Geary Street Theatre, opening night, 2016

I’m working past thinking of “Satchmo at the Waldorf” as a take-down of both Louis Armstrong and his agent Joe Glaser. It starts with the Satchmo character admitting that he just crapped his pants, literally. The big revelation is  not only that agent Glaser cheated his client but he did so because he was being blackmailed by the mob.

At a certain level, it does promote the musician and the scene, and is a great showcase for John Douglas Thompson, who plays both of those guys, plus Miles Davis. (It reminds me of Anna Deavere Smith, but also Robert Dinero in “King of Comedy” and the parallax view of how we see Rupert and how Rupert sees himself).

Terry my Terry and I sat in front of direct Gordon Edelstein on opening night, and heard him speak at a reception. He told me that he was just here for the week, then back to New Haven, (where he has been honcho of Long Wharf since 2002). The show runs thru Feb. 7, which I notice is just short of overlapping with the Pollstar Live concert business convention.

To flesh out my reaction, I also bought Terry Teachout’s book, “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong” (Houghton Mifflin, 2009, New York). Terry my Terry (aka Terry Acebo Davis), ambushed Teachout in his seat and got him to sign my book — she said it was my birthday. His kind inscription: To Mark — Happy birthday from a fellow blogger Terry Teachout 1-16.

There’s also Words on Plays, Vol. XXII, No. 4 which is a booklet put out by the producers to help promote the shows, 48 pages and the program, which has some of the same material. Ok, well, the Teachout book lists roughly 200 more books in the “select bibliography”, plus he apparently discussed all this with Ted Gioia, who is super smart (and a decent pianist, or so I’ve heard, or not heard — Ted Gioia, brother of Dana Gioia, whose poetry is set to song by Helen Sung, whose cousin married my former business partner, if co-editing the high school rag is business).

One of my notes, and not that anyone wants my notes, is that early on Armstrong (Thompson) describes his wife “brown sugar” and then goes on to say he “brought my horn around to various cities” and I hear “whore-in[g]” as in consorting with professionals, probably not a deliberate pun, or it’s just me. In Teachout book version, he notes that he has consulted with the “650” tapes that the star created to document his life, and I note that that particular number I use as a geographic reference, as in the Peninsula is 650 and SF is 415 — actually Herb Caen used to play this game, about the difference between 415 and 408 (San Jose), but I digress. (I’ll try to update with a page reference — Teachout by the way is also drama critic for Wall Street Journal and claims he played jazz bass in Kansas City, MO for 15 years before his writing career kicked in, and that fact, his musical prowess distinguishes his book about Pops from numerous others, such as that by Gary Giddins, who must not be a musician).

I also thought of experiences with two former clients, Jack Walrath (trumpet player, and an expert on Mingus) and Henry Butler (piano, from New Orleans). Managing a club sized act for a short time gives a scintilla of insight into working with a collosus like Louis Armstrong (which I am pronouncing, in my head, “Louis” and not “Lou-ee” because he is not French or Creole).

A little off topic there is “Inside Llewyn Davis” which depicts a fictional folk artist, 1961 and his manager-contender, based on Bob Dylan’s actual manager, Albert Grossman. (The film is by the Jewish team known as The Coen Brothers, although in that film neither Llewyn Davis nor Oscar Isaac are; in a certain way I started to think of Teachout/Edelstein on Louis Armstrong’s Jewishness as like a shaggy dog story coda to Adam Sandler’s famous holiday song “but his agent is”).

Is it good or bad that if I were asked to book this, like a traveling show, me as a buyer, promoter I would call about five people to see what they think?  I have my ideas, but even better I know people with really good ears and deep, deep knowledge bases.

This is more gossipy than insightful, but I overheard Edelstein tell his actual party that the man next to him was his friend Basil Twist the world’s greatest puppeteer.

edit to add: when I say “Geary” in the headline, do I mean 450 Geary, as in the address of the Theatre — and the room under is actually sometimes referred to as “Fred” for a donor, where the picture was taken — or 38 Geary, as in the muni bus as in they threw the guy under the bus, or I am?

andand: I found this vinyl record just last week — I was looking for David Bowie — in my crate, which now includes a handful of items from my dad’s collection. I noted in the liner notes that the marquee of the 1947 show says “by arrangement with Joe Glaser”:

Satchmo at Symphony Hall


3. It says here on ABC booking home page that Forrest Whitaker is starring and directing a biopic on Louis Armstrong, based on the version of his life told by Oscar Cohen who was Joe Glaser’s assistant and succeeded him as Satchmo’s agent when Glaser died in 1969.{Ok, that was from 2008, and in 2013 the L.A. Times –in Los Angeles– noted that the movie was slowly gestating. I don’t know how often ABC updates its site — I also found an interview with Lisa Cohen about the firm, Oscar’s daughter — in the years, late 1990s that I was booking twice-a-month club shows into the Cubberley Auditorium, I was dealing with about 75 agencies and do not recall if I ever randomly called or was called by ABC.

4. jazz writer Gary Giddins who I mention in passing and “Satchmo at the Waldorf” director Gordon Edelstein are both graduates of Grinnell College, in the 1970s. In the remarks it was said that this is the eighth theatre to mount the show, I believe that means all with Thompson.

5. As I said above, I have a weird take, given my small-fish role in the (Palo Alto) music community. Two other filters are my obsession with David Shields (“Reality Hunger”) especially on autobiography and the blurring of truth and fiction, and “Passing Strange” the fictionalized Broadway version of the fast-talking and world-wandering black rocker Mark “Stew” Stewart, also a former client, and come to think of it I do recall name-dropping him or it when “Passing Strange” was at Berkeley Rep, or just after and Carey Perloff was schmoozing with us small-timers in the lobby after “Blood Knot” — we also discussed the upcoming gig at ACT for my friend Madigan Shive.

6. And again, even as a footnote I’m off topic but sussing around on this topic — compared to either thinking about the work per se or reading “Pops” — has me wondering about Langston Hughes poem about the Waldorf-Astoria from 1931. Also, and this is sort of a humble brag, the Waldorf salad was always fruity but like Plastic Alto soon went nuts.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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