"Louis Armstrong: Good Evening Ev'rybody," an invaluable live concert recording, is based on never before publicly seen footage of the entertainer's 70th birthday party at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival. The feature-length high-definition production has recently aired, in a shorter version, on public broadcasting channels (PBS) in the United States, and on several international broadcasters, including BBC4 in the United Kingdom.
Famed jazz producer George Wein, who created the Newport Jazz Festival and has produced it for many years, threw Armstrong's all-star party, featuring Mahalia Jackson and Dizzy Gillespie as well as many other jazz greats; he also had the foresight to get it professionally filmed, though the film was never released. He even went to Armstrong's house, in Queens, New York, and, by asking the musician a series of artfully-framed questions, got what is, in effect, a narration from the master. Mind you, Armstrong was not well at the time; he passed on July 6, 1971, and this is believed to be his last filmed concert performance. The original, first generation 16 mm. film of the 1970 concert was produced and directed by Wein, filmmaker Sidney J. Stiber, and executive produced by Jack Lewerke. Producer Albert Spevak created new hi def masters from the original, and digitally restored the audio from the original concert masters.
On the DVD, we see Armstrong rehearsing and performing many of his greatest hits. He is joined by performers such as Jimmy Owens, Bobby Hackett, Wild Bill Davison, and Ray Nance, who perform some too. I believe I counted 24 songs in all. Gillespie does "I'm Confessing," and "Ain't Misbehavin'." Davison does "Them There Eyes." Owens does "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." Nance, a big band performer with lounge lizard style, gives us "I'm in the Market for You." We also get "Thanks a Million," and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans." Armstrong gives us his signature tune, "Sleepy Time Down South," "Pennies From Heaven, " and "Mac the Knife." We get "What a Wonderful World" and "Hello Dolly" in rehearsal. Also, his surprising, unpretentious take of "Blueberry Hill," which he sings complete with New Orleans accent: "you bodder me still." Well, the New Orleans accent, like the famed Brooklyn accent, grows out of the Irish accent, and the troublesome "th" sound might as well not exist.
Watching this, you can never forget that these artists are making music, in the truest sense of the word. They are largely older adults at the time, with bags under their eyes and around their waists; some of the women performers appear to be wearing $10 wigs, and some could use them; everybody smokes - and there's Schlitz beer everywhere. And the performers just stood and made the best music they knew how, with, apparently, little attention paid to outer appearances, polish, or presentation; there's not a writhing dancer to be seen. However, in her show-stopping, show-closing appearance, the late gospel star Jackson, who would herself pass fairly shortly, on January 27, 1972, does get carried away by "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," and breaks her vocal to dance a few steps. The crowd stood and roared. Armstrong found himself coming out on stage, and joining Jackson in the gospel standard, which he'd never professionally sung before. Producer/impresario Wein calls the evening's stars out, and we see them in a final unrehearsed jam of "When the Saints Go Marching In," sung, once again, by Jackson and Armstrong. Armstrong hadn't released that tune since 1938; Jackson had never professionally sung it before.
In his remarks, Armstrong says that "there ain't but two kinds of music, good and bad, and if it's got a beat, it's good." He has, he adds, just bought the Beatles' "Let It Be;" and he gives us a few bars of it. Gospel star Jackson will say that everyone loves Armstrong, who's from her home town, and "if you don't, you don't know how to love." If you love good music with a beat, you will love this DVD, as I do.