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YouTube – Louis Armstrong – Mack the Knife

more info about this performance – 1956 Empress Hall –


Amazing –

Regarding “Mack the Knife,” Armstrong had recorded it in September 1955, before another three-month tour of Europe. On that tour, his valet, Doc Pugh, didn’t bring the music, so Armstrong didn’t begin performing it live until January of 1956.

(from the article above)



Monday, May. 21, 1956

Time Magazine – People

My Note –

This sounds like it could’ve been said yesterday – from the article’s first paragraph –

Peppery old (71) Socialist Norman Thomas sounded off in Houston. On free enterprise: “All the recent business mergers and consolidations make absurd the old-line talk of free enterprise. The only free enterprise in America today is small boys who shoot marbles for keeps.” 

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,808499,00.html#ixzz19Ldj9fiI

Then the part about Louis Armstrong at the Empress Hall, London performance event –
At a sizzling swing concert in Britain 23 years ago, Trumpeter Louis (“Satchmo”) Armstrong recalls, he interrupted himself to roll his eyes toward a royal box and rasp: “This one’s for you. Rex!” 

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,808499,00.html#ixzz19LfGrnYq

Beaming at a $3.50 orchestra seat in London’s cavernous Empress Hall, Armstrong growled: “Now we are going to jump one for one of our special fans. . . . 

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,808499,00.html#ixzz19Lfrv8Jo

The Duke of Kent also attended a show at Empress Hall but only one unknown reporter noted the following: “At one point in his concert the unpredictable Satchmo announced with a mischievous grin, ‘We’ll drape this one on the Duke of Kent, one of our fans here tonight. Here it is—Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

It’s from Satchmo the Great, Edward R. Murrow’s documentary film about Armstrong’s European and African tours of 1955 and 1956.

(also from above link)


In the middle 1950’s, the young jazz enthusiast in Britain had to rely almost exclusively on records for listening. 1956 saw the end of the twenty year ban on American musicians performing before British audiences.

( . . . )

Early in 1956 the Stan Kenton orchestra played the Albert Hall, and the sound of that very heavy band was lost in the famous echo. We thought that they couldn’t have picked a worse venue for a jazz concert.
We were wrong! The same year they had Louis playing on a revolving stage in the Empress Hall – a dreadful barn of a place in West London better suited to the staging of prize fights and long since demolished.




A little about the building –


Empress Theatre / Empress Hall, Lillie Road, Earls Court, London

Note – I think that is the same one – home of some spectaculars.

Programme for the Ice Spectacular ‘Ranch in the Rockies’ at the Empress Hall in the 1950sThe Empress Theatre in London’s Earls Court was built for Imre Kiralfy, the Hungarian showman, by D. Charteris to the designs of the architect Allan O. Collard in the late 1800s. The Theatre was quite unlike normal Theatres for although it had a stage and a proscenium arch at one end, the seating was all on one level and the vast space could hold upwards of 5,000 people with an uninterrupted view of the stage from any position.

Was that it? – Hmm……

And this, shortly after the Satchmo concerts –

Russians in Great Britain: Voice of Russia
Jun 15, 2009 … The festival opened on June 28, 1956 with a gala concert held in the Empress Hall in London. The Army Song and Dance Ensemble sang only two …

In the summer of 1956 the crème de la crème of Soviet painters, ballet dancers and musicians were being cherry picked for participation in a Russian culture festival to be held in Britain, the biggest such showcase since the Iron Curtain started going up. The Red Army Song and Dance Ensemble was among the lucky ones tapped for the trip…

The festival opened on June 28, 1956 with a gala concert held in the Empress Hall in London. The Army Song and Dance Ensemble sang only two songs but that was more than enough for the audience to appreciate their class!

From London the ensemble moved to Brighton and Oxford dishing out marching, folk and classical songs custom-tailored for the British tour, their impeccable performance winning big kudos wherever they went.

Throughout its 80 year history, the Army Song and Dance Ensemble has performed in more than 70 countries on all continents. Including in Afghanistan, Israel, the Palestinian territories and also a memorial concert on the grounds of the wartime Nazi death camp Auschwitz, at the World Fair in Paris and the NATO headquarters in Brussels, in the Vatican and opened the Russian Winter in Britain festival in 2005…

It all began with a performance on Trafalgar Square in London and a concert in the City Guildhall attended by the then Mayor and their big fan Ken Livingston.





Arena Performances and Education
The Company {Ballet} grew out of a series of gala performances Markova and Dolin presented following their return to Britain after the War. To satisfy the huge demand to see the stars these galas were held at the Empress Hall, Earls Court, (where no less than 25,000 people attended the four night season) and then at the equally vast Harringay Arena. These were part of a short-lived, and in Britain not very successful, trend for arena performances of ballet but Markova’s performances were so magical they overcame the unsuitability of the venue.

English National Ballet


(Bet the revolving stage concept came out of some of this.)


Big Show, U.K., Ltd., in organising the Empress Hall presentation of Louis Armstrong’s band, had underestimated the high level of jazz appreciation that had already been developing in Britain for several years prior to 1956.

Many jazz concerts had been presented at the Royal Festival and smaller concert halls, in theatres and cinemas, and jazz club performances were regularly presented in scores of towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom. The audiences for these were generally sophisticated, (. . . )

The Company, however, were reluctant to trust themselves to a straightforward presentation of Louis’ band along with one of the best of British bands, and we had the distracting spectacle of the band, on a revolving rostrum, rotating slowly throughout the show—with Edmond Hall, Louis and Trummy Young passing by in that order followed by the back view of Billy Kyle, Jack Lesberg and Barrett Deems, with the sound being thrown around in all directions in what was a most unsuitable venue for jazz.

Nevertheless, the sheer personality and performance of Louis and his colleagues was sufficient to put the show across despite the circus–like environment.




This –

Louis visits a Left Bank nightclub and plays with clarinetist Claude Luter’s group. After the club closes for the night, Louis talks with reporter Edward R. Murrow about the tour, the origins and terminology of jazz and his beginnings in New Orleans. After a spring 1956 appearance at London’s Empress Hall, Louis and his group accept an invitation to visit the Gold Coast, the probable home of his ancestors, on the eve of that country’s transformation into Ghana.

And this –

In July 1956, after the triumphs in Europe and Africa, Louis and the All Stars are invited to perform in New York’s Lewisohn Stadium with Leonard Bernstein conducting an orchestra comprised of eighty-eight members of the New York Philharmonic. They perform a special arrangement of “St. Louis Blues” before an audience of twenty-five thousand, which includes the song’s composer, W. C. Handy.

Afterward, Bernstein tells Louis that he and the orchestra are honored to have appeared with him and his musicians. Louis responds happily that it was their first time playing with a symphony orchestra and that he is “jazzed” by it. Both men hug. Murrow muses on the universal appeal of jazz and how Louis, wherever he performs, makes friends for himself, his people and his nation.




And from this page –


. In May, 1956 Louis Armstrong’s All Stars were in Great Britain playing the last gigs of a long and tiring overseas tour. The trip was sponsored by CBS and Edward R. Murrow, and would produce material for the United Artists video Satchmo The Great and the record albums Ambassador Satch and Satchmo The Great.

In 1955 Murrow had visited Africa and shot two hours of film for his CBS-TV show See It Now which included some coverage of the Gold Coast. He now desired to do a short sequel and requested that Louis and his entourage stop off in Ghana for two days before returning to the United States. Murrow’s idea was to shoot film of Louis walking on the beach and playing a solo in E.T. Mensah’s Paramount open air bar, where he had enjoyed himself while filming in 1955.
. In 1954 the first national elections had been held in the Gold Coast as an initial step in the transition from British colonial rule to independence as the new nation of Ghana (March, 1957). Now, in 1956, preparations were underway for another set of general elections. Also, the country was preparing for a Royal Visit later that summer, and working on plans for the Volta River Project.

It was in these circumstances that James Moxon, the 35 year old Director of The Department of Information Services, received Murrow’s request for assistance. The British Colonial Office had sent Moxon to the Gold Coast more than a decade earlier; he had made many friends and was well-liked by the local population. He no doubt was a significant factor in the immense success of Satchmo’s visit.
. Robert Raymond, an Australian, was a member of the Department of Information Services, on home leave in May 1956, when Moxon recalled him to assist with the Armstrong visit. In his excellent book on Ghana – Black Star In The Wind – he provides a detailed account of the whirlwind tour. As he recalled, soon after his return to Accra, about a week before Satchmo’s arrival: ( . . . )


For Louis’ arrival at the airport Moxon had invited and provided transport for all 13 of Accra’s nightclub bands. Shortly before the plane arrived the bands took up their positions and the crowd, which would reach 10,000, slowly began to build. Robert Raymond describes the scene after touch down, as the 13 bands strike up a highlife – “All For You, Louie, All For You”:

“Then the spirit took charge. The crowd suddenly swarmed over the
fence into the prohibited tarmac area, and the two cultures met
with explosive zest. The police and customs officers watched
helplessly. De Poris and his men sweated and shot film frantically.
Ajax Bukana gallantly rushed to greet Velma Middleton, Armstrong’s
twenty-stone blues singer. He took her by the hand, bowed gracefully,
and led her past the crowded airport fence in an absurd, joyous

A dozen trumpet players swung in behind Armstrong. They
blew their hardest in his ear as they marched along. The Americans,
now with the tune between their teeth, blew as hard as anyone, led
by Armstrong’s swinging, driving trumpet.

As the animated mass of players and singing people moved across the tarmac, gathering strength and impetus all the time, the noise and the clamor rose to
the skies in the greatest paean of welcome Accra had ever known.”   [page 225]


[ . . at Achimota College for the traditional drumming and dancing exhibition]

Then, when the last tribe had paid its tribute, Casely-Hayford introduced “Mr. Armstrong, the great American musician.” The band opened with Indiana, but there was no response from the audience…they had never heard music like this. Next, a number at a slower tempo…still no response.

           "Then, away across the far side of the arena, a solitary
            figure arose. It was an old, old man, with a stave, from
            some northern tribe. Slowly, gravely, he advanced towards
            the band, in a kind of shuffle, attuned somewhere deep in
            his mind to the beat of the music. We waited. Was this the
            catalyst that would fuse the cultures? It was not enough.
            So an American took the initiative. Lucille Armstrong stood
            up and went out into the arena to join the old man. Side by
            side, under the bell of Armstrong's swinging trumpet they
            slowly danced, as Lucille watched the old man's feet
            shuffling in the dust, and matched his steps. She was an
            odd but significant figure in her crisp New York dress,
            dancing with the old tribesman in his cotton robe. This
            was the turning point. As the American woman and the man
            of Africa danced, more and more people from around the
            arena got up and joined in."                         [page 240]