Hi, my name is Melody Anne. I had the pleasure of performing with my father Jack "Jive" Schafer for many years until his death in 1984.Jack was a fine trumpeter, arranger, composer and an outstanding showman and entertainer.
I use to love hearing him tell his stories about being a musician, bandleader, performing on the road - the good old days. Jack knew his music and played it everywhere. He told a reporter once, "somebody stuck a horn in my hand when I was 8 years old and its been blow blow blow ever since". Down through the gigs Jack played in theaters for silent movies - "Valentino, Garbo, Rin Tin Tin, it didn't matter" - Vaudeville with George Burns, Jack Benny, Bob Hope - took Big Band Bus trips with Harry James, lounges in Vegas, television on occasion and one-night stands everywhere.
But I must tell you my fondest memories of Jack were when He talked about his friend, the man that changed his life, his main man and mentor, the great Louis Satchmo Armstrong. When Jack first heard Louis Armstrong it literally blew him away. "From that moment on all I wanted to do was play music like him. Through the years we became great pals and when he died I broke down and cried. I rate him the finest human being who ever lived."
When a writer from the San Francisco Magazine Robert Hardin interviewed my father, Jack said Armstrong taught him that jazz was not a technique but a state of mind. It was the spirit that mattered. After all, Armstrong himself told him jazz had begun when blacks" started shoutin' in church."
Jack wrote a song about Louis Armstrong entitled "Pops Had Some Chops"
that can be heard on the CD called "Melody Anne Sings Quiet Whiskey With The Jack "Jive" Schafer Band".
I would like to share with you Jack's story in his words about his friend the one and only Louis Armstrong and I hope you enjoy the music that Jack and I had so much fun performing together.
MY GOOD FRIEND "SATCHMO"
Jack "Jive" Schafer
At the Pier 23 Cafe in San Francisco where we play on weekends, there is a juke box that people play during intermissions. Invariably, people push the buttons for Armstrong records which proves they remember "Satchmo." The only big drag is that while the record is playing, the club gets noisy and no one listens. After digging this scene for several years, I finally decided to talk a little about Louis Armstrong.
I first heard Louis in 1929 at a midnight show at the Royale Theatre in Baltimore. I was 21 and a classical trumpet player working the usual gigs of the time. I had heard Louis on records and liked him, but never expected what I heard and saw that night. He was brand new - the smile, the handkerchief, the gravel voice, and the trumpet with a sound like the Atom Bomb for Peace. That did it. It changed my like and he's been my main man until this day.
He could play the blues and make you cry - sing a pop tune and make you laugh. Pops, the one and only Charles Chaplin of Jazz.
I've heard many musicians criticize his trumpet playing. To me it's like saying Shakespeare's plays were good but his handwriting was a drag. This reminds me of a radio commentator and jazz buff in Washington, D.C. who had a beautiful speaking voice but always talked in circles and was as square as a brick.
Louis was the first player in Dixieland to leave the melody entirely and build higher and higher on the last choruses. Also the first to pick one good note that fit the chord structure of a tune and repeat it with a stompin' beat until the very end, closing with a climatic high note. I have never considered this as sheer commercialism. What is jazz if it isn't exciting?
Pops dug applause and anyone that doesn't shouldn't be a performer.Today many rock n' roll musicians do the same thing - only now they call it soul, but who ever had more soul than Louis?
Whenever I'd go backstage to see Louis, he wouldn't remember me. I'd always have to start all over again and introduce myself. He had so many musicians cutting into him I guess he just couldn't remember them all. One time I said, "Louis, I just copied your three choruses off the record "DINAH" and I can play 'em note for note." He grinned and said, "can you swing?" It wasn't until much later that I really knew what he meant.
In 1939 I joined Harry James. I was thirty-one. Harry was twenty-six and Frank Sinatra was twenty-three. The reason I mention this is because it concerns some vital incidents about Louis. Harry always kept Louis' "Strutting With Some Barbecue" (Decca Records) on top of his record collection in his ddressing room, and used a horn like Louis' with a very similar mouthpiece. We recorded "I'm In The Market For You," and on the playback Harry sounded exactly like Louis. He said, "We'd better do it over again, I love Pops but I gotta do my own thing." I learned a lot from Harry's band; he's an excellent player.
After the gigs, Frank Sinatra, myself, and Jack Palmer, who was one of the trumpet players, would sit up for hours and play Pop's records. Frank would say, "He's got a gravel voice but the way he expresses a lyric and tells a story is beautiful." Frank never sounded like Pops but he sure captured his spirit.
Harry was at his peak, and so was Louis, so the promoters decided to have a battle of music at a theatre in New England. We went on first and Harry never played better, doing all of his strongest solos. He knew what he was up against. We did very well. Harry was young, vibrant, and billed as "America's Number One Trumpeter." Our final number was "The Two O'Clock Jump" and Harry left the stage smiling. The curtain closed. Louis' band set up and fifteen minutes later from behind the curtain came that soulful horn playing "When It's Sleepy Time Down South." A very cool and relaxed beginning.
There followed a few more relaxed songs and Pops performed like nothing had happened before him - I began to worry. Then he started building up the tempo and for a closer he sang and blew "Swing That Music." Finishing, he took four choruses and closed with a high F - the theatre came down! Pops had some chops!
After leaving the James Band I settled in Washington, D.C. with my own group. We played jazz but on a Louis Jordan type entertainment kick. The big night came when we were asked to do a benefit show at the Howard Theatre. We were all excited 'cause Louis was playing the theatre at the same time.
We went on first, at midnight. The audience was good and I dug it. When I came off, Pops was standing in the wings and he smiled and said, "That was great, Daddy, great." I said, "No, man, you're great - I'm just a lotta jive." He said, "Yeah, but it ain't everybody that can sell that jive the way you do." After that show we became very close friends. Whenever I'd get depressed or do a bad show, I'd think of what he said that night and go out and try even harder.
Over the years I hung out with Louis whenever I got the chance and we had some groovy times. We never discussed music, players, or anything too serious. It was always lots of belly laughs and jokes - Pops could tell the oldest jokes in the world and you'd have to laugh because his delivery was funnier than the joke.
Sometimes he'd take a fifteen minute nap and be good for nine or ten in the morning. Once I asked him, "Louis, if anybody should know, you should. How did jazz get started?" He said, "Man, we were shoutin' in church."
I never heard him criticize other musicians. When Louis Prima first began to record he sang and blew a lot like pops. I said, "How do you like Louis Prima?" He said, "Man, that cat's got soul." When Wingy Manone, another Armstrong disciple, recorded "Isle of Capri" he did it well and it was a hit. When I asked Louis had he heard it he said he had and really dug it. I said, "It's a great tune, why don't you do it?" He said, "I'm too satisfied with the way wingy did it." one thing he couldn't stand was when someone did an impression of him and made their voice too gravely and raspy. he would say, "Man, what's wrong with them cats? I sing pretty."
In the summer of 1950 we were playing the Hofbrau in Wildwood, New Jersey. Louis was playing the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. The boys in my group were anxious to meet Pops so one day we drove over to see him. I knew where he was staying so we checked in the hotel and I went to his room and told him the guys were waiting in a room down the hall. He had to be at the Pier in an hour so he said he'd stop by as soon as he got dressed. We waited for about twenty minutes and then there was a knock on the door. I opened it and LOuis strutted into the room with his hand out and in rhythm said, "How do ya do - How do ya do - How do ya God Damn do." Naturally we all fell out laughing and the guys were gassed. It is almost unbelievable the affect he had on musicians. To be with him was like going to church. His warmth and vibrance influenced everyone around him. Cats like Bobby Hackett and Joe Bushkin would follow him from one town to another because they knew it would be a ball. One night we were having a little party and about three a.m. Joe decided to call his wife in New York. Louis said, "Man, what are you doin'? You're asking for trouble. Never call your wife at this hour. You're out havin' fun and maybe she is too. So what'cha don't know won't hurt cha." We all broke up laughing and Joe didn't call.
That same night we went to a rib joint to get some food to go. Pops said, "Give us some ribs, some potatoe salad, and while you're at it toss in a couple of them trotters (pigs feet)." We carried the food back to my pad and began to eat. I didn't have any napkins so pops reached in his coat pockets and pulled out four big linen handkerchiefs. He said, "Now, when you're thru I want 'em all back." After he ate the pigs feet he took a bottle of chalky liquid out of his pocket and took a big swig for indigestion. He always had medicine and vitamins for every ailment. I said, "How many vitamins do you take?" and he said, "Well, if three a day are enough for the doctor, I should take a whole handfull." He took Swiss Kriss, an herbal laxative, every night of his life. It's really dynamite. I took a tablespoon once and lived in the bathroom for three days.
One time I happened to catch Louis on the TV show "What's My Line." He was the mystery guest for the evening and the panel all put on their masks. He came out, got a big hand, and sat down by the host. Some one on the panel said, "Are you appearing in New York?" He said, "Yes," and the whole panel yelled, "Satchmo." The host said, "I thought we agreed that you would make your voice higher?" He said, "The next time I'll be higher," as he strutted off stage, singing a few bars of "Basin Street Blues." Then he said, "That's where I'm playin', folks, come down and dig me." He was the one and only.
Whenever I'd go backstage somewhere to see him it would always be a different greeting - something like, "Boy, where'd you get that pretty pink skin?" or "Man, how come you get all those groovy gigs? You're everywhere." He'd always play his own tapes in his dressing room. I never heard him play anything but his own. I think that's how he kept improving and doing his own thing. One thing is for sure. Tapes don't lie. When you hear a goof you'll damn sure try to never do it again! His tone on trumpet was so alive he could accomplish more with one whole note than most players do with eighths and sixteenths. I've never heard anyone but Pops do this - the best players sound dull by comparison.
At the Cross-Roads night club in Washington, D.C. he came by and sat in with us. Some people began to yell, "How High The Moon - How High The Moon." This was not one of his tunes and he tried to get out of it. They kept yelling so he turned around to the band and said, "Okay, let's play it." He played three choruses and ended on a high E! The people went wild for an encore and he sang "Confessin'" and that broke it up even more.
Already he was a living legend and such a plain man I don't think he realized it. I've worked with many entertainers who became big stars and most of them changed. Louis always stayed the same, the boy from New Orleans. Here are some of his homespun philosophies:
On marriage: "I've had four wives and learned somethin' nice from each one."
On getting high: "Never get high on the gig. Wait until after the gig and be sure you're with good friends and have a ball. Then come in the next night and express the ball you had the night before through your horn."
On Sex: "Take a little and leave a little."
On recording: "Never put anything on wax that you can't reproduce in person."
On practicing: He liked to tell about a kid in New Orleans who claimed he could eat a whole watermelon. His boss made a bet with a friend and asked the kid to prove it. He said, "O.K., I've got to go home first, but I'll be back in an hour." When he came back his boss said, "Why did you have to go home first?" The kid said, "Well, I had a watermelon at home and I knew if I could eat that one I could eat this one."
Then Louis would laugh and say, "Ya see man, you gotta practice."
On retiring: "Don't ever stop. Stay on the mound."
Today there are a lot of young jazz musicians building their creative bridges. I hope they haven't forgotten that Pops made the first blueprint. In 1971 Pops joined the crowd. He left his trumpet with his wife, Lucille, but I know somewhere he's still blowin'. I wonder if there's a music store in heaven?
Louis is dead, but his spirit is still very much alive. I wrote a song about him called "Pops Had Some Chops." We do it every night at the close of our last set. There simply isn't any better way to end a night of playing the music he loved best.
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