My daddy helped assemble the Seattle Dixieland jazz band known as the Rainy City Jazz Band, in 1946 (or thereabouts — dates in this story approximate. I have the best excuse: I wasn’t alive!). The band was originally called the After Hours Sextette; the name was changed in 1947. Very popular, influential and long-lived, they played and recorded at least one tune Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong co-wrote. That would be “Wild Man Blues”, which you can hear below, via a YouTube link I supply. — I’m not positive what role Daddy played in getting the band together, but as a top-rated Seattle jazz disc jockey with his own daily radio show, he knew scads of people in the music business, and he loved working within that business.
Daddy also wrote for a national music magazine, “Platter Chatter”, which enabled him to help bands and musicians by covering them in the ‘zine. (I had a copy of it, with Daddy’s writing in it; but I threw it out before I realized the importance of collecting. — Sorry, Daddy!)
Daddy constantly regaled me with fascinating tales of his involvement with the Seattle jazz community. I loved hearing his stories. He told me so many, that I can’t begin to recall them all; however, every now and then, one will come back to me….
I recently attended a huge gathering of lovers of vintage, and even ancient books, the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair (my first-ever book fair). I used to love to go to antique shows; but I have no car, and most Western Washington shows are presented in the town of Puyallup, Washington — too far away for me and my 1990’s Trek bicycle. So upon hearing at the last minute about the event, I thought it might be fun to visit an old book fair — it would be sort of like an antique show. — And it was. — I wasn’t exactly sure what to do when I arrived, paid my five bucks admission fee, and entered the huge main space of Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall. So, I just started strolling around — armed with bifocals and reading glasses — and I just decided to see what would catch my eye. Well, almost immediately, a 67 year old book popped right out at me. It was a signed copy of the autobiography, “Satchmo — My Life In New Orleans”. And right away, a nearly-forgotten family story flooded into my brain. I wanted to tell the bookseller and anyone else who would humor an old man, about my folks’ amazing adventure with, not only Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, but also Seattle’s once-iconic folksinger and restaurateur, Ivar Haglund. Well, the bookseller was occupied with a paying customer, and there was no one else in the booth. So I didn’t get to share my story with a soul. But when I returned home from the fair (without the book, I’m sorry to say — I didn’t even pick it up to see what it was priced at), I sat down at my old laptop and started banging out this story, in order to share it with you.
Before my slightly older brother and I were born, the two people who brought us into this world led pretty wild lives. Daddy was pretty much your prototypical jazz DJ. He liked to smoke, drink, and stay up until all hours of the night listening to jazz. Any kind of jazz. He dug anything from Dixieland to whatever was the most modern, late-40’s sound. Give him his vices and a record to spin, and he was totally satisfied. Daddy’s beautiful Chattanooga bride, my mom, was a little more sedate. But she played in bands in her teens and early 20’s, playing everything from hot jazz to Jimmie Rodgers songs (complete with blue yodel) to Hawaiian hula tunes (Hawaiian culture hugely captivated folks down south in the late 30’s/early 40’s.) Mom was a nurse, and when she decided to get pregnant (leading to the birth of my brother, Al III), she stopped drinking. — Although she enjoyed an occasional beer in her senior years, I never saw her take a drink of hard liquor.
The story I’m slowly leading up to involves Mom and Daddy and two absolutely unique, legendary characters, and their helluva night out on the town. And those two characters would be Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, and Seattle’s own King Of The Waterfront, Ivar Haglund.
Now, I honestly hope this is pretty much unnecessary, but let me share a thumbnail bio of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong was born in 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He grew up in poverty. He heard, and was very intrigued, by early jazz. Like many kids who grew up poor, he had to improvise an instrument. He played a little tin horn, on the street, until a benefactor helped him purchase a real cornet. He learned to play by ear. Dropping out of school at age eleven, he soon got in trouble, and found himself in reform school. Well, he joined the reform school band, where he learned how to play with other musicians. And, he basically became a professional musician in his early teens. He just got better, and better, and better. He added singing to his act, and developed his own style, which wound up changing jazz. As his career proceeded, he began making recordings that are now the epitome of legendary. He became America’s (the World’s?) premier, most-beloved jazz player/singer. Players and bands all over the globe copied his style; they played and recorded his tunes. In his time, and in his prime, his golden notes and unmistakably identifiable gravelly-voiced singing, were the be-all and end-all, period. — Near the end of his life, he toured the planet under the sponsorship of the U.S. State Department, earning the honorary title of “Ambassador Satch”.
Now, that is as short a bio of a legendary human being as I can write! Oops — not quite. I need to mention this: In 1930, Satchmo recorded (along with his wife, Lil, on piano) “Blue Yodel #9”, in Hollywood, California, with “The Singing Brakeman”, Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers was my Mom’s absolute favorite performer when she was growing up.
Well, I guess I oughta tell you a bit about Ivar Haglund (3/21/1905 – 1/30/1985), too. If you’re from Seattle, you’ll know what an awesome guy he was. But not everyone reading my story is from Seattle, so here you go: should you visit the Puget Sound area of Western Washington, you’ll see Ivar’s seafood restaurants/fast food places as you motor along. There are more than two dozen locations, including the flagship Acres Of Clams restaurant, located on Seattle’s historic waterfront. Ivar opened his first fish and chips bar in the late 30’s. But he was also a very well-known folksinger, who counted Woody Guthrie among his friends. I heard anecdotes of them playing together on the Seattle streets, just for fun. (I heard that back in 1974, when I was playing on the streets, to put a roof over my head.) Ivar was, chiefly, a huge personality. Our town used to have characters. I think Ivar was our number-one character. As I mentioned, he eventually became known as the King of the Seattle Waterfront. He was very gregarious; promoting fun was his favorite occupation. — His legend lives on so strongly, that, there was even an Ivar Haglund exhibit at our National Nordic Museum in 2015.
Now that you are familiar with the characters, here is the story: on a rainy Seattle night, circa 1946/47, Daddy and Mom took a drunken, crazy ride through town with Louie Armstrong and Ivar Hagland, in the back of a Seattle Police Department paddy wagon, with an actual cop at the wheel, serving as their chauffeur. — While drinking was definitely involved, I’m just hoping the cop was sober! I can just see the foursome, laughing and cutting up, hopping into the back of that paddy wagon, which was normally reserved for folks who were being picked up and transported to the City Jail, under suspicion of committing some kind of crime! — But not these “captives”. They were out to have fun, and nothing else! — Now, that’s the whole story. That’s all I know. There is nothing at all to document, or flesh out, the story. But I think it’s incredible. Had word gotten out about this escapade, it would be legendary at this point! And it was my folks
For many people, a day doesn’t go by when they don’t take and share at least one photo on social media. It might be a photo of their lunch; but they stop to take the photo, and send it off through the ether to their friends, who then, dutifully, “like” it. But personal photography just wasn’t as big a thing in the 1940’s. — I mean, who had a mobile phone, with a camera on it? Answer: only Dick Tracy. (Mom didn’t even get a Kodak Brownie until the early 50’s.) — Ivar was a genius at promoting himself and his businesses. He could call a newspaper, and have a photographer at his beck and call in five minutes. And, I’m sure photographers followed Satchmo around. But no one thought to record this moment for posterity. Perhaps they were all too drunk! My daddy did not lie; I know the story is true. I just wish I knew more. I have so many questions….
Such as, did Ivar sing “Acres Of Clams” (his most famous song — the one he named his restaurant after), while Satchmo added fills on his trumpet? Did they play some blues? Did my very own Mom add a blue yodel? Did Daddy nearly have a heart attack and fall out on the rough, dirty floor of that paddy wagon? — We will never, ever know. But hey — it’s fun to let my imagination run wild….
So yes — I can only imagine what they talked about. I wonder if Mom asked Mr. Armstrong about recording with her idol, Jimmie Rodgers? Or did the great man talk about his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings with Daddy? What did Ivar have to say? — How did he know Louis? Did my folks introduce them? That said, how did my folks know Louis? I have a million questions, and zero people I can ask. There’s no one alive today who witnessed this little slice of life which played out on the rainy streets of the much smaller, but still hopping, Seattle, Washington, circa 1946. But it happened, and that’s all that’s left to be said.
Oh, snap! Wait a minute: what about the cop? How did he figure into the story? Was it his idea to load a bunch of jazz fanatics into his paddy wagon and go careening and carousing through the neighborhoods? Was he one of SPD’s top brass? Did he get into trouble? I mean, how on Earth could this have been an authorized mission? — While the mysteries abound, few things are clearer than this: my generation did not invent wild and crazy!
I started banging out this story after returning from day one of the book fair. I woke up the morning after — this very morning, and said to myself, “H-E-double toothpicks, Randy! Go see how much they want for the damn book. Who should have it, if not you?” — So I hopped on my horse (that’s what I call my Trek), and peddled back to the book fair, an hour before it closed for good. I didn’t know the name of the bookstore whose booth I was searching for. But luckily, after just a few minutes, I managed to locate the booth, and the book. This time, I gently picked up the tome, and I looked at the pricing information.
And I quickly learned that it was going for five hundred dollars! Prior to leaving my little apartment, I had stuffed a couple of bills into my jeans pocket which totaled 25 bucks, hoping that if the book was going for, say, 35, the bookseller would take 25 in cash. When I saw the actual selling price, my eyes popped out of my head, and I did a take. — Well, I had no idea how much a Satchmo autograph goes for. (The price of an autograph depends upon whose name it is, how many they signed — things like that.) Well, I should have known that an autograph signed by the most legendary jazz artist (shouting) OF ALL TIME was going to cost an arm and a leg. Anyway, the bookseller, a very kind gentleman named Scott Givens, proprietor of Browsers’ Bookstore, saw my reaction, and he said to me, “You can take a photo of the autograph if you like”. I said, “Man, you are so kind”. And then, I told him my folks’ story; and I told him how, when I saw the book the previous day, the story had flooded back into my mind.
I may not have been able to come home with the book; but thanks to Scott’s kindness, I can share photos of it with you, right here. And yes: I’ve made plans to visit the book fair in 2020. Because…. “RIF”.
Here are Louis “Satcho” Armstrong, Lil Armstrong, and Jimmie Rodgers, performing “Blue Yodel #9”:
Here is a short snippet of Ivar Haglund singing “The Old Settler”, aka “Acres Of Clams”:
Here is the Rainy City Jazz Band, circa late-1940s, doing their version of Satchmo’s “Wild Man Blues”:
If you want a little more: here is a very short documentary about Ivar. It features my friend, Paul Dorpat, who is writing a book about Ivar. I did share my story with Paul, years ago; but without more documentation, there’s no way Daddy and Mom’s story can be included in that book:
Links to more stories about my Daddy’s radio daze:
This one is actually about Daddy’s career as an Eastern Washington coal miner: https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/any-day-below-ground/