The final recording by Louis Armstrong, a recitation of Samuel Clement Moore’s beloved poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas”) is now available to stream and download.
The first newly-released track by the great entertainer in more than 20 years, it will be included in Satchmo’s first-ever Christmas album, Louis Wishes You A Cool Yule, to be released digitally on October 28. The set will then be available on CD, red vinyl and a limited edition picture disc on November 11 via Verve/UMe. All 11 tracks on the album have also been mixed in immersive Dolby Atmos and hi-res audio.
Already ailing, Armstrong made the recording of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” on his reel-to-reel tape recorder at his home in Corona, Queens, New York, which is now the Louis Armstrong House and Museum. It’s not known why he felt compelled to commit the holiday staple to tape months after Christmas, but it became his final recording. It is now augmented with a newly-recorded musical bed by New Orleans pianist Sullivan Fortner.
Remarkably, although Satchmo’s holiday recordings are a standard part of the holiday soundtrack, he never released a Christmas album during his lifetime. Louis Wishes You A Cool Yule gathers together his festive recordings as a cohesive body of work, featuring almost all of his holiday output. This includes six Decca singles from the 1950s, including “Cool Yule,” “Christmas Night in Harlem,” and the swinging “‘Zat You Santa Claus?”.
The 11-track collection also offers duets with two of Pops’ favorite vocal collaborators, Velma Middleton (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”) and Ella Fitzgerald (“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”). An official video for the latter Louis and Ella classic, hand-drawn by director and animator JonJon in his signature “line and shape” style, is available to view.
The album also contains Armstrong’s enduring chart-topper “What a Wonderful World,” much-loved as a year-long hymn of hope. Louis Wishes You A Cool Yule will new liner notes from Grammy-winning writer Ricky Riccardi, author of the Armstrong biographies Heart Full of Rhythm and What a Wonderful World and director of research collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum.
Riccardi writes that Armstrong “did not have much time for Christmas…life necessitated that he drop out of school and go to work while still a young boy to help support his mother and sister.” But following his marriage to Lucille Wilson, the holidays took on new meaning, especially when the couple were on the road. “With the holidays approaching, Lucille bought a small Christmas tree and set it up in their hotel room,” writes Riccardi. “According to Lucille, Louis ‘just looked at it and looked at it and told me, ‘This is the first tree I’ve ever had.’
“Louis refused to let Lucille take it down and insisted they take it with them on the rest of the tour. The Armstrongs would continue this tradition, Lucille later remarking that they continued setting up ‘a table tree and holiday fixings in whatever hotel in whatever country we happen to be in.’”
Pre-order Louis Wishes You A Cool Yule, which is released on October 28.
The full tracklist is:
1. Cool Yule
2. Winter Wonderland
3. I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (w/ Ella Fitzgerald)
4. ‘Zat You Santa Claus?
5. Christmas In New Orleans
6. White Christmas
7. Christmas Night In Harlem
8. Baby, It’s Cold Outside (w/ Velma Middleton)
9. Moments To Remember
10. What A Wonderful World
11. Reading of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” with Sullivan Fortner, piano accompaniment