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‘Hello Dolly’ took Satchmo by surprise

— It was February 1964 and the great trumpeter and song stylist Louis Armstrong was in Puerto Rico preparing for a show. Armstrong received a long-distance phone call from his manager in New York City, Joe Glaser, who instructed the artist to add the band’s new hit song to their nightly repertoire.

“Any you guys remember this damn tune?” Louis asked his musicians.

Fifty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1963, Armstrong and his All-Stars had recorded a song at the request of a theatrical producer who wanted a single to hype a new musical scheduled to open in early 1964. A musical version of a play “The Matchmaker” called “Hello Dolly” was an immediate Broadway hit.

Meanwhile the recording produced by Kapp Records had also become a sensation. The single, with words and music by Jerry Herman, entered the charts in February and on May 9 was the number one tune in the nation having displaced The Beatles and the other British imports that dominated pop music at that time.

“This astonished the music industry and no doubt confused and bewildered the jazz world,” says Syracuse cornetist Pat Carroll, leader of the Irish Channel Jazz Band.

After the recording session but before the single was released, Louis and his band went on the road. When contacted in Puerto Rico early in 1964, none of them could recall the song.

“In fact, it was later said that Louis found the tune lifeless and trite and readily forgotten,” Carroll said. “They had no music to refer to, and could not find it in San Juan and had to wait for charts to be sent from New York.”

Career re-invigorated

It may seem improbable, but the song invigorated Armstrong’s career. “Part of the genius that was Louis Armstrong was his ability to take a ‘lifeless and trite’ tune and infuse it with his particular magic,” Carroll said. “He had been doing that for 30-odd years.”

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