It has been almost half a century since the late Louis Armstrong, known to millions as “Satchmo”, brought record crowds to Dunn’s Pavilion in the early 1960s. On Wednesday, May 25th, Armstrong’s love affair with Muskoka is going to be celebrated at the Gravenhurst Opera House
Jack Hutton, an international ragtime pianist from Bala, will be joined by Neville Dickie, England’s top ragtime/stride pianist, and Jon Seiger, a top jazz pianist in the U.S. who also happens to play trumpet and sing like his idol, Louis Armstrong. The evening will celebrate the music of both Armstrong and early jazz pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller who composed tunes like “Ain’t Misbehavin’ “ and “Honeysuckle Rose”.
The event is a tribute, in part, to Armstrong, who performed in Muskoka with Armstrong’s All Stars at the Kee to Bala — then known as Dunn’s Pavilion — in July, 1963.
“Armstrong’s All Stars were playing their hearts out to a sold-out crowd…”
“Inside the sprawling, wooden structure built out over the water in 1942, Armstrong’s All Stars were playing their hearts out to a sold-out crowd of 2,100 who’d paid $5 apiece,” wrote Valerie Hauch in a 2012 edition of the Toronto Star. “Many were fortified with discreetly imported (by handbag and pocket) “strong” refreshments, having purchased ice and mix on site. Another 1,000 music fans lolled on the lawn, while others lounged in mahogany motorboats or drifted in humbler watercraft on the calm waters of Lake Muskoka, listening to one of the greatest jazz artists of all time…”
Hutton and Dickie played duelling pianos at Gravenhurst one year ago and then decided to do it again this year. They took it up a couple of notches by inviting Jon Seiger to join them on a third piano and also play trumpet and sing like Louis Armstrong.
Hutton, who has been bringing fellow ragtime/jazz performers like Ragtime Bob Darch, Colm O’Brien, Mimi Blais and Dick Hyman to Gravenhurst over the last 25 years, says he has never been more excited about an upcoming concert. “We started planning this last November,” he says. “We’ll start with Armstrong’s signature tune, ‘Sleepy Time Down South’ and keep going up from there. We’ll close the evening with all three of us going crazy with Waller’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’.”
Jack says he is looking for cottagers or local people who heard or met Louis Armstrong at Bala. “We need to share those memories,” he says. “If time doesn’t permit during the concert we’ll keep telling stories downstairs in the Trillium Room.”
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