David Ostwald was raised in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. He began studying piano at age
seven and tuba at eleven. Solely a classical musician until his junior year at the University
of Chicago, David formed his first jazz band at that time, inspired by the heart of America’s greatest art form.
Since 1980, David has led the Gully Low Jazz Band, whose second album, with blues
great Big Joe Turner, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1986 and whose fourth album
Blues in Our Heart (Nagel-Heyer) was released to critical acclaim in 1999. Since 2000,
the band has been engaged in an open-ended weekly Wednesday run at New York City’s Birdland, where it is known as the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band.
In addition to his numerous recording appearances, David has performed with such
varied artists as Wynton Marsalis, Dick Hyman, Nicholas Payton, Clark Terry, Benny Waters, Woody Allen, Jon Hendricks, Leon Redbone and the Oxford University Orchestral Society
under Sir Jack Westrup. For many years, David has presented jazz education programs
for children at Lincoln Center’s “Meet the Artist” and "Reel to Real" series and at the Louis Armstrong House in Corona, Queens. He has also written extensively about jazz music.
About the Band
Inspired by the noble jazz pioneers Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington,
Jelly Roll Morton and their colleagues, David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band
(a/k/a Gully Low Jazz Band) breathes life and passion into America’s own great art form.
Since 1980, this acoustically electrifying group has appeared nationally and internationally
in varied settings - currently in the twentieth year of its open-ended weekly Wednesday
evening engagement at New York City’s Birdland, at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer’s Night Swing,
at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, at Jazz in July at the 92nd Street Y,
at Lionel Hampton’s New Orleans-style funeral procession, and at four appearances at Scotland’s Nairn International Jazz Festival. The band’s guest musicians have included Wynton Marsalis,
Dick Hyman, Jon Hendricks, Clark Terry, Jon Faddis, and blues great Big Joe Turner, whose recording with the band, one of five it has made, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1986.
In addition, we strongly believe that children’s lives are enriched by exposure to jazz music,
and in this regard we have presented numerous programs for schoolchildren at the Louis Armstrong House in Corona, New York, at Lincoln Center’s “Meet the Artist” and “Real to Reel” series
and in schools.
About David and George Avakian
George and Me
When I was 24, an older jazz musician asked me on a gig what a kid like me was doing
playing the old stuff. My answer was that my love had been ignited nine years earlier when
I had stumbled on a Louis Armstrong recording, leading me on a free association journey
into reissued recordings of Armstrong, Beiderbecke, Morton and Ellington, the common thread
of which was their all having been produced by a man named George Avakian, with historical
and entertaining liner notes to boot. George was already my hero just for opening my eyes
to my new passion. “You know, George is still around”, said the old-timer, “you can just
call and talk to him about all this, he’s a very nice guy.” I’m not shy, but there was no way
I could muster the courage to approach a man so great.
Twelve years later, George dumbfounded me with a phone call. He had just read my
Op-Ed piece in the New York Times about Louis Armstrong as a civil rights pioneer, an aspect
of Armstrong George also saw but nobody had written about, and was curious who I was.
George Avakian wanted to know who I was?? That first call lasted three hours, my first visit
to his house two days later lasted five. I was 36, George 72. Half his age, but as he pointed
out, I started catching up immediately. For the next 26 years we spoke or saw one another
nearly every day.
George was a very funny man. He was a loving uncle to my kids. We co-produced reissues
of Armstrong Columbia masterpieces he had produced in the 1950s. He introduced me to vodka.
He sought my advice on how to get a Letter to the Editor published in the New York Times, which was not successful. He accompanied me on a jazz cruise gig as my free add-on companion.
He produced my second CD. He persuaded the owner of the Birdland Jazz Club, where only modern jazz and bebop had been heard since its beginning, to take a chance and hire my band for a weekly Armstrong tribute, now in its 20th year. He taught me Yiddish and Armenian words.
He told me about seeing Babe Ruth play at Yankee Stadium, about how as a 12-year old he
sat on the bank of the Hudson River every day after school watching the George Washington Bridge being built, about his World War II service in combat in the Pacific, about his visit to Hiroshima the morning after the bombing. He introduced me to horse-racing. He turned me
on to illuminated medieval Armenian manuscripts. He told me about Alan Hovhaness, Christine
Keeler, Merce Cunningham, Harpo Marx, Stanley Kubrick, Gjon Mili. I was certain I’d died and gone to heaven when George told me Louis Armstrong would have loved hanging out with me.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
When I told George that he had given me more than I could ever repay, which was only
all the time, he’d say, “But you can keep trying!”