“More than any other individual, he took the raw, gutsy Negro folk music of the New Orleans funeral parades and honky-tonks and built it into a unique art form”. Celebrated by the “New York Times” following his death in 1971, ‘Satchmo’ was born today in 1901 (although he himself celebrated on the Fourth of July).
Trumpeter/entertainer Louis Daniel Armstrong was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Growing up in the lawless suburb of Storyville amid drinking, gambling and prostitution, Louis was committed to the Colored Waifs Home as a teenager having reputedly fired a pistol (although other accounts claim that he was caught pilfering).
Joining their brass band, Armstrong graduated from tambourine and drum to the bugle, finally settling on the cornet, attempting to emulate local musican Joe “King” Oliver, cornet player in the band led by trombonist Edward “Kid” Ory. Meanwhile, the Creole jazz stylings of trumpeter Buddy Bolden would subsequently
Later replacing Oliver in Ory’s band, by 1924 had made his way to New York City and joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra as a trumpet player. Signing a solo contract with the Okeh label the following year, Louis would record what have become pivotal recordings with his “Hot Five” and “Hot Seven” ensembles by 1928.
Those releases ushering in a new era of jazz soloing and improvisation, but Armstrong’s vocal renditions of popular Tin Pan Alley tunes would make him a household name at home and abroad, scoring jukebox hits with tracks such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’”
Switching to Decca in 1935, Armstrong became accepted more as a pop artist, duetting with crooner Bing Crosby and co-starring with him in the 1936 movie, “Pennies From Heaven” – the first of over 50 cinematic appearances.
Disbanding his own orchestra in the mid 1940s. Armstrong would then assemble a backing band named the All Stars and lapped the globe over the following two decades, US State Department-sponsored tours taking him to Africa, South America and the Middle East.
Synonymous with hits featuring his distinctive vocals including “Mack The Knife”, “Hello, Dolly!” and “What A Wonderful World” Armstrong retained a mass appeal that spanned the generations and made him almost impervious to changing musical trends.
And although some jazz fans both black and white disliked his commercialism and a lack of innovation (allied to accusations of portraying a Negro stereotype for the mass market), Armstrong remained a profound influence on virtually anyone who ever blew into a trumpet.
Both Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie acknowledged their debt to Louis – even if he himself disdained their adoption and development of what became known as be-bop.
Louis died in New York City in July 1971, having suffered with heart, liver and kidney disorders, which while failing to prevent playing live did restrict the trumpet playing of his latter performances, singing less physically demanding.
President Richard Nixon was among those paying heartfelt tribute to a black American musician whose universal popularity perhaps was only (distantly) comparable to Ray Charles.
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And here’s some footage of Satchmo in action: