SINCE 1997


August 4, 1901 - July 6, 1971
"If anybody was Mr. Jazz it was Louis Armstrong. He was the epitome of jazz and always will be. He is what I call an American standard, an American original."
                                                                ~ Duke Ellington
"You can't play anything on a horn that Louis hasn't played"

  ~ Mules Davis

“Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine - I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans"
                                                             ~ Louis Armstrong
Daniel Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong was born at the turn of the 20th century in New Orleans, Louisiana.  After his father had deserted his family in New Orleans, the child Louis helped to support his mother and sister by delivering coal to prostitutes and lifting food out of hotel garbage cans and selling it.

When he was ten, he fired a pistol in the street in celebration of New Year's Eve.  This offense brought arrest and confinement in the Colored Waifs Home for Boys.  "It was, " he later said, "the greatest thing that ever happened to me.  Me and music got married at that home."  There, Peter Davis, a music instructor, began teaching Louis to read music and play the bugle and cornet.  Louis soon joined the Home's brass band which performed at picnics, funerals, and other events.

After his release from the Home, Louis worked as a newsboy and in a junkyard.  All the while, he was playing the cornet in various honky-tonks.  One night, Bunk Johnson failed to show up at Madranga's .  Louis sat in for him and was heard by none other than the king himself, Joe Oliver.  Oliver liked what he heard, took Louis under his wing, and gave him cornet lessons.  Armstong always looked back upon Oliver as the greatest Jazz performer he had ever known and the greatest single influence upon his own development.  "Joe Oliver taught me more than anyone," Armstrong recalled.

By 1922, Oliver had established himself in Chicago as the leader of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band.  He asked Armstrong to join him as second cornetist.  Together they made incomparable music, as each inspired the other to unparalleled flights of musical fancy.  Armstrong made his first records with Oliver's band on the Gannett label.

In 1924, Armstrong married Lillian Hardin. She was a prime force in getting Louis to leave Oliver's band, feeling as she did that the time had come for Armstrong to emerge as a Jazz personality in his own right.  Between 1924 and 1925, Armstrong played solos, switching from cornet to trumpet, with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, which Louis J. Becker had opened up at 1658 Broadway on December 13, 1919.  In New York, Armstrong made more recordings.

He was back in Chicago in 1925.  For the next four years he made history there.  First he played in his wife's band, "Lil's Hot Shots."  Then he formed his own Jazz group, the "Hot Five."  They played at the Dreamland Cafe in 1925 and 1926 and made recordings for OKeh which many Jazzmen used as a basic course for their own further education.

Armstrong was now at the pinnacle of his fame and artistry, with few equals.  It was in Chicago that he initiated his "scat" singing -- singing nonsense syllables in place of words and vocally simulating instrumental sound.  Some say this came about accidentally when, during a 1926 recording session, Armstrong forgot the lyrics of a song and had to improvise vocal sounds.  Scat singing henceforth became one of the highlights of Armstrong's performances.

His art at improvisation was so formidable that even Virgil Thomas, the distinguished serious composer and music critic, was lead to remark that it combined "the highest reaches of instrumental virtuosity with the most tensely disciplined melodic structure and the most spontaneous emotional expression, all of which in one man you must admit is pretty rare."

David Ewen - All the years of American Popular Music

By Carl P. McConnell

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