Pops – a tribute

Great Satchmo

“Great Satchmo, will you make it to heaven?

Who knows!

But if you do – play!

Let the good times roll once more!

Shake up

that boring state of little angels.

But so there'll be no remorse in hell,

so death will cheer us sinners up,

Archangel Gabriel,

pass you horn

to the better player,

To Louis!”

- from “Satchmo” by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, on the occasion of Armstrong’s death, 1971. (Trans Albert C. Todd).

Satchmo the great! Image from Wikipedia
Satchmo the great! Image from Wikipedia

Mr. Jazz

Ask many, perhaps most, people what they know about jazz and one name is more likely than almost any other to pop up – that of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

Never mind that Armstrong's playing towards the end of his life was a pale, a very pale, version of the incredible music that he had produced in his heyday, Armstrong is still “Mr Jazz” to millions of people. Never mind that the song which likely, and for better or for worse, will be associated forever with his name is an unfortunately popular sonic pablum that has about as much relationship to jazz as rap has to opera: “What a Wonderful World.”

Never mind that the amazing musical creativity that had shone across the jazz world like a brilliant shaft of sunlight on a cloudy day had, by the end of his life become a rosy, romantically diffused glow for sentimental lovers (not that I have anything against sentimental lovers!).

Never mind all of that, “Pops” as he was so affectionately known by his fellow musicians, was a true creative genius and a jazz musician of unquestionable originality.

Until Armstrong started to exert his amazing trumpet authority on the music jazz had been a music of the ensemble and the ones who stood out were the leaders. From those piercingly beautiful notes in the solo Pops took on “West End Blues” back in 1928 the soloist became the star of jazz. Armstrong single handedly changed the direction jazz was to take. That it went from there into places that he was not prepared to follow is no reason to discount his incredible achievement.

Many jazz musicians and even some only tangentially related to jazz acknowledge a debt to their “Pops”. As Dizzy Gillespie, no mean innovator on the trumpet himself, said at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival: “Louis Armstrong's station in the history of jazz … all I can say is unimpeachable. If it weren't for him, there wouldn't be any of us. So I would like to take this moment to thank Louis Armstrong for my livelihood.”

The early years

Born in poverty, a grandson of slaves, in New Orleans on 4 August 1901 (not on 4 July 1900 as so often stated, including by Armstrong himself) he lived 70 years of musical history from the first stirrings of jazz in his home town until it was a world-wide genre, thanks in large part to him.

Along the way Armstrong produced music which, while being ground breaking in the early days, was easily recognisable by anyone with even half an interest in music. In 1964 he achieved something which gave him great pleasure – he knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts with his famous rendition of “Hello Dolly” - and stayed on the top for four weeks!

After playing in a number of New Orleans bands and on the Mississippi River boats with the great Fate Marable, Armstrong's big break came in 1922 when Joe “King” Oliver invited him to join the Creole Jazz Band which was then playing in Chicago.

The pianist in this band was Lil Hardin who soon became Mrs Armstrong, his second wife after a brief marriage to Daisy Parker had faded. Armstrong is not known to have had any children, but he and Daisy did adopt the mentally disabled son of one of Louis' cousins. Louis looked after Clarence Armstrong for the rest of his life.

The Hot Five
The Hot Five

Becoming the "World's Greatest Trumpeter"

His position in Oliver's band was as second trumpet, which his wife Lil thought was beneath his capabilities and she urged him to find a position more in keeping with his already prodigious skills and musicianship. He found such a position with the Fletcher Henderson band in New York City, where he spent a year.

He then switched between Chicago and New York for a few years, then going on the road and to Europe, before settling in the latter city permanently in 1943.

For many serious students of jazz the greatest music Armstrong made was with his seminal “Hot Five” and “Hot Seven” bands of the 1920s and early 1930s. No doubt the impact of these bands at the time was immense. I find it difficult after 80 years and the huge development that the music has undergone since to imagine that impact.

What is a matter of historical record is that by the mid-1920s Armstrong was recognised at the greatest jazz trumpeter in the US who was influencing large numbers of other jazz musicians, not only trumpeters.

Armstrong appeared in movies with the likes of Bing Crosby and others, as well as becoming the first African-American to host a radio show when he substituted for Rudy Vallee on CBS.

The “All Stars”, the small group with which Armstrong played for almost 30 years, was formed in late 1947, and included at various times Earl “Fatha” Hines, Jack Teagarden, Trummy Young, Barney Bigard, Edmond Hall, Arvell Shaw, Billy Kyle, Marty Napoleon, Big Sid Catlett, Cozy Cole, Tyree Glenn, Barrett Deems and the Filipino-American percussionist, Danny Barcelona.

With this band Armstrong toured the world, including Africa, sometimes playing more than 300 gigs in a year.

The first jazz musician on the cover of Time Magazine
The first jazz musician on the cover of Time Magazine
Hugh Masekela holds the Satchmo trumpet. Photo by Jurgen Schadeberg.
Hugh Masekela holds the Satchmo trumpet. Photo by Jurgen Schadeberg.
The label of Armstrong's recording of "Skokiaan." Image from Wikipedia
The label of Armstrong's recording of "Skokiaan." Image from Wikipedia

Louis plays "Skokiaan" with the Sy Oliver band, 1954

The African Connection

Three things connect Armstrong to Southern Africa – the fact that in 1949 he was made “King of the Zulus” in the annual New Orleans event; in 1956 he sent a trumpet to budding South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela; and he recorded a tune written by a Zimbabwean, August Musururgwa, called “Skokiaan.”

The “King of the Zulus” incident brought Armstrong a great deal of criticism and the honour of being the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time Magazine on February 21, 1949. The “real” Zulus are, of course, a people in South Africa.

In his autobiography Still Grazing (Three Rivers Press, 2004) Masekela tells how Armstrong got to send his trumpet to him. Father Trevor Huddlestone CR, famous anti-apartheid cleric who worked in the famous Sophiatown area of Johannesburg, had started a jazz group with youngsters from the township to give them something to do and keep them off the streets. Masekela was one of those who became members of what was called the Fr Huddlestone Jazz Band. Huddlestone was in the US on a visit in 1956 and in Rochester NY was able to meet Armstrong backstage before a performance at the Civic Auditorium. He told the great trumpeter about the boys in his band back in South Africa and how much they were in need of instruments.

Armstrong's fourth wife, Lucille, organised to send Armstrong's instrument to South Africa by courier.

“When I opened the package and handled the horn, I was overjoyed. I was seventeen, and for the first time I felt something like a spiritual connection with Satchmo and those musicians back in the states that I idolized to my core,” Masekela wrote. “The horn was my connection not just to Armstrong, but to a long, powerful tradition that had criss-crossed the Atlantic from Africa to America and back. It was a sign that my direction in life was cemented.”

The song “Skokiaan” was billed as a “South African Song” but actually, although it was popular in South Africa, it is of Zimbabwean origin. The name is the word used for the potent illegal liquor brewed and sold in the townships of Southern Africa and which was sometimes lethal.

The tune was, absurdly, recorded by some artists (not, thankfully, Armstrong) as “Happy, Happy, Africa.” (Personal aside: my late brother Chris made his first recording, one of those shellac 78s that could be pressed for a few pounds in kiosks in the major cities, of “Skokiaan” as a guitar duet with one of his friends).

Pops in full flight. Photo by William P. Gottlieb.
Pops in full flight. Photo by William P. Gottlieb.
Armstrong backstage. Photographer William P. Gottlieb captioned this photo: Particularly not the pile of handkerchiefs; when performing, he almost always had one in hand, to wipe his brow." Photo by Gottlieb.
Armstrong backstage. Photographer William P. Gottlieb captioned this photo: Particularly not the pile of handkerchiefs; when performing, he almost always had one in hand, to wipe his brow." Photo by Gottlieb.

How I got to love Pops

While at school in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, in the late 1950s, the school chaplain, Fr Trevor Bush, had a copy of “Louis and the Good Book” and I started to enjoy listening to the gospel-oriented songs with their rich sonorities and the clear tones of the great man's trumpet.

From the gospel type music of that album I started to get turned on to the blues numbers like, especially, “Basin Street Blues” which I loved. I was getting really into the music of Satchmo.

Only in later years did I discover the even more wonderful earlier recordings of the 1920s and 1930s.

The two sides of the great man started to appear to me – the wonderful musician who could knock your socks off with a piercingly clear and unforced high C, and the equally wonderful entertainer who could goof around with the words and notes of a song and make it something quite different.

As a youngster just getting into jazz and the world of music generally I think I appreciated the entertainer side of Armstrong as it made my appreciation of the music easier.

Now, though, it's the musician I revere and love. His tone and the clarity of his musical ideas are just so impressive, so wonderful to listen to.

The seriousness with which he approached his trumpet playing always comes through. He never comes to the instrument with anything less than total devotion, even when playing light and fluffy stuff.

Critic Richard Hadlock, in a wonderfully perceptive and expressive chapter in his book Jazz Masters of the Twenties (Collier Books, 1965), wrote of Armstrong's music that it “cannot be explained, in the final analysis, by his remarkable physical equipment, his showmanship or even his skill with the trumpet. It is the man's mind that has produced this vast body of marvellous music.”

“Armstrong has always been utterly serious about his trumpet playing,” Hadlock continued. “Even in the frivolous years of the twenties, when many jazzmen assumed their music couldn't last and proceeded to blow themselves out at an early age.”

Armstrong's horn always had a sound of authority, a definitive sound that is unmistakeable in its majesty and beauty. Methinks that Archangel Gabriel indeed has some competition. As Armstrong himself sang:

“I hope that Gabriel likes my music,

When I meet him up there.”

How could he not?

Resources used

I used the following books and articles in my reading to refresh my memory of the facts around Armstrong's life:

Arnaud, Gerald & Chesnel, Jacques 1991) Masters of Jazz. Edinburgh: Chambers

Berendt, Joachim (1976): The Jazz Book. St. Albans: Paladin.

Gottlieb, William P (1995): The Golden Age of Jazz. San Francsico: Pomegranate Artbooks.

Hadlock, Richard (1965): Jazz Masters of the Twenties. London: Collier Macmillan.

Kernfeld, Barry (ed) (1994): The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. New York: Macmillan

Masekela, Hugh (2004): Still Grazing. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Time Magazine (21 February 1949): Louis the First. Accessed from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,805063,00.html on 23 September 2010.

Wikipedia: Louis Armstrong. Accessed from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Armstrong on 23 September 2010.

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010

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Comments 46 comments

Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

If you ever go to New Orleans...go to Preservation Hall,in a city where Jass is still King,thanks for treating me to some memories of Louie;)


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

I share your admiration for Louis Armstrong, tonymac04. He was a great talent, indeed. My idol, Bing Crosby, recognized his ability early on and insisted that he get billing in one of his early movies at a time when the studios refused such common courtesies to blacks.


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

Beautiful tribute to a great musician.

Thank you. Take carex


johnnynaakea 6 years ago

I love Satchmo too! What passion! What style!Aloha from Hawaii!


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

He was great. I love his rendition of "What a wonderful world." I always liked him and Crosby together. He was a rare, groundbreaking talent.

Great hub.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

Tony, this is an amazing tribute to Armstrong. Thanks for the link to a remarkable version of Skokiaan (I’ve never heard before). I’m not really into jazz, though about ten of my favourite songs are jazz. I was born in Bloemfontein. Lived there for the 1st 10 years of my life. Don’t tell me you were in Grey College? I was in a few schools – Shannon, Noordhoek, JBM Hertzog and even in Soutpan for 6 months. Can you believe it: At the age of 9-10 my younger sister and I took the bus every Friday afternoon to the library in town - all on our own! Printed in memory are many-many sceneries – especially concerning history – but inter alia that little train in the glass box at the station. Many Sunday afternoons my father took us just to see that train moves on its rails. And I remember those 3 drive-ins. Veld, Panorama, Universitas. (Not sure if I still got it right.) Thanks for this hub and refreshing some of my good memories. When I pass OB (or was it OBB?) again, I’ll leave you some hugs in the arms of Emily Hobhouse at the Vroue Monument or at the entrance of the Fort, or what about under the saddle of Christiaan de Wet’s horse? Or at Mazelspoort or Thaba’Nchu? PS: I was christened in the Tweetoring Kerk. And yes, What a Wonderful World is one of my favourite Armstrong's.


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

Thanks for the intro to Pops. This is such a nice tribute. I love soulful and moving music filled with passion and soul. You've found a great artist to find just that. Thanks again, Peace :)


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Yep- I tap-danced on these buttons.

Dear God,

If it's heaven I am to go,

Please allow my Brother Satchmo.

Please let him to blow his horn.

He would, so, adorn,

Your heavenly place,

With that beautiful sound,

That beautiful smile,

That beautiful face!

"WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD"


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Brother Tony, we are so similar in so many things and preferences, that it is beginning to frighten me :-)))


HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Great tribute to the King of Jazz. Ken Burns did a long segment on his documentary on the history of Jazz. It was a wonderful documentary. Everything that comes after Armstrong's 1920's work is in direct lineage to him. There was no one better or more original in his younger years. Thanks for the Hub.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Mentalist - a visit to Preservation Hall is on my list of things to do before I kick the bucket! Hope New Orleans is not under water before I can get there!

Love and peace

Tony


ceciliabeltran profile image

ceciliabeltran 6 years ago from New York

I love Jazz, old Billy Holiday types. I got on it too young in Highschool that nobody got it. I was freak. That's why I like my white hair so I can listen to Jazz in peace. Thanks for the revisit.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

William - Pops was able, because of his prodigious talent and ability, and the support of good friends like Crosby who recognised his genius, to break down many barriers.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a great comment. Much appreciated.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Dim - thanks for the kind words and you take care also!

Love and peace

Tony


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

An all-time Great, no question. His trumpet tone always had that hint of pain that brought blues into dixie (you know?) I have a great album of Louis and the Duke recording together for the first time, just after the movie Paris Blues. Some of the tracks have Barney Bigard & Trummy Young on them. It's the best version of Duke's Mood Indigo I've ever heard.. (But Jack Teagarden was a finer trombonist than Trummy, in my humble opinion).


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Johnny - thanks for stopping by and commenting. Style and passion indeed were Pops's hallmarks!

Aloha to you too!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Rob - thanks for the visit and the comment. Pops was unique, no doubt about that!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Martie, my skat! Dankie vir die besoek. I went for Stds 9 and 10 to Saints, not Grey! I loved Bloem and still do. It is a really different sort of place.

Leave the hugs under the saddle of De Wet's horse. No-one will see them there and so they won't get nicked! Ek hou ook baie van daardie gebou, die Vierde Raadsaal, dink ek?

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Katie - thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I like the passion and soul things - he certainly was filled with both!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Ah Micky, my dear brother - your dancing feet remind me of Mr Bojangles! Could you write a poem about him?

Thanks for the wonderful lines you have written here and thereby added a great deal to my tribute to old Pops!

Love and peace

Tony


always exploring profile image

always exploring 6 years ago from Southern Illinois

I love your tribute to Louis Armstrong. He could play a trumpet like no other. I remember seeing him in movies when i was a kid. I like his line about Gabriel liking his horn, and micky your poem is just wonderful.

God Bless


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

I enjoyed reading your article on Louis Armstrong. I have been an admirer of him for years. I like your selection of video and images. Rated up and beautiful!


Raymond Tremain profile image

Raymond Tremain 6 years ago from Metro Manila Philippines

Yes he was the most enjoyable player I think that there has been that you can listen to all day,there was something magic about his playing.

Thank you


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Brother Dimitris - should I be flattered? Seriously though, glad you enjoyed the Hub (you did, didn't you?) and really think you should be looking into booking your seat on the plane! LOL!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

HS - yes indeed everything after 1920s in jazz does come from Pops. He was the trend-setter, no doubt. Haven't managed to catch the Burns doccy but am always on the lookout for it having heard so much about it.

Thanks for the visit and the comment.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Cecilia - thanks so much for visiting and commenting. I like the bit about the white hair! I've also always been a bit "strange" to many other people for some of the things I like, like jazz, indeed!

Thanks again

Love and peace

Tony


Sa`ge profile image

Sa`ge 6 years ago from Barefoot Island

WOW! Great hub I loved it, you did so well to a Great Man! thank you for all your work on this. aloha :D across the board :D


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Dave - yes, I do know! Thanks for the visit and the great comment. I used to have that album on vinyl but don't have it any more, sadly. And yes, Teagarden was a better trombonist than Young, no doubt.

Love and peace

Tony


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Brother Tony, I shall not be taking you up on your kind offer to visit South Africa. Though no doubt SA has much to apologise for, for its cruel past, it's crimes are not of such magnitude as to justify the simultaneous presence of both us there at the same time. :-)))


quicksand profile image

quicksand 6 years ago

When I was a kid my brother had an EP of Louis Armstrong which contained a track that I used to like. I don't remember the title of the track but it goes "when the shark bites ... "

Well even now I have a CD of Louis Armstrong. Bought it because I like his version of "What A Wonderful World."

Cheers!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Ruby - he was one of a kind indeed! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. And I appreciate Micky's poem too - it's a great addition to this Hub for which I'm grateful!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Coolmon - thank you so much. Glad you enjoyed it. Pops was one great muso.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Raymond - thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. Pops was indeed a pleasure to listen to!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Sage - thanks for the great comment. Glad you liked the Hub.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Brother Dimitris - I'm sad about that, truly! Should you ever change your mind ...!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Quicksand - that would be "Mack the Knife" the theme song from Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera" and a great Satchmo hit. It is a great song, especially when sung by Pops.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Love and peace

Tony


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago

Hi Tony, has been so long since last I listen jazz..I almost forgot. Your hub has great songs and it was a pleasure for me to listen (except for the first one who didn't worked on my computer for some misterious reason). Thanks for such great article.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Camelia - good if this Hub has encouraged you to, listen to jazz again! I don't know why the first vid did not work for you. I have just tried it and it played for me!

Thanks for the visit and the comment, dear friend.

Love and peace

Tony


amillar profile image

amillar 6 years ago from Scotland, UK

He was one of the great characters of the 20th century.

A well put together hub from you again Tony; jazz fans will love it.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Amillar - thanks for the visit and the comment. I appreciate your kind words very much.

Love and peace

Tony


De Greek profile image

De Greek 5 years ago from UK

Surely my last comment deserved at least a smile? :-)))))


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

A beautiful, wonderful tribute to the great "Satchmo." I hate to admit it after reading your text, but I love that song "It's a wonderful world" even if it's not jazz. But I love jazz and I love Louis. Thanks for this tasty treat.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dimitris - a large one, as generous as your heart, sir! :-)))))))

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Thank you, James - and don't worry, I like that song too!

Thanks for the visit and the comment.

Love and peace

Tony


Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

wow what a great hub.. I saw this on Facebook and I am so glad.. I LOVE LOUIE ARMSTRONG.. his singing and his horn.. He has always been number one in my book.. what a great talented man.. thank you for a wonderful hub.

sharing

Debbie


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 4 years ago from South Africa Author

Thank you Debbie for your kind words which I appreciate so much. I have been a Satchmo fan since the age of about 12 I think!

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