Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong wrote in his autobiography"My Life in New Orleans" www.nathanielturner.com/satchmo.htm that he was born on July 4th 1900, New Orleans, Louisiana, we now know that this part of his narrative is inaccurate. Today it is part of american memory that Armstrong was born at the introduction of the twentieth century sharing the same birthday as the American nation he loved and personified, these types of inacurracies are not uncommon in history ( Think George Washington's cutting down of a cherry tree or that the civil war was fought to free the slaves) niether one of those are true either.. According to baptismal records Armstrong was actually born on August 4 1901 making him 13 months younger than previously known. In a movie it would be important to have Armstrongs birthday on July 4 1900 but in real life it makes no difference one way or the other. It dosent change his effect on Jazz, singing, american popular music and america itself. Louis Armstorng was a mixture of Joy, Love, Compassion, hope, patriotism and open minded tolerance. Louis Armstrong was a destinc and unique american invention.

Ancestry and Backround

Although he probably didnt know it, Armstrong's "great-great-grandfather on his paternal side was a free person of color from Virginia who was emancipated in 1836. His maternal grandmother who raised him from a baby to the age of 5 was the first major influence on his life. He mentions in is autobiograph that he and his grandmother were very close and that he was quite content to live with her", then one day a women who was a friend of his mother and lived in the same neighborhood came to his grandmothers house with a message from his mother. The message was for Armstrong to come home because she was sick and needed his help to take care of her and his baby sister. His mother's name was Mary Albert whom Armstrong refered to as Mayaan, his fathers name was Willie Armstrong. He also had a younger sister named Beatrice Armstrong whom everyone called Mamy Lucy. Louis Armstrong mentions reading the paper to the older folks who helped raised him as a youth. The stories these older black people would have passed down 40 years after the end of slavery would have been rich in history. They would have passed down advise ( such as how to avoid trouble with white folks) to the younger folks, as well as various other survival skills.These folks would have been hardened in ways that most Americans today could not possibly understand. This is the world in which the greatest Jazz musician of all time would develop . New Orleans being a mixing bowl of cultures from all over the world would have affected Armstrong personally and musically. This culture would have shaped and influence the cuisine, music, langauge and lifestyles of blacks as well as whites living in New Orleans and the surronding area. All of this came together to produce one of the richest cultures not just in america but also the world. Bieng the south New Orleans also would have had several racial designations including American Whites, immigrants from, France, Italy and Spain, Creoles (people of mixed ancestry) and blacks on the bottom socially. The various ethnicities and cultures as well as settled social codes were causing tensions in one of the poorest states of the union. Ad in Jim Crow ( segregation) and you have a tinder box waiting to explode. As America and the south struggled to live up to to its creed of all men being created equal Armstrong begin the Journey that would lead to riches, fame and world wide recognition as a great artist.
Growing Up

The night of his birth two local tough guys got into a fight over a dice game and killed each other, Armstrong grew up in a tough niegborhood, (James alley) in an area known as the battlefield. At this time slavery was still fresh in the minds of African Americans and slavery's shawdow loomed large over the entire nation expecially the south. One new years evening Armstrong was out roaming the streets celebrating the new year. Armstrong had taken a pistol belonging to one of his stepfathers as part of the New Years celebration. Folks of all races and social backrounds were out celebrating when Armstrong and the group of boys he was with heard the crack of a pistol being fired into the air by a group of young boys nearby. At this time prompted by the boys in his crew, Armstrong pulled out his gun which was bigger and fired several shots in the air. At the sound of the shots the other group of young men tore off running. Armstrong had not noticed that his team had tore off as well until the strong arms of a cop grapped him, took the gun and then escorted him to jail as he begged the officer to let him go. Shortly afterwards Armstrong was sentenced to detention in the colored waifs home. It is here that Armstrong first began learning how to play the Trumpet the intsrument that would make him world famous. Armstrong was released from the Waifs home only when his father could get some white " gentlemen to vouch for him". see Armstrongs World war 1 draft card and 1920 census listing http://www.rootdig.com/wwi/louis_armstrong.html


Armstrong was surronded by music of all types and styles, everything from the African influenced work songs, to spiritual songs by blacks dating from times of slavery as well as classical and popular music of the day. The speakeasy's, taverns and other social establishments would have featured a hot new music bieng played, developed and influenced by all races of men and women. Although Jazz wasnt uniqe to New Orleans the music from that city did have its own flavor. This music was a mix of several different cultures and influences. In a time of no radios or Tv's live music was one of the few entertainment available to the masses. This is the world in which Armstrong begin to develop musically. Included in this mix was a stable of caracters richly described by Armstrong in his Autobiography. Men with names such as Black Benny ( a drummer), Cocaine Buddy, Slippers( the Bouncer), Kid Ory, a pimp named cheeky black. The females had names such as Mary "Jack" the Bear and Mama Lucy. Armstrong states that he was discouraged from breaking up fights between anybody because of one particularly bloody fight between two prostitutes. A prostitute named deborah was sitting at the bar of a honky tonk Armstrong was playing cornet, when a prostitute named Mary Jack the Bear started a argument over a pimp they were both seeing. Mary who was one of the most feared women working the streets pulled out a bylow (really big knife) and began slashing deborah. Deborah likewise pulled her own bylow and began slashing Mary, when it was all over Mary was dead and Deborah was severly disfigured. At one honky tonk when Armstrong started to play, he was encouraged to " blow that Quail" by a bouncer named Slippers. One morning after waking up drunk Armstrong is informed by his mother that he doesent know how to handle his liquor and that she would accompany him one evening to "show him how to handle his liquor". One night Armstrong and his mother made the rounds of the Bars and Honky Tonks that Armstrong played trumpet at. As they made the rounds the owners, bouncers and other folks told Armstrong's mother of what a respectable young man she had raised. As they made the rounds Armstorngs mother got wasted and they stumbled home drunk, the next morning she declared that since he had outlasted her she now had confidence that he was grown and could take care of himself. He played trumpet in parades , funerals, bands and rehearsals. He married a prostitute named Daisy staying with her through a rocky relationship until he left New Orleans. Armstrong played with many different bands and artist who would become famous and widely respected jazz and blues musicians. People such as Joe (King) Oliver whom Armstrong called Papa Joe, Sidney Bechet, Kid Ory and others. By this time Armstrong was singing as well as burning up the scene on trumpet. He also was performing a type of wordless singing that he would develop into an artform itself called scat. Scat is a form of musical interpretation that allows an artist to vocalize in harmony and rythym with a song and not be confined by syllables or words themsselves. Eventually he got a gig with Fate Marable playing jazz on the steamboats that went up and down the missippi rive. On one trip that took him to Davenport (Iwowa), a young 16 year old Bix Beiderbecke met and heard Armstrong for the first time and was deeply touched by him. One day while playing trumpet at a funeral in New Orleans Armstrong and his wife got into a dispute with his wife Daisy which ended with his brand new Stetson hat ( a hot hed saved up months to get) being cut to peices and him having to flee in order to not be cut himself. Armstrong relationship with his first wife featured many volitale incidents including fighting in public, throwing bricks at each other, ending up in jail and having to each other out of jail for disturbing the peace. One night during an argument a police officer told Armstrong ("Dipper why dont you take your wife home") Armstrongs mentions that he was greatful to the officer for respecting him enough to ask him to take his wife home. During those times it was not uncommon for blacks to be beaten and arrested for such incidents. In 1922 Armstrong recieved a telegrahm from his mentor King Oliver requesting that he take a train to chicago and join him. ON August 8, 1922 Louis Armstrong departed from New Orleans to chicago to play jazz with his mentor and the rest is history. Mark

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your are Nice. And so is your site! Maybe you need some more pictures. Will return in the near future.