Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)

The great jazz trumpeter, Louis Armstrong‘s birthday is today (tho’ he was able to promote the myth – and believed it too! – that he was born on July 4). As ever, we’ll draw your attention to New York City radio station, WKCR, which has regularly been playing his music and celebrating both dates with their annual Louis Armstrong Birthday Broadcast

Louis’ relationship with the Beats was… well, conflicted. It came from his relationship to bebop (the movement in jazz that was embraced by the Beat Generation). As he explained: “Very personally, I don’t care for most bop except maybe for (Charlie) Parker, some Miles Davis, some Thelonious Monk. But some people who I’d swear to be of sound mind are very high on it, and I suspect if I understand it, which I largely don’t, I’d be in a better position to make up my mind about bop.”

And elsewhere:  “I’d never played.. bebop because I don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong I think some of those cats who play it play real good, like Dizzy (Gillespie) especially. But bebop is the easy way out, Instead of holding notes the way they should be held, they just play a lot of little notes. They sorta fake out of it. You won’t find many of them cats who can blow a straight lead. They never learned right. It’s all just flash. It doesn’t come from the heart the way real music should.”

So “Satchmo” embraced a benign but misguided patronizing response to his fellow musicians, manifest in this (from 1954), “The Whiffenpoof Song” (updated and re-written and recorded (with Gordon Jenkins‘ Orchestra and Chorus)  as “The Boppenpoof Song“) –

“They’re poor little cats who have lost their way/baa-baa-baa/They are little lost sheep who have gone astray/ baa-baa-baa” – BUT – “Every wrong not that they play is a gem so lord have mercy on every one of them” – benign patronizing, but not without a whiff of malice (Armstrong didn’t pen the lyrics but he certainly enthusiastically sung them) – “So let them beat their brains out till their flatted fifths are gone/and they (sic)’ll pass and be forgotten like the rest.”  Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way, did it Louis?  (And while we’re at it, a glimpse at Armstrong’s “Uncle Tom” act)

But we’re here today, to praise not bury Armstrong. Here from an extraordinary career a few (just a few) select moments.

First, a compendium:

Here’s what’s purportedly the earliest known footage (from Copenhagen in 1933) (tho’ check out this strange moment)

Here’s “When The Saints Go Marching In” (that’s the remarkable Jewel Brown on vocals)

and here’s “Hello Dolly”

and goofing and playing with Dizzy Gillespie (sic) – yes, bebopper Dizzy!,  (January 1959)

Here’s the only known footage (from 1959, released in 2016) of Louis Armstrong recording in the recording studio, courtesy the Louis Armstrong House Museum,  a recording of “I Ain’t Got No Body”

Happy Birthday Louis!

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