Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Day 150/365 King of New Orleans

Once upon a time, on August 4, 1900, in the great city of New Orleans...

Mary Albert gave birth to a son, Louis. Mary was poor and black, not a fortuitous combination in New Orleans (then or now). Louis' father was William Armstrong, equally as poor as Mary, but not as interested in sticking around for his son. Growing up on the streets, Louis earned money singing on street corners, buying his first horn at the age of 7. When he was 11, he fired a gun on New Year's Eve, and ended up sentenced to the Colored Waif's Home. Those folks saw fit to give Louis his first formal music lessons.

Released after 18 months, Louis supported himself playing around the Quarter, mostly with his new-found mentor Kid Oliver.

Kid Oliver had a few musician friends - locals like Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton -friends who would put blues, ragtime, and Dixieland Jazz on the map and spread it all over the world.

Kid Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in 1922, featuring a young Louis Armstrong on cornet, and the lovely Lil Hardin on piano. Later that year, Lil would marry Louis. The music made included New Orleans Stomp (Alponse Picou on clarinet); Dipper Mouth Blues and Canal Street Blues featuring Louis's cornet; and Working Man's Blues featuring Lil on the piano. The Creole Jazz Band was the first black band to record their own compositions extensively.

By late 1925, Louis and Lil had started their own band: Louis Armstong's Hot Five. The first of roughly thirty-six recordings was Heebie Jeebies, followed by Cornet Chop Suey, My Heart, Gutbucket Blues, and the song that would establish Louis Armstrong as the King of Jazz, Wild Man Blues, displaying a series of solos and incredible technique. A popular quote said it all:
"Armstrong used his horn like a singer's voice and used his voice like a musical instrument. "

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was years after these first recordings. Louis Armstrong had made many many other records, appeared around the world, was recognized as the jazz man of New Orleans, and was a celebrity in his hometown. He had also caught some flack from younger civil rights workers across the South, and some called him an Uncle Tom.

But in New Orleans we loved him.


We adored him.

He had a huge heart, both in his music and in person, and we loved him.

Listen to Cornet Chop Suey - go ahead, I dare you. You'll love him too.

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