Few musicians can be synonymous with a style of music such as Louis is to jazz and, still shock and astonish listeners many decades after his passing. The music that Louis played is truly eternal and one of the greatest gifts my time here at LAHM has provided for me is not only a deeper understanding of jazz music but also a curated taste within Louis’ vast discography.
My knowledge of Louis Armstrong was probably about as much as the average person that would consider themselves a casual fan of jazz. For me, Louis’ presence was much like that of any other icon yet my knowledge of the body of work was lacking. My family is originally from New Orleans so growing up Louis was ubiquitous with the city. I knew What a wonderful world, the gravelly voice and the iconic and infectious smile but that was really all I knew and ever really required of me. I respected Louis for reasons bigger than music. Louis was representative of New Orleans, our ambassador and gift to the world. As a child seeing tourists walk through the French Quarter with souvenir shirts with Louis’ face and other jazz paraphernalia drove home the impression of Louis that had already been there. It would be many years later in college where I would come upon the opportunity to learn more about jazz music as a whole. A jazz history course re-framed my understanding of jazz and the importance of its pioneers and stylistic virtuosos. Honestly studying jazz history set the tone for furthering my interest in all forms of jazz and when the chance to become an Armstrong fellow presented itself, I felt that it was more than coincidence for this unique experience to appear.
Although my interest in Louis resides more in the incredible history Louis made as an African American, it is impossible not to learn more about the incredible music that he recorded. The first time that I heard Louis Armstrong’ version of West End Blues my ears instantly recognized a sound that was unlike any other. Overtime, I started to recognize the tone of his horn when out and about throughout the city. I would hear Louis all day at the museum and still listen to his music on the train ride home, I never seemed to get tired of Satchmo. A highlight that really made me appreciate Louis’ music was at a keynote panel during this year’s jazz congress at Lincoln center. Seeing musicians like John Faddis and Wynton Marsalis speak on what made Louis so one of a kind and a true genius made me not only appreciate his musical legacy more but, I found myself feeling even more honored to be a part of LAHM. Louis had a recording career that spanned over five decades with hit records in each one, the more I listened to Louis I began to not just have favorite songs but a favorite era of his career.
I wanted to share with all the other Louis fans out there a bit of my own personal story with Louis’ music. I’ve learned even more about Louis than I expected to during this fellowship, I may not be a jazz historian but at this point after having considerable contact with Louis’ discography, personal tapes and other material from the archives and learning more about his approach to music among several other events that encompass everything he represents today, I’m confident in my knowledge as an Armstrong historian.