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Satchmo: A Brief History

A Short Look at Life and Times of Jazz Legend, Louis Armstrong

When it comes to the story of New Orleans jazz, it can’t be told without acknowledging the greatest performer in the genre, Louis Armstrong. And while Chicago wants to claim the notable "Satchmo" as much as New Orleans, the Crescent City is where he was born and raised and where he learned to play trumpet based on the sounds he heard from other bands (on nearly every corner at that time).

While there’s been lots of books about Louis (and two autobiographies he wrote himself!), we would like to recommend one of the most recents by Terry Teachout entitled POPS. His coverage of Louis' life begins with his apprenticeship in New Orleans (1901-1919), follow's through Louis’s feeling of being at the top of the world (“I don't sigh for nothing” - Louis Armstrong) in the 1960s and till his death in 1971. Louis became the United States' Ambassador of Jazz and traveled much of the world, beyond Chicago and New York where he grew to be famous.

 Throughout his career, Louis was a true musicians’ musician. He learned to read music with Fletcher Henderson’s band while in New York, but what makes him remarkable is the way he reinvented the genre through his own unique style. Still using the basic elements of jazz (syncopation, improvisation, use of blue notes - to name a few), Louis pulled those parts together, much like a gumbo, and created a genre of music unknown to the world before that time. Much like jazz itself, Louis was restless. He couldn’t stay put and never would.

Louis was of course predated by many who set the stage before him, such as Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton. These pioneers made it possible for Louis to make the innovations that turned jazz into a worldwide hit. Call it jazz, blues, ragtime, or swing - it's a style of music that has captured the world's attention to this day. 

 Want more information? Check out LASJB's entertaining and educational live jazz show dedicated to providing an informative, fun history of Satchmo.