Well, Hello Louis: Armstrong’s Trumpet and Voice Epitomized Jazz

When he was born 115 years ago this week, the world around Louis Armstrong was not exactly wonderful.

True, there were, as he later sang, “skies of blue and clouds of white,” but on the day of his birth, August 4, 1901 — and for much of his life after that — African Americans encountered discrimination in many facets of their lives.

Still, Armstrong (also known by his nickname “Satchmo”) had conquered widespread racism and poverty-stricken childhood to become not only a legendary trumpeter and bandleader, but also one of the most influential figures in the history of jazz.

It is, therefore, fitting that New Orleans, the birthplace of both Armstrong and jazz, has celebrated its native son’s birthday with pomp and circumstance for the past 15 years.

This week, the Satchmo SummerFest will be held on Friday, August 5 through Sunday, August 7 in Jackson Square, right in the heart of the city’s famed French Quarter.

That in itself is a victory of sorts: For nearly a decade, Armstrong refused to play in his hometown because it did not allow integrated bands. He returned only in 1965, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

How did Satchmo manage to beat the odds to excel at his art? “The key to Armstrong’s success is the discipline he brought to bear,” Bruce Boyd Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, told the Smithsonian magazine.

“Armstrong was a hard worker and was extremely curious as a child. He did the work necessary and paid attention to everything going on around him,” Raeburn added.

Hard work, discipline, and curiosity are essential to achieving success, but there was something else that helped Armstrong overcome adversities: his personality.

He was gregarious and engaging, drawing people to him and vice-versa. His jovial and witty disposition, and the response he got from his fans, made it easy for him to see La Vie en Rose. In fact, one of his funniest lines was his answer to a request to define the folk genre.“All music is folk music,” he retorted. “I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”

Another of Satchmo’s famous quotes was: “Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.”

Armstrong did not retire, but there was a lot more music left in him when he died on July 6, 1971, at his home in Queens, N.Y.

When LIFE Magazine listed Armstrong among 100 People Who Made The Millennium, it noted that his “improvisational verve and technical virtuosity defined jazz…and his engaging personality and ever-present grin made him a natural as the international ambassador of jazz, America’s greatest gift to the world.”

Originally published at www.simplycharly.com on August 1, 2016.

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