Previously unknown private letters from Louis Armstrong to a British journalist have been unearthed
GUARDIAN, Sunday, 24 May 2009
Previously unknown private letters from Louis Armstrong to a British friend have been unearthed. The letters, to the journalist Lionel Crane, reveal the strong conviction the American jazz virtuoso had that he should stay close to his own class, in spite of his international fame.
Crane visited the musician in his Bronx home in the late 60s and the two struck up a correspondence. The rare letters from the trumpeter, who was called Satchmo or Pops by his fans, are being put up for sale next week by Crane’s daughter, writer Rosemary Bailey.
Crane wrote about his visit, including descriptions of the impoverished area where Armstrong still chose to live. The musician replied:
“My neighbours … were very proud that you thought enough of them to mention them … they are all real people. The warmth that we have for each other is out of this world,” Armstrong writes.
Continuing in his characteristic disjointed prose style, Armstrong points out that he and his wife, former Cotton Club dancer Lucille Wilson, had the money to move away to what he refers to as a “Dickty Neighbourhood”, or a wealthier area. “But, what about these people … the whole year that I’ve been out sick, it was my fine neighbours who love’s and understands us.”
Armstrong developed a peculiar use of grammar to give his writing a distinctive rhythm. In one touching passage he wrote: “If I miss one day warming up – calls come into Lucille asking is Pops OK? We did not hear that today. Man, that’s neighbours.”
A comment is necessary: Louis’s neighbo(u)rhood was far from “impoverished,” and he deserves more than this mildly condescending pat on the head. This UK journalist could learn something about “warmth” from Louis and his letters. However, it’s always rewarding to find more of Louis’s prose emerging. Will the buyer make these texts — much more “touching” than “peculiar” — to jazz scholars? I hope so.