Note: I wrote this post nearly ten years ago, and it still rings true to me, and I hope to you.  I’ve added two or three lines that seem even more relevant today.

Louis Armstrong fascinates me as an icon as well as an artist.  In my admiration and awe, I can’t become him — which is fine, we were all meant to be ourselves — but I have been silently studying the man as well as the recordings.

And this is the post I’ve wanted to write about him as a spiritual ideal of how to live in the world.

Live your life as if it mattered: it’s the only one you’re getting.

Pay attention to other people.  If you ignore them, you will be alone someday.

Know your particular talents but wear them lightly: they will speak for themselves.

Be sure to floss your teeth.

Give everyone else a chance to solo.  They’ll be happier and it will be easier on you.  You don’t have to be the whole show even if your name is on the marquee.

Be kind to those who are struggling to reach their fullest potential, but acccept no mediocrity.  A B natural will never be a B flat, no matter how hard someone tries to make it so.

Spread joy.  Be proud of the joy you spread.  It is a rare gift to be happy and extend it to others. 

Wash your hands.  Eat some rye bread.

Smile and make other people smile, but don’t hide your feelings if they’re not joyous.

Actively seek out opportunities to be kind without looking for reciprocation.

Help out younger people whenever you can.  Give things away.

You don’t have to take Swiss Kriss if you really don’t want to, but it has its own lesson.  Get rid of your shit as soon as possible: don’t hang on to it. 

Cruelty, selfishness, vindictiveness will bounce right back on you.

Life is not going to get easier as you age, but be wise about your limtations.  Don’t try to hit 250 high Cs if you can’t do it any longer.

If someone tries to take advantage of you, don’t let it happen, but don’t make a career of being angry.

Be generous to people who haven’t yet understood generosity. 

Never forget those people who helped and guided you.  Tell everyone about your mentors and keep their memory alive.  

Be grateful for the simple things — a delicious plate of red beans and rice or a good Western on TV — and let everyone know that you are thankful.

Love your wife / husband / partner with all your heart. 

If it’s summer, buy the local kids ice-cream. 

Get high when you feel like it, but don’t hurt yourself or anyone else in the process.

Find opportunities to laugh often.  Tell good jokes, but realize that life itself is often a hilarious pageant.  Embrace the profane as well as the sacred.

Understand that all people, whether the King of England or Black Benny, have a common essence. 

Be a close observer of people, and observe yourself closely as well.  Learn from yourself, and improve what you see.

Spread joy.

Take risks when you know what you’re doing, and sometimes when you don’t.  What could possibly go wrong?

Don’t forget to mess around when you’re doing the Charleston.

Work very hard at what you have chosen to do, but try — this is not easy! — to make your work and pleasure the same thing. 

Teach by example, and let people hear the lead!

If you do some of these things with great joyous seriousness, even if you never play trumpet or sing, people will always be happy to see you, and when you die, people will say what a privilege it was to have lived in your century.  People will warm their hands at your generous spirit.

May your happiness increase!

27 responses to “WHAT WOULD LOUIS DO?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention WHAT WOULD LOUIS DO? | JAZZ LIVES -- Topsy.com

  2. Coming from you, that means a great deal! When someone asked Pierre Franey how long it had taken him to create a particular recipe, he said, “Forty years and thirty minutes.” I am never going to be as good a cook as PF, but I feel this way about my little post: thanks so much, TT! Cheers, MS

  3. Solid!

  4. A gassuh! Time to start printing up some WWLD bracelets….

  5. I completely agree with almost everything on your list…except for the getting high part.

  6. Fair enough: you’re entitled! But there are also ways of getting high that are legal and beautiful — Louis got high on making people happy as well, so why jump to conclusions? Thanks for reading and commenting, Destiny!

  7. John C Graham

    What a great thing to read on a dreary and wet Monday morning. Now I can get back to work with a slight attitude change !

  8. Perfesser M. Figg

    Plato, Kant, Armstrong. Sounds like a hell of a syllabus. Thanks for this…

  9. That ain’t no stage joke! I’d love to enroll although I might not make it to class for the first ten weeks . . .

  10. I read this at the dinner table last night to my husband (trumpet player) and 17-year-old stepson (pupa). The former loved it, and latter, well I hope it made an impression! Thank you so much.

  11. Honored, ma’am, and very pleased. And I don’t know if I would have gleaned more than five percent of it at that age . . . so let us sigh one sigh less?

  12. Well, I suppose you’re right. However, there are some well-known artists who have been known to use substances, such as Anita O’Day. Fantastic vocalist, by the way. I also get a sort of high when I pick up my alto sax after a few hours of playing my squeaky toy clarinet, even though it’s the whiny sister of the saxophone family.

  13. You really are a philosopher of the day. I will try to translate your golden words to Danish – if you’ll allow me.
    Yours truly

  14. I’d be honored! Let me see what it looks like in Danish, won’t you? Thank you — red beans and ricely yours! Michael

  15. Louis Armstong was a most memorable man. His ability to projext happiness was well known. Both Honor and I concur with what you have written about him. My friend Honor is a great fan, always has been, and considering his background and bad start in life,he became an icon and someone to look up to.
    Thanks for those words -Elin

  16. And here’s an actual quote I heard once from Benny Carter:

    “I’ll never forget what Louis once told me: if you make a mistake — make it AGAIN — then they’ll think you meant it!”

  17. This reminds me so much of what William Strunk (author of THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE and E.B. White’s Cornell professor) wrote about pronunciation: “If you don’t know how to say a word, say it LOUD!”
    Did Louis make any mistakes . . . that is, aside from the one in 1971?

    Cheers, Michael


  19. Just found this. Everyone should read this and learn something from it



  22. Pingback: March: Looking back, looking ahead | Hilary Gardner: Ad Alta Voce

  23. Mick Carlon

    Inspiring and beautiful–like Louis himself. THANK YOU, MICHAEL.

  24. Thank you for all your gifts, Michael!

  25. I could say the same to you. In fact, I am doing so. Till we meet again, dear fellow!

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