I recently found myself in a friendly cyber-conversation with someone . . . in the way one meets people online in fragments, as if they are illuminated in part, coming out of total darkness, by a camera strobe.
This person knows my fascination with jazz and my reverence for Louis . . . which provoked the question (curious rather than hostile): “Why, of all there are, Armstrong?”
I confess that it stopped me abruptly for half a minute. It has the same effect on me that the innocent question, “Michael, why do you like breathing so much?” might. Now, I don’t know this person’s perception of “jazz” — it could begin and end with KIND OF BLUE or Bill Evans or be far more amorphous. And there is so much Louis-stereotype in the air to those who haven’t gotten to his emotional center that perhaps the reply should not have surprised.
BUT. I wrote back this. (The “departed musician” was pianist Larry Eanet):
As for Louis — his music hit me “like Cupid’s arrow,” to quote a departed musician, when I was nine or ten and it hasn’t left. If you know him only as caricature, sweating, playing high notes, making faces, I hope (say) his recording of IT’S ALL IN THE GAME or ON A COCOANUT ISLAND is on YouTube. He goes right to the tenderest part of my being in ways that Coltrane won’t. I am a dinosaur but I love melodic improvisations, a la Ben Webster With Strings.
I am happy that YouTube provides the soundtrack. Exhibit A:
I know some listeners will be shocked by the swooping beauty (some might say excess, but I won’t) of Gordon Jenkins’ strings . . . but what follows, when Louis makes his careful way through the lyrics, is the most deep tender authenticity. Without acting, without undue emphasis, he is the wise sweet Elder. “I’ve been in love. Let me put an arm around your shoulder and tell you what will happen. Take heart. Be courageous. Great rewards await those who can open their hearts to music, truth, and love.”
Exhibit B, for pure joy (thanks again to the generous Austin Casey):
I know there are a hundred recordings I could offer as proof of why Louis touches me so much — WEATHER BIRD, STARDUST, WHEN YOU’RE SMILING — but these do the work, especially because I think someone new to Louis can take in his tender voice more easily than the trumpet.
Like Cupid’s arrow. Indeed.
May your happiness increase!