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!

6 responses to ““WHY, OF ALL THERE ARE, ARMSTRONG?”

  1. Joanne Horton

    Here’s one that shocked!!!Years ago talking to ‘a young Jazz Educator’he spurted …..”I don’t know what’s so special about Armstrong “Words cannot capture our response!!!!As Shakespeare once said:-‘fools should stay home,amen’

  2. Well, I am using the blog to teach more than reproach: come to the source and go away uplifted!

  3. DDn "Zoot" Conner

    Answering the question-Why Louis?is telling them what is jazz itself.Fat’s Waller had many answers,but these commercial posts should do the trick or at least half a trick.Nice re-postings,Michael.

  4. This question is always a useful one for us Louis-o-philes to cogitate over every now and then.

    There are many ways in which it can be answered, but after listening to Pops for over 55 years now, I wonder this: remove him from jazz music – PLUS all of those influenced by both his singing and playing – and what page are we on?

    Do the same with Bach and Mozart; Bob Marley, Robert Johnson, Elvis, The Beatles and any other giant(s) of any musical genre from anywhere in the world.

    And while offering a quote about Pops can be misconstrued as an easy out in a conversation like this, I can’t resist Benny Green’s, the most succinct and all-encompassing:

    “Anybody could learn what Louis Armstrong knows about music in a few weeks. Nobody could learn to play like him in a thousand years.”

    One hundred years ago this July a rather momentous event occurred in the Third Ward in New Orleans: Louis was 14 and playing cornet in The Maple Leaf band as it paraded through the streets, drawing larger and larger crowds as it slowly stepped along. Someone ran to wake his mother MayAnn; her son was being loudly cheered by the throngs. Kid Ory, Louis’ senior by 15 years, remembered his tone already being distinct at that remarkably youthful age.

    Shakespeare’s plays are still performed 415 years on because they touch our hearts in profound and universal ways, as did ‘Little Louis’ on that memorable hot July afternoon, an afternoon that reverberates to this day.

  5. One answer could be: What would jazz be without him?

  6. Joanne Horton

    Just in case I never mentioned this..I was blessed with an invitation to dinner at Lucille & Louis’ home…When he said grace I broke into a flood of tears..I felt I was in the house of god & he was right there!Pug

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