Tag Archives: Judaism


My feeling is that Louis Armstrong could do anything he wanted to, and he did.  But not everything.

I present this excerpt from a recent “news” story posted in the Akron Beacon Journal that amused me in its affectionate inaccuracy.  The author, Facebook tells me, is news editor of The Daily Record, Wooster, OH, and he also works at the Ashland Times-Gazette.  It seems that a reader, Robert, sent him this story and he printed it.  Yes, fact-checking has been dead for some time.

TESSIE’S TIDBITS: A story about Louis Armstrong you probably didn’t know

By Jarred Opatz
Posted Aug 3, 2020 at 12:01 AM
Hi sweeties! I am going to date myself a bit as I remember Louis Armstrong on the radio as well as television. After all these years, I never know how he got the nickname “Satchmo” and the following article will fill you in.

Big Cheeks.

A grandson of slaves, a boy was born in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans known as the “Back of Town.” His father abandoned the family when the child was an infant. His mother became a prostitute and the boy, and his sister had to live with their grandmother. Early in life he proved to be gifted for music and with three other kids he sang in the streets of New Orleans. His first gains were coins that were thrown to them.

A Jewish family, Karnofsky, who had emigrated from Lithuania to the USA, had pity for the 7-year-old boy and brought him into their home. Initially giving “work” in the house, to feed this hungry child. There he remained and slept in this Jewish family’s home where, for the first time in his life, he was treated with kindness and tenderness.

When he went to bed, Mrs. Karnovsky sang him a Russian lullaby that he would sing with her. Later, he learned to sing and play several Russian and Jewish songs. Over time, this boy became the adopted son of this family. The Karnofskys gave him money to buy his first musical instrument as was the custom in the Jewish families.

They sincerely admired his musical talent. Later, when he became a professional musician and composer, he used these Jewish melodies in compositions, such as St. James Infirmary and Go Down Moses.

The little black boy grew up and wrote a book about this Jewish family who had adopted him in 1907. In memory of this family and until the end of his life, he wore a Star of David and said that in this family, he had learned “how to live real life and determination.”

You might recognize his name. This little boy was called: Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong proudly spoke fluent Yiddish! And “Satchmo” is Yiddish for “Big Cheeks”!!!

And I will bet you did not know any of this? Thanks, Robert for sharing!


Imagine my astonishment.

Louis doesn’t even get composer credit for this magnificent song, and I’m not even talking about ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, credited to an outsider named “Joe Primrose,” obviously not from any shtetl I know:

Before you leave the room . . . I earnestly ask you to read one of the shortest posts I’ve ever done, on a related thread, called SO WHO KNEW?

P.S.  If any of the multifarious Corrections Officers are moved to write in and chide me for my inept Google-Yiddish or my gentle satire, please forbear.  I don’t come to your house and tell you that you’re making the kugel all wrong.

May your happiness increase!


The title phrase doesn’t refer to an illegal addiction, or the unquenchable desire for just one more cracker or chip.  It’s a King Oliver tune from his Victor period (1929-30) but here it sums up the fierce loyalties we feel about the Yerba Buena Stompers, captured on video one more time at the 2012 San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival, or (now) the San Diego Jazz Fest.  They are Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.


John Gill explains the cultural history behind BIG CHIEF BATTLE AXE:

The reference in the title TOO TIGHT isn’t to a constricting piece of clothing, but to a Johnny Dodds record from the old days in Chicago — when the phrase was a term of deep approval:

My lantsman, Jelly Roll Morton’s classic, WOLVERINE BLUES.  (To find out why Jelly and I are distant kin, read this):

Marty Bloom’s MELANCHOLY:

RHYTHM CLUB STOMP, another Oliver recording, poses a linguistic mystery.  The subtitle (or original title in the Victor archives) was CURWISHIP GLIDE.  What, or whom, or where . . . was [a] CURWISHIP?  Inquiring minds want to know:

JUST A GIGOLO is Duke and the band’s tribute to Mister Strong.  We know handsome Duke is no gigolo, though:

May your happiness increase.


I’ve been reading with pleasure Samuel Charters’ new expanded version of his book on New Orleans jazz, A TRUMPET AROUND THE CORNER (University Press of Mississippi).  Many wonderful anecdotes and stories – – – but this one stopped me in my tracks.

In a nice way, you understand.

In 1969, the jazz scholar William Russell spoke with Frances Oliver, the younger sister of Jelly Roll Morton.  Frances explained the family genealogy to Russell:

My brother and both I got our large Jewish noses from our great grandmother Mimi, who was a German Jew–Felice Schmidt, so, of course we’re Jewish

Learning that Louis was actually born on August 4, 1901 has nothing on this!