Tag Archives: Yiddish

NOT FLUENT IN YIDDISH, BUT HER “FIRECRACKER BABY,” JUST THE SAME (July 4, 2021)

Photograph courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

People often choose dramatic tales over duller evidence. The notion that Louis spoke fluent Yiddish has been proven untrue by THE Louis scholar, Ricky Riccardi, here. I will add my own comic eighth note to suggest that I am sure Louis knew “schmuck” and “putz” and a dozen other Yiddish words from his Jewish colleagues, and if not from them, from working with Mister Glaser, whose vocabulary, I am sure, was multi-lingual colorful.

But enough of that.

I grew up believing what Louis told us. Let that sink in for four bars. What he told us was that he was born on July 4, 1900. If the year has been shown to be 365 days off, by intent or accident, that doesn’t bother me. I am sure that none of us — as a matter of personal experience — knows the year of their birth; we know what was told to us.

Louis’ beloved mother didn’t have the opportunity to go to community college, and I don’t know the level of her adult literacy, nor do I care. But she did refer to her son as “her firecracker baby,” which to me is indisputable evidence of her associating Fourth of July celebrations with the tumult in her lower regions. If you hold to the August 4 date that is recorded in the baptismal record over Mayann’s story, you are once again asserting male myopia and obstinacy. When women get to write the tale . . .

So, happy birthday, Louis! We celebrate you! And, for a moment, imagine the more-barren cultural landscape that we would have if he had never existed.

Here’s some music for the Fourth:

May your happiness increase!

“DU REDST EYEDISH?” “NAY NAY.”

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!

WAY DOWN YONDER ON CARMINE STREET

This morning the wind chill was minus-four.  I don’t dare think about the economy.  So news of a new jazz gig is very exciting.  This scoop comes to us from Marianne Mangan, one of this blog’s two roving correspondents:

gvbistro“Next week the Greenwich Village Bistro (212.206.9777) will host clarinetist Sam Parkins and pianist Pete Sokolow twice in two days.  In addition to their Wednesday 12:30 – 2:00 lunch gig with Jim Collier’s Gotham Jazzmen (also featuring Peter Ecklund), Sam and Pete will be appearing on Tuesday night, December 30th, with Ronnie Washam and Friends — the other friend being bassist Dave Winograd.  Fans of the Cajun will remember Ronnie as a first-rate vocalist, lovely of tone with an unfailing connection to both the music and the meaning of a song.  This foursome has appeared at the GVB already and it’s said that even the young waitstaff knew enough to pay attention to their music.

This may be the start of an every-other-week engagement, but Tuesday, December 30th at 9:00 is a good time to start making it a habit.  The Greenwich Village Bistro is at 13 Carmine Street, between Sixth Avenue and Bleecker Street.”

Readers who remember the fabled Cajun (between 16th and 17th Streets on Eighth Avenue) before it was eaten by “progress” in 2006 will remember Pete Sokolow, enthusiastically swinging with a thunderous left hand, Leroy “Sam” Parkins, a wonderfully hedonistic clarinetist, and Ronnie Washam, “The Chelsea Nightingale,” who sang with drummer Bob Thompson’s Red Onion Jazz Band.  Pete can do a hilarious version of Fats’s “Your Feets Too Big” in Yiddish and drive a band with authentic stride piano; Sam is a deep musician, whose blues come from inside.  And Ronnie.  Her favorite singers are Lee Wiley and Ella Logan, and she honors them.  Not, mind you, by imitating them, but by getting inside a song as they did.

Jazz musicians, these days, have their own CDs that they bring to the gig.  But Ronnie has a new one — LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME — recorded with a wonderful little combo (Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Hank Ross, piano; Conal Fowkes, bass; Bob Thompson; drums).  She comes through whole from the first note, and her colleagues are especially receptive.  You could call 212.243.7235 for ordering information — or, better yet, you could buy one at the gig.  Don your down coat, go downtown, and prepare to have your spirits lifted!