The Legendary Louis Armstrong (Satchmo)
Friday, April 13, 2012
Back in May 2009 when we begin writing this column under the
caption (Jazz – Xtra) – African American Classical Music, we were inspired by
the election of Barack Obama as the first African American President of the
United States of America.
We indicated then, that it was indeed a momentous occasion with profound significance to the American people in general, and African Americans in particular. At the time, we also observed that this was highlight of the dawning of a new era that epitomized the contributions of black people to the rich history of the USA.
President Obama has tried very hard not to play the “race card” during his
first campaign and while in office for his first term, he is constantly
reminded of it and now that he is running for re-election, the political
climate in America is increasingly becoming more polarised with subtle divisive
rhetoric coming from some conservative elements of the opposition.
However, it should be remembered that the dynamism of present day America was founded in the diversity of various cultural expressions that have blended to form what is often referred to as the American experience or American culture. President Obama’s achievement in the field of politics is a radical cultural phenomena whose impact is similar to what was felt when Jazz music took the world by storm at the turn of the 20th Century.
Some of the pioneers of the Jazz explosion were the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzi Gillespie, Miles Davis, Count Basie, Ella Fitzerald, Sarah Vaughn etc. Later on came Art Blakely, John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard and others. Our feature this week will be on Louis Armstrong otherwise known as “Satchmo”. Louis Armstrong was born in one of the poorest section of New Orleans Louisiana on August 4th 1901.
As a young boy, he was a gifted singer and became part of a
quartet of other youngsters that earned little money singing songs on street
corners. His introduction to the trumpet came at the early age of twelve while
he was at a reform school for boys. It was there, where he was taught how to
lay the cornet, an instrument that is often referred to as the “Cousin” of the
He became very good with the cornet and joined the marching bands singing and leading parades. Armstrong was a hard worker, and very disciplined. He practiced for long hours and gained the reputation of being an excellent cornetist. This created opportunities for him and he became an attractive entertainer on the riverboats that travelled up and down the Mississippi River.
At the age of 21, Armstrong moved to Chicago to join another
legendary trumpeter “King” Joe Oliver. He was very popular in Chicago and was
able to carve out his own niche which led to the formation of his own band, the
hot five. It was with this band that he made some of the most
memorable jazz recordings featuring the trumpeter as a soloist.
He developed a new and creative way of playing the trumpet and became the first great jazz soloist. After a few years in Chicago, he relocated to New York where he developed the “swing” and had a huge following among trumpet players who all emulated his technique and wanted to sound like him.
As we mentioned earlier, Armstrong began his musical journey with his voice. He was also a very good singer and would later go on to sing on stage in addition to playing his trumpet. He was the first jazz soloist to travel outside the United States at the time. He visited England in 1932 and became famous internationally. It was in England where he received the nickname “Satchmo”. However, most jazz musician affectionately called him “Pops”.
In 1956 he visited what was then the Gold coast (Ghana) and performed in front of 100, 000 people at the polo grounds in Accra. This was during the Nkrumah era and Armstrong had a big influence on the Ramblers jazz band of the time. In 1957 he toured South America and Europe and used the occasion to speak against racial injustice in the US. In 1959, he performed in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.
He was a complete showman who revolutionised the entertainment industry appearing on brand-way and being the first African American to appear on screen with white actors. He popularised scat singing (singing without words) in jazz and set the stage for others to follow. His combination of singing a song and playing his trumpet made him the leading solo entertainer of his time. Other trumpet players known for this style include Hugh Mesekela.
He died on July 5th 1971 but his legacy remains as one of an icon with everlasting impact in the music industries. We hope you enjoyed this little piece as we look forward to sharing more thoughts and information on jazz with you. We would like to thank the following people for their continuous support and encouragement – Mr. Gaye Sowe, Mr. Momodou Ceesay, Mr. Samsu Sharif Sallah, Mr. Felix Dounce Thomas, Mr. Nana Grey-Johnson, Mr. Burang Goree N. Daiye, Mr. K.B Jarju (KBJ), Mr. George Christenson, Mr. Donald Sock, Mr Bekai Cham and others.
Author: Mahtarr E Njai