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WRTI 90.1's Essential Jazz Artist No. 4: Louis Armstrong

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Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)

Don’t let that big smile fool you into thinking that Satchmo was only an entertainer. He was the most important pioneer in jazz. He basically re-invented trumpet playing. He was hugely popular in five decades and over many periods in jazz. With playing, singing, and even acting, Louis was the international ambassador for the American art form of jazz.

But it’s okay if you miss all that because of his smile; Pops wouldn’t mind. You voted Louis Armstrong your No. 4 Most Essential Jazz Artist.

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Bob Perkins had this to say about Satchmo.


Did you know:

  • For years he claimed that he was born on the Fourth of July in 1900, but it’s not true. August 4th, 1901 is more like it, making a rare occasion of an entertainer claiming to be older than he was. But in any case, he didn’t even know for sure himself: the true date wasn’t discovered until well after he died.
  • As a child, the fatherless Armstrong worked for a poor Jewish family in New Orleans, who loved him and treated him like family. He wore a Star of David for the rest of his life.
  • Before Armstrong revolutionized trumpet playing with a brilliance and high range never before heard, it was considered a poor cousin to the classier solo instrument, the cornet
  • He learned to read music from early on, which helped him get—and keep—jobs with bands
  • His 1967 single “What a Wonderful World” went nowhere in the U.S. because the record company president didn’t like it and wouldn’t promote it. It took off after being featured in the 1988 film Good Morning, Vietnam and was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 1999, by which time Armstrong had been dead for 28 years.

Oh yes, he sings, too! Meridee Duddleston profiles the Monterey Jazz Festival, which thought that having Dizzy Gillespie introduce Armstrong wouldn’t be too shabby...