Louis Armstrong: The Quintessential Man with the Horn
Louis Armstrong was to jazz what Einstein was to physics, King to Civil Rights, Shakespeare to comedy and tragedy, and Oprah to televised entertainment. He taught the trumpet to do things the instrument didn't know it was capable of doing, and he could turn a song upside down with that deep, gravelly voice.
Armstrong's contributions to the advancement of jazz as an art form are inestimable. All this, accomplished by a man who was born into abject poverty at Liberty and Perdido streets in New Orleans' Third Ward - better known as "Storyville."
Armstrong had very little formal education, and at age 12 was carted off to the city's Colored Waifs Home for celebrating New Year's Eve by firing a gun in the street. This is where he remained for the next two years. Fortunately, he learned to play several instruments while at the home. The trumpet soon became his instrument of choice. Upon his release from the home, Armstrong met cornetist and bandleader Joe "King" Oliver, who became his friend and musical mentor.
In years to come, Armstrong - in quick succession - became a much sought-after sideman, revered soloist, bandleader, and jazz legend. His power, lyricism and technique on the trumpet, influenced countless traditional and modern jazz musicians, and his cement-mixer voice, coupled with his ebullient personality, won him millions upon millions of fans, and sold millions upon millions of recordings. There are music critics and jazz fans who go unchallenged when they say Armstrong has been the most influential force in the history of jazz.
During a TV interview conducted by Edward R. Murrow, Armstrong was asked the meaning of the word "cat," which Armstrong often used in describing various personalities. Armstrong responded by offering that a cat can be anybody from the guy in the gutter to a lawyer, doctor, the biggest man or the lowest man. But if they're in there with a great heart, and they all enjoy the same music, then they're cats.
Louis Daniel Armstrong departed on July 7, 1971, about a month shy of his 70th birthday. Some knew him as "Satchmo," short for "satchel mouth." And some called him "Pops." He was also a great cat.