While wandering around online yesterday I happened across this picture of Louis Armstrong playing a song for his wife. Do you remember him? Silly question - how could you not? Since Louis Armstrong was my Dad's favorite musician, when it was announced he'd be playing at Toronto's CNE Band Shell in the mid-60's, Dad insisted I accompany him just in case there wouldn't be another chance. Naturally I was a bit more interested in seeing other bands at that point in my life but my father was so excited at the idea of seeing the great musician again that I agreed to go. I was glad I did. The music was wonderful on a bright and sunny afternoon but best of all was seeing my Dad so transported by the infectious joy that Louis radiated. As well as being a musical genius, kind and generous too, he was also very funny:
When I was a kid, that um.. My mother - we lived in an old town in Louisiana named Butte Louisiana - she sent me down to the pond to get a pail of water one day, and I came back, and my mother was on the porch, and she wanted to know 'where’s that water?' I said, 'Well momma, there’s a big old rusty alligator in that water. 'She said, 'Oh boy, go and get that water - don’t you know that alligator’s as scared of you as you is of him?' I said,'Well, if that alligator’s as scared of me as I is of him momma, that water ain’t fit to drink.'
There are many stories if you go looking, including one about the fact he never had a Christmas tree until he was 40; he was so entranced with it he took it on tour and only gave it up when his wife insisted it was dead. Here's another one I enjoyed just because it highlights his kindness:
One afternoon in the spring of 1928, Louis Armstrong was strolling through his South Side Chicago neighborhood with a young friend, tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, when they came upon a group of street musicians. They were playing 'Struttin' With Some Barbecue', a recent hit song by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five band, and the trumpet player was laboring his way through Armstrong's own song note for note.
When the man finished, Freeman remembered, Armstrong clapped politely, then stepped closer, not wanting to embarrass the performer, and murmured, 'Man, you're playing that too slow.'
'How would you know?' asked the trumpet player, indignant.
'I'm Louis Armstrong. That's my chorus you're playing.'
When he and Freeman passed by the next day, the musicians had put a hand-lettered sign next to their tin cup: 'PUPILS OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG'.
Not remembering the particular song, I looked it up and found this youtube clip of Louis at a 1950's Paris nightclub when he jammed with Claude Luter on 'Struttin'. They don't make them like this anymore:
Louis Armstrong Claude Luter- Struttin' With... by redhotjazz
I'm old but not old enough to have seen Louis Armstrong in his prime. Still, I feel very lucky that I did get to see him laugh and play with my own eyes.
Is there anyone now gone you feel glad to have seen? or anyone you wished you could have seen?