Louis Armstrong Research Paper Essay
Many people knew Louis Armstrong as the “first real genius of jazz”(Shipton 26). He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 4, 1901. Louis was the illegitimate son of William Armstrong and Mary Est “Mayann” Albert.
He was abandoned by his father, a boiler stoker, shortly after his birth and was raised by his paternal grandmother. Then, at the age of five, he was returned to the care of his mother, who at the time worked as a laundress. Together with his mom, they moved to a better area of New Orleans. This is where Armstrong first fell in love with music; he would listen to people playing any chance that he would get(Tirro).He would attend parades, funerals, churches and go to cheap cabarets to be able to hear some of the greats play jazz. As a child, to help support his mother, he worked different odd jobs. Mainly, he would sell newspapers and deliver coal.
Also, he would sit on the street corners and sing for loose change. Armstrong then dropped out of school after the 5th grade and ran into a little trouble with the law. He was arrested for firing a weapon in a city and was sent to the Colored Waifs Home for one and a half years, where his musical career really started(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”).Thanks to his childhood, and his involvement in music, he became one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and a singer responsible for the development of major trends in pop and jazz music(Tirro). Louis Armstrong became famous due to his musical talent, social involvement, personality and influence on jazz. Armstrong was involved with music for almost his entire life. He started getting involved at a young age just listening to rags, marches, and blues whenever possible(“Louis Armstrong”).
He was fascinated by the emerging jazz music being played around the city at places like the Funky Butt Hall(Rodabaugh).He began singing on the streets and eventually joined a barbershop quartet(“Louis Armstrong”). As soon as he saved enough money, at age 10, Armstrong bought his first cornet(Tirro). As the quartet he was in, “Back-of-Town Boys,” got better they started to attract attention from some local musicians, in particular Bunk Johnson. Johnson was a well-known trumpeter and responded when Armstrong asked him “to learn him how to play”, and gave him some basic instructions. These lessons were nothing special, but turned out to be huge in Armstrong’s development as a musician(Rodabaugh).
After his run in with the law, Armstrong was sent to the Colored Waifs Home. It was here that Armstrong’s only outlet was the school’s band. Only the kids who behaved well were allowed to play, so this gave him a reason to behave(“Louis Armstrong”). He jumped between many instruments, but he and his teacher eventually decided that the cornet was the best instrument for him, which proved a wise decision(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). Eventually, he became the leader of the Home’s Brass Band, which played at parades and picnics and helped in getting his talents recognized(“Louis Armstrong”).After his release, Armstrong had developed his skills enough to join the local group of honky-tonk and parade musicians(Rodabaugh). It was here that he was recognized by another jazz great, Joe “King” Oliver, who was impressed with Armstrong and took him under his wing.
Armstrong’s first big break was in 1918 when Oliver left New Orleans for Chicago, where jazz was on the rise, and Armstrong took over Oliver’s place in Kid Ory’s band as cornetist(“Louis Armstrong”). At the same time he was hired as the second trumpet in the popular Tuxedo Brass Band(Rodabaugh).This is where his career started to take off. It was noted by many that Armstrong would often appear at two venues in one day to put on two different shows(Shipton 27). While he was not being overworked by the two bands he was a part of at the time, Armstrong still found time to work under Fate Marable on the riverboats. This was another significant part of his career because when the band was not playing, another band member, David Jones, helped teach Armstrong to read music(“Louis Armstrong”). Then in 1922, Armstrong was invited to Chicago to be the second cornet in Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.This was a hard move for Armstrong because he did not want to leave his hometown of New Orleans, but he knew it was a move he needed to make(Tirro).
He made his first ever recording with Oliver’s band in 1923 under the Gennett Label. Though, in 1924, Armstrong was given the opportunity to move to New York City. He did not want to make the move, but his wife convinced him it was best for his career, and he went. In New York, Armstrong was the third cornet in Fletcher Henderson’s band(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”).While performing in Henderson’s band, Armstrong made many more recordings, and was lucky enough to work with some famous jazz singers and instrumentalists; Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter, and Sidney Bechet. But Armstrong became unhappy with the band because he was given few opportunities to solo and was rarely allowed to sing, which forced him away from Henderson’s band(Cogswell 18). Though he was only in New York for a year, this trip helped his talent become more nationally recognized. He built confidence, learned about showmanship, and improved his ability to read music(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”).
Everybody in New York fell in love with him because not only was he a great musician, but his humor brought so much more to the performance(Shipton 26). He then returned to Chicago where he was given a spot in his wife’s band as the first chair cornet, his first time in this position(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). In his wife’s band, he got rid of group improvisation around theme, and incorporated a single instrument playing extended solos in between choruses(Shipton 27). At the same time, he played at the Vendome Theater during silent movies under the direction of Erskine Tate.It was there that Armstrong made the switch to trumpet(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). During this time Armstrong made many recordings with other musicians and over sixty recordings with bands of his own. The other musicians and bands he collaborated with to make these recordings included Johnny Dodds, Lil’ Hot Shots, Erskine Tate, and Carroll Dickerson.
His own recordings were made with his bands the Hot Five and Hot Seven. He enjoyed these recordings because it gave him the chance to show his independence and talents. He was also able to incorporate singing, he first musical love, into his music in a style called “scat singing. These recordings invented a completely new style in jazz(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). As he was finishing up his recordings, jazz was on the decline in Chicago forcing Armstrong to move back to New York. Tommy Rodewell offered him a job, but this did not end up working. Though, he did not have any trouble finding a job, and was given a part in Connie Immerman’s band, the Hot Chocolates, and at the same time worked in a Savoy Ballroom. It was at this time that he began fronting big bands, and he came to the realization that he just enjoyed playing in rather than leading bands.
Then, in 1930, he was given the opportunity to move to California to play at Frank Sebastian’s New Cotton Club. He took advantage of this opportunity, which was the start of heavy touring schedule that took up the majority of the rest of his life(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). In 1932, he began touring internationally, and it was in Plymouth, England, where Percy Mathison Brooks, the editor of the magazine Melody Maker, gave him his nickname “Satchmo”(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”).
His longest international tour started in London, England in 1933 and lasted eighteen months, ending in January 1935.He was originally scheduled to stay overseas longer but Armstrong cut it short due to homesickness(McCarthy 25-26). He also suffered a split lip from his constant playing and did not play for a little while, which circulated plenty of rumors in Europe about the severity of his illness and one paper even reported that he had died. During his time off, he met up with a man he had met before while playing, Joe Glasser, who he hired as his manager for the rest of his career(Tirro). Though, the rumors did not last very long before he was out touring again with Luis Russell’s orchestra, a well-known band(McCarthy 27).It was believed that in 1937 when Russell added new, more prominent members to his band it motivated Armstrong again to get better and he began to put in the same time and effort as he did in the past(McCarthy 29). He was playing some of his best music that people began to call Russell’s band “Louis Armstrong and orchestra. ” With Armstrong at the forefront, the group produced some top recordings(Shipton 27-28).
From 1937 on, Armstrong began to make recordings for the public as a whole, using different backgrounds. This really showed his ability as a musician(McCarthy 29).Then in 1943, Esquire magazine held a series of jazz polls to find the best jazz musicians in each category. Armstrong won both the award for trumpet and for vocals, and he continued to win these awards throughout his career.
Esquire then held a concert in 1944 in New York City to showcase these jazz greats and Armstrong played a huge role in this performance(McCarthy 30-31). At this point, Armstrong was world famous and made multiple recordings with Ella Fitzgerald, which only helped his popularity(McCarthy 31). He also made a series of recordings with Duke Ellington. Rodabaugh) In 1947, Glasser, Armstrong’s manager, had the idea to create a band of about six members because the bookings of big bands were decreasing(McCarthy 31). He had some highly renowned musicians in the band with him like Earl Hines on the piano, trombonist Jack Teagarden, and clarinetist Barney Bigard. The band lived up to its name when they opened up at Billy Berg’s club in Hollywood(Shipton 28). The band traveled the world, where everyone fell in love with Armstrong due to his personality and friendliness.He was a true entertainer and because he spread Jazz worldwide, he was given the nickname the “Ambassador of Jazz”(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”).
His world tour included performance in Europe in 1949 and 1952, Japan in 1954 and 1956, and South America in 1957 and 1959(McCarthy 32-33). One of Armstrong’s greatest honors was playing at President Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration in 1963, and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom(McCarthy 36). The following year, 1964, Armstrong set a record for being the oldest person in history, at age 64, to have a hit number one on the charts with “Hello Dolly”(Rodabaugh).The next year, at the age of 65, Armstrong went on an extensive tour of Europe to celebrate 50 years of jazz(McCarthy 36). Music meant so much to Armstrong that he continued to play and perform until only weeks before his death. Armstrong was not only a public figure because of his musical talents, but also his involvement in the community.
Everybody loved his personality both on stage and in the everyday world. He was also popular with women, and was married four times. He did not have any children with any of his wives because he did not have the time to raise a child(Tirro).His first marriage was with a prostitute from the New Orleans area in 1918. The marriage was full of arguments and music seemed to always be getting in the way so the couple split in 1922(Rodabaugh).
Then, in 1924, he married Lillian Hardin, the pianist in Oliver’s Band in Chicago. This marriage lasted longer than the first, but the couple divorced in 1935(Tirro). His next wife was Alpha Smith, whom he had met in the 1920s while performing at the Vendome Theater in Chicago. They were married in 1938 and were soon divorced in 1942. His fourth and final wife was Lucille Wilson.Their marriage lasted unlike the rest of them and they remained together until his death(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). Due to his lively personality, Armstrong was cast in many different movies.
He appeared in nearly fifty motion pictures between 1932 and 1965. Also, due to the success and fame Armstrong received from his group the All-Stars, he was featured on the cover of Time magazine on February 21, 1949. That same year, Armstrong received an honor that meant a lot to him which was being named King of Zulus for the annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans(Tirro).
Armstrong was also very involved in the fight for racial equality in America. He once cancelled a State Department tour in 1957 in favor of protesting when Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas refused to let black people attend a public school. He did not understand how they would let him perform as an equal but would not allow the kids to attend school. He was given the nicknames “Ambassador of Goodwill” and “Ambassador of Satch” due to his involvement with these issues. Though with all this, Armstrong was still the first black musician to perform with white musicians and remains a role model for both white and black inspiring musicians(Tirro).Also, in 1937, Armstrong substituted for Rudy Valee for six weeks as the host of Fleischmann’s Yeast Show. With this, he became the first African American to host a nationally sponsored radio program.
This showed the strides he made in human rights(Cogswell 23). Armstrong was not the only great jazz musician that existed, but he had the greatest impact on the music. To start, he had unique rhythmic awareness, which changed big band music for the better. Also, he made the solo what it is today. He extended the instrumental solo to make it the most important element of jazz.Though, at the same time, he never forgot how important it was to keep his melody.
He was the best improviser, and he added feeling and nuances to his playing that made him so likeable to audiences everywhere(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). Armstrong was also the inventor of a completely new style of singing called “scat singing. ” Some people claim that he invented it by accident when he dropped his sheet of music during a performance and was force to improvise. Though, others say that it was a calculated technique.No matter what it was, it caught on and was one of Armstrong’s greatest contributions to jazz(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). Armstrong’s last few years of life were not the best of his life. First, he got pneumonia in 1967, which kept him away from music for a little while.
Then, he was in and out of the hospital throughout 1968 and 1969 with various diseases(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). He then suffered a heart attack in 1971 and died a few months later in his home in Corona, Queens, New York, on July 6, 1971(Tirro). He was mourned by millions of people as the most popular entertainer in the history of jazz(Shipton 28).It was obvious that Armstrong had an effect on all musicians too Dizzy Gillespie was quoted saying, “Every trumpeter in the world had to be influenced by him. He changed the modus operandi of music by inventing the solo”(Shipton 28).
He has been cited by many as their primary influence in jazz, including, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and Billie Holliday(Cogswell 28). He was also the only figure in jazz that was equally significant as a singer as well as an instrumentalist, showing his true versatility as a musician(Cogswell 28). Despite all his success though, Armstrong was still very humble.Some called him the “reluctant millionaire” because he valued his health and well being over any material good. The glamorous part of being a famous musician was tough for him. He always preferred to help other people rather than himself, and donated a significant portion of his earnings to family, friends, and the Colored Waifs Home, where his career started. Though, he donated all this money anonymously, because he did not care about receiving the credit(“Louis Daniel Armstrong”). He is still honored today by many, and his house remains a historic landmark.
His music is still played today and will be for years longer.BibliographyCogswell, Michael. Louis Armstrong: The Offstage Story of Satchmo. Portland, OR: Collectors Press Inc. , 2003. Collins, Willie.
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