Louis Armstrong Biography
Louis Daniel Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971) (also known by the nickname Satchmo, for satchel-mouth and Pops) was an American jazz musician. Armstrong was a charismatic, innovative performer whose musical skills and bright personality transformed jazz from a rough regional dance music into a popular art form. Probably the most famous jazz musician of the 20th century, he first achieved fame as a trumpeter, but toward the end of his career he was best known as a vocalist and was one of the most influential jazz singers.
Armstrong was born August 4, 1901, to a poor family in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nicknamed "Satchel Mouth", Louis Armstrong's youth was spent in poverty in a rough neighborhood of uptown New Orleans, as his father, William Armstrong (1881-????), abandoned the family when Louis was an infant. His mother, Mary Albert Armstrong (1886–1942) then left him and his younger sister Beatrice Armstrong Collins (1903–1987) under the upbringing of his grandmother Josephine Armstrong. He first learned to play the cornet (his first of which was bought with money loaned to him by the Karnofskys, a Russian-Jewish immigrant family) in the band of the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, where he had been sent multiple times for general delinquency, most notably for a long term after (as police records show) firing his father's pistol into the air at a New Year's Eve celebration. He followed the city's frequent brass band parades and listened to older musicians every chance he got, learning from Bunk Johnson, Buddy Petit, and above all Joe "King" Oliver, who acted as a mentor and almost a father figure to the young Armstrong. Armstrong later played in the brass bands and riverboats of New Orleans, and first started traveling with the well-regarded band of Fate Marable which toured on a steamboat up and down the Mississippi River; he described his time with Marable as "going to the University", since it gave him a much wider experience working with written arrangements. When Joe Oliver left town in 1919, Armstrong took Oliver's place in Kid Ory's band, regarded as the top hot jazz band in the city.
On March 19, 1918, Louis wed Daisy Parker, a prostitute from Gretna, Louisiana. They adopted a 3-year-old boy, Clarence Armstrong, whose mother, Louis's cousin Fiona, died soon after birth. Louis's marriage to Parker failed quickly and they separated. In 1922, Armstrong joined the exodus to Chicago, where he had been invited by Joe "King" Oliver to join his Creole Jazz Band. Oliver's band was the best and most influential hot jazz band in Chicago in the early 1920s, at a time when Chicago was the center of jazz. Armstrong made his first recordings, including taking some solos and breaks, while playing second cornet in Oliver's band in 1923.
Armstrong was happy working with Oliver, but his second wife, pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, urged him to seek more prominent billing. He and Oliver parted amicably in 1924 and Armstrong moved to New York City to play with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, the top African American band of the day. Armstrong switched to the trumpet to blend in better with the other musicians in his section. His influence upon Henderson's tenor sax soloist, Coleman Hawkins, can be judged by listening to the records that the band made during this period. During this time, he also made many recordings on the side arranged by an old friend from New Orleans, pianist Clarence Williams; these included small jazz band sides (some of the best pairing Armstrong with one of Armstrong's few rivals in fiery technique and ideas, Sidney Bechet) and a series of accompaniments for Blues singers.
He returned to Chicago, in 1925, and began recording under his own name with his famous Hot Five and Hot Seven with such hits as "Potato Head Blues", "Muggles" (a reference to marijuana, for which Armstrong had a lifelong fondness), and "West End Blues", the music of which set the standard and the agenda for jazz for many years to come. His recordings with Earl "Fatha" Hines (most famously their 1928 "Weatherbird" duet) and Armstrong's trumpet introduction to "West End Blues" remain some of the most famous and influential improvisations in jazz history.
Armstrong returned to New York, in 1929; then moved to Los Angeles in 1930; then toured Europe. After spending many years on the road, he settled permanently in Queens, New York in 1943. Although subject to the vicissitudes of Tin Pan Alley and the gangster-ridden music business, he continued to develop his playing.
During the subsequent thirty years, Armstrong played more than three hundred gigs a year. Bookings for big bands tapered off during the 1940's due to changes in public tastes: ballrooms closed, and there was competition from television and from other types of music becoming more popular than big band music. It became impossible to support and finance a 16-piece touring band.
Following a highly successful small-group jazz concert at New York Town Hall on May 17, 1947, featuring Armstrong with Jack Teagarden, Armstrong's manager Joe Glaser dissolved the Armstrong big band on August 13, 1947 and established a six-piece small group featuring Armstrong with Teagarden, Earl Hines and other top swing and dixieland musicians. The new group was announced at the opening of Billy Berg's Supper Club.
This group was called the All Stars, and included at various times Barney Bigard, Edmond Hall, Jack Teagarden, Trummy Young, Arvell Shaw, Billy Kyle, Marty Napoleon, Big Sid Catlett, Cozy Cole and Barrett Deems. During this period, Armstrong made many recordings and appeared in over thirty films. In 1964, he recorded his biggest-selling record, Hello, Dolly!. The song went to #1 on the pop chart, making Armstrong the oldest person to ever accomplish that feat at age 63.
Armstrong kept up his busy tour schedule until a few years before his death. While in his later years, he would sometimes play some of his numerous gigs by rote, but other times would enliven the most mundane gig with his vigorous playing, often to the astonishment of his band. He also toured Africa, Europe, and Asia under sponsorship of the US State Department with great success and become known as "Ambassador Satch". While failing health restricted his schedule in his last years, within those limitations he continued playing until the day he died.
Armstrong died of a heart attack, in 1971, at age 69, the night after playing a famous show at the Waldorf Astoria's Empire Room. He was interred in Flushing Cemetery, Flushing, in Queens, New York City.
The nickname Satchmo or Satch is short for Satchelmouth (describing his embouchure). In 1932, then Melody Maker magazine editor Percy Brooks greeted Armstrong in London with "Hello, Satchmo!" shortening Satchelmouth (some say unintentionally), and it stuck.
Early on he was also known as Dippermouth. This is a reference to the propensity he had for refreshing himself with the dipper (ladle) from a bucket of sugar water which was always present on stage with Joe Oliver's band in Chicago in the early nineteen-twenties.
The damage to his embouchure from his high pressure approach to playing is acutely visible in many pictures of Louis from the mid-twenties. It also led to his emphasizing his singing career because at certain periods, he was unable to play. This did not stop Louis though, because after setting his trumpet aside for a while, he amended his playing style and continued his trumpet career. Friends and fellow musicians usually called him Pops, which is also how Armstrong usually addressed his friends and fellow musicians (except for Pops Foster, whom Armstrong always called "George").
In his early years, Armstrong was best known for his virtuosity with the cornet and trumpet. The greatest trumpet playing of his early years can be heard on his Hot Five and Hot Seven records. The improvisations which he made on these records of New Orleans jazz standards and popular songs of the day, to the present time stack up brilliantly alongside those of any other later jazz performer. The older generation of New Orleans jazz musicians often referred to their improvisations as "variating the melody"; Armstrong's improvisations were daring and sophisticated for the time while often subtle and melodic. He often essentially re-composed pop-tunes he played, making them more interesting. Armstrong's playing is filled with joyous, inspired original melodies, creative leaps, and subtle relaxed or driving rhythms. The genius of these creative passages is matched by Armstrong's playing technique, honed by constant practice, which extended the range, tone and capabilities of the trumpet. In these records, Armstrong almost single-handedly created the role of the jazz soloist, taking what was essentially a collective folk music and turning it into an art form with tremendous possibilities for individual expression.