Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Other Side Of Satchmo

I just finished reading a great collection of writings and essays by someone whom I would have never associated with as being a writer, especially one as brutally honest as he was in the detailing of his life, his career, and his relationships. That person is Louis Armstrong, the famed jazz trumpeter and pioneer. We all know the gravelly voice, the perpetual smile he always wore, and his amazing way with a horn, but in "Louis Armstrong:In His Own Words", you get to see a side of the man that was rarely visible in my lifetime or awareness of him as a performer. And it made him that much more human and accessible. He shared a love of writing--he speaks of always carrying a typewriter with him everywhere he travelled, so that he was always typing in between sets and shows, whether it was his thoughts, an essay or two, a review, or responding to the scores of letters that he got from friends and fans alike. He spoke of his youth, growing up in New Orleans with his mother, May Ann, and his sister, "Mama Lucy", and his evolution as a musician; his appreciation of his mentor and "father figure", the great Joe "King" Oliver; his sojourn to Chicago, along with many other fellow musicians of his time; his marriages and relationships with women; his estimation of other musicians that he worked with and who came after him during the bebop era; and the love and adoration of his fans over the years that he so deeply appreciated. You also get to read his reactions to some of the negative feelings towards him as it pertained to his involvement in race relations in this country.

Like Charles Bukowski and James Baldwin, two writers who I strongly admired and strive to be like in terms of speaking the truth, he spoke plainly and honestly, sometimes bluntly so, about whatever was on his mind or was going on in his life at the time, over the course of his 71 years. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., he was more than the images we are used to seeing. A flesh-and-blood human being--flawed and contradictory, yet talented and profound in ways innumerable to mention. His life would definitely make for a great film, which with the plethora of biopics that are prevalent these days, should be strongly considered. He represented and represents everything I love about jazz and black history and what it means to be a man, a black man, a human. If you are a fan of jazz or even a fan of Louis Armstrong; if you love a good autobiography or series of essays; or if you just want to be inspired by a good life well-lived, I would strongly recommend finding a copy of "Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words", at a local library or bookstore. As he would have said, I am red beans and ricely yours. 'Nuff said.

1 comment:

dogheart said...

Beautiful truth indeed: the book spoke to me! What's amazing is that this man, Louis, came up in a real rough way: poor, running through economically lower-class construction projects with no shoes; in juvenile hall by teen years for a tiny violation of New Orleans law; no father; dealing with racism as it was 1900-1920; and hanging around rough folks, i.e. New Orleans bar folks, including prostitutes who'd carve each other up with knives if things went bad--and this man was not bitter, hardly ever if what both he and those who hung with him say is true. How?!! Night after night, year after year playing those same songs...Winning over white men's hearts when they'd sure called him everything they could, wouldn't let him use the same water fountain! How could this be? It's a fantastic mystery to me that I'm gonna follow up on by reading his other autobiography: yes, there are 2 he wrote with helpers. If you'd like to correspond about this, please write me at dogheartc@yahoo.com. I've been listening to his music also to get my mind and heart around this guy who seems so happy and inspiring.
I can appreciate how some folks'd see Louis as an Uncle Tom. While I love Miles Davis and Charles Mingus--check their autobiographies!--what a contrast Louis' personality is with theirs! Best, Dogheartc