Louis Daniel “Satchmo” Armstrong—a trumpeter, composer, vocalist and innovator—was the most influential musician of the first fifty years of jazz, and continues to be an icon to musicians today. Today marks the first day of the 2014 Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans, and what better way to celebrate this festival of classic New Orleans Jazz and creativity than to talk about the driven life who started it all?
“You can’t play anything on a horn that Louis hasn’t played.” —Miles Davis, Trumpeter
Louis Armstrong was the first person to bring Jazz outside of New Orleans, throughout the country and across the world. He was born in New Orleans—a city that always had a respect for music—on August 4, 1901. In New Orleans, he grew up in a city of opera houses, symphony orchestras, bands, and parades, with music for every occasion both indoors and outdoors. As we all know, music is a way of life in the Big Easy.
“America’s Ambassador of Good Will to the World,” Louis Armstrong defined what it means to play Jazz and created new techniques over the course of his life, but he didn’t always play Jazz. His musical talents were founded on accident after being sent to a reform school for firing a gun in the air on New Year’s Eve. There at Colored Waif’s Home for Boys, George Davis—the music director—challenged him to play a musical instrument.
As a young New Orleans Musician, he learned to play several musical instruments, but the cornet became his instrument of choice.
Louis Armstrong lead the nation with music as Jazz became known to the world as an art form. Years of traveling around the US and the world, both as part of a band and the leader of several, resulted in millions of sold record copies and endless requests of personal appearances.
Louis Armstrong was in great demand during the Jazz years of his life.
The Techniques of a Jazz Genius
He became known as the greatest of all Jazz musicians because of his creativity and amazing technical abilities. Within all of Satchmo’s music, there is a spontaneous joy with quick and inventive changes that speaks of a truly musical heart and mind.
It’s the reason why he still dominates Jazz to this day.
His innovations were varied and easily transcended his chosen instrument. An array of vibratos, shakes, and rips are only a few of the subtle but powerful additions he gave to the jazz language. Satchmo was one of the first in jazz to use the vibrato as an expressive device, giving the music a living quality.
In addition to his many innovations in jazz, he made many breakthroughs in trumpet technique—extending its range, and moving away from the “bugle” melodies preceding Jazz. These breakthroughs created greater contrasts, subtlety of tone, and a more fluid handling of the instrument, allowing for a broader range (and artistic freedom) for the soloist.
How New Orleans Celebrates Louis Armstrong Today
The world mourned the death of Louis Armstrong, but the Big Easy will never forget him. This New Orleans musician changed the way we listen to Jazz. He changed our way of life. New Orleans wouldn’t be what it is today without Louis Armstrong, and we’ve made it a point to show our gratitude. We’ve named our Airport after him, commissioned a bronze statue of him and named a park in his memory.
In 1985, in the city of New Orleans, The Louis Armstrong Foundation was founded to preserve his music and that of Traditional Jazz, and every year the citizens of New Orleans celebrate his life, achievements and musical innovations during the Satchmo Summerfest.
Come to New Orleans and Be Driven to the 2014 Satchmo Summerfest. Celebrate the creatively driven musician who changed our lives for good. Thank you for the music, Satchmo. And thank you for always inspiring New Orleans.