SATCHMO (DIMINUTIVE OF "SATCHEL MOUTH") the leading trumpeter in jazz
history. (See Louis Armstrong, "I Cover the
|b. August 4, 1901, New
Orleans, La., U.S.|
d. July 6, 1971, New York,
A prolifically gifted natural musician, Armstrong as a child
followed the brass bands around the streets of New Orleans and came
to know many of the pioneers of jazz. In his youth he played the
trumpet in marching bands and on the Mississippi riverboats, but he
did not really come into his own until, in 1922, his hero, King
Oliver, then leading a band in Chicago, sent for him to play
second trumpet. A series of recordings with Oliver's Creole Jazz
Band resulted, with such pieces as "Dippermouth Blues," "Canal
Street Blues," and other blues.
Until his advent, jazz had been based on a three-instrument
front line of clarinet-trumpet-trombone, in which individual gifts
were subordinated to the demands of the ensemble. It was evident,
however, that as soon as individual virtuosity reached a certain
peak and a player evolved the ability to create solos more profound
than anything the ensemble could offer, then this New Orleans
convention was doomed. Armstrong, with his creativity, ended the
convention. The series of recordings that he made between 1925 and
1928 with his Hot Five and Hot Seven ensembles established the
preeminence of the virtuoso soloist. With these groups, Armstrong
made records that included "Savoy Blues," "Potato Head Blues," and
"West End Blues."
Harmonically, Armstrong was always one of the clearest
thinkers, and, despite the complex evolution of jazz after his
youth, he remained rooted in the style that first established his
reputation. With his beauty of tone, instrumental range, and gift
for melodic variations, his extroverted style enabled him to bring
jazz to audiences who cared little for the music. One of his most
important contributions was to popularize a rhythmic approach in
improvising that became known as jazz swing feeling. Another outcome
of his burgeoning career was his invention of the "scat"
vocal, in which the voice, by abandoning words in
favour of conventional but meaningless syllables, reproduces the
nuances of instrumental improvisation. Armstrong made many vocal
records, and the scat vocal was imitated by jazz singers, including
Ella Fitzgerald and Al Jarreau.
From the early 1930s on, he became something more than a jazz
musician: he was bandleader, solo variety attraction, film star, and
comedian. One of his most remarkable feats was his frequent conquest
of the popular market with recordings that are in reality authentic
jazz thinly disguised by its creator's contagious
humour and delight in his own prowess.
As a composer, Armstrong is associated with such early jazz
hits as "Dippermouth Blues" (with King Oliver), "Wild Man Blues"
(with Jelly Roll Morton), "Gut Bucket Blues," and others.
Armstrong performed in a number of films, from Diamond
Lil with Mae West to Hello Dolly! with Barbra Streisand.
Armstrong autobiographies include Swing That Music (1936) and
Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (1954).