Louis Armstrong

Born 4 August 1901. Died 6 July 1971.
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Louis Armstrong - The Jazz House Pocket Legend

Alison Kerr profiles Louis Armstrong's Scottish connections.

Featured in BBC Music Clips
 

Biography

Born in abject poverty in New Orleans, Armstrong became the first great soloist in jazz, and the musician who was the single most powerful influence on the music during its first half century. Abandoned by his father, he was brought up by his mother and grandmother in some of the poorest areas of his home town, and he apparently never know his real birth date, preferring to adopt Independence Day 1900 as his birthday.

As a boy, he worked on a coal cart for the Jewish Karnofsky family, working in the Red Light District of New Orleans and developing a musical talent that grew further during his time in the Colored Waifs home, where he spent some of his teenage years. he played cornet in the Waifs' band, and by his late teens had acquired a reputation as a fine brass player with plenty of ideas and natural stamina. His big break came when he was summoned to Chicago in 1922 to join King Oliver's band, with whom he made his first records. His reputation grew when he travelled to New York in 1924 to become a star soloist with Fletcher Henderson.

Back in Chicago, he made a remarkable series of discs with a studio band known as his Hot Five and Hot Seven, in which he developed his bravura solo style, and launched the concept of the improvising jazz soloist. His brilliant, inventive playing became a symbol of the energy and freedom of the 'jazz age' - the riotous pre-Depression America of the Roaring Twenties. By the end of the 1920s, having moved to New York in 1929 to perform in the revue Hot Chocolates, Armstrong became a major star. As a singer, trumpeter and entertainer, he fronted his own big band throughout the 1930s and well into the 1940s, making a string of influential discs that featured his high, powerful trumpeting and his gravelly singing.

He toured to Europe in 1933-4 , leading a big band of local musicians. In 1947 he scaled down to a small group - the All Stars - which he led for the rest of his life, playing an up-to-date brand of the Dixieland jazz of his home town. He also appeared in numerous films, and made several popular vocal records, including Hello Dolly and What a Wonderful World, which introduced him to a vast audience unaware of his musical innovations in the 1920s. When he died he was universally regarded as the father figure of jazz, and loved by the people he had met and encouraged all over the world as 'Ambassador Satch', playing a relentless series of tours and concerts well into his old age.

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