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Louis Lagniappe: Improve Your Armstrong IQ

Why wait for Satchmo Summerfest to get to know Louis Armstrong?

When it comes to Louis Armstrong, most music fans know the basics. Born in New Orleans in 1901, Louis picked up the cornet in reform school and quickly discovered his gift. As a young man, the trumpeter headed to Chicago, where he performed on key early jazz recordings with the Hot Five and Hot Seven bands, among many others. Known for his virtuosic solos and charismatic singing, Armstrong went on to become one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time.

Every August in New Orleans, Satchmo SummerFest offers music lovers a chance to dig a little deeper, courtesy of Pops-focused programming.

But why wait for summer to up your Armstrong I.Q? Here are a few local lagniappe options for furthering your Louis Armstrong education, any time of the year.

Louis Armstrong, top center, as a child at the Waif's Home in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy the Louis Armstrong House and Museum)
Louis Armstrong, top center, as a child at the Waif’s Home in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy the Louis Armstrong House and Museum)

“Satchmo: His Life in New Orleans”

Held at the Louisiana State Museum’s Old. U.S. Mint, 400 Esplanade Ave., New Orleans; (504) 568-6993

Louis Armstrong_childhood home_SatchmoSummerfest
Louis Armstrong at his childhood home. (Photo courtesy Louis Armstrong House and Museum)

The Louisiana State Museum’s Old. U.S. Mint and the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, N.Y., present a collaborative exhibit focused on Armstrong’s relationship with his native New Orleans. Co-curated by Armstrong House Museum archivists Ricky Riccardi and Brynn White, the exhibit brings together materials from both museum’s collections to provide viewers with a rare and unique perspective on what the Crescent City really meant to Armstrong.

Growing up fatherless and penniless in some of the most treacherous neighborhoods of the Jim Crow South translated into his resounding compassion for humanity.

“It is clear that New Orleans played an enormous role in the man and the musician that he became,” says White. “We hope that viewers can glean how growing up fatherless and penniless in some of the most treacherous neighborhoods of the Jim Crow South translated into his resounding compassion for humanity, as well as the survivalism, professionalism and other virtues that made him a worldwide success and treasured entertainer.”

Louis Armstrong performs at Suburban Gardens; photo, courtesy the Louis Armstrong House and Museum.
Louis Armstrong performs at Suburban Gardens. (Photo courtesy the Louis Armstrong House and Museum)

Interviewed ahead of the 2015 Satchmo Summerfest, which featured the exhibit’s initial opening, Riccardi said the curators made sure to show both the positive and negative lights through which Armstrong viewed his native city.

“With only two rooms in the Old U.S. Mint, we knew we couldn’t tell everything about Louis’ relationship with his hometown,” Riccardi said.

“But we did focus on a lot of important aspects, including his close relationship with his mother, the Jewish Karnofsky family, his time in the Colored Waifs’ Home, his days on the riverboat and his mentorship by Joe ‘King’ Oliver. But we also didn’t want to shy away from his later returns and some of the more negative experiences he dealt with regarding New Orleans, namely racism he had to endure during his first return in 1931 and a law that prohibited integrated bands from performing there, which Louis spoke out against and stayed away from home from 1955 to 1965.”

He added that the “most important part of the exhibit … is the abundance of Louis’ own words.” In an effort to letting the trumpeter “tell his own story,” Riccardi said the curators brought in dozens of pages from the voluminous autobiographical manuscripts Armstrong penned, including some that remain unpublished and handwritten.

Two instruments – the cornet Pops used while living at the Colored Waif’s Home in New Orleans and the last Selmer trumpet he owned – serve as another cornerstone of the exhibit, which also features rare video footage and audio clips.

“Satchmo: His Life in New Orleans”  is slated to run through March 2017. A permanent New Orleans Jazz Museum is currently in the works under the direction of State Museum Music Curator David Kunian, who tells the museum will include an entire section devoted to Armstrong. The museum, which will occupy the 14,000 square-foot second floor of the Mint, will provide visitors a chance to see a vast swath of archives and artifacts from throughout New Orleans jazz history.

The Hogan Jazz Archive

6801 Freret St., New Orleans; (504) 865-5688

Located in Tulane University’s Jones Hall, the Hogan Jazz Archive is ground zero for researchers and serious fans of New Orleans jazz, blues, gospel, R&B, and Creole music. Among the archive’s substantial Louis Armstrong-related holdings are historic newspaper and early journal articles, clips from radio interviews, photographs, an interview with Armstrong’s wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, and cross references to Satchmo references in the archive’s large collection of oral histories.

For a better sense of what’s available, visit Tulane’s Music Rising, where you can access many of the oral histories directly, or try out the Tutti Music Player, which allows you to play along with Satchmo SummerFest regulars including Shannon Powell, Lucien Barbarin, and Topsy Chapman.

The archive is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Check out the Hogan Jazz Archive for details including a list of what you may and may not bring into the archive’s reading room.

armstrong park
Armstrong Park. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

The Historic New Orleans Collection

533 Royal St, New Orleans; (504) 523-4662

Another great Satchmo resource is the research center at the Historic New Orleans Collection. In addition to books, movies and photos centered around Armstrong, the collection features materials related to the development and opening of Armstrong Park, plus interviews with musicians such as Danny Barker, Punch Miller, Albert Nicholas, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, and Manuel Manetta – all of whom impacted or were influenced by Satchmo’s life and legacy.

Like the Hogan Jazz Archive, the Historic New Orleans Collection maintains rules and regulations to ensure the protection of their holdings. Check out the The Historic New Orleans Collection online for details before you plan your visit.

New Orleans Jazz Tours with John McCusker

Since the 1990s, veteran photojournalist and non-fiction writer John McCusker has offered one of the most in-depth and historically accurate music-related tours in New Orleans. His New Orleans Jazz tour focuses on locations throughout the city where Armstrong and other early jazz luminaries spent key moments of their lives, including the Karonofsky family’s tailor shop (mentioned above) and historic music venues such as the Eagle Saloon and Iroquois Theater.

McCusker’s tour also provides geographic and historical context for the early jazz scene in New Orleans, showing both what helped make it thrive and why some musicians opted to leave to pursue their art.

Tours are available Fridays and Saturdays; for more info check out

New Orleans’ Independent Record Stores

Fans attend a live performance at the Louisiana Music Factory.
Fans attend a live performance at the Louisiana Music Factory. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Music Factory on Facebook)

Ready to start your own Pops research library at home? Stop by one or all of the city’s expansive independent, locally owned record stores to browse the stacks and shelves.

At Euclid Records in Bywater, the knowledgable staff prides itself on its music nerditude and are always gracious and helpful as well being a bunch of walking music encyclopedias. Be sure to check out the vinyl on the second floor.

A little further upriver in the Marigny, the Louisiana Music Factory offers dozens of Armstrong recordings in its CD and vinyl stacks. Over in the music books section, check out works like Images of America: New Orleans Jazz by Edward J. Branley, Talk That Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way by Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and Rachel Breunlin, and Bill Russell’s Jazz Scrapbook for more tidbits about Louis through history.

Uptown on Magazine Street, Peaches Records and Tapes serves up a decent selection of Armstrong and other early jazz, as well as books about the history of music. Their collection skews a bit more contemporary and less rare than Euclid, but the helpful folks behind the counter — including the owners, who always seem to be on hand — can likely help you find what you’re looking for, Satchmo-wise, even if they have to order it.

Euclid Records
421 Frenchmen St, New Orleans; (504) 586-1094

Louisiana Music Factory
421 Frenchmen St, New Orleans; (504) 586-1094

Peaches Records and Tapes
4318 Magazine St., New Orleans; (504) 282-3322

Jennifer Odell is a freelance music writer. Her work appears regularly in DownBeat, Jazz Times, Offbeat and the Gambit, among other publications, and she leads the New Orleans chapter of the Jazz Journalists Association. In her spare time, she enjoys second lining to the Hot 8 or TBC, costuming, and eating all of the crawfish.

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