Louis Armstrong, the soul of jazz

“Much more than a symbol: he is one of the undisputed musical geniuses of the 20th century, ambassador of Afro-American music in the world”. The Encyclopedia Treccani defines Louis Daniel Armstrong, trumpet soloist, singer and composer born in New Orleans on August 4, 1900. He was the first, along with his trumpet and his voice, to carry the irresistible charm around the world of jazz, after having helped to create it, interpreting over time that syncretism between African poetics, which went back to the vast cultural memory of the deported slaves, and western musical forms, at the base of the genre. He pushed the boundaries beyond those hitherto explored, marking extraordinary moments in the history of music of all times and its development. To certify this undisputed merit, the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences arrived posthumously, the year after his death on 6 July 1971. The ascent marked his whole life, certainly not easy: born in a black and very poor family of the Louisiana of the time, his curriculum is formed in the street and reaches the stars, studded with recordings that were awarded with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award, a recognition destined – even this – for pieces of historical and cultural value. His version of the West End Blues of 1928, in 1974 was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame among the 500 songs that led to the birth of Rock and Roll. He was brilliant not only for the timbre and rhythm of the instrument, the technique and capacity for improvisation, but also and above all for transversal and universal readability. His famous sentence: “If you need to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” He even ended up in jail, when he was very young, with a gunshot in the air on a New Year’s night. But he treasured this experience, because that’s where he met the music and knew his personal passion for the instrument, the cornet, even before the trumpet, which will accompany him for life. “Every man – he said – has his own music that boils inside him”. The one that flowed in his veins, full of creativity and suggestion, came out thanks to self-study, very common among black musicians at the time, who touched with him very high points and allowed him to reach levels of unthinkable virtuosity, giving proof of his authentic musical genius. Who says he was “capable of making the trumpet cry” says a sacred truth! With him comes a decisive turning point in the very expression of jazz: Armstrong is the first to offer himself as a soloist to his audience, supported by the band’s incursions. In Chicago came the decisive meeting with King Oliver and the one with pianist Lil Hardin, who became his wife and also his manager. With her he gave life to the first groups. The history of the country greatly influenced the course of his career and his stylistic choices, often dictated by record companies. In the 1930s and 1940s, with the Great Depression, for commercial reasons, he appeared as a celebrity in the great orchestras, with which he also recorded important pieces (Mahogany Hall stomp, I can’t give you anything but love, Dallas Blues). But still the music market changes with the Second World War: the crisis of the great orchestras brings him back to form a small complex, which became mythical because it accompanied him from 1947 to his death, with highly acclaimed tours all over the world: the All Stars. His distinctive features were certainly elegance, passion, creativity. And perhaps, above all, a great and very profound humanity, which shines through when he says: “You must love to be able to play”. Or when he sings, with his unforgettable hoarse voice What a Wonderful World!

 

 

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