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Louis Armstrong – Raised In the Sun by M. Kriss

Let’s see…Malleable …check. Ductile…check. Shiny …check. Atomic number of 79? Well, he almost made it to 70. Close. Precious…check. GOLD STANDARD…check. A#1 ELEMENT of JAZZ…Armstrong…check. Circle — and, draw a star. Yeah.
Dizzy had bigger cheeks (but, not checks). Bird — a longer tail (as comets go across the sky). But Louis Armstrong WAS BIG — A SMILE. A LAUGH. A SHADOW CAST. SAINTS ALIVE he was SUPERSIZED — but, unlike a double bacon cheeseburger, too much Louis was always good for your heart. The fact that he was the first and ultimate jazz soloist is not what most people remember or even think about when they hear his voice or the mention of his name.
Our country’s most appreciated export, Louis Armstrong is a jingle heard round the world reminding us of just how wonderful our abode is. His carbon imprint is indelible. It cannot be extricated from American culture, or from our aesthetic of entertainment — or from Jazz. Louis should be carved on Rushmore. That way Americans would be able to name at least one of the rock face’s occupants. Louis Armstrong — America’s Goodwill Ambassador — traveling far and wide, spreading our particular brand of happiness — Jazz.

Travel to Mindanao and let loose an impression of Mack The Knifewith a larynx full of alluvial sediment — and, Hello, Dolly! It shrinks the xenophobe in us all to minuscule, and down sizes the world to a vestibule. Statistics would probably prove there is no Greater Love in our world for an entertainer than that which we all have, and will have for (and from) generations to come, for Louis Armstrong. (Too bad we couldn’t have bottled him.) He’s been honored in miniature on stamps by at least 10 different nations, so he’s still travelin’ the world spreadn’ goodness.
His musicianship was not second to his gregarious nature and presence. Analyzing his technique is a mute point. A sound so bright you knew you were on a trip to somewhere light and fantastic. From Dixieland to Hollywood to the universe, it was powerful, primary and pure. Lightening struck choices riding kinetic energy through each loop and turn, so smooth, you can hold your breath as you listen and not realize you are doing it. Louis Armstrong’s horn is a cornet full of confetti cadenzas and bursting color. Makes us wanna parade behind the real Zatarain Mardi Gras Man and his Mm Mmm goodness. He was Sun-Kissed.
Although he did blow out his embouchure from his full out GIVE IT ALL U GOT treatment when he was young — Satchel mouth – Satchmo – still gave mo’. No wonder he was marchin’ the saints through those Pearly Gates. Who else could do it but Louis Armstrong? Hark you Herald Angels! Make room for humanity!
You can’t take race out of the Louis Armstrong formula. He was, and still is, beloved by every race. That statement in it self is remarkable, because in his day, it was a rare soul whom everyone trusted. Billy Holliday said “Sure Pops toms, but he tom’s from the heart.” Was it sarcasm? Folks who “Tom from the heart” — and, they are few and far between — do not race. They know everyone is on the same storied, stony path and there is no such thing as getting there first. They want everyone to be comfortable along the way.
Louis Armstrong’s emotional intelligence permeates his music as it did his manner. That smile was no grin-and-bear-it accoutrement. It was the muscles in his face responding to the pulse of joy and revelry in his heart. It was REAL. He didn’t want anyone to feel bad. And he made sure that he held himself up to that responsibility: A good man; good soul; a superb musician.
Duke Ellington made mention of him: “Born poor, died rich, never hurt anyone along the way.” HEY, HEY, HEY! It’s Louis Armstrong. He had a classic poverty stricken upbringing. One that gave him an appreciation for all classes and the worth and weight of everything he achieved in his lifetime. In this world, it can go either way on that front, but he went the right way. He took care to treat everyone with respect and love.

Though a baptized Catholic, he wore a Star of David everyday throughout his life to show his appreciation for the Kamofskys: a Jewish family who, during his hard times as a youngster in New Orleans, took him into the fold, teaching him “how to live — with real life and determination”* by giving him odd jobs to do and imbuing him with a sense of belonging. As a kid with no dad for a mentor, and his mom a part-time prostitute, he discovered his musical potential after a fortuitous encounter with a borrowed pistol sent him to reform school for shooting off a shot during a New Year’s Eve celebration. There he met his fate in the form of a music teacher who nurtured his talent and learnt him this prima facie — MUSIC IS EVERYTHING. Zen Master Louis. Ah, SO – THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT!
His personal narrative winked throughout his songs. He was his own Greek choir during each tune, but never ready to go down the I TOLD YOU SO path without a laugh. If Jazz b-came down beat, Louis was downright UP BEAT. He lived on The Sunny Side of The Street. Compared to him, the reflecting sun was dim. Who doesn’t want to go into the light?
Louis Armstrong was A#1 and top of the heap before Sinatra. Look what he sparked. The trickle down theory can be traced throughout jazz history from the DNA on his brow absorbed by his omnipresent handkerchief. Louis — the most recognizable and loved voice of the 20th century played everybody’s favorites — and all of our favorite players were influenced by him — EVERY Jazz musician — ALL IFS AND BUTS OR MAYBES have borrowed plenty. B-Bop — Modern — Avante-Garde DON’T EXISTw/out POP’S GOLD CARD!

Lady Day imprinted on Louis. One doesn’t even have to listen closely to hear the cadence and phrasing in her style — a clipped, muted, broken reverberation of unseen vibrations. Louis sings a horn. Lady sings the blues. Where his light was big, hers was pin-pointedly laser accurate —- not with pitch and tonality, but with life lessons learned. Hers was the opposite editorial to Louis’ bright point of view. Joy and sorrow: You can’t know one without the other.

More Yin & Yang: Ella & Louis. Forget it, fellow warblers—scat-ter! Ella Fitzgerald so clean and pristine and Louis caked with Mississippi Delta mud. That DEE-DAH-DIDDY duo glidssando’d right on up to the tippy top of the be
anstalk, Jack. FEE FI FO FUM –- SHOO BOP A DO DAH LITTLE BIRDEES DOWN ‘DEHR — YOU’LL NEVER WARBLE ‘NUFF T’ FLY ‘DIS HIGH ‘N D’AIR —-and, you know what? SO BE IT. Why care? Who doesn’t want to be reigned over by Louis and Ella, The King and Queen of (Jazz) Hearts. It ain’t never rainin’ on our parade!

True blue through and through, swing swayed the rhythm of his music — but not his life. He took care to play that straight. Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t “edge”. Golden is as golden does onto others – not how squeaky clean you are — except (ahem) when it comes to colon health.

Yep. Even when handing out samples of his obsession — Swiss Kriss** (a natural, herbal laxative he swore by) to members of Britain’s Royal Family, he was makin’ sure everyone else was as happy as he was. A walking testimonial for the stuff, he even had his picture taken “on the can” (Louis on the Loo) as his own endorsement for his favorite weight loss and attitude adjustin’ elixir. The caption: Satch says, “Leave It All Behind You.” A cheeky testament to an outcome shared by all.

Made In America. Louis Armstrong. A CAN DO spirit who went to the ends of the earth.

*Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La., the Year of 1907
**You might call it “LITTERature” — BUT — I am not related to the aforementioned laxative.

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