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7 Jun 2017
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Life and Times of Louis Armstrong, Abridged

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Posted By Julie K.

When reviewing the history of jazz music, it can't be told without acknowledging the greatest performer in the genre, Louis Armstrong aka Satchmo. While Chicago wants to claim him as the town where Louis spent much of his career, New Orleans is where he was born and raised. The Crescent City is also a where Louis originally learned to play that trumpet, based on sounds he heard from other bands that, ate that time, were virtually on every street corner.

Louis came from a poor family but he truly loved life and had much natural musical talent, which meant he was soon able to rise from his humble origins. The nickname "Satchmo" dates back to his childhood and is abridged from "Satchelmouth," a name he earned for his huge, beaming grin. Louis' skills as a musician were entirely self-developed. He first excelled at the cornet and only later picked up the trumpet (which he later became famous for). His skills were enhanced by playing with seasoned musicians and local New Orleans bands, but never in his life did Louis have formal private lessons or follow a traditional path of musical education.

There have been many books written and documentaries made on the life and times of Louis (including two autobiographies by Louis himself!). Most comprehensive biographies trace Louis' life beginning with his apprenticeship in New Orleans from 1901-1919, through the rise of Louis' career in the 1940s and 50s. By the 1960s Louis was on top of the world ("I don't sigh for nothing," Armstrong is claimed to have said) and pretty much stayed there until his death in 1971. In the heyday of his career, Louis initially traveled to Chicago, New York and eventually to all parts of the world as the United States' Ambassador of Jazz.

Throughout his career, Louis was always a true musicians' musician. He learned to read other people's music while playing with Fletcher Henderson's band in New York, but what makes him remarkable is how he used his own unique style to completely redefine be genre. How did he do it? Using the basic elements of jazz, such as blue notes, syncopation, and most notably, improvisation, Louis blended those parts together like a New Orleans gumbo and created a genre of music unknown to the world before that time. Much like jazz itself, Louis was restless - he never could stay put, and never would.

Louis was of course predated by many who set the stage before him, such as Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton. These pioneers made it possible for Louis to make the innovations that turned jazz into a worldwide hit. Call it jazz, blues, ragtime, or swing - it's a style of music that has captured the world's attention to this day.

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