Heroes are needed in the world to give people something to look up to,
someone to be like. Louis Armstrong over came such adversities as poverty, a
lack of good education, and racism to become one of the greatest jazz player
not just of the 1920s but of the 20th century. Armstrong was one of the
creators of Jazz and was one of the most popular entertainers from the 1920s.
Starting out at a young age he never knew that one day he would be such a
popular jazz player and also not knowing that one day he might even be
called a hero.
Armstrong was born on July 4, 1900 in the Storyville section of New
Orleans. At the age of 12 his life changed. When he was parting for New
Years Eve, he shot a gun into the air. He was soon arrested and taken to a
center for juvenile offenders. He hated being there, but loved going to see the
band at the center play everyday. When he got the chance to go play in the
band, he quickly did.
He first started out playing the Alto Horn then moved to the drums and
finally ending up with the trumpet. Two years later at the age of fourteen he
was released from the center. He went out and got jobs to help get him to be
able to afford an instrument. His jobs included, selling papers, unloading
boats, and selling coal from a cart. On his off times he would go around to
clubs like the Funky Butt Hall to listen to bands play.
A jazz musician named King Oliver saw him and was impressed at his
attendance at so many of the local clubs that he inquired of him as to if he
wanted to learn to play the cornet. Armstrong said yes. He picked it up very
quickly and soon was playing in bands for people that were absent. This soon
lead to him starting his own band. This was all at the age of seventeen.
Armstrong played with his band, known as Louis Armstrong Hot 5 or Hot
7, for two years and then King Oliver went to Chicago. Armstrong took a
spot in Kid Ory s orchestra one of the biggest known bands in the town. He
played on the riverboats on the Mississippi River and got better at playing.
All this without even knowing how to read music. While on the riverboat he
was taught to read music which would help him out greatly later, when he
became a band conductor. In 1922 he was called to Chicago by King Oliver.
After arriving he made a change that made him famous. He switched from the
cornet back to the trumpet.
The next year Oliver and Armstrong made a recording. This made
Armstrong one of the first black men to be recorded. In 1924 Armstrong went
to Harlem in New York to play in Fletcher Henderson s band. He had the
towns respect as soon as he arrived. This is when he started to learn how to
write his own music.
During this time Armstrong invented a type of singing called scat singing
a type of wordless singing sounding like a mix of blues and jazz. Even though
he was extremely popular over here, he was even more popular in Europe
because they weren t as concerned with racism. Up until the 50 s he still sang
and play the trumpet. On July 6th two days after his birthday he died in his
sleep at home in Queens, New York. He was 71 years old.
During the 1920s there were very few black jazz players that were
making it big in the music business. Even though he was young during his
early career, he was looked up to by many black people. To them he was a
hero not only because he sang and played the trumpet better than anyone else,
but more so because he had made it big and for the most part, nobody cared
what color his skin was.
His influence can be found all through out the jazz scene, even today.
Many modern musicians have been influenced by his work.
Although his career spanned a time in history when Black people were
being discriminated against in all parts of society, Armstrong seemed to be
able to bridge that gap. No matter what the color of his skin or that of the
people who came to hear him play, there was a meeting on common ground.
This very probably, was one area in which all types of people from all walks
of life could agree on something.
In his own unobtrusive way Armstrong was able to make a quiet statement
that everyone understood. He stunned his jazz peers with an instrumental
originality they had never imagined. Louis Armstrong's contribution to jazz
and his influence on the music are immeasurable. It is nearly impossible to
overstate his contributions.
Pianist Teddy Wilson sums it up, "I think Louis is the greatest jazz
musician that's ever been. He had a combination of all the factors that makes
a good musician. He had balance... this most of all. Tone. Harmonic sense.
Excitement. Technical skill. Originality. Every musician, no matter how good
usually has something out of balance, be it tone, too much imitativeness, or
whatever. But in Armstrong everything was in balance. He had no weak
point. I don't think there has been a musician since Armstrong who has had all
the factors in balance, all the factors equally developed... Lyricism. Delicacy.
Emotional outburst. Rhythm. Complete mastery of his horn."
Such praise is not uncommon. Indeed, Armstrong seemed to captivate a
nation. His accomplishments are numerous. Armstrong not only handled the
trumpet, his favorite instrument, but also was the first recorded scat singer.
Overall, his influence was tremendous. He set the tone not only for all
future jazz musicians, but for other genres of music, most notably, modern
classical music. Contemporary classical composers like Darius Milhaud and
Igor Stravinsky emulated much of Armstrong's work.
In addition, Armstrong left his mark on other aspects of American culture
as his fascinating personality truly influenced a nation. Armstrong's legacy
can be traced into "dance, theater, the visual arts, fashion, poetry, and
Nobody has done more for jazz than Louis Armstrong. His contributions,
influence, and legacy are immeasurable. Louis Armstrong truly is the jazz
legend. As fellow trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie points out, "If it weren't for him,
there wouldn't be any of us."
When there is someone who beats all the odds to come out on top and
shows you that you can do anything if you really want to. You probably will
call them a hero. Hero doesn t just mean saving lives and helping people that
are in danger of dying, it can also be someone who makes you believe that
you can do anything that you can imagine. Louie Armstrong helped lots of
black people know that just because of their color, it didn t mean that they
couldn t be one of the most famous people in the world.