In celebration of July 4th, we’re republishing this interview about Louis Armstrong, who is said to have been born on Independence Day, 1900. The second part of the conversation, with the trumpeter Ruby Braff, is here.
“What we play,” Louis Armstrong said, “is life.” We’re learning that Louis Armstrong was not just the world’s greatest trumpet player, not just the most original and influential voice in jazz, not just the founding father of an American music with new forms and phrasing and feeling all indelibly marked by him; what’s seen and heard in perspective is that he was an actor and artist of range and depth, who shaped classic songs of American life as Dickens and Shakespeare formed classic characters of the English language.
Novelist Ralph Ellison heard a lyric poet in Louis Armstrong: “man and mask, sophistication and taste hiding behind clowning and crude manners — the American joke,” Ellison said. Our guest Wynton Marsalis hears in Louis Armstrong’s music “an undying testimony to the human condition in the America of his time.”