This weekend, August 3-5, we’ll celebrate the 12th annual Satchmo Summer Fest, a music festival in the French Quarter at the Old U.S. Mint paying tribute to New Orleans’ favorite son, Louis Armstrong. There are special lectures and seminars on his music and the early jazz of New Orleans, as well as a stellar lineup of performances by brass bands, traditional jazz bands, and jazz bands, all tuned up to show off Louis’ music. And of course, there’s always wonderful food at New Orleans festivals.
Satchmo was born onAugust 4, 1901 (although he claimed to be born on the 4th of July!) The first Summer Fest commemorated the 100th anniversary of his birth. Armstrong grew up poor in New Orleans. His legal father abandoned his mother when he was an infant, and he didn’t see much of her either. She went to live in the Perdido/Liberty St. neighborhood known as Storyville, home to pimps and prostitutes. Armstrong’s paternal grandmother and uncle took care of him. He briefly went to school, but quit when he was 11 and earned money by singing on the streets with other youngsters and working random jobs.
When he fired a 38-caliber pistol on New Year’s Eve 1913 (probably acquired from one of his “stepfathers”), Armstrong was arrested and ended up in a Colored Home for Boys. Its structure and discipline helped him develop, but he got a real start in life when Peter Davis, his professor who taught at the school, introduced him to the bugle and cornet. He played in the Home’s brass band at picnics, socials, and funerals. Young Louis rapidly absorbed what he could learn from the New Orleans players who were on the scene in those days–Bunk Johnson, Buddy Petit, Kid Or, and especially ”King” Joe Oliver. He started playing with Kid Ory’s band in 1919, when Oliver left behind New Orleans. Before long, Armstrong went up to Chicago to play with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, but he soon struck out on his own. Switching from cornet to trumpet, he became a star.