Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Eve Arrest

To celebrate the beginning of 2011, here’s a story Louis loved to tell—his arrest that led to music making:

As I said, New Orleans throws a heap of noise on New Year’s Eve—they shoot off anything that’s handy. My mother had an old ”38” gun and when time came along towards New Year’s she hid it away because she knew I’d get in trouble with it. Somehow I found it and on the big night, as our quartet was standing on the corner of Perdido and Rampart Streets singing, a boy passed us shooting off his little old six-shooter. So I told my boys, “Watch me show him up!”
I showed him up all right! A minute or so after I shot off that old gun, an old gray-haired detective came up behind me and hugged me and said, “You’re under arrest!” The people who had laughed at me had turned down the street by then and didn’t see it.
         I know lots of men who are successful in life are always saying they owe their success to their hard knocks—and the harder the better. I think that’s sometimes true and it sometimes isn’t. But I do believe that my whole success goes back to that time I was arrested as a wayward boy at the age of thirteen. Because then I had to quit running around and began to learn something. Most of all, I began to learn music.

Swing That Music, Louis’s first autobiography published in 1936, quoted from the De Capo Press Edition, published in 1993, 5.

As for the music, what to mention any day isn’t easy as there’s so much of it and it’s all good. The more I listen the more I hear how little I’ve heard. Example: Since the title of the book is Swing That Music, I figured I had at least one recording in my library [sixteen albums plus assorted odd songs totaling 435 songs (some repeats, naturally) that takes 23.6 hours to completely shuffle], but no, no “Swing That Music.” Back to iTunes where I spend an extraordinary amount of time. I found several versions, but before making a decision I sidetracked to two songs that I decided have more to do with New Year’s Eve. First, “I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues,” the blues is a good share of New Year’s Eve in my book. I downloaded the single from the Sugar album. Second song is from “Laughin’ Louis.” Two friends gave me three CDs from their collection and Laughin’ Louis was one of them. This over the top silly side of Louis is flip side of New Year’s Eve. Here Louis is at his rambunctious best. You can listen to a snatch of it on the Louis Armstrong: Complete RCA Recordings – 4 CD set Remastered.


  1. After many years of music lessons, specifically trombone lessons, I have come to understand music instruction as life instruction--modes and philosophies for living. Learning something, learning music, learning living. Having played a wind instrument for fourteen years, I understand music as breathing and singing. My music instructor said repeatedly, "You're just singing." Over the years, although I play my trombone less and less, this phrase persists as a metaphor for living. The trombone is a vehicle for my voice. When I allow myself simply to sing, to embody the song and get out of my own way, the body and the instrument unite, dissolving any tension between the two, whether it be the technical aspects of playing or a halting stage fright. I want to live a life of deep learning, so deep that I can sing--allowing a phrase to mingle with my vulnerabilities and stamp out its own weird cadence.

  2. Sayward, you make the sense of singing and playing audible, the body's need and response - hard for not-so-musical beings to understand, but not appreciate. and different, very, from one who played the piano. Carl Landa talked about this too, when the breath makes the music

  3. Margo, I was often told to visualize hitting keys on a piano as a way to overcome the physical difficulty of playing notes at the top of my register (high notes on the scale.) Visualizing the piano was like visualizing ease--the breath need not strain because the finger simply taps a key at the right end of the keyboard. Pushing air fast through the instrument could be as easy as outstretching an arm.