I started this blog with a purpose. So far that’s a secret. I need to out myself. I’ve been fumbling around saying what strikes me on the life and output of Louis Armstrong. When it comes to Armstrong, I’m a know-nothing.[i]
What’s the point in putting out snippets on Armstrong that strike my fancy? Another Louis Armstrong aficionado is born every day so why blog about it? Better you should spend your energy compiling your own Louis songs and tales, cruising online to build your own library. I’ll defend my approach by saying, the whole world loves Armstrong but most people hum a tune or two with no idea of the vastness of his accomplishments. Even reading tidbits can be enticing. The experts have a whole life in the cloud. If you want substantive stuff, check out my links.
This blog does have a center and it is StopTime, Louis Armstrong, a double birthday celebration, July 4 and August 4, 2011, in and around Saratoga Springs. StopTime invites audiences to attend (possibly, at some points, partake in) free-flowing performances occurring at multiple sites. Performers will move between sites carrying the audience along. Louis Armstrong’s + improvisation centers StopTime. His music and life may influence responses, but the intent is to consider Armstrong’s inspiration, his life force rather than to replicate his work.
The project started a few weeks ago when I met with six people interested in Armstrong and a collaborative opportunity. We talked about how this can happen and brainstormed possible components. Great energy generated many great ideas, including a spectacular one for the location. If we can partner with the agency that manages the sites, the events will be decentralized but integrated. Gaining approval is under negotiation, and so no news yet.
The core group offered a ton of community connections and sources. All week I’ve been talking to people and all responses have been downright encouraging. The network is growing quickly. A good way to keep going in the January deep-freeze.
Meanwhile Louis Armstrong continues to rule my life. The music is unending. I am not up to reading the Complete Discography. For a few days I was deluded enough to think I had a handle on the number of recordings. iTunes downloads and CDs borrowed from friends or libraries is a bare beginning.
Take anyone, any song; it wanders off pulling me along. On the January 5 post Jack Teagarden and Louis play “Rockin’ Chair” at Newport Jazz Festival. This is but one of several recordings. Reading Jazz Modernism, I see how little I know about Teagarden, his trombone, his close relationship with Louis, a friendship often mentioned and particularly important as it’s one of the intersections where race enters. Early on I read parts of Stanley Crouch’s Considering Genius. In the December 19 post, I mentioned Crouch’s recommendations on Armstrong recordings. I sought out Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy and listened to it over and over. I wouldn’t say I forgot about Crouch, I just went elsewhere for a while.
When I question a writer’s opinion, I go to Crouch to see if he has anything to say on the matter. Someone loaned me Alfred Appel, Jr’s Jazz Modernism. So I reread “The Late, Late Blues Jazz Modernism,” Crouch’s book review. He calls Appel on leaving out Ralph Ellison’s essays on jazz and Albert Murray’s Stomping the Blues, for not sourcing his ideas on race and racial politics. Crouch is a tough critic, not an angry one. He makes his point and goes on to praise Appel for making essential connections between jazz and visual arts—something that Crouch sees the New York Intellectuals miss entirely. Visual art is a large part of my life, so I want to see what Appel has to say. I read around in Jazz Modernism, the Armstrong parts. Appel is insightful, clear, a good read.
When I found Louis Armstrong the big attraction was music, all music, all the time. That’s possible, but with Armstrong that leaves out a great deal. There’s Armstrong’s foray in the visual (he didn’t call it art, so I’m not going there), but if he never picked up scissors and tape, it wouldn’t matter. Music and art have been going steady since the Greeks (to mention but one ancient culture that applies). I don’t think I can dodge the visual just because music is foremost. Everything I’ve made includes some visual component. Though I repeat I won’t be making anything, I wonder if I can stick to it.
[i] My Credentials. I am: dogged researcher, dog with a bone, artist, impresario (temporarily), writer, teacher, inveterate dabbler.
I am not: musician, scholar, expert in any field including the one I’m standing in, critic, coach, quick study, inveterate dabbler