Transcript

"Satchmo: The Life of Louis Armstrong"

Louis Armstrong
Born in New Orleans on August 4, 1901 (the PBS film debunks his mythical July 4, 1900, birthdate), Louis Armstrong, shown above, was heir to the poverty suffered by Southern blacks at the turn of the century. "Satchmo" takes viewers to his birthplace and to the site of his childhood home in New Orleans.
Phoebe Jacobs and Stanley Crouch
Executive Vice President of the Louis Armstrong Foundation and Editorial Columnist for the New York Daily News
Thursday, July 7, 2005; 12:00 PM

The American Masters documentary "Satchmo: The Life of Louis Armstrong" features the life and career of the jazz musician. The film aired on Wednesday, July 6, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

Phoebe Jacobs, executive vice president of the Louis Armstrong Foundation and close friend of the Armstrong family, and Stanley Crouch, editorial columnist for the New York Daily News, were online Thursday, July 7, at Noon ET to discuss the American Masters documentary and the life and career of Louis Armstrong.

A self-taught trumpet player and singer burst onto the scene at age 17 in 1918, replacing the legendary King Oliver in Kid Ory's band. Over the next six decades he would become one of the world's most recognized and best-loved entertainers. He recorded albums in every conceivable genre, from country to show tunes, toured the globe and influenced virtually "every musician of worth in popular music or jazz," as Tony Bennett says in this film by Gary Giddins. He was also an outspoken symbol of the civil rights movement, making a goodwill tour of western Africa and refusing to patronize New York clubs from which he had once been excluded. Named Best Music Video by Jazz Times Magazine in 1989, this film tracks Armstrong's life and career through recordings, performance footage, rare home movies, and interviews with friends and colleagues - among them Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Lester Bowie, Dexter Gordon, Milt Hinton and many others.

Crouch has written for such publications as the Village Voice, The New Yorker and The New York Times. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant, a Jean Stein Award, and an Alphonse Fletcher Fellowship. His books of essays include "Notes of A Hanging Judge," "The All-American Skin Game," "Always in Pursuit" and "The Artificial White Man." Crouch has served as Artistic Consultant for jazz programming at Lincoln Center and is a founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He is also a frequent panelist on television and radio talk shows such as "Topic A" and "Charlie Rose."

Jacobs has spent her life as a jazz enthusiast. She has also spent her career as a publicist and public relations consultant in the world of jazz, and she was born in the Bronx in New York City into a family of music lovers and musicians. Her uncle owned several Manhattan jazz clubs and she began her association with jazz working as a hat check girl in one of those clubs, "Kelly's Stable." She then worked at Decca Records with Sy Oliver and met a number of jazz musicians including Duke Ellington. Jacobs has held positions as director of public relations for Basin Street East (another club her uncle owned), the Rainbow Room and the Rainbow Grill. Through it all, she established and maintained friendships, and often worked with jazz legends including Benny Goodman, Eubie Blake, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and, most closely, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

The transcript follows.

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Phoebe Jacobs: First of all if you have Stanley Crouch you do not need me! It's like having three shoes and only two legs. Stanley is the expert, I'll stand up.

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Stanley Crouch: I appreciate Phoebe's sentiment, but Phoebe is as much an expert as anyone, she actually knew the man and knew him well. Greetings to the public, hello, let's go!

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Washington, D.C.: Can you describe more of Mr. Armstrong's personality? What stands out foremost in your mind when you think of him? Thanks much.

Phoebe Jacobs: His genuineness and caring for people, he was real, what you saw on stage was what he was. He never had two faces. He belonged to the human race, all people were important to him. He started out loving everybody until they proved themselves otherwise.

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Arlington, Va.: What are some of the best aspects of Armstrong's music, in your opinion? Thank you.

Stanley Crouch: Well, his tone, his rhythm and the kind of grand optimism of his melodic inventions. And his conception of how to develop material was so profoundly effective that it affected everyone who came after him regardless of what style they played. For music he was like the guy who invented the jab or right cross, the boxers use those basic materials.

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Stanley Crouch: His inventions had a depth so much that he can influence people with opposite styles, completely, he could influence an Art Tatum and a Thelonium Monk, a Sarah Vaughn and a Billie Holiday. And an Ella Fitzgerald. You can't sing jazz without singing like him. He was as influential for singers as he was for players. He was a master of the blues idiom and one of the supreme interpreters of Broadway popular songs. Any kind of way you wanted to come into it you had to come thru him. It didn't even matter if the person listened to him or not, because whoever they had listened to had listened to him. It's kind of hard to make clear to people just how profound an influence this man had. But once you've listened to him, you can hear him in everybody's playing.

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New Orleans, La.: I'm too young to have lived in the 1960s, a turbulent era when Louis Armstrong was criticized by some folks for being an "Uncle Tom." Who were making these claims? Was there anything to this argument? Or was there something about his world view and/or nature that people perhaps misunderstood? I do know that upon his triumphant return to New Orleans he was deeply saddened by the racial segregation and discrimination that he continued to see here. American Masters also explored his criticism of Eisenhower regarding school desegregation.

Much thanks.

Stanley Crouch: The thing is the people who were critical of Armstrong in or out of the jazz world never took the stand he did when he refused to tour for the government and when he made the criticisms of Eisenhauer. The loud mouths, Miles Davis, Max Roach or whoever happened to be critical of him, none of those people took any stands at all in that particular situation. When he came under attack they didn't gather around him either. People didn't like his style. That was the people where so many musicians decided in order to be taken seriously they had to present themselves like concert musicians, they didn't think his presentation was dignified enough. We can easily see at this point that the analysis of older people by younger people in the sixties was often insane. Or naive or completely uninformed.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Mr. Crouch and Ms. Jacobs, what a wonderful program. American Masters has a fantastic lineup this summer with profiles on Quincy Jones, Louis Armstrong, Sweet Honey in the Rock and so many other incredible performers. Is there anyone you would like to see added to this list for the American Masters series?

Phoebe Jacobs: Got anything on Dizzy Gillepsie? Dizzy and Wynton Marsalis. If you haven't done it, do it!

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Mr. Crouch, I a big admirer of your writings on Jazz and have enjoyed hearing your expertise on Jazz and in Ken Burns' Jazz, an unforgettable series in my opinion. Just curious to know what you are listening to these days? Do you follow other genres of music? Thank you.

Stanley Crouch: Mostly no. Actually that's not true. I listen to American concert music, Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, Debussy, Ravel and so on. And some third world music now and again. Marcus Roberts, Eric Reed, Roy Haynes, George Coleman, there's this kid from Italy named Francesco I think Califa. John Hicks, I listen to a lot of people, it's hard to list them now or it would take 15 minutes...

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Alabama: I've read that Armstrong was influenced by Buddy Bolden, the New Orleans cornettist often credited with "inventing" jazz. (I know that's a loaded term.) Bolden, as you know, did not leave any surviving recordings behind. Can we hear any of his style in Armstrong's recordings, to at least get a sense of what Bolden's horn sounded like?

Stanley Crouch: Armstrong himself said that he used to go to this hall that Buddy Bolden played in, he used to hang around there as a little kid. If he heard him, he heard him then. But we don't know if he sounded like him. All we know are some photographs and some stories.

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Morristown, N.J.: Some of my favorite CD's are the collaborations of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. They are masterpieces in my opinion. How did these two musical giants get along personally?

Phoebe Jacobs: I can tell you, I was present at the first recording they did. They had as close a love affair as you could have without sex. She dug him and he dug her. In fact, she came into Louis' funeral and she was so emotional, she was supposed to do the Lords Prayer, and she couldn't do it, she was there sobbing.

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Alexandria, Va.: Good Afternoon, I have read in many stories about Louis Armstrong that he had two medicines that he took daily -- a laxative known as "Swiss Kris" and marijuana. Mr. Armstrong found that the use of these two medicines were essential in maintaining good health. I would appreciate any additional information about the truth of these stories ... assuming, of course, that you will actually respond to my inquiry. Many thanks, Seeking truth in Alexandria

Stanley Crouch: Armstrong was a legendary consumer of marijuana and of laxatives. Neither the smoking of marijuana or the taking of laxatives make someone an Armstrong. For those who get confused, always understand you are dealing with a supreme talent, and no external stimulants, drugs, etc. is going to create that level of talent.

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Pensacola, Fla.: Saw the PBS show tonight. Excellent show! I have always had a special place in my heart for Louis Armstrong. Even as a kid in the early 60s with a b/w 3 channel tv he would captivate me when I saw him on Ed Sullivan or elsewhere. My question is in the show they spoke of "Hello Dolly" as being his last number one hit. I really enjoy a song he did for a James Bond movie. I think it is called "All the time in the world". Was this song done just for the movie or was something that had been around? Was this done in a time of fading popularity or after "Hello Dolly" career resurgence? Also if known how was he approached by the movies producers and did it hit the charts or have any affect on his career. Thank you.

Stanley Crouch: Armstrong was always popular. And so when he had Hello Dolly he was always popular. Every so often they would rediscover that this guy who was traveling the world and filling concert halls was still around. He was never at a loss for a job! I don't know of any period where he was sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. His biggest problem was he couldn't clone himself and play more jobs. I don't know that song though.

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Phoebe Jacobs: I think it came off of one of his LP's, a Decca recording.

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Phoebe Jacobs: If you get in touch with Dan Morgenstern at the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers, 973-353-5595, he can probably fill you in about details about that song.

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Future PR Professional ('06!): Ms. Jacobs, your background is in (among many other things) public relations, so I hope you don't mind sharing some professional insight. I'm wondering if you were officially involved in PR for your friend Louis Armstrong. From what you said earlier, it's easy to imagine him being a "publicist's dream." Did he indeed have a good relationship with the press? How did he feel about media coverage during the turbulent moments of his career? Thank you.

Phoebe Jacobs: He did it for himself, you couldn't resist him. We had to fight the press off. When he arrived somewhere, like in Africa, they had a turnout of 50,000 people. He had to fight them off. This was before television. I was hired by Joe Glazer to take care of Mr. Armstrong's needs, that's what he told me. If he needed his laundry done or tickets, etc. I did it. I didn't consider it labor, it was love. And I got paid for it too. And God is still paying me.

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Phoebe Jacobs: The greatest compliment I got in my life was the fact that Louis Armstrong trusted me. He left me in charge in writing of his legacy and heritage. And no woman could get a greater blessing than that. The other blessing is that I got Stanley Crouch in my life -- and I know he's a married man!

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Palestine, Tex.: When or will the PBS Special on "Satchmo" play again? I missed it and am a big fan!

Stanley Crouch: Check your local listings. And the link is below...

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washingtonpost.com: Local Listings

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Arlington, Va. via New Orleans, La.: Over the last year I have lived down in New Orleans. The city comes alive every night with music and people come from every corner of the USA to partake in the tradition of this city. However, I am worried that jazz and blues music is losing its appeal, especially on the younger musicians of the city. There doesn't seem to be people who want to be the next Armstrong or Marsalis, but rather they wish to become the next 50-cent or the like. However, one night as I came upon the Funky Butt, I heard something that just asked me to come in. The music of Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews ... keep an eye on this kid, because he gives me hope that he will keep jazz alive. As Mr. Armstrong used to say, "Red beans and ricely yours."

Phoebe Jacobs: You know Wynton took this boy up to NY when he was 15 years old and had him on the Today Show. Wynton Marsalis started a Louis Armstrong jazz camp in New Orleans 10 years ago. And Trombone Shorty started at the age of 12 or 13. And Wynton was aware of what was going on and gave this young boy an opportunity to come to NY and put him on the Today Show with 3 other students from the jazz camp which is currently by Jacky Harris. This year Clark Terry will be the visiting professor for the jazz camp. So these kids are getting plenty of inspiration.

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Phoebe Jacobs: The number of the camp if you want more info is 504-527-5935. Speak to Ms. Harris. She's the director of the camp and that's her office.

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Phoebe Jacobs: And Louis Armstrong in 1969 started his own foundation, called the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation. Stanley Crouch is our vice-president. We support music and education. Ten years ago we also started a music studies program at the University of New Orleans. Every year the French Quarter salutes Louis with a Satchmo festival, with school children, amateur and professional, performing at the US Mint BUilding in the French Quarter. Mr. Crouch has contributed many times there for the festival. This year they are having Dan Morgenstern from Rutgers, Michael Cogswell from Queens College who is in charge of the Louis Armstrong house and archives. They will be participating in seminars during the Satchmo Festival. That is July 26 for three days.

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Phoebe Jacobs: We also have a program for blind children to be taught. Henry Butler met Stanley Crouch several years ago down there.

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Phoebe Jacobs: They have a ton of programs down there to teach music to blind kids.

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Nani, Tex.: One of my fondest childhood memories is of my mother, a jazz enthusiast, dancing around the kitchen, apron strings flying, using a large wooden spoon as a "microphone" as she scatted along with Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong records. And, my most prized possession is a jazz album titled The Jazz Scene, a limited edition issued in 1953, which contained in addition to the 78s, large black/white photos of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Gene Krupa, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Kenton, Neil Hefti and others. The photo of Mr. Armstrong, blowing that horn, cheeks puffed out to the max, face dripping perspiration is my favorite. My granddaughter plays trumpet in her school band and loves listening to my old jazz records. Yes my old turntable still works.

Stanley Crouch: Yeah, good!!!

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Phoebe Jacobs: Wonderful!

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New York City, N.Y.: "We Have All The Time In The World" was 1969, for the James Bond film Her Majesty's Secret Service. I think it was one of Armstrong's last (if not last) studio sessions.

Phoebe Jacobs: That's correct. He died on July 6, 1971. Yesterday was the anniversary of his passing. He joined Gabriel in the heavens.

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Phoebe Jacobs: We have things for purchase relative to Louis, 718-478-8274. That's the telephone number of the Louis Armstrong House and Archives. They have a shop in the house where they sell CD's, tapes, and they have a catalogue. You can call to make an appointment to see the house. People come from all world. It's www.satchmo.net.

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Baltimore, Md.: Thanks for sharing your expertise with us. I read a biography of Louis Armstrong called In His Own Words. In it, I was surprised to find that Louis greatly appreciated Guy Lombardo and his band. This came as a shock to me, because the syrupy qualities of the Lombardo band are so dissimilar to the more raw sound of Armstrong. Yet he identified himself and his music more with Lombardo than with "beboppers," as he called them. Was his sound the result of his attempt and failure to sound saccharine? I am interested in your opinion of his intent as an artist ... the results speak for themselves.

Stanley Crouch: Well, everyone is fascinated by this because Guy Lomardo neither sounded good nor swung. But Armstrong always sounded good and always swung, so it's one of the mysteries of individual taste.

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Phoebe Jacobs: When I was working for Pops I asked him How could you dig Guy Lomardo? And he said, "the man gets the melody right".

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Herndon, Va.: I had the privilege (and it was a privilege) to hear Mr. Armstrong in concert in the mid-60s. As an aspiring trumpeter at the time, it was awesome to hear him play. One matter which was well-covered in your outstanding documentary, but which is often forgotten - his influence on singers -- from Bing Crosby to Frank Sinatra and so many others in the US, to others all over the world. I remember a news story a few years ago about a Russian singer whose popularity was based mainly on imitating Louis!

Stanley Crouch: Tony Bennett basically said, he said that they all come from him. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet himself, anyone who sings American music sounds like him. He's the father of them all.

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Phoebe Jacobs: I wanted to say to all the fans out there enjoying Louis, Louis is forever. People might tell you he's dead, but he's not. His music is going to be around for a very long time. And we have found the music is therapeutic, for all people, the music is very helpful. Louis used to say, a note is a note in any language. Thank you very much!

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washingtonpost.com: Next week's American Masters film, "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey," airs on Wednesday, July 13, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). A Live Online discussion with George Stevens, Jr. will follow on Thursday, July 14, at Noon ET. 

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Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


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