Darnel Louis Armstrong, the innovative trumpet player known for revolutionizing jazz, was bom in New Orleans, where his parents divorced when he was five. Living in a ghetto of the city where he was poorly educated, Armstrong was thrown into the Waifs Home for Boys when he fired a pis¬ tol into the air on New Year’s Eve. He was 12 years old, and this unfortunate circum¬ stance was the event that turned his life around.
While in the boys’ home, Armstrong met Peter Davis, a comet player who taught Louis how to play his first instmment. By the time he was released at age 15, Arm¬ strong was a fine enough comet player to become a student of Joe “King” Oliver.
Oliver was a popular jazz cometist who not only taught Armstrong the tmmpet, for which he would become famous, but pro¬ cured him occasional gigs with Kid Oiy’s Band. Until 1919, Armstrong played as Oliver’s backup, even taking his place when Oliver was out of town on tour. In 1922, Oliver and Armstrong paired up again in Chicago, this time playing on stage side by side.
By 1924, when Armstrong took a job with the Fletcher Henderson Band in New York, jazz enthusiasts were already saying that Armstrong was the better player. By the time he returned to Chicago and organized his own band, the “Hot Five,” word had spread that he was the best in America.
The “Hot Five” grew into the “Hot Sev¬ en,” and songs like “Heebie Jeebies” and “West End Blues” became hits favored in America and abroad. After starring in the musical Hot Chocolates in New York, he traveled to Europe, playing for King George VI, and a crowd of over 100,000 in Ghana in 1960.
Affectionately nicknamed “Satchel- mouth,” and later “Satchmo,” while per¬ forming at the London Palladium in 1932, Armstrong gained a notoriety, respect and familiarity amongst his fans, both for his personality and his musical definition of the black American soul.
Respected as a masterful soloist, known internationally for his manner, and nick¬ named “The Ambassador of Good Will,” for his effect on audiences, Armstrong con¬ tinued to expand musically. His experi¬ ments brought new respect to the culture that had given the world its most soulful and celebratory sounds.
Hugues Panassie, noted expert on jazz, said of him: “The whole of jazz music was transformed by Louis, overthrown by his genius. In Louis Armstrong’s music is the New Orleans style at its peak, and also the basis of almost all styles that were derived from it, directly or indirectly….”
Armstrong’s creative style surpassed even his instrument. Traveling throughout the world, Armstrong kept evolving, pro¬ ducing a new form of singing called “scat”, in which simple syllables and their rhythms become the lyrics, making the voice an instrument of music that communicates through sounds instead of words.