Satchmo at the Waldorf

The Shakespeare & Company/Long Wharf Theatre Production of SATCHMO AT THE WALDORF
by Terry Teachout
directed by Gordon Edelstein
starring John Douglas Thompson
November 16, 2012December 2, 2012

On Louis Armstrong


Louis Armstrong, also Known as Satchmo - short for “satchel-mouth” Ambassador Satch, Satch, Satchmo the great, Dippermouth, Dipper, and Pops was one of the greatest Jazz musicians of the twentieth century. He is still known for his big smile, magnificent trumpet playing and unique voice. Born in New Orleans sometime around July 1, 1900 and died in Queens in 1971, Armstrong lived an extraordinary life. Duke Ellington said of him that “He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone on the way.”

Armstrong began playing the horn at the ‘Colored Waif’s Home’ just outside of New Orleans when he was a young boy.  He was sent to the home for setting off a firecracker in the street. While he was out of the home he had to work to support himself and his mother. He shoveled coal and worked for a local Jewish family that was particularly kind to him. As he grew older, he started playing his horn with local jazz groups and at clubs.  He began to play with Joe “King” Oliver, who became a mentor to Armstrong.

Eventually he moved to Chicago to play at clubs there as a part of Joe Oliver’s band. He played at the Sunset Café, owned by Joe Glaser. Glaser advertised Armstrong as the best trumpet player in the world, despite protests that a black man could not possibly be the best. Armstrong accidentally wound up getting wrapped up in some trouble with the mob because of his management.  Armstrong was stuck and wound up calling up Joe Glaser for help.  From then on Glaser was Armstrong’s manager and friend. He ran the business side of things and Armstrong focused on his music.  Glaser kept Armstrong on the road year round, entertaining around the world. With Glaser’s guidance Armstrong’s fame grew and grew.

Armstrong was married four times and said he found the one on the fourth, Lucille. They settled in a house in Queens while Louis wasn’t on the road. The house still exists as a Louis Armstrong museum. It is covered with handmade collages Louis made along with the stacks upon stacks of recordings of music and stories. He was also a prolific writer. He constantly wrote letters, essays and stories that are mostly preserved today.

Over the course of his career Armstrong played with Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and many more. He knocked the Beatles off the top of the Billboard charts with his rendition of “Hello Dolly” and entertained millions of people worldwide.



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