Music: Louis the First

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The King alone drinks champagne, and a flunky keeps his cup filled all day. When the spirit moves him, his majesty throws largess in the form of coconuts; Louis has stocked more than 2,000 of them. Waiting for him on a reviewing stand in front of the Gertrude Geddes Willis Funeral Home stands the Zulus' Queen (this year, attractive, brown-skinned Bernice Oxley, ticket taker at the Ace Theater). In a room where the caskets have been pushed back to the wall, she receives her lord's champagne toast. After the parade the long night of jazz-filled, carnival pandemonium begins.

To his worried wife Lucille, who wonders how she can stay in touch with him through all this, 1949's King grandly replies: "Baby, just follow the crowd."

Telling What Comes Naturally. In that crowd there will be many who remember Louis Armstrong and his music, for he and New Orleans jazz grew up together. Louis says: "Jazz and I grew up side by side when we were poor." The wonder is that both jazz and Louis emerged from streets of brutal poverty and professional vice—jazz to become an exciting art, Louis to be hailed almost without dissent as its greatest creator-practitioner.

A generation of quibbling, cult-minded, critical cognoscenti has called New Orleans jazz many things, from "a rich and frequently dissonant polyphony" to "this dynamism [which] interprets life at its maximum intensity." But Louis grins wickedly and says: "Man, when you got to ask what is it, you'll never get to know." In his boyhood New Orleans, jazz was simply a story told in strongly rhythmic song, pumped out "from the heart" with a nervous, exciting beat. To Trumpeter Louis, jazz is still storytelling: "I like to tell them things that come naturally."

Up from Jane Alley. From the place Louis and jazz were born, there was no direction to move but up. The music, at first a restless, syncopated blend of African dance rhythms, Negro blues, brass-band marches, and French Creole songs and dances, spent its raucous teens in brothels, cheap saloons and street parades. Armstrong came up from Jane Alley, a squalid, "back-o'-town" lane in what was then the toughest section of uptown Negro New Orleans. His parents were the nearly illiterate grandchildren of slaves, his father a worker in a turpentine factory, his mother a domestic. Never quiet, Jane Alley became a bloody ground on Saturday nights with razors flashing in the darkness and drunken curses ripping through the night. In the morning, police would come by to pick up casualties.

When Louis was five his mother took him away from Jane Alley, moved some 18 blocks to Liberty Street, near Perdido in the old third ward. Socially it was the shortest of steps, but it was up, and for Louis it was decisive: near by were the Fisk School, where he learned to read & write, and honky-tonks like Sicilian Henry Matranga's place and thickly packed Funky Butt Hall, where both the syncopation and the dancing were strident and brassy.

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