Music: Louis the First

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City Full of Jazz. At night, the hot, insistent rhythm came at him from every direction. In the daytime, there was jazz in the streets. Band members would pile into advertising wagons (with the trombonist on the tail gate for freedom of reach) and engage in music battles with other bands; the winner was chosen by acclamation and rode off with crowds following. At Negro funerals, the bands played to & from the cemetery—doleful spirituals on the way out, such frenzied affirmations as High Society and Oh, Didn't He Ramble! on the way back.

Louis listened to all of the Negro jazz pioneers: men like Clarinetists Alphonse Picou and Sidney Bechet, Trombonist Kid Ory, Pianist Jelly Roll Morton and Cornetist Bunk Johnson. But Cornetist Joe ("King") Oliver was his favorite: "Soon as I heard him I said 'there's mah man!'" At first, Louis just listened. He ran errands, hawked bananas, ground up old brick and sold it to prostitutes for scouring their front steps on Saturday mornings. When he was eleven, he also started a street quartet in which he sang tenor, picked up loose change by serenading through the red-light district. Says Armstrong: "A drunk come along, and maybe he'd give us a dollar. The grown folks were workin' for a dollar a day then." Only his mother was still calling him Little Louie. To everyone else he was Dippennouth or Satchelmouth. Satchelmouth was soon shortened to Satchmo, and it stuck. (Armstrong still favors the name, has emblazed it on his stationery. His specially blended cologne is Satchmo.)

In the quartet Little Louis was a tenor, but his ambition in 1913 was to sing bass. His change of mind began one New Year's Eve, when he was twelve. To celebrate, he had hauled his father's old .38 revolver out to the street and fired it off. He was picked up and taken to juvenile court where, he remembers, the magistrate told him that while he wasn't a bad boy he might get to be one if he kept playing around Perdido Street at night. Louis was packed off to ihe Colored Waif's Home for Boys, a New Orleans reform school.

Whatever he felt about the place then, he now remembers the Waif's Home with great affection. "I could do just about what I wanted and we ate regular. I feel at home there even now. I might end up there an old man some day, seein' over those boys like Professor Davis did." Best of all for Louis, "Professor" Davis taught him to read music a bit, and play, first the tambourine and drums, then the bugle, finally a battered pawnshop cornet. Unable to keep the small, smooth mouthpiece on his big lips at first, Louis filed grooves in it and mastered Home, Sweet Home.

Mahogany Exodus. Louis was a natural. He could blow clear and true, hitting the notes hard and clean. He never had to squeeze for a high one. But for three years after he got out of the Waif's Home (his mother got "a big white man" to spring him), he was too busy driving a coal wagon to blow a note. Then one night Bunk Johnson didn't turn up, and Louis sat in for him (for $1.25 a night) at Matranga's joint on Perdido Street; even the great Joe ("there's mah man") Oliver came around to listen.

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