Music: Louis the First

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In November 1917, with the U.S. at war, Storyville and jazz were handed a stunning jolt. At the Navy's request, New Orleans clamped down on the disease-ridden "District," put it permanently out of business. New Orleans witnessed an exodus unique in U.S. history. Hundreds of prostitutes streamed from their cribs carrying their belongings. Establishments like Lulu White's renowned Mahogany Hall (one of Louis' most prized recordings is Mahogany Hall Stomp) closed for good, and so did scores of "in mills and honky-tonks that had prepared a home for jazz music and jobs for its musicians.

In the dispersal that followed, some Storyville musicians put away their instruments for factory work and many moved away. A few, like Joe Oliver, headed north for Chicago. But Satchmo Armstrong stayed on in New Orleans for a while. With Oliver gone, Louis began to get his due as the finest cornet in town. At 18 he married a girl named Daisy Parker and bought himself a membership in the Zulus.

Life with Daisy had its ups & downs, and on a Mardi Gras day just 30 years ago, Daisy threatened Satchmo with a razor as he stood at the corner of Liberty and Perdido Streets in full Zulu court regalia. Louis had had enough. He took a job playing with Fate Marable's band on the Mississippi River excursion boats Dixie Bell and Sidney. The pay was the unheard of (for Satchmo) sum of $55 a week. Says he: "I had so much money I just plain didn't know what to do with it." They played such old Storyville favorites as Sugar Foot Stomp, Willie the Weeper and Coal Cart Blues, and Louis held the gay crowds spellbound when he sang the relatively new Basin Street Blues:

Won't-cha come along wit' me

To the Mississippi?

We'll take the boat—to the Ian' of dreams,

Steam down the river, down to New Orleans.

Joe Sent for Me. Armstrong's two years on river boats spread his fame up & down the Mississippi. When he came back to New Orleans, he was met at the landing by cheering crowds. Among them, a young white trombone player from Texas named Jack Teagarden waited at the gangway to say hello, asked to shake hands with Louis. Teagarden, soon to become a great name in jazz himself, remembers his first look at Louis: "[He] wasn't much to look at. Just a little guy with a big mouth. But, man, how he could blow that horn!" Louis soon found that his horn had been heard all the way to Chicago: Joe Oliver sent for him and in 1922 Louis went north—in a land just getting used to flappers, bathtub gin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Warren G. Harding and jazz itself.

Armstrong bowled them over in Chicago. His tone was unsurpassed for purity —and stayed that way even up around F and G above high C; he had such sheer power that he could blow as many as 300 ceiling notes in succession. The songs that came from his shiny horn ranged from the most mournful of blues to the explosive abandon of numbers like Muskrat Ramble.

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