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Against All Odds : The Louis Armstrong Story

Written by Sheeba Manish

The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky,
Are also on the faces of the people passing by,
I see friends shaking hands, sayin’ “How do you do?”
They’re really sayin’, “I love you”.
I hear babies cryin’. I watch them grow.
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

From What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong

An imporvished childhood in New Orleans, abandoned by father, handed over to grandparents by mother, studied in a Boys home for orphans, delivering newspapers, hauling coals and saved by the trumpet.

A young Louis Armstrong Image courtsey: jazzjournal.co.uk

A young Louis Armstrong
Image courtsey: jazzjournal.co.uk

The one thing that Louis Armstrong hung on to from his young life was his trumpet. He played it so well in his school band that he led the group’s marching band to church every Sunday. His education included the dance and music of dance houses where he went to deliver coal. He quit school at eleven and played the cornet with three other boys who sang for money.

A Jewish family, Karnofskys gave Armstrong odd jobs and lessons on how to live despite discrimination of the worst kind. Louis picked up music not from a music school but from musicians who played for a living. He was part of a steamboat band that played as travellers went up and down the river.

He taught himself to read music, and rose to be an all time great with hits such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Dream a little Dream for me, Stompin’ at the Savoy among others.

His wonderful gravelly voice is an anytime treat. Blank on Blank has animated one of his interviews with James R. Stein and Michael Eisner who were 14 and a half and fifteen respectively when they met Armstrong for an interview for their school newspaper. Clad in boxers before an outdoor concert, Louis Armstrong explains how he rehearses for an hour atleast even in his heyday to maintain his ‘chops’. Chops was the technical skill of a jazz musician.

The importance of daily practice, rigour and discipline while practicing his craft comes through. Aspiring musicians, artists can draw strength on the importance of practice from the awe inspiring Armstrong, who overcame poverty, neglect with his musical rigour. He did this amidst daily struggles for a livelyhood, poverty and other difficult circumstances.

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