Monday, August 24, 2015

"Satchmo" by Louis Armstrong (1954)

This is the book which opened up the world of coin collecting to me as a hobby. I was 11 years old at the time I first read it. That was in 1965 and the book had been out since 1954, the year in which I was born. From the very first page, when the reader is told that Mr. Armstrong was born in 1900, I had to have an Indian Head penny with that date. Not a brand new shiny one; that would never do. I wanted a used and slightly worn one, in the hope that this may have been one of those which had been tossed at Louis Armstrong when he played the streets and honky tonks in New Orleans.

The amazing thing to me is that the book is written so vividly that my memories are pretty much in line with the book I just re-read.  All of the color and noise of New Orleans at the turn of the century ring from Mr. Armstrong’s unique prose and his keen sense of observation.

Born the son a big hearted woman and a no count father he never really knew; he was roaming the streets of the city, absorbing the sights and sounds. When he was about 8 he fired a pistol on New Year’s Eve and was sent to the Waifs Home for several years. It was there he first came in contact with the coronet through the school’s band. In short time he was the leader of that band.

Upon release he worked with a mule cart, delivering coal and playing music at night. During the last days of Storyville and the vice crackdown in World War One, he was playing with some of the original greats; particularly Kid Orley and King Oliver; his boyhood idol.

By the early 1920’s he was playing with the King in Chicago; never looking back. This book covers only the first years of Louis Armstrong’s life. It was written in 1954. He wrote one more in the late 1960’s covering the rest of his remarkable career. Both books are equally candid and informative, and I recommend them both highly.

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