In his first two books, Thomas Brothers explores Louis Armstrong's personal writings (Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words) and the environment and historical forces that shaped Armstrong's early years (Louis Armstrong's New Orleans). In his latest book, Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, Brothers follows Armstrong to Chicago, where the trumpeter became famous and entered his peak period of creative output.
"It's a decade when he moves from being a musician who is basically an apprentice soloist in 1923 to being an all-star in the South Side of Chicago within the African-American community," Brothers says. "Then by the end of the decade, he's starting to step into nationwide white audiences, and by 1932 he has become the best seller in phonograph recordings in the entire country in all genres of music."
Brothers, a music professor at Duke University, discusses Master of Modernism and the pivotal decade in Armstrong's life in a seminar (11:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 1) at the Satchmo SummerFest (July 31-Aug. 3). The talk is part of the event's annual scholarly conference, which is accompanied by three days of music at the Old U.S. Mint, a new photo exhibition and more.
In his book, Brothers examines Armstrong's music, with close looks at many of his early recordings, including "Big Butter and Egg Man," "Cornet Chop Suey" and "Ain't Misbehavin'." The book also examines Armstrong's increasing fame in the context of social changes, especially African-American migration out of the South to Chicago and northern cities in the 1920s. For Armstrong, jazz went from being music he played in New Orleans street parades to an attraction in Chicago's refined show business. Armstrong soon moved to New York, where he lived for the rest of his life, sold records prolifically and influenced American popular music. In Master of Modernism, Brothers considers many forces that influenced Louis Armstrong's musical output, including race.
"In the 1920s, African-Americans are moving from the South to the urban North in massive numbers ... and they're looking for some kind of culture that will articulate their upward mobility, and this is exactly what Armstrong provides for them," Brothers says. "[Armstrong's] music is so deeply rooted in what I call the African-American vernacular — it's identifiably black. But it's also extremely sophisticated, and it can compete with white music on terms set by white music. The combination is very powerful."
Other talks at the festival include an introduction to Mosaic Records' nine-CD boxed set of Armstrong recordings by co-producer and Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi. In a separate seminar, Riccardi screens footage of Satchmo's TV appearances in the 1970s. Bruce Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, discusses the relationship between Storyville, New Orleans' red-light district, and early jazz musicians and the myth that the district's official shuttering in 1917 compelled musicians including Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and others to leave New Orleans. Michael Cogswell, director of Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, New York, explores Armstrong's love of food through photos, menus Armstrong saved and other personal items. There's even a scholars all-star band, featuring Riccardi, Raeburn and frequent festival speaker Dan Morgenstern, which will play members' favorite Armstrong tunes. For a full schedule of seminars, visit www.fqfi.org/satchmo.
The festival features three days of free live music on two stages. Performers include Yoshio Toyama (3:45 p.m. Saturday), known as the "Satchmo of Japan." Friday's lineup includes PresHall Brass, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Clive Wilson's Satchmo Serenade, R&B crooner John Boutte, drummer Shannon Powell and his Traditional All-Stars, chanteuse Charmaine Neville and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. On Saturday, there's Glen David Andrews, Treme Brass Band, clarinetist Evan Christopher, Lars Edegran's New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra and the Brass-A-Holics. Sunday features Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, trumpeter Mark Braud's New Orleans Jazz Giants, trumpeter Jeremy Davenport, guitarist Carl LeBlanc and a Louis Armstrong trumpet tribute.
The festival also features kids' activities on the second floor of the Mint. There are children's books about Louis Armstrong presented by the New Orleans Public Library, craft stations featuring instrument making, second-line umbrella decoration, coconut decoration with the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club's Junior Zulus and more.
The Louisiana State Museum opens an exhibition featuring instruments played by Armstrong and other celebrated New Orleans artists, and photographs drawn from the Louisiana State Museum's extensive jazz collections. Admission to the exhibit is free.
"What's so special about Satchmo SummerFest is that every single minute of every single day is all about Louis Armstrong," says Marci Shramm, executive director of French Quarter Festivals. "This festival is kind of a Mecca for people who love Louis Armstrong and who love New Orleans traditional jazz."