Music / Louis Armstrong

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"He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone along the way."

Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong (August 4th 1901 — July 6th 1971) was a massively influential Jazz musician. Born in New Orleans, he learned how to play the trumpet and cornet, and engaged in a fifty-year career in jazz. He is considered the Trope Codifier for many basic elements of jazz, including improvisation and scat singing.

Nowadays, his most well-known contribution to pop culture is the song "What A Wonderful World", which is frequently used for soundtrack dissonance.

He was the first African-American to host a nationally broadcast radio show in the The Thirties. He's also had several film appearances such as High Society and the film version of Hello, Dolly!, and a few where he played himself: New Orleans, The Five Pennies and A Song Is Born.

Note that although he's commonly known these days as Louie Armstrong, most jazz aficionados are careful to pronounce his first name "Lewis". This can be Serious Business among those who see the "Louie" nickname as cartoonish and disrespectful - as did Armstrong himself.

Not to be confused with the muscle-bound Strong-Arm Alchemist whose skills were passed down through the Armstrong line for generations!!

Songs Of note:

  • West End Blues
  • Struttin' With Some Barbecue
  • Stardust
  • What A Wonderful World
  • When The Saints Go Marching In
  • Dream A Little Dream Of Me
  • Ain't Misbehavin'
  • Stompin' At The Savoy
  • (What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue
  • We Have All The Time In The World
  • Hello, Dolly!
  • Heebie Jeebies
  • St. James Infirmary
  • Mack the Knife


Albums Of note:


Tropes found in his music and career include:

  • As Himself: Appeared in a lot of movies, but mostly played himself.
  • Big Band: Although he preferred to play in smaller groups, he was one of the big band leaders of the 1940s.
  • Broken Smile: His performance at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival was some variation of this. He was the honored guest of the performance, and despite his failing health he elected to go against his Doctor's Orders and sing at it. The whole performance shows him alternating between his trademark cheery smile and being overcome with emotion and sobbing, all while never missing a note in the song. There is documentary footage of him being interviewed before the performance, breaking into tears at the thought of going on that stage without singing.
  • Chart Displacement: Today his best known song is What a Wonderful World. While the song topped the charts in the UK, it was a flop within his lifetime in the US, and didn't really become popular until its inclusion in the film Good Morning Vietnam in 1988 (the events of which took place two years before the song was recorded). His actual signature song was When it's Sleepy Time Down South.
  • Concept Album: The Real Ambassadors.
  • Cool Old Guy: Well duh. In 1964 he kicked The Beatles out of the #1 spot with "Hello Dolly!" He was 63! The BEATLES!
  • Crossover: Recorded duets with Ella Fitzgerald and made an album with Duke Ellington.
  • Cover Version
  • Cut Song: Ain't It The Truth from Cabin In The Sky.
  • Deep South: Loved to evoke imagery from the American South in his music, like When It's Sleepy Time Down South.
  • Epic Swinging
  • Expository Theme Tune: High Society Calypso for the 1956 film ''High Society'.
  • Follow the Leader: He had what historians refer to as a "Gravity of Style" which caused musicians to emulate the way he played, whether they were conscious of it or not. As such, his influence on Jazz as a whole cannot possibly be overstated.
  • Guttural Growler: Armstrong's singing voice was famously gravelly, but no less expressive for that. It was less so when he was a young man — his 1928 wordless vocal duet with the clarinet in 'West End Blues' will convince anyone that he was a great singer.
  • Iconic Outfit: His blue and/or black suit, white handkerchief in one hand, trumpet in the other.
  • Improv: Armstrong is the first great jazz improviser on record. Since jazz is characterised by lots of improvisation, this makes Armstrong the first great jazz musician on record. Trope Codifier, indeed.
  • Instrumental: His trumpet solos were often this.
  • It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: As mentioned above, Armstrong was insistent on pronouncing his first name "Lewis" rather than the diminutive "Louie," making the latter a bit of a Fandom Berserk Button today. Ironically, seeing that Louis is a French name it's supposed to be pronounced Louie.
  • Jazz: Synonymous with the genre.
  • Large Ham: Enjoyed clowning it up in front of the camera.
  • Location Song: "West End Blues", "St. Louis Blues", "When It's Sleepy Time Down South", all nostalgic and melancholic tracks and songs about these locations.
  • Mammy: Character in When It's Sleepy Time Down South.
  • Mondegreen
  • Mood Whiplash: See Broken Smile above.
  • Music of Note: To many listeners, Louis Armstrong defines the entire genre of Jazz.
  • Murder Ballad: Mack The Knife, You Rascal You. It's been noted that in Armstrong's early years playing sleazy dives in New Orleans, he would have known plenty of Mack the Knifes.
  • Rags to Riches: Grew up in a poor black neighbourhood, managed to become an internationally famous musical superstar despite racial discrimination and prejudices, as well as respected as an innovative, influential and creative artist and died rich.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: Frank's Place used Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?.
  • Rivals Team Up: Duke Ellington wasn't exactly a rival to Armstrong as they weren't competing with each other, but the one album that they made together, 1961's The Great Summit, contains much awesomeness of the kind invoked by this trope.
  • Rugged Scar: Armstrong's lips were heavily scarred. Constant trumpet-playing caused him to grow calluses on his lips that would interfere with his playing, so to deal with them, he'd cut the calluses off with a razor blade, leaving scars. Eventually he had to stop playing altogether. Needless to say, trumpet players are not advised to do what he did.
  • The Sacred Darkness: "The dark sacred night" is mentioned in "What a Wonderful World."
  • Singing Simlish: Trope Codifier of the "scat" technique of singing that uses nonsense syllables on improvised vocal lines.
  • Something Blues: West End Blues, Potatohead Blues,...
  • Soprano and Gravel: Armstrong's collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald. Possibly the Ur-Example.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: He was from New Orleans, but in addition to being a musical genius, Armstrong was a lifelong reader and talented, idiosyncratic writer who carried a dictionary with him on tour. He's one of the few great jazz musicians to have a distinctive literary style, and the only one whose Selected Writings are published by Oxford University Press.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Fallout 2 uses A Kiss To Build A Dream On in the beginning.
    • Likewise, the titular Invisible Man of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man plays Armstrong's version of (What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue in the novel's introduction.
  • Took a Level in Cheerfulness: His public persona was being a man who was eternally happy and joyful. Yet he could also play and sing melancholic tunes, like Black And Blue.
  • Uncle Tom Foolery: The always jolly Armstrong was often accused of doing this, but jazz critic Gary Giddins has retorted that to dislike or resent Armstrong's eternally cheerful demeanour is to diminish him as an artist by refusing to allow him to be himself; Armstrong projected confidence and warmth without ever losing dignity.
    • He also famously spoke out on the enforced school segregation in Arkansas in 1957, saying Dwight D. Eisenhower had "no guts" and calling the governor a "no-good motherfucker."
    • That said, it must be noted that many of his mannerisms on stage descended directly from Minstrelsy. In particular, the handkerchief which never left his hand; coming from the minstrel tradition of blackfaced characters making a show of how hard they were working to entertain their (white) audience. However these were mannerisms which nearly all black musicians of his era adopted to some degree, and much of the criticism that they earned him came from the fact that Armstrong's career lasted so much longer than most of his black contemporaries and he never changed his behavior.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Addiction was an epidemic within jazz music circles. Many succumbed to alcoholism, or turned to even harder drugs like heroin. Armstrong, however, was addicted to laxatives.

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