LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK & BLUES (2022, doc)

October 27, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s likely that the vast majority of folks ten years of age and older have heard, and are familiar with, Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, “Hello Dolly”, and “When the Saints Go Marching In”. In director Sacha Jenkins’ homage to this icon of American music, Wynton Marsalis states Armstrong deserves even more credit for his influence in jazz. The film offers an in-depth look at Armstrong’s life through his own personal archives – a library of audio tapes and years of meticulous scrapbooking.

We learn of his ties to both New Orleans, where he was raised in poverty, and Queens, where he lived much of his adult life. Of course, he frequently encountered prejudices and racism – often unable to sleep or eat at the establishments where he was performing. Even many blacks criticized him for not being more active in the Civil Rights Movement. Armstrong’s approach was to donate to causes rather than preach, as he knew the power his words would carry. As a kid, he delivered coal to brothels, and it was at age 13 in an orphanage where he received his first horn. Later, he originated scat and his improvisation influenced others, while hitting those high notes became his calling card.

Known to most as either “Satchmo” or “Pops”, Armstrong’s musical instincts and talent were second to none. It’s fascinating to hear James Baldwin state that the first time he liked the “Star Spangled Banner” was when he heard Armstrong play it. We learn of his four wives, though only two are mentioned by name: Lil, the piano player was his first, while Lucille was his last. His personality made Armstrong a hit on TV talk shows and in Hollywood movies. However, the most impactful moments may be watching him prove how music can cross racial barriers as evidenced by his time on stage with Jack Teagarden and Danny Kaye. Louis Armstrong’s sparkling eyes and magnetic smile invited us in, but it’s his music that takes over … even 50 years after his death.

Jenkins’ informative documentary is filled with beautiful music and premieres on Apple TV+ beginning October 28, 2022