THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG 'SPECIAL' TRUMPET
AT THE JAZZ CENTRE UK
The Selmer ‘Louis Armstrong Special’ trumpet is one of The Jazz Centre UK’s most prized possessions. It was acquired by Digby Fairweather, following its advertisement by a collector as for sale in ‘Jazz Journal’ in 1987 and bears the unique hallmarks of the trumpet-model that Armstrong - aptly described by Wynton Marsalis as ‘The Shakespeare of Jazz’ - played from 1933 until his death in August 1971; a total of thirty-eight years. By 1932 Armstrong had already formed a regular professional relationship with the French-based Selmer musical instrument company (f.1885) playing its ‘Challenger’ trumpet on his first visit to Britain’s London Palladium in August 1932.
Eight months later on April 24th 1933 Armstrong would also record his vaudeville classic ‘Laughin’ Louis’on which he announces that he is going to play his Selmer trumpet (‘bless its little heart’); effectively his first on-record endorsement of the company. Armstrong authority Ricky Riccardi believes this to have been prompted by Armstrong’s first trip to Europe in 1932 where he received a Selmer trumpet (now on display at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona New York) from King George 5th. However the ‘Special’ instrument , produced by the Selmer company in 1933 as the ‘Louis Armstrong balanced-action trumpet’ may possibly have been another reason for Louis to celebrate his new business partnership on record.
The instrument dedicated to his name bears the signature features of (1) a circular ‘pinky ring’ for the fourth finger of the player’s left hand placed underneath the instrument’s third-valve tuning slide, and (2) - and most notably - the forward placement of the instrument’s three valves bringing them further away from its mouthpiece (and therefore the player) and much closer to its flared bell.
Armstrong may be seen on film playing ‘Dinah’ and ‘I cover the waterfront’ on his newly-designed instrument in 1933 during a Copenhagen concert and later publicity pictures of Armstrong universally show him playing the identical model.
Early editions of the trumpet have ‘Balance: Louis Armstrong’ engraved at the bottom on the instrument’s central valve but the Centre’s model also has ‘Louis Armstrong Special’ engraved on the flared tubing leading up to its engraved bell. In February 1946,
Armstrong’s manager and close friend, Joe Glaser, wrote to Selmer Instrument Company to ask for a new trumpet custom-made for Armstrong’s personal use. Selmer agreed and presented him with a personally-inscribed Selmer B-flat trumpet which however was not mass-produced but which may be seen (again) in various incarnations at the Louis Armstrong House Museum.
A RECOUNT OF THE ACQUISITION
RECOUNT BY DIGBY FAIRWEATHER
"I was at The National Jazz Archive (which Digby Founded in 1988) thumbing through a copy of Jazz Journal and in the little advertisements at the back it said ‘Louis Armstrong’s Trumpet for sale £175. Well, you’d never seen a man move so fast. I zipped down the stairs at the Library, across London and caught the train to Seven Oaks.
I met with this remarkable man which I quite easily could have dreamed of. When I went into his sitting room he had endless beautiful antique trumpets and he took Louis down from the shelf and said; “The Louis Armstrong Special”. It was the trumpet that Louis designed originally in 1934 with a wonderful man called Henri Selmer, an instrument designer in Paris. Because Louis was the up and coming superstar of the Trumpet, they collaborated to build this trumpet.
Until he died in 1971, Louis Armstrong had a new trumpet from Henri Selmer Paris every year and he played it on every one of his records."