THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG COLLECTION ON DISPLAY AT THE JAZZ CENTRE UK
Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) was the first great jazz trumpet soloist (and singer) and is still regularly regarded as the greatest jazz musician of all time. With his eighty-nine ‘Hot Five’ and ‘Hot Seven’ recordings between 1925-7 Louis (pronounced ‘Lewis but also fondly recalled as ‘Satchmo’ or ‘Pops’) was the first to elevate the art of the improvised jazz solo to symphonic compositional level. And his wondrous creations on light-hearted titles like ‘Potato Head Blues’ (1927) as well as ‘Two Deuces’ and phenomenal ‘West End Blues’ (both 1928) are nonetheless some of the greatest jazz on record.
For the next four decades Louis – a genius who saw no barriers between his public or the matter of keeping up with the musical times – continued to record right up to one year before his death. His last album ‘Louis Armstrong and his Friends’ includes Harry Nilsson’s ‘Everybody’s talkin’ and John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and in the meantime he had knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts in 1964 with ‘Hello Dolly’ and appeared in the movie-musical with Barbra Streisand (1969).
Amid a fifty year career of unequalled musical creativity he was a (benevolent) musical pioneer for Black rights, appearing in films on radio and TV, constantly touring with his big band (1930-47) and then his justly-named ‘All Stars’ (1947-71). In the meantime he produced endless on-record masterpieces; not only the pop tunes of the day (complete with trumpet solos of shining creativity) but also countless definitive jazz albums including his salutes to W.C. Handy (1954) Fats Waller (1955-6) and his ‘Musical Autobiography’ (complete with commentary, 1956-7). Today Louis’ house on 107th Street Corona New York is a public monument and memorial to his incomparable career and his life’s work has been documented in essential books by Ricky Riccardi (‘What a Wonderful World’ and ‘Heartful of Rhythm’) and Terry Teachout (‘Pops; a Life of Louis Armstrong’).
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THE STORY BEHIND THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG 'SPECIAL' TRUMPET
ON DISPLAY 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
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".