Saturday, 19 January 2019

Dead Poets Society #88 Gerard Manley Hopkins: Windhover

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Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins
To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
   dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
   As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
   Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
   Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
   Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Wednesday night's set lists at The Habit, York

Set 1:
Once An Angel
Need Your Love So Bad
Never Let Her Slip Away

Set 2:
I Don't Want To Talk About It
Harvest Moon

Ron threw a sickie with the virus that has caught out so many recently. Get well soon Ron!

During setup the place was virtually empty, but by the time we were ready to start it was absolutely heaving. Not having too many players initially meant that set lists were extended from the usual 2 to 3 songs. Highlight of the night was a young student from Japan who introduced himself as Ken, a drummer in a band back home, saying that he had been to The Habit a couple of weeks ago and had been inspired to play guitar. So after just 2 weeks practice he pitched up with an original English....and carried it off perfectly - to a standing ovation. Open mic heaven. Once everyone had had a turn those remaining were asked if they would like to come back for another song. I was given the honour of closing the show (Set 2).

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The Genius of Georges Simenon...

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David Hare: the genius of Georges Simenon
As he brings one of the crime writer’s novels to the National stage, David Hare reveals why he loves the pithy, power-obsessed creator of Maigret

David Hare
The Guardian
Sun 25 Sep 2016

Like many bookish children, I grew up consuming detective fiction more than any other kind. Even then I had noticed that stories supposedly driven by narrative depended for their real vitality on establishing ambience. Crime writing came to life when it had density, when you felt that the paint was being laid on thick. A strong sense of time and place was far more exciting than a clever puzzle. Anyone could create a mystery, but only the best could summon up a world in which the mystery could take root.

My taste in literary fiction – I read every word of Patrick Hamilton and Graham Greene – was towards those authors whose techniques most closely resembled those of thriller writers. When, at university, I came across WH Auden’s suggestion that Raymond Chandler’s books “should be read and judged, not as escape literature, but as works of art”, I was bewildered. It had never occurred to me that thrillers were anything less. By then I had already graduated from Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers to Dashiell Hammett and the chill ambiguity of Patricia Highsmith. But when I discovered that the author of the Maigret series – which I knew chiefly through the BBC television series with Rupert Davies – was also the author of stand-alone novels, my expectations of the genre changed and expanded. These books belonged more alongside Camus and Sartre than Arthur Conan Doyle. The popular joke in Le Canard enchaîné that “M Simenon makes his living by killing someone every month and then discovering the murderer” seemed nothing more than that. A joke.

It’s symptomatic of our misunderstanding of the unique Georges Simenon that so many people believe he was French. In fact, he was Belgian, born in Liège in 1903 and brought up in a poorly defined country that had often suffered under occupation. In Belgium, few people fostered illusions about national greatness. “Under occupation,” he wrote, “your overwhelming concern is with what you will eat.” Simenon’s background, and his lifelong feeling that he was disliked by his mother, left him with the aim of developing, equally as a writer and as a man, a wholly undeluded view of life. As he later observed: “It must be great to belong to a group, a nation, a class. It would give you a feeling of superiority. If you’re alone you’re not superior to anyone.” Or as he put it rather more bitterly: “During earthquakes and wars and floods and shipwrecks you see a love between men that you don’t see at any other time.”

In fact, he could hardly have been less French. What Frenchman or woman would speak of their loathing of gastronomy – “all that terrible fussing about what you eat”? What French writer or politician would agree that “every ideal ends in a fierce struggle against those who do not share it?” Simenon was particularly horrified by Charles de Gaulle’s pretence that the French had won the war. The untruth offended him. Simenon believed the events of the 1930s and 40s had defeated the French as thoroughly as they had the Germans. “I’ve ceased to believe in evil, only in illness. Nixon believes he’s the champion of the United States, De Gaulle the rebuilder of France. Yet nobody locks them up. Those who invent morals, who define them and impose them, end up believing in them. We’re all hopeless prisoners of what we choose to believe.”

Simenon, not prone to grand literary statements, once said that he wanted to write like Sophocles or Euripides. Over and again, he describes someone quietly living their life, until some random fait divers – a road accident, a heart attack, an inheritance – brings out a fatal element in their character that trips them up. Striking out towards freedom, they fall instead into captivity. He had the idea that a book, like a Greek tragedy, should be experienced in a single session. “You can’t see a tragedy in more than one sitting.” Serial killers, soon to become the thundering cliches of modern drama, whether speaking Danish, Swedish or English, would have held no appeal for Simenon precisely because they are, by definition, extraordinary – and considerably less common in life than on television. Typically, in one of Simenon’s stories, a single crime is enough to ensure that a hitherto normal life falls apart, with no notice, as though any of us might at any time suddenly encounter a crisis that we will turn out to be powerless to overcome.

The thrill of reading a novel, said Simenon, is to “look through the keyhole to see if other people have the same feelings and instincts you do”. The man who, when adolescent, says he suffered physical pain at the idea that there could be so many women who would escape him, has the intense focus of a voyeur. An ex-journalist, he often describes towns from their canals or railway lines, because from there you could look into the back of residents’ lives and not be deceived by the front. He may have said “Other people collect stamps, I collect human beings”, but remarkably he refuses at all times to pass judgment on anyone. “You will find no priests in my work!” Not only does Simenon take care to exclude politics, religion, history and philosophy from his character’s dialogue and thoughts, but the deadpan flatness of his prose style and his bare-bone vocabulary create a disturbing absence of moral control. “Fifty years ago people had answers, now they don’t.”

It was this fallen universe of compromise that I found so convincing when I was growing up. It matched what I had already seen of life. I knew at first hand that Simenon was right when he said that “the criminal is often less guilty than his victim”. But it was only when I was older that I became addicted to the hard stuff – the unsparing novels that take his fatalistic view to its ultimate. If, as is generally thought, Simenon wrote around 400 books, then about 117 are serious novels, the romans durs that meant most to him. André Gide, one of his many literary admirers, when asked which of Simenon’s books a beginner should read first, famously replied: “All of them.” But to my own taste, Simenon’s most searching work came out of his queasy, compromised time in occupied France, and in his desperate hunt thereafter for personal happiness in heavy-drinking exile in the US. If you want to read three of his greatest books, try the deceptively light Sunday, written in 1958 about a Riviera hotel-keeper who spends a year preparing to kill his wife; try The Widow, published, like The Outsider, in 1942, and at least equal to Camus’s work in portraying a doomed and alienated life; and above all be sure to read Dirty Snow, a story of petty crime and killing at a time of collaboration in a country that remains unnamed, but which is always taken to be France under the Nazis.

Because he was foolish enough in an interview to claim to have slept with 10,000 women – the real figure, said his third wife rather crisply, was nearer 1,200 – Simenon has sometimes been accused of misogyny, just as by allowing films to be made of his books at the Berlin-supervised Continental Studios in Vichy France during the war, he was also accused of collaboration. The charge of misogyny at least is unfair. A small man’s fear of women is often his subject, and he describes that fear with his usual pitiless accuracy. In his books, casual sex is fine – it may or may not be satisfying – but passion is always dangerous because it arouses feelings neither party can control – and loss of control is seen to be a particularly masculine terror. In these circumstances, sex comes closer to despair than to joy. The women he portrays are not usually manipulative or cruel or deceitful. Far from it. They simply possess an inadvertent power to disturb men and to drive them mad. They exercise this power more often in spite of themselves than deliberately. All of his books are, in one way or another, about power of different kinds, and he specialises in depicting the lives of those near the bottom of society, the concierges and the salespeople, the waiters and the clerks, who possess very little. No wonder, when he went to America, that he remarked how everyone was expected to have a hobby, so that in one small field at least they might exercise at least a measure of domination.

The inspiration for finally deciding to write a play from Simenon came from my friend Bill Nighy, who knew that I was a fan. He gave me a present of a rare first edition of a novel that had been almost entirely forgotten. Even now, I have yet to meet anyone in Britain who claims to have read La Main. In Moura Budberg’s translation, long out of print, the book had been published as The Man on the Bench in the Barn. It was written in 1968, but its atmosphere clearly derived from Simenon’s own period of residence in Connecticut, where he moved to live with his new wife, Denyse Ouimet, in the late 1940s. In the book, the town he then lived in, Lakeville, is renamed Brentwood. His house, Shadow Rock Farm, becomes fictionally Yellow Rock Farm. But the topography and feel of the place are pretty much identical, with beavers playing in a nearby stream, and the local Connecticut community expecting strong but already threatened standards of private morality. The only detail omitted was Simenon’s own telephone number: Hemlock 5.

We hear a lot about Henry James and the Americans’ traditional fascination with Europe. We hear rather less about its opposite. In my view, there is something rare and interesting artistically when a European sensibility engages with American morals. La Main describes America at a point of change, when the suburban world patrolled so brilliantly by writers such as Richard Yates, Sloan Wilson and Patricia Highsmith is about to yield to a newer way of life, theoretically freer but equally treacherous. It was characteristic of Simenon to suspect that sexual liberation might not deliver everything it promised. After all, he doubted most things, except his own writing. But it was even more characteristic of Simenon to be in the right place, as he had been in France and Africa before the war, and at the right time, equipped with a reporter’s calm genius for putting a moment in a bottle.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The World of Wes Anderson...

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Wes Anderson with models from Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson’s Worlds

Michael Chabon
The New York Review of Books
31 January 2013

The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”

There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.
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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: What to do with the pieces? Some people hunker down atop the local pile of ruins and make do, Bedouin tending their goats in the shade of shattered giants. Others set about breaking what remains of the world into bits ever smaller and more jagged, kicking through the rubble like kids running through piles of leaves. And some people, passing among the scattered pieces of that great overturned jigsaw puzzle, start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again.
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Fantastic Mr Fox

Two difficulties with this latter scheme at once present themselves. First of all, we have only ever glimpsed, as if through half-closed lids, the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box. Second, no matter how diligent we have been about picking up pieces along the way, we will never have anywhere near enough of them to finish the job. The most we can hope to accomplish with our handful of salvaged bits—the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience—is to build a little world of our own. A scale model of that mysterious original, unbroken, half—remembered. Of course the worlds we build out of our store of fragments can be only approximations, partial and inaccurate. As representations of the vanished whole that haunts us, they must be accounted failures. And yet in that very failure, in their gaps and inaccuracies, they may yet be faithful maps, accurate scale models, of this beautiful and broken world. We call these scale models “works of art.”Touchstone Pictures
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Moonrise Kingdom

From Rushmore to Moonrise Kingdom (shamefully neglected by this year’s Academy voters), Wes Anderson’s films readily, even eagerly, concede the “miniature” quality of the worlds he builds, in their set design and camera-work, in their use of stop-motion, maps, and models. And yet these miniatures span continents and decades. They comprise crime, adultery, brutality, suicide, the death of a parent, the drowning of a child, moments of profound joy and transcendence.

Vladimir Nabokov, his life cleaved by exile, created a miniature version of the homeland he would never see again and tucked it, with a jeweler’s precision, into the housing of John Shade’s miniature epic of family sorrow. Anderson—who has suggested that the breakup of his parents’ marriage was a defining experience of his life—adopts a Nabokovian procedure with the families or quasi families at the heart of all his films, from Rushmore forward, creating a series of scale-model households that, like the Zemblas and Estotilands and other lost “kingdoms by the sea” in Nabokov, intensify our experience of brokenness and loss by compressing them. That is the paradoxical power of the scale model; a child holding a globe has a more direct, more intuitive grasp of the earth’s scope and variety, of its local vastness and its cosmic tininess, than a man who spends a year in circumnavigation.
The Darjeeling Limited

Grief, at full scale, is too big for us to take it in; it literally cannot be comprehended. Anderson, like Nabokov, understands that distance can increase our understanding of grief, allowing us to see it whole. But distance does not—ought not—necessarily imply a withdrawal. In order to gain sufficient perspective on the pain of exile and the murder of his father, Nabokov did not, in writing Pale Fire, step back from them. He reduced their scale, and let his patience, his precision, his mastery of detail—detail, the god of the model-maker—do the rest. With each of his films, Anderson’s total command of detail—both the physical detail of his sets and costumes, and the emotional detail of the uniformly beautiful performances he elicits from his actors—has enabled him to increase the persuasiveness of his own family Zemblas, without sacrificing any of the paradoxical emotional power that distance affords.
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Anderson on the soundstage with a cutaway model of The Belafonte from The Life Aquatic

Anderson’s films have frequently been compared to the boxed assemblages of Joseph Cornell, and it’s a useful comparison, as long as one bears in mind that the crucial element, in a Cornell box, is neither the imagery and objects it deploys, nor the Romantic narratives it incorporates and undermines, nor the playfulness and precision with which its objects and narratives have been arranged. The important thing, in a Cornell box, is the box.

Cornell always took pains to construct his boxes himself; indeed the box is the only part of a Cornell work literally “made” by the artist. The box, to Cornell, is a gesture—it draws a boundary around the things it contains, and forces them into a defined relationship, not merely with one another, but with everything outside the box. The box sets out the scale of a ratio; it mediates the halves of a metaphor. It makes explicit, in plain, handcrafted wood and glass, the yearning of a model-maker to analogize the world, and at the same time it frankly emphasizes the limitations, the confines, of his or her ability to do so.
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The Grand Budapest Hotel

The things in Anderson’s films that recall Cornell’s boxes—the strict, steady, four-square construction of individual shots, by which the cinematic frame becomes a Cornellian gesture, a box drawn around the world of the film, as in Moonrise Kingdom’s dressing room scene, with the little bird-girls framed by strips of light bulbs; the teeming, gridded, curio cabinet sets at the heart of The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited, and Fantastic Mr. Fox—are often cited as evidence of his work’s “artificiality,” at times with the implication, simple-minded and profoundly mistaken, that a high degree of artifice is somehow inimical to seriousness, to honest emotion, to so-called authenticity. All movies, of course, are equally artificial; it’s just that some are more honest about it than others. In this important sense, the hand-built, model-kit artifice on display behind the pane of an Anderson box is a guarantor of authenticity; indeed I would argue that artifice, openly expressed, is the only true “authenticity” an artist can lay claim to.
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The Royal Tenenbaums

Anderson’s films, like the boxes of Cornell or the novels of Nabokov, understand and demonstrate that the magic of art, which renders beauty out of brokenness, disappointment, failure, decay, even ugliness and violence—is authentic only to the degree that it attempts to conceal neither the bleak facts nor the tricks employed in pulling off the presto change-o. It is honest only to the degree that it builds its precise and inescapable box around its maker’s x:y scale version of the world.

“For my next trick,” says Joseph Cornell, or Vladimir Nabokov, or Wes Anderson, “I have put the world into a box.” And when he opens the box, you see something dark and glittering, an orderly mess of shards, refuse, bits of junk and feather and butterfly wing, tokens and totems of memory, maps of exile, documentation of loss. And you say, leaning in, “The world!”

Adapted from the introduction to The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz, to be published in October by Abrams Publishers.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Wednesday night's set lists at The Habit, York

Ron Elderly: -
Just My Imagination
Wild Horses
Sweet Virginia

Da Elderly: -
You've Got A Friend

The Elderly Brothers: -
Mailman (Bring Me No More Blues)
Bring It On Home To Me
When Will I Be Loved
I Saw Her Standing There

York was very quiet on a raw and bone-freezing January night. Nevertheless there was a very good turnout from both punters and players. Ron was joined by local harmonica virtuoso Tim Williams on his set. Service at the bar was temporarily curtailed (with everyone's agreement) so that barmaid Hollie could sing for us all. Her renditions of Valerie and Summertime brought the house down. Tim joined the Elderly Brothers for our first outing of 2019 and we finished with the audience asking for more.....what more could we ask for?

I can reveal that there will be another Elderly Brothers show at The Habit on Saturday 9th February, 9pm -12 midnight. Free entry and a well-stocked bar!!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The Louis Armstrong Archives

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Louis Armstrong’s Life in Letters, Music and Art
Step inside the mind of one of America’s great virtuosos, thanks to a vast archive of his personal writings, home recordings and artistic collages.

By Giovanni Russonello
Photographs by Nathan Bajar
The New York Times
16 November 2018

Behind his blistering trumpet solos, revolutionary vocal improvising and exuberant stage persona, how did Louis Armstrong see himself? What was it like to be the first pop virtuoso of the recorded era — the man whose earliest releases set the tune for America’s love affair with modern black music, and who went on to become one of history’s most famous entertainers?

Those questions aren’t rhetorical. There’s actually a deep well of resources on hand to help answer them. For his entire adult life, away from the spotlight, Armstrong amassed a huge trove of personal writings, recordings and artifacts. But until this month, you would have had to travel far into central Queens to find them. Now anyone can access them. Thanks to a $3 million grant from the Fund II Foundation — run by Robert F. Smith, the wealthiest African-American — the Louis Armstrong House Museum has digitized the entire collection he left behind and made it available to the public.

Armstrong wrote hundreds of pages of memoir, commentary and jokes throughout his life, and sent thousands of letters. He made collages and scrapbooks by the score. Over the final two decades of his life, he recorded himself to reel-to-reel tapes constantly, capturing everything from casual conversations to the modern music he was listening to.

One of Armstrong's trumpets

Armstrong Plays Along With a Ray Martino RecordingA moment caught on Armstrong’s reel-to-reel tapes.

All told, Armstrong’s is not just one of the most well documented private lives of any American artist. It’s one of the most creatively documented lives, too.

“Posterity drove him to write manuscripts and make tapes and catalog everything,” said Ricky Riccardi, the director of research collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum and a noted Armstrong scholar. “He was just completely aware of his importance and wanting to be in control of his own story.”

And it wasn’t just posterity. The same things that drove him as a performer — faith in unfettered communication, an irreverent approach to the strictures of language, the desire to wrap all of American culture in his embrace — course through his writings, collages and home recordings.

Armstrong’s home office features a portrait of the trumpeter painted by Tony Bennett

The Armstrongs in their den. Louis Armstrong Archive

Armstrong had been largely responsible for shaping jazz into the worldly, youth-driven music it became in the 1930s. He emerged as a symbol of racial pride, crossing Tin Pan Alley gentility with street patois, and sometimes singing directly about black frustrations. But as his career went on, his grinning stage persona — an expansion on the minstrel shows and New Orleans cabarets of his youth — fell out of step with most African-American listeners’ tastes. (“I loved the way Louis played trumpet, man, but I hated the way he had to grin in order to get over with some tired white folks,” Miles Davis wrote in his autobiography.)

With jazz’s identity solidifying as an art music in the 1950s, Armstrong became especially unfashionable to the critical establishment. The autumnal hits he scored in the mid-1960s, “Hello, Dolly!” and “What a Wonderful World,” seemed only to confirm the media consensus that the times had passed him by.

But these archives contain the tools for a better understanding of Armstrong: as idiosyncratic an artist as any, one whose creative instincts only grew deeper and broader over time.

A Christmas card from Richard Nixon became a collaged cover for an Armstrong recording. In the background: the wall of the Armstrongs’ living room.

In part, we see a man attuned to race and politics, who took his role seriously as a global ambassador for American culture and kept a close eye on the achievements of fellow African-Americans. When he spoke out against school segregation in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, he surprised the nation. Some activists said it was too little, too late. The archive, however, shows that he considered it both a proud moment in his career and wholly of a piece with his life up to that point. In the collection is a telegram he wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower on the day Eisenhower announced he would be sending Army troops into Little Rock, urging him “to take those little Negro children personally into Central High School along with your marvelous troops.”

And as solicitous as he was, Armstrong was unwilling to let critical judgments define him. He kept a close eye on reviews, but he wrote acerbically about music critics and sometimes taped his interviews with them — perhaps for evidence, in case they misreported something. On one tape, from 1959, he barks at a journalist after being asked about changes afoot in jazz. “I just live what I play, and I can’t vouch for the other fellow. As long as I feel and hit the notes and I’ve got my own audience, then no critic in the world can tell me how I should play my horn,” he says.
A few of Armstrong’s handmade scrapbooks. In the background: the wall of the musician’s Queens den
Raised in New Orleans, Armstrong came to fame in his early 20s after joining King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in Chicago; his early recordings as a leader, with his Hot Five and Hot Seven, established jazz as a soloist’s music, and made him one of the first pop musicians of the radio era. By the 1940s and ’50s he was regularly included on lists of the most admired Americans.

Starting in his 20s, Armstrong frequently clipped newspaper articles about himself and bundled them into scrapbooks. The books began as a tool to convince club owners of his legitimacy, but they turned into a historical record. The dozens of scrapbook binders contained in the archive are a window into his self-image as a celebrity: Armstrong looking at us looking at him.
Armstrong with a teenage trumpeter in a Mexico City dressing room in 1968. In the background: the wallpaper in his hall closet

Armstrong began his career as an idol to many African-Americans. Watch the well-circulated video clip of him performing in Copenhagen in 1933 — bountiful and aggressive as he scats over “Dinah,” then carves his way through “Tiger Rag” with a sweltering trumpet solo — and you’ll get why. But as time wore on, many younger people, particularly musicians of the bebop generation, expressed misgivings about his genuflecting stage persona.

Armstrong’s scrapbooks make it clear that he kept a close eye on how he was perceived, as an artist and as a black statesman. When he traveled to Baltimore in the winter of 1931, he donated 300 bags of coal to residents of a needy black neighborhood, and privately saved the news clipping from The Baltimore Afro-American. When his band was arrested in Arkansas simply for traveling in the same bus as its white manager, he saved the article reporting it.

And when a blatantly racist British critic referred to him as “Mr. Ugly” the following year (“He looks, and behaves, like an untrained gorilla,” the article read), Armstrong kept a copy of that too. Reading what arts journalism was like in the late ’20s and ’30s, it becomes obvious how narrow the berth was for a public figure like Armstrong to emerge onto the national stage.

Pages showcasing Armstrong’s unusual notation and script

Armstrong wrote constantly — mostly letters and short stories about his life, but also in the form of limericks and pages-long jokes. He wrote in a galloping, oddly punctuated style, treating literature almost as an outsider art. Commas turned into apostrophes; jive talk collided with standard English; words were underlined all over. His musical originality is matched on the page.

When Armstrong joined King Oliver’s famed band, he brought along a typewriter. By 1936, when he was in his mid-30s, he had already published an autobiography. Over the course of his career he wrote more than 10,000 letters to fans, hundreds of pages of personal memoirs and enough lengthy jokes to fill an entire book.

In 1969 and ’70, with his health failing, Armstrong set about writing a long essay about his relationship with the Karnofskys, a Jewish family in New Orleans. When he was 7, he worked as a servant in their house, and they recognized his musical talent early, advancing him a small amount of money to buy his first cornet.

In this essay, which stretches on for 77 pages, Armstrong enshrines a number of other elements of his personal mythology. He reports his birthday as July 4, 1900, an apocryphal but symbolic date he was fond of using. And he describes the importance of the Storyville neighborhood where he was raised, and where much of early jazz was developed.

Just months after he wrote this piece, he died in his sleep at age 69. This story would be collected in a posthumous book, “Louis Armstrong, in His Own Words,” that featured essays from across his career, many of which are included in the Armstrong archive in their original, handwritten form.
Armstrong’s collage of Jackie Robinson images

Armstrong’s creative hobbies outside writing were less easily wrangled for posterity or publication. One example: the hundreds of collages that he made over the course of his life, cutting out and combining photographs, illustrations and text.
An Armstrong collage featuring both King Oliver and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the background: Armstrong’s Queens bedroom

Starting in the early 1950s, few pieces of paper were safe from the blade of Armstrong’s scissors: magazines, risqué photographs, even a Christmas card from Richard Nixon wound up cut and collaged. Most of the time, he taped his collages onto reel-to-reel tape boxes; they were purely decorative. Elsewhere, he turned larger pieces of paper into what amounted to a personal hall of fame.
Louis Armstrong in his den in 1958. In the background: a rug in the guest bathroom at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens

In one such collage, he crammed a page with almost a dozen photos of Jackie Robinson. On another, Duke Ellington and Kermit Parker, the first black man to run for governor as a Democrat in Louisiana, gaze toward each other from across the page.

And on the collage above, a photograph of King Oliver is pasted inside an image of Armstrong’s head, as if to make clear how much Armstrong felt he owed to Oliver. To their left are two other trumpeters: Bix Beiderbecke, a prominent jazz star of the 1920s, and Bunny Berigan, who drew heavily from Armstrong’s influence, both as a trumpeter and a vocalist. Other musicians pictured include Duke Ellington, the R&B vocalist Ruth Brown, and Big Sid Catlett, an influential early drummer who played with Armstrong’s big band at the height of its popularity.

In a far corner of the image, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had been president around the time when most of these musicians were stars, looks on.
Armstrong in one of his most beloved rooms in Feb. 1971. In the background: the bathroom today

When Armstrong died in 1971, his wife, Lucille, ensured that the house they shared in Corona, Queens — the place where he recorded his tapes, made collages and wrote his manifold letters and notes — remained exactly as he had left it.

At first, Armstrong didn’t want the house. But Lucille bought it in 1943, the year after they married, while he was on a lengthy tour. He eventually fell in love with the narrow two-story brick home, and with the working-class block into which it was tucked. Armstrong — whose four marriages never resulted in a child — proudly became an avuncular presence on the block, and bragged in a 1971 manuscript that he had watched three generations grow up around him. Years later, when Lucille eventually wanted to upgrade, he insisted they stay. So she made improvements. The ornate, Fifth Avenue-rate bathroom is a prime example. And the “Throne,” as Armstrong called it in his writing, was of prime import.
Armstrong endorsed the herbal laxative Swiss Krissly with his own slogan. In the background: a staircase in his Queens home

Armstrong took health and diet very seriously, partly because of having been raised by a single mother who focused, for lack of a doctor, on keeping her children healthy with natural remedies. After Lucille introduced him to Swiss Kriss, an herbal laxative, he became a zealous proponent and offered his endorsement for free. The couple wrote a diet plan that called for regular consumption of Swiss Kriss, and they circulated it among friends and fans along with a comical photo of Armstrong seated on his decked-out Queens toilet, with his “Satchmo-Slogan” printed below: “Leave it All Behind Ya.”
Armstrong was fanatical about his recordings, capturing everything from music to conversations documented with meticulous track lists

Starting in December 1950, Armstrong used a tape recorder to capture casual conversations, ambient road hangouts, interviews with journalists, radio broadcasts he liked and more. Most often, though, he would simply record his shellac and vinyl discs to tape, consolidating the music and making it easier to carry. He kept careful documentation of the track lists, and together the tapes and their accompanying lists provide a revealing glimpse into his broad music tastes.

Ever the careful documenter, Armstrong wrote out a playlist anytime he recorded music to tape — whether it was a recording of his own concert, a dub of an entire album or a more piecemeal mixtape.

The range of his listening is striking. He was as likely to listen to the Beatles as he was to Rachmaninoff. On one playlist, the old vaudeville singer Al Jolson and Miles Davis butt up against each other. “The man was obsessed with all kinds of music,” Riccardi said. “Anywhere he’d go — if he’d go to South America, he’d bring back South-American records. If he went to Africa, he’d bring back African records. He’d go to record stores everywhere.”

On a disc marked “Reel 24,” he is listening mostly to the bebop musicians that had succeeded him in the jazz spotlight of the 1940s and ’50s. On the audio of the tape itself, you can hear him announcing the tunes like a radio D.J.

After that tape plays, Armstrong introduces another: a bootleg recording of a jam session at Minton’s, the venue where bebop was born. After he plays it, he expresses approval. “Cats jumpin’, man,” he says, apparently unperturbed by the beboppers’ sometimes-ambivalent relationship to his own legacy. Later on, he jumps to a track of his own, “Among My Souvenirs.” In the handwritten playlist, Armstrong closely notates each turn in the tape, including the moment when he pauses to mention the children playing outside.

These are the children that Armstrong said he was thinking of when he sang his most famous song, “What a Wonderful World.” Here we have their very voices, documented for all time.

One of Armstrong’s recording reels, with a collaged cover