Louis Armstrong: The Off Stage Story Of Satchmo
By Michael Cogswell
192 pp. Portland, OR
In the introduction Louis Armstrong: The Off Stage Story Of Satchmo Michael Cogswell, author and organizer of the Archive and House (a million dollar endeavor supported by the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation) explains, “This book contains more than 250 images that have never before been published as well as some of the curatorial staff’s favorites, . . . I have intentionally avoided presenting materials not held by the LAH&A.”
The most touching are the collected stories, those told Michael Cogswell, just as he learned, saw, heard, read, interviewed, and . . . “Louis profoundly touched almost everyone with whom he came into contact.”
The back of the dust-cover invites affectionadoes to:
“Discover jazz great Louis Armstrong all over again.
Come inside and make yourself at home - The Armstrong home.”
At Barnes & Noble’s- NYC, November 20th, 2003 book signing Cogswell began speaking from a podium setup most appropriately in the children’s section, “In 1943 Lucille (Louie’s wife) purchased a home in Corona, Queens,” then tells the story of Louis arriving for the first time by taxi late at night (read Louie’s own words on page 33). “It’s such an Archie Bunker like house that since we opened on October 15th, 2003 we can only take eight people at a time and haven’t slowed down, except weekday mornings.”
“I had the privilege of going through and cataloging the contents after they were delivered to Queens College,” (where the Archive is part of the Rosenthal Library built in 1991 specially for the project) Michael self-effaceingly explained. He discovered in the 72 large cartons the expected candid photos, scrapbooks, sheet music and trumpeter’s accouterments but was surprised to discover never before heard or seen private reel to reel recordings decorated by Louis with photos and press clippings that added Collage Artist, a new dimension, to his artistic accomplishments.
Beginning Chapter V, Mr. Cogswell wrote of a very personal experience, “In my decade of meeting visitors to the LAH&A, presenting public programs about Louis, interviewing his band members, interviewing his neighbors, collecting stories from those who met Louis backstage, and encountering jazz buffs in just about every imaginable situation, I have never heard a bad word about Louis. Never. There is no one else whom I can say that about.”
Concluding such a book must have been difficult for Cogswell but like a good jazz show he’s left some poignant or amazing stories for the finale. A few examples: Collector Jack Bradley who recalled that, “at various times I served as his chauffeur, cook, connection, and photographer - most of all, I was his friend”; or the nightly visits to West Berlin to explore the nightlife; or the one when African leaders actually halted a civil war to jointly escort Louis to the stadium just to hear him perform; but I won’t divulge Louie’s ending declaration to Michael Cogswell’s exceptionally well presented 9 x 10 ½” coffee table sized book. Look at the pictures, read about this exemplary man and begin to understand how the New Orleans born boy, Louiie Armstrong at the turn of the last century set a performance and behavior standard that continues in Jazz today and that few have matched. He gave us much more than “Pops” and “Chops” and “Satchmo” and “Scat”.