Langston Hughes asked Louis Armstrong, “Can you read music?” Armstrong replied, “not enough to spoil my playing.”
The gripping ‘Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues’ confronts the artist’s complexities ~ NPR
A new film depicts the jazz pioneer’s multifaceted Black American experience
October 28, 2022
Louis Armstrong was a titan who never forgot his humble upbringings, and also a public figure who carefully assessed his own weight in the world.
Courtesy of Apple TV+
Louis Armstrong made his first transatlantic voyage in July of 1932, sailing from New York City to Plymouth, England, aboard the ocean liner RMS Majestic. This was a triumphant visit for Armstrong, whose bravura feats as a trumpeter and rugged ebullience as a singer had already made him a sensation on both sides of the pond. But while the British tour is one of many pivotal events in Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues, a revelatory new documentary out Friday on Apple TV+, its inclusion is most striking for the glimpse we get behind the curtain, where Satchmo allows his famous grin to constrict into a scowl.
His manager at the time was a potbellied white gangster named Johnny Collins, who wasted little on social niceties. The exploitative tilt of their working relationship was never a matter of public record — but the film, drawing extensively from Armstrong’s private recordings, shares audio of Armstrong recalling a furious confrontation on the ship, with language that’s jarring to hear in his iconic gravel-drawl. “I said, ‘Listen, c*********. You might be my manager, and you might be the biggest s***, and book me in the biggest places in the world,’ ” he says. ” ‘But when I get out on that f***** stage with that horn and get in trouble, you can’t save me.’ ” When Collins retorts by invoking the N-word, Armstrong fights the urge to break a wine bottle over his head, in order to kill him. “But the first thing I thought,” he says, “[was] all them Black c********** in Harlem who’d say: I knew he would blow his top someday.”