The Cowsills In Magazines

What Does Louis Armstrong Mean?
June 2001
Off Beat Magazine

What Does Louis Armstrong Mean? It is an interesting question, and a vague one. The questions' interest is derived from that very vagueness. It can be interpreted narrowly and answered as "What does Louis Armstrong mean to me," and be used as fodder for a personal exploration of the impact that Armstrong's life and music may have had in the way one views the world or carries on his or her life. The question can also be given a broad interpretation (The Supreme Court of Satchelmouth!) and examined in the context of his imposing presence on our cultural landscape, what he means to us. Wynton Marsalis, for example, speaking in Gary Giddins' documentary "Satchmo" (a companion to the book of that name) said Armstrong's was "the sound of America and the freedom that it is supposed to represent." In Armstrong's art there is possibility and triumph and celebration and the blues. It is in the very humane-ness, of his playing and singing, as well as his off-stage life, and his ability to elicit emotional responses in people that make this question ripe for discussion. Some may answer viewing Armstrong as the magnetic pop star of "Hello Dolly," or "What A Wonderful World," while others will no doubt answer in terms of the innovations of his early "Hot Fives and Sevens" period. So we ask "What does Louis Armstrong mean?"

"Wonderful World" is a beautiful, beautiful song in anybody's hands. I wanted to get up there [at Jazz Fest] and do a Joey Ramone song because that's my heritage. Kinks—that's my heritage. Frankly, Armstrong probably means less to me than Chris Kenner.

—Peter Holsapple, Continental Drifters

He means that I stayed up a half an hour longer to watch him on Ed Sullivan. Ed Sullivan was on at 8, and I usually went to bed at 7:30, but I was granted an extra half-hour when something special was on. I remember wishing he was related to me because he seemed so sweet.

—Susan Cowsill, Continental Drifters

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