Why Louis Armstrong Still Matters

January 19, 2010

Terry Teachout
Photo by David Noe

A capacity audience filled the 400-seat Tiedtke Concert Hall on Thursday evening, January 14.  They came to hear Wall Street Journal drama and cultural critic, biographer, and librettist Terry Teachout, discuss his new book, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong.  The first offering of Winter Park Institute’s Spring Events Calendar, the evening also featured a jazz combo in the style of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Seven.

This multimedia event, conceived by Jazz Artist-in-Residence, Chuck Archard, and Rollins College Director of Music, John Sinclair, also included several video clips of Armstrong performances.  Teachout, a former professional jazz musician himself, was able to comprehend the complex personality of the musical genius known as “Pops,” through the study of 160 reel-to-reel tapes revealing a personal and intimate side of Armstrong. 

Sinclair labeled Teachout’s book, “the most important new jazz resource in decades.”  He added that, “Because Louis Armstrong was so influential; this book not only illustrates his life, but the entire genre of jazz.”

Armstrong, who lived during the first 70 years of the 21st Century, was able to overcome the racist attitudes and segregationist practices of the time and rise to stardom in popular music.  Born into New Orleans poverty, Pops received his only formal musical education in reform school before taking a train to Chicago at age 21 to seek fame and fortune. 

Between the excerpts that Teachout read from his book, the jazz combo played Armstrong tunes to further illustrate the written words.  The local group of musicians featured Ed Metz, Jr. on the drums, Pat Gullotta on trombone, Davey Jones on cornet and vocals, Alan Vache on clarinet, Tom Hook on piano and vocals, and Charlie Silva on acoustic bass.  Archard, who brought the musicians together, said it was an easy task because, “the Orlando area is rich with traditional jazz players and many of these musicians had played together before.”  The use of live musical interpretations of Armstrong’s classic hits not only accentuated the key points of the lecture but provided lively musical interlude. 

“America has never produced as significant an artist as Armstrong,” said Teachout.  “Louis Armstrong is as relevant today as he ever was and always will be.” In fact, in 1964, Armstrong’s recording of “Hello Dolly” knocked The Beatles off the top of the pop charts.

Teachout’s presentation was the first of many integrated artist events planned in the next few months by the Winter Park Institute.  Now in its second year, the Institute features discussions between the Rollins community and thought leaders from diverse fields who are invited for limited residencies. Seminars, lectures, readings, master classes, performances, open discussions, exhibits, and a variety of gatherings provide the forum for such exchanges.  February brings renown pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher, and in March, poet Billy Collins, cartoonist Jules Feiffer and dramatist Marsha Norman.  For details, visit www.winterparkinstitute.org.

-Justin Braun '10 MBA'11

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