‘Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues’ Reframes Legendary Jazz Trumpeter –

If they’re good, music documentaries can act as a time machine—an immersive experience that transports viewers back to the magic of another era, where the soundtrack envelops you, and an artist who have left this mortal coil for 90 minutes or so to validate their superstar status — a mic drop straight from the sky. If the movies are great, they leave even die-hard fans learning a thing or two about their beloved icons. And if there are many movies, Very Well, they completely destroy public perception and, by extension, meaningfully rewrite an artist’s legacy.

at the weekend, Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues It was named Best Music Documentary at the IDA Documentary Awards, and is also a contender in the running for Oscar gold, but the Apple TV+ film’s impact may extend beyond awards season. Never-before-heard audio tapes revealed in the film offer new insights into what motivated the jazz trumpeter and singer, and could prove to be a game-changer in the eyes of critics. struck Armstrong most profoundly: his fellow black Americans.


Louis Armstrong

Apple TV+

Louis Armstrong was born in 1901 in New Orleans. By his mid-20s, he was one of America’s most popular bandleaders. By the ’50s, he was a global superstar – a triple-threat musician/singer/actor whose talent and charisma transcended age and race. After his inventive trumpet playing and distinctive burnish baritone made him a sensation in clubs and on the airwaves, Hollywood came calling. With his million dollar smile and exuberant personality, he was a natural scene stealer in such a classic. High society (1956) and Hello, Dolly! (1969), of course, playing the amiable bandleader.

Yet for much of his career, with the white spotlight on him during the civil rights movement, Armstrong developed an image of political neutrality—a stance that helped him find work, but It also set him apart from some people who shared his skin color. Armstrong died in 1971, but the impression lives on, even though he said he quietly contributed to the civil rights movement behind the scenes. Sacha Jenkins, who was approached by Imagine Entertainment to direct. Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blueswas one of those who felt disconnected.

“Mr. Armstrong died a month before I was born,” Jenkins, 51, told “When I was coming up, hip-hop was the thing. I was hooked on hip-hop, and a big part of hip-hop was like this black consciousness, and this identity thing that we were all looking for in the ’80s. And Armstrong—his demeanor, the way he carried himself… it was the opposite of what was happening on the street, or what was happening with the signs of civil rights or black consciousness. It just wasn’t the line for me.


'Louis Armstrong's Black and Blues' director Sacha Jenkins at the Toronto International Film Festival, September 8, 2022

‘Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues’ director Sacha Jenkins at the Toronto International Film Festival, September 8, 2022

Photo by Gemmell Countess/Getty Images

On paper, Jenkins seemed perfect for the role. A former music journalist, he has already assisted with documentaries. The Wu-Tang Clan: Mikes and Men And Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James. He also grew up in Queens, New York, where Armstrong lived for decades. It wasn’t until Jenkins heard Armstrong’s self-recorded audio diaries — painstakingly cataloged in the trumpeter’s home study — that he became intrigued.


“Armstrong had these reel-to-reel tapes that he taped of conversations with his friends and family, conversations with himself, where he spoke his mind,” Jenkins says. “You know him for ‘Hello, Dolly!’ or these big pop songs, but when you hear him use strong language, it’s kind of shocking, but he’s human. That’s what makes him. Makes it real.”

Jenkins felt that Louis Armstrong was a product of his environment, no different than the Wu-Tang Clan or Rick James.


“Being born in New Orleans in 1901, it’s only a few steps away from slavery, and I’m assuming not much has changed,” explains Jenkins.

As a musician who toured for a living, Armstrong headlined many different venues. Sometimes, he would be asked to enter through the back door. Other times, he would be invited to play in hotels where he was not welcome to stay as a guest. Over the years, Armstrong learned to demand better treatment through his written contracts.

“He’s booking these white hotels, or these fancy places that don’t normally cater to people of color. So he’s saying, ‘Okay, you guys like Satchmo? That’s cool. All right.’ . We might be able to do business, but if I can’t live here, I can’t play here,” says Jenkins. “It’s a civil rights act in itself.”

I Black and Blues, Jenkins describes as a rare instance where Armstrong’s public comments matched his private opinions. In 1957, he criticized President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his timid response when the governor of Arkansas blocked nine black students from integrating at Little Rock Central High School. “Ike and the government can go to hell,” he quipped to a reporter, making headlines from coast to coast. The next morning, the troops were in Arkansas in a victory over segregation, ensuring the safety of the nine students.


Louis Armstrong at home in Queens, New York

Louis Armstrong at home in Queens, New York

Apple TV+

Was Armstrong a reluctant activist? Jenkins thinks the answer is complicated.

“At the time, because he was the most famous person in the world, he might as well have been the spokesman for the All Blacks — even though he wasn’t,” Jenkins says. But he didn’t wake up saying to himself that this is what he wanted to do. He got up saying, ‘I want to play my instrument.’ I can’t even imagine the pressure that he went through, to be the artist he was, and to get the fame and acclaim that he did, and then fight people who look like him. feel that he is not doing enough. I mean, it must have been a terrible feeling.”


For the film, Jenkins had access to letters written by Armstrong, and asked his friend Nas, a Grammy-winning hip-hop artist, to read them as a voice-over.

“He and I basically grew up in the same neighborhood (in Queens), and have a lot of friends in common. Went to the same school. When I told him I was doing this movie, he said to me, ‘Did you know that “Wonderful World” is my favorite song?,'” Jenkins recalls. “To me, where I grew up, Nas was our Louis Armstrong. He was the man who made it, who had a global impact.

Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues The first documentary about the musician by a black filmmaker. Jenkins believes that this is an approach that is needed to discuss race and racism directly and authentically. At his talk, in the film, a pair of well-known entertainers separately describe how they were wrong to judge Armstrong as a man of white American thought: jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and The late actor-director Ossie Davis. The two share their poignant personal epiphanies.

“I don’t necessarily know that a white person is qualified to have that conversation, nor am I interested in having that conversation with a white person,” Jenkins says.

Yet Louis Armstrong’s story is one that touches all Americans.

Louis Armstrong with his trumpet

Apple TV+

“Armstrong is not just a black American. He is an American. He is a great American who, regardless of how America treats him, loves his country. He still tells you that when He plays the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, so he takes great pride in playing it. It makes him feel like somebody,” explains the director. “The movie is for everyone, but I think there are specific conversations in the movie that are specifically for black people.”

More than half a century has passed since Louis Armstrong’s last breath. By most accounts, his legacy as a musician and entertainer is reprehensible, but his motives as a man and sometimes activist are perhaps now open to reinterpretation.

“Music and art are subjective, but someone describes how they feel about their life – which Armstrong does. [in the letters and audio tapes] — you can’t really deny that,” Jenkins says. “At the end of the movie, he says, ‘Well, that was my life. I don’t regret anything.’ He signs. He leaves the earth.”

One can only guess that Armstrong knew what he was doing when he recorded hours and hours of his conversations, where he did not mince words about his life experiences. Regardless of how he may have made it in public. And because these dozens of reel-to-reel tapes were so well preserved and cataloged, Jenkins believes he always intended for them to be used in telling his story.

“There’s a scene at the end of the movie where we see the last record he played — Ella Fitzgerald — on the original turntable that he played it on,” explains Jenkins. “When we were at his house, we couldn’t get the turntable to work. Did you know that eventually, the turntable started working, and no one could figure out how, why? That we couldn’t plug him into anything? So I’d say this guy has a very strong presence.

It’s like the bandleader is leading the band, once again.

“He was the co-director of the movie,” Jenkins says. “What do I think he would say about it? I think they would say, ‘People finally understand how I felt.’ Which is really gratifying.”

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