Old U.S. Mint, 400 Esplanade Ave., 522-5730; www.fqfi.com
Louis Armstrong began performing when he was about 10 years old. This weekend, the Satchmo SummerFest marks its own first decade. The celebration of Armstrong's life and musical legacy includes two days of free music outside the Louisiana State Museum's Old U.S. Mint, plus seminars and presentations of film, photos and other Armstrong artifacts at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe (1204 Decatur St.).
Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, has been part of the festival since its inception and is a longtime fan and former friend of Armstrong. "I can tell you it was love at first sight," Morgenstern says about their 1949 meeting backstage at a concert at the Roxy Theater in New York City. Their relationship developed as Morgenstern pursued a career in jazz journalism, including an interview with Armstrong published in DownBeat in 1965.
Morganstern has won eight Grammy awards for liner notes, including two for Satchmo compilations. But besides his scholarly work, he brings to the festival stories of Armstrong's personal side. He recalls meeting with Armstrong and photographer Jack Bradley for a five-hour interview over a bottle of plum brandy Armstrong had brought back from Yugoslavia during a tour in Eastern Europe during the height of the Cold War.
"We managed to kill that bottle over the course of the afternoon, so it was a great interview," he says. "It was a very memorable afternoon, but every time you saw Louis it was memorable."
As the keynote speaker at the Satchmo conference, Morgenstern will address the state of Armstrong scholarship. "It certainly has blossomed," he says, referring to the flurry of biographies and jazz histories released since Armstrong's centennial birthday. Many authors have presented new research at the festival, including Penny Von Eschen, author of Satchmo Blows Up the World, which details how the U.S. State Department deployed Armstrong as a cultural ambassador during the Cold War, and Thomas Brothers, who wrote Louis Armstrong's New Orleans. Morgenstern also notes the work of local researchers, including Dr. Jack Stewart and Don Marcus for their study of the cultural environment that fostered early jazz.
Satchmo fans can also savor never-before-seen film clips and footage of the legend. Archivist Ricky Riccardi and director Michael Cogswell of the Louis Armstrong House Museum (www.louisarmstronghouse.org) in Queens, N.Y., where Armstrong lived for most of his life, will co-present artifacts from the museum's Jack Bradley Collection, the premier repository of Armstrong memorabilia. The presentation includes concert video, photos and personal letters.
Riccardi also will show rare footage of Armstrong in his seminar "Cinematic Satch Part 1: Behind the Iron Curtain" (3:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday) and shed light on the musician's complicated relationship with his hometown in "Cinematic Satch Part 2: Louis Armstrong and New Orleans" (3:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday).
"I'll be screening some footage that a lot of hardcore Armstrong aficionados have never seen before, but it's also going be enjoyable for newbies," Riccardi says.
Riccardi focused his attention on Armstrong after a sort of musical epiphany. "There's a nine-minute recording of 'St. Louis Blues' and at right about minute eight-and-a-half I felt something snap in my brain, and I realized I'd never been moved before so much by music," he says. "So at that point I pretty much made a vow to get every Armstrong CD and book and movie and pretty much everything else I could, and I was actually able to turn that into a career." In addition to his work at the Armstrong house, he publishes the blog, "The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong" (dippermouth.blogspot.com), and his book What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years is slated for release in May 2011.
At Armstrong House, Riccardi presides over the voluminous Jack Bradley Collection.
"Jack was very close to Louis in the last years of his life," Riccardi says. "He collected everything he could. My first seven or eight months on the job was just trying to make sense of that collection, going through Jack's scrapbooks, going through news clippings, reading ... hundreds of pieces of fan mail to Louis from Africa, from Germany and from all over the world, and going through Jack's photo collection and looking at his contact sheets, his negatives, photos of Louis on stage, photos of Louis at home. It was after that that I felt like I had a better grasp on Louis than I ever had before," Riccardi says.
Of course, Armstrong's true legacy is musical. The festival features two days of free live music by Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, Wendell Brunious, Shamarr Allen, Delfeayo Marsalis, Tim Laughlin, Mark Braud, Leroy Jones, Jeremy Davenport, Wanda Rouzan, Clive Wilson, Lars Edegran's New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, the Rebirth, Treme and Hot 8 brass bands and many others. There's plenty of traditional New Orleans jazz, and Armstrong's influence is not hard to find among local musicians.
"[Leroy Jones] has Louis in his soul," Morgenstern says.
Visit www.fqfi.com for a full schedule and details.