March 16, 2009

SATCHMO SCRAPBOOKS:

Mr Jazz's penchant for cut and paste: LOUIS Armstrong was one of a kind. That wide grin, inimitable trumpet sound, gravelly voice and irrepressible optimism combined to make him one of the most influential cultural figures in 20th-century America. (Ashleigh Wilson, March 17, 2009, The Australian)

A passion for collage was one of the least known aspects of Armstrong's life. Viewed out of context - that is, solely as art - the merits of these collages are mixed. But as a visual diary his collages offer a uniquely personal insight into Armstrong's world. The collages feature photographs of Armstrong and others, newspaper clippings, pictures, telegrams, postcards and handwritten notes, all stuck together with sticky tape. "My hobbie is to pick out the different things during what I read and piece them together and (make) a little story of my own," he once said.

Armstrong created about 500 collages between 1953 and 1971. Brower uses dozens of them to illustrate his book, described as a "biography in the form of an art book".

The collages accompanied another hobby Armstrong began about the same time: talking into a reel-to-reel tape recorder for hours at a time, reminiscing and discussing his life and music. On these cardboard tape boxes - as well as in scrapbooks - he would make collages to comment on "African-American life and accomplishments, his career and Hollywood". "For someone who declared himself steadfastly non-political, these pages stand in direct contradiction to that assertion," Brower writes.

The origins of Armstrong's interest in collage are unknown, Brower writes. But he says the works represent a perfect mixture of high and folk art, "the most jazz-like of all visual art forms".

"As he had done throughout his career, he was creating at once a self-aware art form and a record of the events themselves," he writes. It also wasn't clear whether Armstrong was making these collages, some of which he sent to friends and family, for public display. "As he did with his writing, Louis recorded his personal history and travels, adding to his own myth," according to Brower.

In one collage, he uses newspaper headlines that record his brush with death in 1971, including his quote: "Tell all the cats the Choirmaster up there in Heaven will have to wait for old 'Louis'." Another features a photograph of him and his wife Lucille meeting pope Pius XII.

At the time, the pope had asked Armstrong whether he had any children. "No, but we keep tryin'," he replied.



Posted by Orrin Judd at March 16, 2009 9:11 AM
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