Sunday, August 22, 2010

Louie and Ella (Riccardi, That Is) - The World's Youngest Louis Armstrong Fan!

Dear readers, I interrupt my series on "Confessin'" to bring you a story from home about someone I confess I love every morning, noon and night: my 16-month-old daughter Ella. As you can imagine, any child of mine is going to become well-versed about all things Satchmo pretty much from the womb. (If you were with me in the weeks after she was born, you might remember a photo I posted of baby Ella in an outfit custom designed by David Ostwald and featuring an image of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.)

In my house, there are images of Louis everywhere, including three framed photos in our dining room (I love my wife, too, for allowing this and also thinking it was a great place for the pictures). At an early age, Ella became fascinated with pictures, so as we would walk Ella around, we'd point out who was in the picture: "There's Daddy! There's Mommy! There's Grandma! There's Pop Pop!" And yes, "There's Louie!"

As soon as she began talking, she started repeating, "Louie, Louie" when she got to the pictures. On a shelf in her room is a children's book by Muriel Harris Weinstein, "When Louis Armstrong Taught Me to Scat" featuring an illustration of Louis on the cover. Naturally, a part of Ella's morning ritual included pointing out the picture of "Louie" on her shelf.

It didn't take long before I began spending quality time with Ella, showing her videos of Armstrong and playing songs while driving in the car, always pointing out that this is the same "Louie" in all those photos. Armstrong's gravelly voice had to make an impact but I always made sure to point out his trumpet playing, too.

Well, in recent weeks, I conducted more experiments, showing her different books such as Gary Giddins's "Satchmo" with a late 1960s photo of Pops on the cover and a reprint of "Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans" with a 1920s portrait on the cover. "Louie!" came the cry each time.

It was all very impressive but this weekend, it really topped out. On Friday night, I drove around with a Chu Berry CD in my car featuring Roy Eldridge on trumpet for many tracks. Ella sat in her car seat and sucked her thumb. But yesterday, I put an Armstrong CD in the car without saying a word. And about 20 seconds into the original 1947 studio recording of "Some Day," I heard a voice in the backseat cry out, "Louie!" I couldn't believe it! "Louie!" I shouted back as my wife stared in disbelief. A minute later, Armstrong began singing and she said it again.

You can imagine how knocked out we were but I was stunned about the trumpet identification. I joked that because she didn't identify Roy the previous night, she already knows Louis's unique tone! I reported the news on Facebook, which people seemed to get a kick out of (though my Mets-fan nemesis Vincent Pelote of the Institute of Jazz Studies would be more impressed if she identified obscure big band trumpeter Nate Kazebier!).

Thus, this morning I decided to try the experiment again, this time with a video camera. Without any prompting or even uttering the word "Louie," I gathered some Armstrong images by my basement computer and fired up "Blue Turning Grey Over You" on my Itunes. This is what happened in the next 67 seconds:

Pretty wild, eh? A magic moment for this Armstrong-loving family (and no fluke...as I just went to the video to embed it in this post, the first notes of "Blue Turning Grey" played and I heard Ella yell "Louie" again!). So perhaps one day, she'll rebel and denounce Louis for my wife's hero, Lady Gaga. Or perhaps she'll embrace it and become a gutbucket trombonist, specializing in plunger mutes. Either way, as of today, I think it's safe to say that my daughter Ella is the world's youngest Louis Armstrong fan!

(Postscript: later today, while driving again, I had Armstrong's 1961 record with Duke Ellington on in the car featuring Barney Bigard on clarinet. At one point, I heard Ella in the backseat saying, "Shu! Shu!" I said, "Oh my goodness, she thinks the clarinetist is the forgotten Eddie Shu, who only played with Louis for a year! This kid's already a historian!" But then I looked in the backseat and saw she was only playing with her sandals. Oh, well, one thing at a time....)

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