Louis Armstrong: The Sound, Style, and Legacy of Jazz's First Superstar with Nate Sloan - Context Travel

Louis Armstrong: The Sound, Style, and Legacy of Jazz's First Superstar with Nate Sloan


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How did a kid from New Orleans reinvent jazz and become its first international celebrity? This conversation will explore the musical innovations, classic performances, and key recordings that made Armstrong instantly recognizable around the world.

Louis Armstrong is known for his funny voice and great smile, but he's also one of the most inventive and original jazz musicians of the 20th century. He arrived on the scene like a comet in the 1920s, and quickly became known for his outsize personality as much as for his trailblazing musical style. He remained in the limelight for the following four decades, even beating out the Beatles for the #1 song in 1964 with his recording of "Hello Dolly."

So how did he do it? In order to understand how Armstrong beat the odds to escape the "Colored Waifs Home for Boys" in New Orleans and become jazz's first superstar, we need to retrace his steps. We'll follow Armstrong as he joins King Oliver's ensemble in Chicago, then plays palatial nightclubs in New York City, then starts his own small group (which included his wife Lil Hardin on piano), then finds success in Hollywood, conquers Europe, and eventually becoming the first jazz ambassador for the U.S.

Along the way, we'll listen to and analyze some of his most famous recordings, watch and discuss legendary filmed performances, and study how he influenced every musician who followed in his wake, from Bing Crosby to Billie Holiday. By the end of this conversation, we'll have a new appreciation for the genius, and the continued relevance, of the man behind the trumpet.

Nate Sloan teaches music history at the University of Southern California, and co-hosts the podcast Switched on Pop for Vox Media. He is co-author of the book Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works, and Why it Matters (Oxford University Press) and has written articles on jazz and pop music numerous publications including the New York Times.

Not suitable for children under age 13 (sensitive content)

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.