Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues (Sacha Jenkins, 2022)

PSA: Just highlighting the LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK AND BLUES documentary — currently on Apple — which I liked so much I plan on re-seeing it: there is marvellous archival footage: photographs of his youth, his collages, never-before-seen clips of him recording; the sight of his upper lip, bruised from playing the horn, and excerpts of the recordings he made of himself talking at home, sometimes alone, sometimes talking to friends. Armstrong’s been a figure in my life all my life, but I only intersected, entwined really, with his music in the late 80s after borrowing some of the compilations of his records with the Hot Five and the Hots Seven from the UEA library: Ain’t Misbehaving; Black and Blue; St. James Infirmary, Wild Man Blues and so many more. The movie has two axes: one revolves around showing some of his achievements, which I think too vast to be really calculable, the film can only offer evidence for a few – the notes he reached on his horn, say, though Wynston Marsalis is marvellous at illustrating this; the other revolves around accusations of Uncle Tomism by younger generations, including Ossie Davis. Davis remembers catching him offguard, tired and sad, and then when he came to, there was the smile, the grin, the face to white America; and Davis remembers how in that change he saw his ancestors, his father, himself; every black man who survived American racism. There’s a moment where Armstrong describes all the horrible things he endured; and the even worse things he saw and says, ‘and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it if I wanted to keep on breathing.’…All of that and more – the pain and a joy that seems transcendental – is of course in the music, at least for those who have learned how to listen to it. The film is good at demonstrating why Armstrong is one of the key cultural figures of the last century – a force really — and one of the most likeable.


José Arroyo

Leave a Reply