Louis Armstrong's collages

 Images Armstrong1  Images Armstrong2
Legendary horn player Louis Armstrong was also a collage artist! He collaged the fronts and backs of his personal collection of reel-to-reel recordings, more than 500 total. The Paris Review posted several examples and the story behind Armstrong's other medium for improvisation:
Only occasionally do the collages indicate the musical content within; usually there is no correlation. Armstrong made generous use of various kinds of adhesive tape not only to attach images to each box but also to laminate, frame, or highlight them. The works are untitled and undated, but he was making them as early as the 1950s; in a letter from 1953 he wrote, “Well, you know, my hobbie (one of them anyway) is using a lot of scotch 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.”
Link (via Michael Leddy's Orange Crate Art)


  1. “Horn player”? Good heavens, he wasn’t just a horn player. He friggin’ INVENTED JAZZ, INVENTED JAZZ SINGING, and INVENTED POPULAR MUSIC. Louis Armstrong was by a wide margin the most important single American of the 20th Century, probably the greatest American of all time, and on the very short list of greatest cultural figures of all time next to Mozart and Shakespeare. And if I had to choose one of them, I’d take Pops every time. The greatest singer in the history of the world. Louis Armstrong was GOD.

    Thanks for finding this.

  2. #1, You got that right! More hyperbolic than I’d put it, but Pops was undoubtedly THE seminal figure in Jazz, and thus the father of all subsequent popular music.

  3. wow, Fnarf — sounds like you’re describing a legend!

    Love these collages.

    Except…. “collage” is from the French “coller” — to glue. and he used cellophane tape (“bande cellophane”).

    Bandages? Uh, no…. mmmaybe…. Cellages?

  4. So these are just sitting somewhere in a private collection?

    Someone needs to start some museum loans, posthaste. Preferably to an institution here in Chicago, thanks.

  5. Actually, he wasn’t a horn player, he was a trumpet player. Dennis Brain was a horn player. Vincent Chancey is a jazz horn player.

  6. Well, cornet if you wanna get picky. He undoubtedly played a horn at some point in his youth. One of his formative influences, when he was a small child, was a rag picker blowing a tin party horn without a mouthpiece.

    Hyperbole? No. “The greatest and most significant single human being who ever lived” might be hyperbolic. Barely.

    No Pops = no Bing = no Sinatra = no Elvis, just for starters.

  7. On the other hand,
    No Pops = no shrieking castrati emo rocker in the Guitar Hero DS video.

    tough one…

  8. Cool – I’d heard of Louis’s tape collection, but not the collages.

    Two of Louis’s other favorite things were cannabis and ice cream.

    The Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions he recorded in the mid 20’s are some of the greatest jazz recordings ever, and certainly the best from that period. He was way ahead of everybody. It’s a shame that most people only know of him from his second career as a popular singer in the 50’s and 60’s.

  9. I saw his collages in person at the Rosenthal Library on the Queens College campus in NYC. His entire archives are there. I held his trumpet too!

  10. In addition to pot, Armstrong consumed the powerful herbal laxative Swiss Kriss on a daily basis. He was a great believer in herbal cures. In a PBS documentary, Tony Bennett tells a great story of Armstrong passing out Swiss Kriss to British royalty as an after-dinner treat. He would sometimes sign his correspondence “Swiss Krissly yours” and use the catchphrase “Leave it all behind you.”

    The Paris Review notes that a book of Armstrong’s collages is coming out in spring 2009.

    Thanks, David, for picking up my post and calling attention to another side of Armstrong’s creativity.

  11. Armstrong wrote to FDR asking that he please veto the law prohibiting cannabis. He had been, like Robert Mitchum (and I suspect very many others) introduced to reefer when in his teens (Mitchum said it was called “poor man’s whiskey” in the early 30’s, and it was very very cheap compared to booze until Reagan’s paraquat spraying and the general police violence unleashed by the war on some Americans, oops, I mean “drugs”) and liked it enough never to give it up .

  12. FNARF,
    No, this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Louis_Armstrong_NYWTS.jpg is a trumpet.
    This http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Cornet-Bb-large.jpg is a cornet. Different shape, and more importantly, different bore.
    He may have played a cornet at some point but he was known for playing the trumpet, as were Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Arturo Sandoval, Maynard Ferguson, Harry James, et al.
    Wow, I just looked up Harry James for fun, and found out he was married to Betty Grable! Cool.

  13. From the article: Occasionally he added commentary over the music or played along

    Whoa, what?! So there are recordings of hits of the day with additional trumpet added by Armstrong? Are you kidding me? Even hearing the ones with his commentary would be mindblowing. They should put these out.

    Someone outta tell The Overdub Tampering Committee that Satchmo beat them by quite a few decades.

  14. Armstrong plays cornet on his earliest recordings (there’s even “Cornet Chop Suey”), then mostly cornet, and then trumpet only.

    #12, Armstrong even got permission to have Swiss Kriss brought to him in the hospital later in his life. Note that one of the collages in the Paris Review (not online) has a photo of Armstrong and a woman from the Swiss Kriss company, with various bits of Swiss Kriss-related text.

  15. Swiss Kriss is senna. Popular as a tea in Asia. You can get many different kinds of “Super Dieter’s Tea” in any Asian supermarket. The stuff is INSANE, like gunpowder going off in your insides. When that rumbling and booming starts, you do NOT want to be far from a toilet. Yikes. Maybe you get used to it after a while, but man. Explosive stuff.

  16. Bing Crosby: “How do you want to do this number, Pops, slow or fast?”

    Louis: “Oh, kinda half slow and half fast.”


    …from a remembered radio broadcast, circa 1950.

  17. @#1 FNARF: Have you ever heard the rumor that Louis Armstrong’s father was Bunk Johnson? It was Louis who put Lomax, Russell, and my late friend Bill Colburn on Bunk’s whereabouts back in 1947 (?). They were interviewing Pops for the Standard Oil-sponsored “Sounds of America” radio program in San Francisco, and he told them about Bunk being an early influence and encourager of his work, and told them “the old man” was living in New Iberia, LA. They tracked him down, of course, as you no doubt know, bought him some teeth so he could get his lip back, and booked and recorded him a year or so later in NYC. Since Louis’s mother was an active prostitute it is usually assumed he never knew the identity of his father; but Colburn told me there a mutual ambivelence on Johnson’s and Armstrong’s part about their relationship that went back to Louis’ street urchin days.

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