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Providing a balanced portrait of his life as a musician, entertainer, civil rights activist, and cultural icon, these writings reveal Armstrong's candid, often controversial, opinions about racism, marijuana, bebop, and other jazz artists such as Jerry Roll Morton and Coleman Hawkins.
"This book is like a long visit to Louis Armstrong's house in Queens.... Delightful and revealing.... By itself, this book explains why Louis Armstrong was by far the greatest and warment communicator jazz shall ever know."--George Avakian, jazz record producer
"A fascinating collection of the unpublished writings of jazz trailblazer Armstrong, perhaps the most prolific writer among the jazz greats.... These revealing letters and writings give readers a fascinating glimpse into Armstrong's early musical influences, rise to fame, life on the road, role in the Civil Rights movement, and final years. Carefully preserving Armstrong's idiosyncratic style and adding previously unpublished photos, Brothers illuminates the character and times of a jazz icon."--Library Journal
"Louis Armstrong was a wonderful writer, vivid and candid, but until now his most personal reflections were known only to researchers. Thomas Brothers has superbly collected them in an entertaining volume that will prove indispensable to anyone who wants to understand the genius who transformed American music."--Gary Giddins, author of Visions of Jazz
"Engrossing...adds vitally to our knowledge of one of the greatest twentieth-century Americans."--Booklist
"Armstrong would be 'tickled pink' to know that Thomas Brothers has really done his homework adn cracked the code of Armstrong's special variety of scat and jive, and, more importantly, that Brothers has put [Armstrong's] words to paper just as he wrote them."--The Bloomsbury Review
"LOUIS ARMSTRONG + THE JEWISH FAMILY IN
NEW ORLEANS, LA., THE YEAR OF 1907"
(MARCH 31, 1969-1970)
Armstrong refers to this extraordinary document as a "book," clearly signaling his desire that it be published. He began writing it while recovering from a life-threatening illness at New York's Beth Israel Hospital, inspired, apparently, by his doctor Gary Zucker, who had just sung a Russian lullaby that Armstrong recognized from childhood. Armstrong first learned the lullaby from a Jewish family for whom he worked. He dedicates his book to his longtime manager Joe Glaser, another Jew who figured prominently in his life. Thus, the document provides a poignant flashback to the author's positive experiences with Jews in childhood, through his career, and now at the end of his life. Catalyzing his memory is a song. Armstrong copies the song's lyrics four times over the course of the document, testifying to its importance.
The writing is extraordinary not only because of these circumstances but also in its frankness about racial issues. Armstrong speaks bluntly and somewhat bitterly about racially conditioned attitudes among whites, blacks, Creoles, and Jews. He suggests that African Americans can learn from the Jewish example of how to succeed in the face of racial hostility. This comparison becomes a point of departure for generalized criticism of African Americans. As we watch Armstrong become caught up in the emotions of this line of thought, it is important to remember the special context in which the document was written. GaryGiddins (1988: 20) appropriately describes it as an "obsessive cri du coeur." Laurence Bergreen (1997: 76) characterizes Armstrong's writings generally as "a series of moral lessons." Nowhere is this description more applicable than to this document, where African Americans are urged toward values of thrift, family and group loyalty, honesty, and good work habits.
Stray remarks indicate some of the causes of Armstrong's bitterness. Certainly old age and physical suffering are factors. (Signs of advanced age in this document include the faulty recollection of stories that are more accurately told elsewhere; in fact, the entire chronology is open to question, as I suggest in the Appendix.) It is clear that Armstrong has been stung by criticism. He cites the 1957 controversy when he spoke out against government passivity in the integration of schools at Little Rock, Arkansas. There are references to "over Educated fools" who condemn the "White Folks Nigger." To them, Armstrong sharply retorts: "Believe it—the White Folks did everything that's decent for me. I wish that I can boast these same words for "Niggers. I think that I have always done great things about uplifting my race (the Negroes, of course) but wasn't appreciated." The document may be read, in part, as a commentary on the change in audience that sectionalizes Armstrong's long career: During his apprenticeship in New Orleans and during the first great peak of his career, in the 1920s in Chicago, he played almost exclusively for blacks; the last decades of his career found him playing almost exclusively for whites, while many African Americans resented the cultural role in which he seemed to thrive (see, for example, Early 1989).
The candor in this document should sufficiently challenge the one-dimensionality of the cheerful, even obsequious public image that Armstrong could project so well. It should warn the reader that there was more to Armstrong than the entertainer's mask that he wears in some of his writings. In 1950, Armstrong reviewed Alan Lomax's book Mr. Jelly Roll for the New York Times. He expressed general praise and only the lightest criticism of Jelly Roll Morton, who was disliked by many musicians. He mentioned that Morton had a diamond in his tooth and that, due to his light complexion, he could win jobs in Storyville that were denied to darker-skinned pianists. In the present document, he explains that Morton claimed that he "was from an Indian or Spanish race," with no "cullud" ancestry, and that there were many darker-skinned pianists who could outplay him. And he recalls, with a sense of justice: "No matter how much his Diamond Sparkled he still had to eat in the Kitchen, the same as we Blacks."
Musically, Armstrong claims (perhaps inaccurately; see the Appendix) that his first instrument was a tin horn that he blew on the junk wagon he ran with the Karnofsky family. He first learned to play "Home Sweet Home" and blues—an auspicious combination for the career that would follow. The Karnofsky family is credited with advancing money to their child laborer for his first cornet, with recognition of his excellent intonation and encouragement to sing, and with instilling in him the value of "singing from the heart." Armstrong also speaks about the importance of Storyville for jazz history, about the unfortunate consequences of most musicians having to take day jobs in addition to their musical jobs, and about Freddie Keppard's inability to "play the cornet seriously at any time. Just Clowned all the way. Good for those Idiots' fans' who did not care whether he played correct, or they did not know good music, or cared less." Here Armstrong seems to say that similar criticism directed toward himself is off the mark, since he always played good music, correctly and seriously. The document ends with Armstrong "calling the names" of the New Orleanian greats from his younger years, and with expressed admiration for contemporary White New Orleanians, with whom he can now enjoy a friendship in the North, far from the "Disgustingly Segregated and Prejudiced" world of his birth place.
"Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La., the Year of 1907"
Written by Louis Armstrong—Ill in his bed at the Beth Israel Hospital
March 31st, 1969
New York City, N.Y.
A Real life story and experiences at the age of seven years old with the Karnofsky (Jewish) Family, the year of 1907.
All Scenes happened in New Orleans, La., where Armstrong was Born, the year 1900.
The neighborhood was consisted of Negroes, Jewish people and lots of Chinese. But the Jewish people in those early days were having problems of their own—Along with hard times from the other white folks nationalities who felt that they were better than the Jewish Race. And they took advantage of every chance that they had to prove it. Of course the Jewish folks had a better break than the Negroes. Because they were white people. That's what was so puzzling to me. Just the same they had hard times for a long time. The Karnofskys' papa and mama came from Russia—before I was born.
The Chinese finally moved into a little section of their own and called it China Town, with a few little beat up restaurants serving soul food on the same menu of their Chinese dishes. I used to hear the Negroes braggin about their Lead Beans and Lice. That's the way a Chinese waiter would order it for you. Lead Beans + Lice wasn't bad at all. Of course the Colored people cook the best Red Beans + Rice. But for a change and something different—My Mother + my Step Father used to take me + Mama Lucy (my sister) down in China Town + have a Chinese meal for a change. A kind of special occasion. And the Bill in those days were real cheap. And we felt as though we were having something Big. We would also order Fried Rice and Liver Gravy with our Red Beans. And ooh, God—you would lick your fingers' it would taste so good.
I dedicate this book
to my manager and pal
Mr. Joe Glaser
The best Friend
That I've ever had
May the Lord Bless Him
Watch over him always.
His boy + disciple who loved him dearly.
Russian Lullaby Song'
Donated by Dr. Gary Zucker M.D. (my doctor—He saved my Life at
the Beth Israel Hospital, N.Y. Dr. Zucker took me out of
Intensive care "Twice. Yea.)
Beth Israel Hospital
New York, N.Y.
Every night you'll hear her Croon
A Russian Lullaby
Just a little Plaintive Tune
When Baby Starts to Cry
Rock a bye my Baby
Some where there may be
A Land, that's Free
For you and Me
And a Russian Lullaby.
This is the song that I sang when I was Seven years old—with the Karnofsky family when I was working for them, every night at their house when Mother Karnofsky would rock the Baby David to Sleep. Then I would go home—across the track, cross town to May-Ann and Mama Lucy, my mother and sister.
Louis Armstrong, who was born July 4th 1900, in the Back O' Town section (Jane Alley) in New Orleans. Mary Ann, the Mother of Two Children who she had Raised and Supported All by herself. We did not have a Father. They must have separated soon after we were born. Mama Lucy (my sister) nor I can recall seeing him. Anyway—May Ann (that's what everybody called her), she worked hard to see that we had food and a place to sleep.
We moved from Back O' Town (the rear of N.O.—Jane Alley) into the city, into the Third Ward, located at Franklin and Perdido Streets, where the Honky Tonks were located. A row of Negroes of all kind of characters were living in rooms which they `rented and fixed up the best way that they could. We were all poor. The privies (the toilets) was out into a big yard—one side for the men and one side for the women. They were pretty good size privies (toilets, with wooden seats). Also, a yard of a big size. The folks, young and old, would go out into the yard and sit, etc., or lay around, or the Old Folks would sit in their Rockin Chairs, etc. out in the Sun until—out house time (go to the toilet). Oh' everything happened in the Brick Row. That was the famous name for the Row of houses which was made of all Bricks. Everything went on in that yard. I remember one moonlight night a woman hollered out—into the yard to her Daughter—she said (real loud)—"You Marandy, you'd better come into this house—you laying out there with nothing on top of you but that Thin Nigger." Marandy Said—"Yassum."
My mother May Ann (Mary Ann)—Young with a nice smile, a little on the chubby side. Beatrice, which was Mama Lucy (nickname), was Two years younger than me. We had a few Step Fathers through the years Since we never did see our real Father, whose name was Willie Armstrong. A Tall Nice looking Guy, Brown Skinned. With holes in his face—indications of healed small pox. He was a Freak for being the Grand Marshal for the Odd Fellows Lodge parade. Especially when they had Funerals (or the 10th of May celebration). Then he would go on the hard working job that he had. He was working for a big Turpentine company keeping fire in those big furnaces, for a very small pay. He also had other children by another woman who lived into the Uptown Section of New Orleans. I had two step brothers, a step sister and Step Mother named Gertrude.
I had a long time admiration for the Jewish People. Especially with their long time of courage, taking So Much Abuse for so long. I was only Seven years old but I could easily see the ungodly treatment that the White Folks were handing the poor Jewish family whom I worked for. It dawned on me, how drastically. Even `my race,' the Negroes, the way that I saw it, they were having a little better Break than the Jewish people, with jobs a plenty around. Of course we can understand all the situations and handicaps that was going on, but to me we were better off than the Jewish people. But we didn't do anything about it. We were lazy and still are. We never did try to get together, and to show the younger Negroes such as myself to try and even to show that he has ambitions, and with just a little encouragement—I could have really done something worthwhile. But Instead, we did nothing but let the young up starts know that they were young and simple, and that was that. Never a warm word of doing anything important came to their minds. My nationality (Negroes) took advantage of my mother (May Ann) because they thought they were over smart, meaning May Ann gave birth to Mama Lucy and me (so what) and she had to struggle with us, until we both grew up. After grabbing a little schooling, and a job at a very young age, I myself will never forget. I'll try to forgive. But they were in an alley or in the street corner shooting dice for nickels and dimes, etc. (mere pittances) trying to win the little money from his Soul Brothers who might be gambling off the money he should take home to feed their starving children or pay their small rents, or very important needs, etc.
Mama Lucy + I used to go out to Front of Town when we were very young—among those produce places—where they used to throw away spoiled potatoes and onions into a big barrel. And she + I among other kids used to raid those barrels, cut off the spoiled parts and sell them to restaurants. There was a Baker Shop which sold two loaves of stale (the day after baked) bread for a nickel. They would do that to help the poor children. They could always get filled up at least on bread. Mama Lucy and me, we had to do it lots of times. Many Kids suffered with hunger because their Fathers could have done some honest work for a change. No, they would not do that. It would be too much like Right. They'd rather lazy around + gamble, etc. If it wasn't for the nice Jewish people, we would have starved many a time. I will love the Jewish people, all of my life. The Negroes always wanted pity. They did that in places of going to work, Instead of gambling, shooting and Cutting up one another so much. But real Meek when just one white man—chase a hundred Negroes, just like Rats.
The Negroes always hated the Jewish people who never harmed anybody, but they stuck together. And by doing that, they had to have success. Negroes never did stick together and they never will. They hold too much malice—Jealousy deep down in their heart for the few Negroes who tries. But the odds were (are) against them. Of course, We are all well aware of the Congo Square—Slavery—Lynchings and all of that stuff. Maybe the Jewish people did not go through' All of those things, but they went through just as much. Still they stuck together. Most of the Negroes who went through some of those tortures, they asked for it. Those days were like some of these Modern days—one Negro who has no ambitions, or any intention of doing the right things, will bring sufferings to a whole Flock of Negroes that is at least trying to live like Human Beings. Because they know within themselves that they're doing the wrong things, but expects everybody just because he is a Negro to give up everything he has struggled for in life such as a decent family—a living, a plain life—the respect. This Trifling Negro expects him to give up everything just because of his Ignorant, Lazy Moves. Personally I think that it is not fair. And the Negro who can't see these foolish moves from some over Educated fools' moves—then right away he is called a White Folks Nigger. Believe it—the White Folks did everything that's decent for me. I wish that I can boast these same words for "Niggers.
I think that I have always done great things about uplifting my race (the Negroes, of course) but wasn't appreciated. I am just a musician and still remember the time, as a American Citizen I Spoke up for my people during a big Integration Riot in Little Rock (Remember?). I wrote Eisenhower. My first comment, or compliment, whatever you would call it, came from a Negro Boy from my hometown, New Orleans. The first words that he said to me after reading what I had said in the papers concerning the Little Rock deal—he said as we were sitting down at a table to have a drink. He looked straight at me and said—"Nigger—you better stop talking about them White People like you did." Hmm. I was trying to stop that unnecessary Head whippings at the time—that's all.
He's the type of Negro who will pan the White Man behind closed doors—and the minute he leaves you, he will slip over to some white man and tell everything that was said against him, get your head whipped. And he will be the first Negro who will Rape a white woman. It happened in Slavery days. The Negroes has always connived against each other' and they still do. They never will be like the Jewish people. I should say not. Half of these young Negroes just don't know what they are getting upset about. If they'd consult the old generation of their families who really witnessed hard times and `maybe they will study a little more and do things the right way. Force and Brute strength is no good—not even love and sex.
There isn't anything nicer to know and feel deep down in your heart that you have something—anything—that you've worked and strived for honestly—rather than to do a lot of ungodly things to get it. Yes—you appreciate it better.
The Negroes will pan another Negro because he is trying to have a little something half way decent. They'll go as far as to pan you for at least trying.
They would rather Lazy, Away their time doing Nothing. Or feel because they have Diplomas which some of them shouldn't have received in the first place, They feel that the world owes them something because of it. And some of them can't even spell cat correctly. Just a waste of money to some of the Hep Cats who Graduated. I went only to Fifth Grade because I had to work along with my schooling. I wasn't fortunate to have parents with enough money to pay, like some of these Idiots whom I see making these big Soap Box Speeches, etc. I had to work and help May Ann,—put bread on the table, since it was just the three of us living in this one big room, which was all that we could afford. But we were happy. My mother had one thing that no matter how much schooling anyone has—and that was Good Common Sense (and respect for human beings). Yea. That's My Diploma—All through my life I remembered it. To me, no college in this whole world can top it, as far as I am concerned.
I may not profess to be the smartest Negro in the world. But I was taught to Respect a man or woman until they prove in my estimation that they don't deserve it. I came up the Hard way, the same as lots' of people. But I always help the other fellow if there's Anyways' possible. And I Still say my prayers every night when I go to bed. And I say the Blessing when I eat my food.
White Audiences from all over the world picked up on my music, from the first note that I ever Blown. And until these days they are still with me. And they seem to love all the Negroes that has Music in their Souls—Operas, Spirituals, etc. I am very proud to realize that. They never let us down with their Attendances and their Appreciations. I was real relaxed Singing the song called "Russian Lullaby" with the Karnofsky family when Mother Karnofsky would have her little Baby Boy in her arms, Rocking him to sleep. We all sang together until the little baby would doze off.
The Jewish people has such wonderful souls. I always enjoyed everything they sang and Still do. Of course I sang the Lullaby Song with the family—I did not go through every song they sang. But I was a good listener. Still am. That was a long time ago. And I Still remember their Phrases. When Mrs. Karnofsky would start singing these words to "Russian Lullaby" we all would get our places and sing it. So soft and sweet. Then bid each other good night. They were always warm and kind to me, which was very noticeable to me—just a kid who could use a little word of kindness, something that a kid could use at Seven, and just starting out in the world. My first Jewish meal was at the age of seven. I liked their Jewish food very much. Every time we would come in late on the little wagon' from buying old Rags and Bones, when they would be having `Supper' they would fix a plate of food for me, saying—you've worked, might as well eat here with us. It is too late, and by the time you get home, it will be way too late for your supper. I was glad because I fell in love with their food from those days until now. I still eat their foods (matzos). My wife Lucille keeps them in her Bread Box so I can Nibble on them any time that I want to eat late at night. At the Beth Israel Hospital, N.Y., I enjoyed All of my Jewish meals. So Tasty—Deelicious."
When I would be on the Junk wagon with Alex Karnofsky (one of their sons), I had a little Tin Horn—the kind the people celebrates with.— I would blow this long tin horn without the Top on it, Just—hold my fingers close together. Blow it, as a Call for old Rags—Bones—Bottles or Anything that the people and kids had to sell. The kids would bring bottles and receive pennies from Alex. The Kids loved the sounds of my tin horn. The Karnofskys lived on the corner of Girod and Franklin Streets. One Block away from the Girod Street Cemetery. In the colored section, we used to call it the Girod Street Grave yard.
We kids used to Clean the graves on Decoration Days, For the families of the Dead. We used to make a nice little Taste (tips). I had a lot of Lucky Moments with the Karnofskys. After blowing the tin horn—so long—I wondered how would I do blowing a real horn,—a cornet was what I had in mind. Sure enough, I saw a little cornet in a pawn shop window—Five dollars—my luck was just right. With the Karnofskys loaning me on my Salary—I saved 50 cents a week and bought the horn. All dirty—but was soon pretty to me.
After blowing into it a while I realized that I could play "Home Sweet Home"—then here come the Blues. From then on, I was a mess and Tootin away. I kept that horn for a long time. I played it all through the days of the Honky Tonk. People thought that my first horn was given to me at the Colored Waifs' Home for Boys (the orphanage). But it wasn't.
Things were getting pretty rough for May Ann, me and Mama Lucy—especially without a Father. But we managed beautifully. With the Karnofskys in my corner, and May Ann had her little hustle in the white folks yard (Mama Lou didn't work). The Karnofsky family came to America from somewhere in Russia a long time before I was born. They came to New Orleans as poor as Job's Turkey. They settled in a neighborhood of Niggers which was nothing but a gang of Old Run down houses with the Privies (toilets) out in the back yard. If they rented the house or bought it, I did not know for sure. It wasn't My Business Anyway. The house was old, but since things were so Tough for them at that time, they made the best of it and fixed it up real nice. They put their Shoulders together and did a fine job fixing up that house. They had a pretty good size yard. So they started a little business in no time at all. That's where I came in. With the little money that they had, they Bought Two Small Horses—Two Small Wagons—Harness for the Horses. Their two sons, their ages 19 or 20 years old—went into business. I alternated with the two sons. One went out in the street, buying Old Rags Bones—Iron—Bottles—Any kind of Old Junk. Go back to the house with the big yard—empty the wagon—pile up the old Rags in one place, the bottles—Bones and the rest of the Junk, all in separate places.
Soon there would be big piles of everything. There was enough Room for piles of Stone coal which the older son Morris sold in the streets also. Especially in the Red Light District—mostly in the evenings—way into the nights. He sold it for Five Cents a Water Bucket, to lots of the Sporting (Prostitutes) Women, standing in the doorways. Alex would go out early in the mornings on his Junk wagon—stay out all day. Me—right alongside of him. Then I would help Morris at night. The first job that I ever had. So I was very glad over it.
Alex would get good money for his Junk when he had saved up enough to sell. And pile up the yard again, going to the Bank every week. Both Brother did the same thing with their profits. Being a helper for those boys made me very proud and happy. I began to feel, like I had a future and "It's A Wonderful World" after all.
They couldn't pay me much money. But at my age and as times were so hard, I was glad just to be working and very happy so I could help my Mother and' Sister. She had a Job at a beat up paper place where they bundled up old newspapers and make Bales with them and sell them to some other company. She was paid 50 cents a day and with my little 50 cents from each Brother we managed pretty good. We at least had lots to eat, and a roof over our heads. And May Ann could really Cook' good. Ooh she could Cook. On Small Money. Mama Lucy was five years old. Too young to work, so we gave her the job of house "keeper"—or, the "one" room where we lived keeper." She did a Good job and was very Proud. One thing that I couldn't help but notice about the Karnofskys, as poor as they were they weren't `Lazy' people.
Morris had the coal route in the Red Light District. We used the term—Stone Coal, but I think you will understand better when we say—Hard Coal—which the young white prostitutes used in their Cribs `one room, to keep warm. They would keep the fire burning in their Grates, by throwing a couple of pieces of hard coal on and dim it down to a mellow burn, so they could stand at the doors of their cribs and work and work, in their Silk Teddies (underwear—Lingerie), calling in the Tricks, as they were called in those days. "Stone coal Lady' a Nickel a Water Bucket" (coming Morris + I on the little wagon, Morris on One side of the wagon and me on the other). I only could get a quick peep at the girls while they were standing there at the door almost naked.
Since the Red Light District were Strictly All White—we Negroes were not Allowed to buy Anything Sexy. Some of those Girls who were Standing in the doorway of those Cribs, they looked just like a bunch of Girls who had just finished High School, or just received their Diplomas from College, they looked so young. They all had pimps to give their money to. As long as I was working for the white man—I could witness all of this. Even the tough cops didn't bother me. And believe me they were really Tough. They were known to whip heads so fast until one would think that they had an Electric Stick. The whores had to have heat. So that's where I came in, and was safe and nobody bothered me. In fact they began to know me personally, from seeing me on the little coal wagon every night, helping Morris Karnofsky Deliver those buckets of Stone Coal to them. Even when I got good enough on my Cornet' they rooted for me to keep it up. I still stayed with the Karnofskys, playing around with my horn in my spare time. And Second Line in the Bands and the Funerals, following behind my Idol Joe King Oliver when or where ever he played. Whether it was a parade—Funeral or Funky Butt Hall. As long as he was blowing that was who' I wanted to hear at any chance that I'd get.
Speaking of my job with the Karnofsky Family the profit from either Hustle from both wagons wasn't Such a big deal, but the Jewish people always managed to put away their Nickels and Dimes, Profits in which they knew would Accumulate into a Nice little Bundle some day. And from the way that I saw it, the Negroes which were handling more money than those people' didn't do anything but shoot craps—played cards all night and all day until they would wind up broke—hungry—dirty and funky-smelling just like first one thing then another. And on top of that—most of them would go to their homes—that is, if they still have one left—and find their landlord who is tired of their ignorant explanations' waiting to throw them out into the streets. Most of them had Kids depending on their Support.
The Karnofsky Boys were all fine young men, wonderful dispositions. The whole family had that fine warmth for all of their Negro help. Morris was the sharp one and wore' plain nice good clothes. I loved to see him in his fine vines (clothes). The Karnofskys would start getting ready for work' at five o'clock in the morning' And me" I was right there along with them. Morris and I had the Red Light District sewed up selling Stone Coal a Nickel a water bucket. I turned out to be a good helper to him. Morris served on one side of the street and me on the other. People had to buy this coal in order to keep warm those chilly nights.
They would buy a bucket or two to put into their fire grates, which only needed two or three pieces at a time. Each room had small grates. Most of the Customers would get their orders in before Morris would sell out. It was very important in those days to keep supplied—because when nights were real Chilly, especially in the wee hours of the Mornings, the Girls cannot work—not comfortably' anyway.
When I helped Alex Karnofsky on the wagon, we used to run across a lot of bottles. They came from either by Drunks or a fight. Maybe two women—fighting over the same pimp. It was quite a few pimps who had Stables. And their chicks used to fight like mad. A Stable means that one pimp has several girls in one house, hustling for him.
Another thing which caused a lot of trouble, even killing scrapes—where the same whore will have two Suckers' giving her their money at the same time, which when each other should meet and find out what was going on it could turn out to be an awful Killing Scrape, and most time it did. Or a hell of a fist fight or a cutting scrape, with knives, razors, etc. Some of those Tough women—Can stand—Joe to Joe and Cut one Another Just like men. They all stayed in good shape at all times. I pitied they guy who went to bed with those whores, and tried to get away without paying them for their service. Ooh God.
Another thing—if you should have one of those gals that's giving you money (her hard earned money as she called it)—you must make lots of love to them—and no fooling around. And no excuses when there is love time, or she just might get suspicious—and Brother you are in trouble and that's for sure.
The Karnofsky Family kept reminding me that I had Talent—perfect Tonation when I would Sing. One day when I was on the wagon with Morris Karnofsky—we were on Rampart and Perdido Streets and we passed a Pawn Shop which had in it's Window—an old tarnished beat up' "B" Flat Cornet. It only cost Five Dollars. Morris advanced me Two Dollars on my Salary. Then I put aside Fifty Cents each week from my small pay—finally the Cornet was Paid for in full. Boy was I a happy Kid.
The little Cornet was real dirty and had turned real black. Morris cleaned my little cornet with some Brass Polish and poured some Insurance Oil all through it, which Sterilized the inside. He requested me to play a Tune on it. Although I could not play a good tune Morris applauded me just the same, which made me feel very good. As a Young Boy coming up, the people whom I worked for were very much concerned about my future in music. They could see that I had music in my Soul. They really wanted me to be Something in life. And music was it. Appreciating my every effort.
Working for these fine people, I learned to be an early riser just like them. I noticed they believed in being on the move. Up Early every morning, making Hay while the Sun Shined. In Soulville where I lived on the other side of Town, the Negroes were just the opposite. Stay up all night in some Funky Honky Tonk, or an After hour Joint until day break—get so full of that bad whisky—when daybreak come he is so Juiced. He will Blow his Job and Sleep all day instead.
I used to love to help Alex Karnofsky Hustle up Old Rags + Bones etc. during the day. Get out into that good sunshine. Alex bought for me a Tin Horn. To blow and blow, the kind of a Tin Horn they use at Parties to make noises, while celebrating. The Children loved it. One day—I took the wooden top off of the horn, and surprisingly I held my two fingers close together where the wooden mouthpiece used to be, and I could play a tune of some kind. Oh' the kids really enjoyed that. Better than the first time.
They used to bring their bottles, Alex would give them a few pennies, and they would stand around the wagon while I would entertain them. Alex and I enjoyed the Concerts' ourselves. Alex always managed to get better things from the White Folks—they could afford to throw away better clothings. Sometimes I could find some real fancy things among the White Folks' throw away, (they called it). Sometimes we would find real valuable things while assorting out those Rags and bones in the Karnofsky yard—drying out the damp Bags just before they go to some place and weigh up.
My Mother May Ann and my Uncle Ike Miles used to tell us about Slavery Times. They said—Slavery wasn't half as bad as some of the History books, would like for you to believe. May Ann and Uncle Ike had a little touch of Slavery. Because their Relatives before them came up' right in it. They said the Slaves, Acted Dumb and Ignorant, kept Malice and Hate among themselves so the White took Advantage of it. Especially when they were full of their Mint Juleps.
They couldn't keep a secret among themselves. They would make plans among themselves and one Negro would double cross them by sneaking back and tell the white man everything they had planned to do. Quite naturally that would make him the Head Nigger. At least for the time being anyway. That's why' all the Head whippings was originated—from our own people. Malice, Jealousy and Hate. The same as of today. That's where that old phrase Master or Marster came from. From conniving Lazy Niggers. Slavery was just like Anything else. B.S.
The Jewish People never betrayed their own people. Stick together' yes. I watched the Jewish people take a lot of Abuse in New Orleans' ever since I was seven years old. I felt very lucky to get a job working for them. We suffered Agony right along with them. Only worst. They did not Lynch them, but us Negroes, anytime they got ready'.
The other White Nationalities kept the Jewish people with fear constantly. As far as us Negroes, well, I don't have to explain anything. Am sure—you already know. At ten years old I could see—the Bluffings that those Old Fat Belly Stinking very Smelly Dirty White Folks were putting Down. It seemed as though the only thing they cared about was their Shot Guns or those Old time Shot Guns which they had strapped around them. So they get full of their Mint Julep or that bad whisky, the poor white Trash were Guzzling down, like water, then when they get so Damn Drunk until they'd go out of their minds—then it's Nigger Hunting time. Any Nigger.
They wouldn't give up until they would find one. From then on, Lord have mercy on the poor Darkie. Then they would Torture the poor Darkie, as innocent as he may be. They would get their usual Ignorant Chess Cat laughs before they would shoot him down—like a Dog. My my my, those were the days.
Speaking of the wonderful Karnofsky family. Just before I began to grow up and Singing with Papa and Mama Karnofsky, Morris and Alex—we all would sing this special tune, while Mama Karnofsky would have the baby in her arms—Rocking him until he would go to sleep:
|"Swing a Lot of Type Writing": An Introduction to Louis|
|I. "Home Sweet Home":|
|Childhood and Apprenticeship in New Orleans,||1|
|1 "Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans,|
|La., the Year of 1907" (March 31, 1969-1970),||3|
|2 "Joe Oliver Is Still King" (1950),||37|
|3 "Bunk Didn't Teach Me" (1950),||40|
|4 Letter to Isidore Barbarin (September 1, 1922),||42|
|II. "Some Kind of a God":|
|Chicago, New York, and California, 1922-1931,||45|
|5 "The Armstrong Story" (1954),||47|
|6 Letters to Robert Goffin (May 7 and July 19, 1944),||77|
|7 The "Goffin Notebooks" (ca. 1944),||82|
|8 "The Satchmo Story" (early 1959),||111|
|9 "Jazz on a High Note" (1951),||127|
|III. "Book Anywhere—Anytime":|
|Life on the Road during the 1940s and 1950s,||137|
|10 Early Years with Lucille (ca. 1970),||139|
|11 Letter to Leonard Feather (September 18, 1941),||145|
|12 Letter to Betty Jane Holder (February 9, 1952),||150|
|13 Letter to Joe Glaser (August 2, 1955),||157|
|14 "Lombardo Grooves Louis!"(1949),||164|