Satchmo's Blues


On hot summer nights in New Orleans, a boy named Louis Armstrong would peek under the big swinging doors of Economy Hall and listen to the jazz band. The best night was Friday, when Bunk Johnson would blow his cornet till the roof trembled. At moments like those, Louis could feel his toes tingle. He wanted to be like Bunk Johnson; aim his horn straight up at the night sky and set the stars spinning.

One day Louis saw a horn in a pawnshop window—a real brass cornet. The cardboard...

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On hot summer nights in New Orleans, a boy named Louis Armstrong would peek under the big swinging doors of Economy Hall and listen to the jazz band. The best night was Friday, when Bunk Johnson would blow his cornet till the roof trembled. At moments like those, Louis could feel his toes tingle. He wanted to be like Bunk Johnson; aim his horn straight up at the night sky and set the stars spinning.

One day Louis saw a horn in a pawnshop window—a real brass cornet. The cardboard sign said $5. How could he ever come up with that much money? Every day Louis did what he could to earn that five dollars, and every day he practiced blowing his imaginary horn. It was a dream he would never give up.

The vibrant, swinging world of New Orleans jazz seems to bounce off the pages in this tribute to an extraordinary young man. Louis Armstrong's dynamic personality and amazing trumpet playing would cast a spell on millions of people around the world, to whom he will always be the one and only Satchmo, the Ambassador of Jazz.

A fictional recreation of the youth of trumpeter Louis Armstrong in New Orleans.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The young Louis Armstrong struggles to buy a brass cornet; Cooper's paintings, said PW, "pulse with all the energy of a Mardi Gras parade." Ages 6-10. (Jan.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ignoring the research presented in the biographies cited here as suggestions for further reading, Schroeder (Ragtime Tumpie; Minty) invents out of whole cloth this "fictional recreation" of Louis Armstrong's boyhood. Living in a rough New Orleans neighborhood "back o' town," this young Louis knows hard times when there is little to eat and lots to be done. His every free moment, according to this story, is spent sneaking around to clubs and listening to the music he loved. In one of several divergences from the historical record, Louis is desperate to earn money so that he can buy his own horn from the local pawn shop (Armstrong first played a musical instrument when, at age 12 or 13, he was put into a reformatory for shooting off a gun). Schroeder's lengthy text moves at a dogged pace here, coming dangerously close to overkill in its dubious emphasis on Louis's desire for a trumpet. However, Cooper's (Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea) warm and grainy oil compositions pulse with all the energy of a Mardi Gras parade. Effective portraits of Louis and his family span a range of emotion and other scenes hook readers in, the way a jumping jam session should. It's unfortunate the author didn't trust his readers with the facts of his hero's life. Ages 6-10. (Oct.)
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4In this fictional story, Schroeder plays off the little-known fact that Louis Armstrong's first cornet came from a pawn shop, not from the Colored Waif's Home for Boys in New Orleans as popular legend has it. In fact, according to an archival autobiographical manuscript quoted in Gary Giddins's Satchmo (cited as a source for this book) Armstrong does all kinds of work to earn the five dollars needed to buy the horn he's spied in the shop's window. While the author creates dialogue and some incidents, he remains true to the spirit of Armstrong's childhood as recounted in his autobiography. This book is full of gorgeous writing, accompanied by Cooper's atmospheric paintings. The illustrations capture both the seedy and romantic elements of the city of New Orleans, and create a nicely realized milieu for the action. The pictures and text work together to establish the character of a youngster who wants nothing more than to make music. The fact that this beautiful book is fictionalized, while certainly a concern, should not hinder its use. There are too few titles about real-life figures that are both nicely wrought and also accessible to young children.Tim Wadham, Dallas Public Library, TX
Kirkus Reviews
Like Schroeder's first book, Ragtime Tumpie (1989), and his recent Minty (p. 537), this is a fictionalized account of the childhood of a great American. Louis Armstrong's first musical experiences, while listening to the jazz and ragtime blaring from the honky-tonks, dance halls, and street bands in the tough New Orleans neighborhood of his childhood, are the backdrop for his struggle to acquire his own horn. The soft, rosy, and golden-brown tones of Cooper's paintings cast a romantic glow over the story that was much more shadowed and chancy than Schroeder makes it sound. Still, the incredible drive that carried Armstrong from poverty to worldwide fame is shown clearly in young Louis's singleminded pursuit of a dream, and therein lie the book's message and its appeal. Curiously, the origin of the nickname "Satchmo" is never explained and is not used in the story, appearing only in the author's note.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440414728
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 959,377
  • Age range: 3 - 7 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.33 (w) x 10.25 (h) x 0.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Schroeder, a lifelong admirer of Louis Armstrong, is the award-winning author of several picture books, including Lily and the Wooden Bowl, Minty, and Carolina Shout. His first book, Ragtime Tumpie, was chosen as an ALA Notable Book, a Booklist Children's Editors' Choice, and a Parents' Choice Award winner. He lives in Alameda, California.
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Read an Excerpt

One day, right off Bourbon Street, Louis saw a horn sitting in a pawnshop window.  It was a humdinger, all bright and sassy, just begging to be bought. The cardboard sign said $5.  Louis turned away.  He could never come up with that much money.

"It's not fair!" he thought.  Everyone else had a musical instrument.  Even Santiago, the pie man, had a little horn hanging from his wooden cart.  People came flocking when they heard his familiar toot-toot-ta-toot-toot.

The next time Santiago came "back o' town," Louis ran up and tugged on his sleeve.

"Can I blow that horn, mister?" he asked eagerly.

The pie man handed it to him with a grin.  Louis whipped the horn up to his lips and blew.

Nothing happened.  Just a flat, spitting sound. Ppphhhh...

Everybody laughed, especially Santiago.  Louis tried again.  This time, the noise was even worse.

Santiago reached down and took the horn away.

"I thought you said you could blow it, Louis."

Louis frowned.  "I thought I could."

That made everyone laugh harder.

But Louis didn't give up.  He wanted to turn that awful ppphhh into something wonderful--something so hot and jazzy everyone would come running.

"And I'm gonna do it, too," he said to himself.

Two weeks later, the horn was still in the pawnshop window.  Louis wanted to go inside, but the man behind the counter didn't look any too friendly.  The cardboard sign still said $5.

"That horn is mine," Louis whispered, pressing his nose against the window. "It's gotta be mine!"

Every afternoon, when he got home from school, Louis stood in front of the mirror and practiced his blowing.   He pretended he as Bunk Johnson, raising the roof with his high C's.

"What's that you doin' with your lips?" Mama asked.  "You look like a fish."

"I'm blowin' my horn," Louis told her.

Mama shook her head.  "I don't see any horn."

But Louis could--and it was a beauty.

From the Hardcover edition.

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