August 3, 2021

Louis Armstrong in Uruguay: when the king of jazz arrived to conquer Montevideo – Tvshow – 05/03/2020

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“It was awesome. It was a new world for me,” he says. Hugo Fattoruso remembering the visit of Louis Armstrong a Montevideo in November 1957. The “king of jazz”, also known as “Satchmo”, arrived for the only time in Uruguay with the sextet All Stars to offer a series of five presentations at the Cinema Theater Plaza —Distributed between November 18 and 20, with performances in the afternoon and evening—, where he presented a repertoire with the compositions that defined his influence on the jazz world. Fattoruso, who was 14 at the time, gets emotional recounting that series of shows. “It gives me goose bumps,” he says excitedly from the other end of the phone line.

Armstrong, who was one of the greatest exponents of jazz in the world, had arrived in Montevideo as part of a six-week South American tour, which included 67 concerts spread over Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela. The visit was sponsored by the Secretary of State of the United States, of whom the musician was a “Goodwill Ambassador.” Under this program it was that later musicians such as Duke Ellington Y Dizzy Gillespie.

Louis Armstrong with his wife in the dressing room of the Cine Plaza.  Photo: El País Archive.
Louis Armstrong with his wife in the dressing room of the Cine Plaza. Photo: El País Archive.

Under the title of “Ambassador of Goodwill”, in 1955 Armstrong and his All Stars offered a tour of Western Europe that was recorded on the album Ambassador Satch. There, songs like “12th Street Rag” and “Undecided” are included, which would be performed by the group in Montevideo. Before his visit to South America, “Ambassador Satch” also appeared at Ghana.

In addition to these continental tours, he was going through a great moment of popularity. A year before his arrival in Uruguay, the trumpeter had participated in the successful film High Society, where he acted alongside Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby Y Grace Kelly. And, in addition, he had published the album Ella and Louis, where he hung out with the singer Ella Fitzgerald to version a series of standards Americans.

“From listening to them so much at home, I already knew a number of issues by heart,” says Fattoruso, who says that his father was a fan of Armstrong. “Word had started to spread that tickets were going to be sold out, so I spent the whole night at the door of the Plaza to get my ticket. It was an adventure ”. His cousin accompanied him to queue and it was the first time he had been awake all night. Finally, at 10 in the morning, when the box office opened, he was able to secure his place on two of the nights. “I had bought tickets for my piano teacher, Iris Segundo, but I missed it. I wanted to die”. He ended up watching the shows only from the second row of one of the gatherings.

For the concert series, the trumpeter was accompanied by the All Stars, the group formed by the vocalist Velma Middleton, the trombonist Trummy Young, the clarinetist Edmond Hall, the pianist Billy Kyle, the drummer Barrett Deems and the double bass player Squire Gersh. El repertorio incluía los clásicos “St. Louis Blues”, Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “12th Street Rag”, “Black and Blue”, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” y “On the Sunny Side of the Street”.

Horacio “Bocho” Pintos, one of the founders of Hot Club, defines this series of concerts as “excellent”. “He sang and played the trumpet as in all the records we listen to in all its history.” At this point the actor and playwright coincide Alberto Restuccia, who was 15 years old at the time. “It was a total blast. The push he put into that husky voice gave him the ability to sing a classic dixieland tune like a ballad. He is an excellent musician ”, adds the artist, who is currently hospitalized and takes advantage of this note to thank all the medical personnel who are treating him. “Each song was greeted with a standing ovation,” he says.

Louis Armstrong about to go on stage.  Photo: El País Archive.
Louis Armstrong about to go on stage. Photo: El País Archive.

After one of the concerts, the critic Juan Rafael Grezzi wrote an article in the weekly March, where he spoke of the group that accompanied Armstrong. “If you have to speak separately about a soloist, it is from Mr. Edmond Hall“He wrote about the clarinetist.” In “It’s Wonderful”, “Sweet Georgia Brown”, “Dardanella” and “Clarinet Marmalade”, numbers in which he performs as a soloist, and in all his melodic elaborations, he drew applause in which it was obvious the intention to reward a musician who seems disconnected from the role of gags, smiles and phrases, and who instead is there to maintain the light of the torch of the great New York clarinetists of all times “.

It is that, in addition to the music, Armstrong’s humor was a fundamental part during the shows. “Ardor and good humor are as essential a part of Armstrong’s greatness as his imagination, his musical craftsmanship, and his impeccable dexterity,” he added. Rough. And, although he claimed that “the prefabricated humor that spices up the show” was exaggerated – he mentioned laughter, expressions of astonishment, handshakes after each solo and “disheveled screams” – he commented that “black jazz” is an “art choreographic ”that finds its reason for being in dance halls.

To get an idea of ​​what Grezzi was talking about, just watch a performance by Armstrong during that time – below you can see an interpretation of “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”, with which he opened his recitals. There you can see how the music is complemented by those expressions of astonishment and exaggerated smiles, which complete the personality of showman of the American.

Armstrong’s charisma is confirmed by Cristina Moran, who together with the Argentine Hector Mayoral, was the presenter of one of those concerts that was broadcast on Radio Carve —According to the book All of Me: The Complete Discography of Louis Armstrongby Jos Willems was the one on the night of November 19. “He was a gentleman who overflowed with sympathy and talent,” he says. “The room was packed that night. On one side of the stage we took a picture and talked ”.

The emotion of listening to one of the great jazz legends live also made the public want to get closer to the artist. And two of the interviewees were lucky. “After one of the concerts, he went out to the side of the Central cinema, down Rondeau street,” says Restuccia. As soon as he saw him, he got into the crowd and got him to sign a vinyl for him.

Louis Armstrong during his visit to Uruguay.  Photo: El País Archive.
Louis Armstrong during his visit to Uruguay. Photo: El País Archive.

A young Fattoruso also managed to get closer to the musicians. “After the show, I don’t know how I did, I got into the dressing room with the musicians. I didn’t speak English, so I said ‘hello’ to them and nothing happened, ”he says with a laugh. “I was speechless because they were aliens to me.” That night was so marked in his memory that, years later, he managed to get one of the old seats in that dressing room. He still has it at home. “I am very excited. Armstrong taught me the love of combining notes and rhythm. “

“Satchmo still has, after 30 years as the most famous jazz personality, the power to command immediate and complete attention with a single note on his trumpet,” said Grezzi in his review. Almost 63 years have passed since that string of shows at the Cine Plaza and there is still the memory of those days in 1957 when the king of jazz came to Uruguay to make Montevideo fall in love with his trumpet, his sympathy and his unforgettable voice.

the south american tour

The successful passage of Louis Armstrong through Argentina

Before arriving in Uruguay, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars offered a series of concerts in Argentina and Chile. In Buenos Aires, where he stayed the longest (he performed at the Opera Theater between October 30 and November 13), his arrival was experienced with euphoria. According to the book Great of international jazz in Argentina, by Claudio Parisi, the musician arrived at the Ezeiza International Airport and met so many fans that, in order for him to get off the plane, it was necessary for firefighters to disperse people with hoses.

A chronicle published by Life magazine in Spanish on December 2, 1957 reflected the situation. “5000 fans gave him such an enthusiastic welcome that it was necessary to protect him using fire hoses. Young people who fiercely competed with each other blowing trumpets, filled the waiting rooms of Ezeiza. Others, hung like bats from the concrete canopies. The policemen commissioned to stop guarding the musician they prudently walked away, while the howling crowd enveloped Louis, his wife and members of the orchestra. ” Later, it is added: “Finally rescued, Armstrong got into the waiting car, put on the wristwatch that had been taken from him and exclaimed: ‘How welcome! This is not in the contract. Close doors and windows.”

And, as if that were not enough, when the musician arrived at the Opera for his debut in Buenos Aires, so many people were waiting to approach the trumpeter that he had to enter the theater with a baseball mask to protect his lips.