Louis Armstrong’s Little Known Collages
Not many people know this creative current by the famous New Orleans trumpet player; but it’s one that is definitely worth knowing.
To a large extent Louis Armstrong defined what playing jazz meant. His technical skills and the pleasure he took in being spontaneous, but especially in his mind, which was incredibly quick and inventive, continue to exert their dominance in the modern jazz stage. The music he created and which he recorded using reel to reel tape recorders is not the sole genial and creative material that he used to fill his time. When he was not pressing the valves on his trumpet, his fingers found other arts to occupy themselves with. One of them was collage, which became a visual channel for their improvisation.
According to hear say, he made a series of paper collages and he hung them on the walls of his house, but his wife, Lucille, objected and had to remove them. Armstrong, thus, decided to use the library of his tapes as an artistic support and the result of the collection was over five-hundred boxes filled with decorated tape recorders. The collages were made with pictures of himself with friends and fans, telegrams and the cutouts of his show reviews; a blessing from the Vatican which he intervened and cutouts from Swiss Kriss herbal laxative cutouts, which, judging by their ubiquity, were an important part of their everyday life, just like playing his trumpet.
Each piece pays special attention to balance. The combinations seems organic and cohesive, and the indiscreet use of cello tape, not just to paste the images, but also to laminate, frame or enhance the boxes, give his pieces a colloquial tinge where “the seams are visible” (a characteristic that gives them a familiar and delicious touch). The pieces are not named or dated, but he began working on them in the 1950s. In a letter from 1953, he wrote:
Well, you know, my hobby (one of them anyway) is using a lot of scotch tape . . . My hobby is to pick out the different things during what I read and piece them together and [make] a little story of my own.
These personal ministories, as charming as the thoughts related to him, now reside in the “Louis Armstrong Archives” in Queens College New York. They show how a creative man does not merely channel his genius in a single medium; it overflows to different places and improvises “small stories” in everything that stands before him.
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