A Visit from Royalty, September 1950
Mike Horn Remembers Louis Armstrong
The “World’s Jazz Ambassador,” “King of Jazz,” and my idol, Louis Armstrong, was coming to the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts. As a dedicated jazz buff and a Dixieland musician, I was ecstatic!
Working at a Springfield/Holyoke Radio-TV station, I wondered if I could get “Pops” to appear on our afternoon live TV program. I contacted his Manager, Doc Pugh, and it was arranged. I was to pick him up at his out-of-the-way Springfield hotel and chauffeur him to and from the interview on WHYN-TV.
(Interesting note: Questioning Armstrong why he wasn’t staying at a ritzy downtown hotel, he admitted that as a colored man he wasn’t welcomed. And this was New England in the ’50s!)
The station, located in Holyoke on a wooded bank of the Connecticut River, was a small structure in the style of a traditional ’50s broadcast outlet. Louis was enchanted with the setting. The TV interview went delightfully and Pops even parodied playing a tune as a shadow behind a scrim, as legal restrictions prohibited a “live” performance.
Arriving back at the hotel after much chatter about jazz musicians and his upcoming book, Pops invited me to join him at supper. We ate and talked, then went up to his room as he wanted to play some of his music for me. Armstrong traveled with a couple of large black suitcases filled with his tapes and charts plus a reel-to-reel recorder. We talked some more and listened to a few of his favorite early tunes (“Weatherbird,“ “Black and Blue,” etc.)
On Saturday afternoons back then, I was hosting a Dixieland jazz program on the radio station, and he agreed to do a taped interview for the show. As an intro to our radio conversation, we role-played a casual meeting on a street in Corona, Queens, New York, Louis’s home town. He insisted, though, that we do the interview in the bathroom as he sat on the john! (One can hear a few “rumblings” on the tape—surely trucks passing below on the street?)
Relaxed and easy to chat with, Pops recalled many captivating first-hand memories of personalities and music of the early days of jazz. A tribute to his following was expressed by the exceptional listener response to his historic ramblings after the show.
Flash forward to 1955. A group of friends went on up to the Old Orchard Beach Pier (Maine) to hear Louis and his band. As we stood around the Casino stage at the end of the show, I called out “How’re ya doin’ Pops?” Louis turned around, spotted me and said in his gravelly voice, “Man, it’s that cat from Springfield. Come on up here, gate!” and took my wife-to-be and me to his dressing room to chat like old, long-lost pals. That was ’55—five years after our first meeting. Amazing!
Aside from his musical brilliance, natural charm, enthusiasm for life, the genius of this man transcends time, international boundaries and all ages. How often in a lifetime does one have the opportunity and rare pleasure of socializing with true “royalty”?
Editor’s Note: Mike Horn was a longtime colleague of mine in the Boston advertising/broadcast industry. He was also an avocational clarinetist who played in a Dixieland Band called the Icehouse Five +2, performing regularly at our industry events. Retired now, Mike lives in Ogunquit, Maine, and subscribes to Seacoast Jazz Notes. --Terry MacDonald