The year is 1943. Satchmo has a new bride, his fourth wife, Lucille Wilson. He is coming back from a tour knowing that Lucille has purchased a house for the two of them to live in. He has not own a house up to this moment. He gives the address that Lucille had sent him to the cab driver. When the taxi pulls in front of this two story brick house with garden, quite impressive for the times, especially for somebody born and raised in ultimate poverty in Storyville, he tells the cab driver that there must be a mistake: he cannot be the person living in the wonderful place!
Yet, Satchmo and Lucille lived there together for thirty years, until his death in 1971. When Lucille died in 1983, she left the house to the City of NY. The City, doing what every large bureaucracy does, let the house gather dust and deteriorate for twenty years. The only signs of life were the jazz concerts in the garden every Fourth of July: anybody and everybody who was famous jazzmen still alive had performed on that little platform in the backyard of the Armstrong house. Louis always claimed he was born on the Fourth of July 1900. He was not, he was born in August of the following year, but the concert were honoring him on the Fourth of July.
Finally, twenty years after Lucille’s death, after a huge fund-raising effort, the house opened as museum. It is a must to see for any fan of this great musician: just to be in the same place where he lived for so long (in between tours), to hear his voice on the recordings, to walk in the garden and think of all the great jazz players who have been here is very emotional. The house represents Lucille’s taste, obviously. But the top floor, where his area was, with recordings and books and his voice on the speakers is truly moving.
If you love Satchmo, you must go, it’s unique experience. Don’t let the neighborhood discourage you. Yeah, I know, Corona sounds like the end of the Earth, but if you don’t have a car, you can take the Number 7 subway and then walk for two long and four short blocks and you are there. It’s not a pleasant neighborhood, but you are not going there to meet the neighbors, you are going because you love Satchmo and his Wonderful World.
I was there last night, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the opening of the house (which I also attended, being an avid Armstrong fan). The Hot Sardines had a concert in the garden: complete with New Orleans jazz, a singer with the voice of Billy Holiday, only happier, and a tap dancer to top it all! I think this is the best new jazz band I’ve heard in a long time. I understand they can often be seen and heard at Joe’s Pub on Lafayette, I plan to go hear them again, I really liked these guys. $30 bought you the concert, a visit of the house, wine & beer of quite unlimited proportions and corn bread and gumbo cooked following Louis’ recipe, you cannot beat this. Normally, admission to the house is quite modest for what it is, you would not want to miss it.
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