By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

More on Louis: Tone and Tonality

with 3 comments

all photographs © William Carter 1965


When You’re Smilin’, Trummy Young and Louis Armstrong


What do we mean by “tone?” The word has precise meanings in music, photography, literature and other forms of art. More broadly, tone signifies the attitudes and intentions and feelings behind our literal expressions. This is basic to human communication: babies — even dogs — respond to a mother’s tone of voice long before they literally understand her words.

The generation who created jazz — and spawned Satchmo — well understood this primacy of tone as a universal human communicator. Cornetist Joe “King” Oliver, Louis’ adored mentor, marshaled an arsenal of mutes to tug at our hearts with his blues-based entreaties. Long before blowing a horn, Louis, a semi-orphan steeped in New Orleans vernacular sounds, sang in church pews and sidewalk quartets.

The evolution of Armstrong — his gravelly voice, his commanding trumpet, the public showman and the private persona — is recounted in a number of books, including excellent ones by Thomas Brothers. He was available and himself for anyone who wanted to speak with him: sharing his kindness and humor, his generosity of spirit, and — usually off camera — his all-too-human moments of weariness or (less often) sadness or anger. As once, when reedman Sidney Bechet, standing next to Louis in a festival, tried to outshine Armstrong by loudly playing the melody, causing Louis to inform him: “Ain’t but one lead horn in this band.” And another time, when Satchmo issued a rare public outburst at authorities trying to prevent a black child from enrolling in an all-white school.


Black and Blue



You Rascal You


Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Written by bywilliamcarter

March 9, 2015 at 8:01 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Dear Bill,

    Thanks for your sensitive reporting about Hans’ hero. Weso enjoy your work.

    Betsy & Hans Nilson



    March 12, 2015 at 7:12 pm

  2. Thank you, Bill. What a treasure these photos are.



    March 10, 2015 at 2:58 am

  3. I am grateful for your photos, Bill.


    Jane Miller Chai

    March 9, 2015 at 9:05 pm

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