Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch Discuss ‘Louis Armstrong at 100’ in Miller Theatre

Opening its inaugural “Jazz and American Culture” series for 2000 with a celebration of Louis Armstrong in his centennial year, the newly established Center for Jazz Studies will present a conversation about the jazz great’s legacy with acclaimed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and critic Stanley Crouch on Tuesday, Feb. 1 at Miller Theatre.

The program, “The Artistry of ‘Pops’: Louis Armstrong at 100,” will be moderated by Professor Robert O’Meally, a leading interpreter of the dynamics of jazz in American culture, editor of a seminal textbook for jazz studies and founder and director of The Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia.

Marsalis, one of the leading jazz musicians of our time, will have his trumpet on stage to demonstrate elements from Armstrong’s repertoire. Crouch, the playwright, essayist and newspaper columnist, is a founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center and has served as artistic consultant since 1987. The conversation, which begins at 8:00 p.m., will be followed by questions from the audience, who will include musicians, educators and critics from Harlem and the larger New York jazz community. Tickets are $15 ($5 for Columbia students), available through the Miller Theatre box office: 854-7799.

The “Jazz and American Culture” lecture series, which opened in November with a talk by Brent Edwards on Duke Ellington’s literary influences, is the centerpiece of the jazz center’s inaugural year at Columbia.

The series is focused on jazz pioneers—Ellington, whose centennial was celebrated last year, and Armstrong, the seminal figure in American jazz who was the first great instrumental soloist and the first great jazz singer.

The program on Feb. 1 kicks off Black History Month observances and a year-long celebration of Armstrong’s music.

Assessing Armstrong’s greatness, O’Meally says: “With the end of the 20th century, as we reviewed our great achievements in science through Einstein’s work, and our important political leadership, from FDR and others, our masterpieces of modern art through Matisse and Picasso, we had to think that nothing sounds more like the American century than West End Blues,” Armstrong’s rippling conversation between trumpet, clarinet and rhythm.

“During the years following World War II, the sound of Satchmo came to have more world-wide appeal than the image of Yankee Doodle Dandy ever did,” says O’Meally, a literary scholar who holds the Zora Neale Hurston Professorship of American Literature at Columbia.

Armstrong’s genius at improvisation seems to have extended to his own birth date. The centennial of his birth will be celebrated in concert halls and clubs worldwide on the date he chose, the Fourth of July, 1900, although military conscription records of 1918 list his birth date as Aug. 4, 1901.

Through the work of these two great musicians and that of others, including Thelonious Monk and Billy Eckstine, the lecture series examines the impact of jazz on 20th century America — how jazz and American art, culture, society and politics have influenced one another in unexpected ways and by unexpected means.

Incorporating music, dance and film clips, as well as photographs and readings from rare manuscripts, the series has featured Scott DeVeaux, author of The Birth of Bebop; John Szwed, biographer of Sun-Ra; and Mark Tucker, the noted Duke Ellington historian. The series is being filmed and produced for the World Wide Web by Columbia University.

Upcoming lectures include Krin Gabbard of the State University of New York at Stonybrook (Feb. 15) on “Paris Blues: Ellington Meets Armstrong,” the 1958 film in which the two musicians communicate their understanding of jazz and American culture.
Check the Calendar listings for other events this spring. The lectures begin at 8:00 p.m. in 301 Philosophy. They are free and open to the campus community and the public.

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