Tribute to Louis Armstrong | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Tribute to Louis Armstrong

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For the last several years the Ravinia Festival has scheduled a blowout jam session to end its early-season jazz series; this year the concert plugs into the worldwide revitalization of interest in Louis Armstrong, offering a putative 95th-birthday tribute to jazz's first enduring genius. (The concert takes place on what Armstrong himself always claimed to be the date of his birth in 1900; however, the latest surge of research into his life--much of it displayed in a national touring exhibit that has just closed at the Terra Museum--reveals he was actually born on August 4, 1901.) Even before the current crop of wannabeboppers began their love affair with jazz's past, such firebrand iconoclasts as Lester Bowie and Miles Davis were singing Armstrong's praises, replacing the prevalent image of the old entertainer with a more valid one: the man who made jazz a soloist's art, who invented scat singing, and who created the first jazz improvisations of undeniably transcendent artistic value. Three of the four trumpeters taking part in this tribute concert have a direct connection with Armstrong. The 90-year-old Doc Cheatham counted Armstrong as both contemporary and friend, while Harry "Sweets" Edison (now 80) patterned his style on Satchmo's. Byron Stripling, a much younger trumpeter, never knew Armstrong; he merely was Armstrong, playing the lead in a musical play called Satchmo: America's Musical Legend a few years ago. The remaining member of this bugle corps, Roy Hargrove, belongs to Armstrong's lineage but has no direct ties; he sails in on the merits of his own prodigious talent. Trombonist Britt Woodman, a veteran of bands led by Basie, Ellington, and Mingus, rounds out the front line; drummer Louis Bellson anchors the all-star rhythm section. The Armstrong tribute caps four days of jazz at Ravinia, with other evenings featuring Kurt Elling, Von Freeman, Oscar Peterson, Illinois Jacquet, and Maynard Ferguson. (This writer supplied the program notes for the series.) Tuesday, 5 PM, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 728-4642.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Michael Levine; David Katzenstein.

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