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Satchmo the Great

Satchmo the Great(1957)

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Film cameras follow Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong and His All Stars during the final stages of a triumphant European tour in the autumn of 1955. After appearances in many major cities, the group flies into Zurich, where they receive a great welcome at the airport from a local "oompah" band, then perform on the runway. In Paris, during three capacity weeks at the Olympia Theatre in front of wildly enthusiastic audiences, Louis visits a Left Bank nightclub and plays with clarinetist Claude Luter's group. After the club closes for the night, Louis talks with reporter Edward R. Murrow about the tour, the origins and terminology of jazz and his beginnings in New Orleans. After a spring 1956 appearance at London's Empress Hall, Louis and his group accept an invitation to visit the Gold Coast, the probable home of his ancestors, on the eve of that country's transformation into Ghana. They receive a tumultuous welcome at Accra airport and, once again, perform informally with a local band on the runway. Later, at an outdoor gathering attended by many tribal chieftains, the musicians, singer Velma Middleton and Louis' wife Lucille are officially welcomed and entertained by native musicians and dancers. Louis visits a school, talks with the pupils about the early help he received in New Orleans from Joe Oliver and arranges to have a trumpet presented to the school's most promising musician. President Nkrumah attends one of the All Stars' performances and, at a final outdoor concert in Accra, the band plays in front of an audience of one hundred thousand people. Enormous crowds also bid the band farewell at the airport. In July 1956, after the triumphs in Europe and Africa, Louis and the All Stars are invited to perform in New York's Lewisohn Stadium with Leonard Bernstein conducting an orchestra comprised of eighty-eight members of the New York Philharmonic. They perform a special arrangement of "St. Louis Blues" before an audience of twenty-five thousand, which includes the song's composer, W. C. Handy. Afterward, Bernstein tells Louis that he and the orchestra are honored to have appeared with him and his musicians. Louis responds happily that it was their first time playing with a symphony orchestra and that he is "jazzed" by it. Both men hug. Murrow muses on the universal appeal of jazz and how Louis, wherever he performs, makes friends for himself, his people and his nation.