As the September 15 premiere of Satchmo at the Waldorf draws nearer in Orlando, Florida, Dennis Neal, the star, has e-mailed me a copy of the poster that will be used for the show. I know appearances aren’t everything, but I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t want to buy a ticket after seeing this gorgeous piece of work.
I’ve been meaning to post an excerpt from the script, but Satchmo at the Waldorf is not suitable for families–unless, of course, you’re the sort of parent who wouldn’t think twice about taking the kids to see American Buffalo–and this blog has long had a policy of not printing certain high-voltage words. Fortunately, though, there are a couple of speeches that are reasonably clean, so I thought I’d share one of them with you. It comes from the second act, in which Louis Armstrong is looking back on his childhood from the vantage point of old age. (The play is set in a dressing room at the Waldorf-Astoria, where Armstrong played in public for the last time four months before his death in 1971.)
Here it is:
Fragments of Armstrong’s music play softly in the background, as if they were being heard from far off.
ARMSTRONG (over the music) The block in New Orleans where I was born was so tough, they done called it “The Battleground.” One-room shack, outhouse in back, wash in a laundry tub. My sister and me, we use to go through the garbage cans out back of all them fine restaurants, pick through ’em for the taters and onions wasn’t too spoiled, bring ’em home to Mayann. But we didn’t eat ’em. Oh, no—we dressed ’em. Cut off all the spoiled parts, then I go out and sell ’em to them other restaurants, the ones ain’t so fine, bring back a little extra change to go with the coal money.
Sometimes I go to sleep at night and dream about going through them garbage cans, hope to find a couple taters ain’t too rotten to take home. ’Bout riding the junk wagon and driving my mule. Sometimes I dream about the music I heard in the street when I was a kid. Or I dream I’m lying in bed at the Waif’s Home, smelling the magnolias and the honeysuckle through the window after they put the lights out. I can smell ’em now, just like I’m there. Smell ’em in the middle of the night and I say to myself, what’m I doing sleeping in a suite in the Waldorf? How’d I get so lucky?
Luck’s a funny thing. Poor old Joe Oliver, he done run shit outta luck. Teeth went bad on him, couldn’t play his horn no more. Went back down south, busted flat. I was touring with the band in Savannah, walking down the street, see this sad old cat pushing a vegetable cart, and it’s Papa Joe. Like to broke my heart. I gave him all the money I had in my pocket. Boys in the band all did the same. That night he come to this colored dance we playing and he was dressed up fine, looking sharp, holding his head up high.
That was the last time I saw Papa Joe. He died pretty soon after that. Didn’t have no luck. I had all the luck….
If you like how that sounds, come on down to Orlando and see the show!
UPDATE: For those who asked about the poster, the creative director is Bryan Kriekard and the designer is Blake Everingham. Thanks, guys!
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Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington perform Ellington’s “Azalea” in 1962. The lyrics, also by Ellington, were inspired by Armstrong’s memories of the flowers that bloomed in the New Orleans of his youth: