News has arrived of the death of Claude Luter, the French trumpeter turned clarinetist who formed a close friendship with Louis Armstrong. Luter died last Friday at eighty-three. Already a success at the age of twenty-five when he met Armstrong at the Nice Jazz Festival in 1948, his popularity expanded during the late 1940s and remained high for the rest of the century. His band was in demand among the intelligentsia and glitterati who helped make jazz a French passion during the postwar years. Luter patterned his soprano saxophone playing after that of Sidney Bechet, Armstrong’s counterpart as a genius of New Orleans music. He became Bechet’s friend and disciple.
Agence France-Presse quotes French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres describing Luter as “a very great name in French jazz”:
For me as for so many, the name of Claude Luter will be forever associated with Saint Germain des Pres in the post-war years, with its innumerable jazz clubs where one ran across Camus, Sartre, Giacometti, Boris Vian, Raymond Queneau and so many others. Now and for ever he will be remembered as one of the remarkable men who symbolised this highly talented epoch.
This clip from a 1958 Edward R. Murrow documentary on CBS-TV, Satchmo The Great, shows Armstrong sitting in with Luter’s band in a Parisian club. The event may have been staged for the filming, but the affection between Armstrong and Luter was not.