If there is a mythical father of jazz as we know it, then trumpeter, singer, bandleader, Louis (Pops; Satchmo; Dippermouth; Satch; Dipper; Papa Dip) Armstrong best fits the description. Though he was not the first jazz trumpet player, others such as his own mentor Joe "King" Oliver preceded him in that regard, Louis is the most influential jazz trumpeter of all-time. His trumpet virtuosity was peerless and he set the tone early on for all jazz trumpet players who followed, regardless of their stylistic proclivities. The trumpet is a signature instrument in jazz largely because of Louis Armstrong. The instrument's lineage as a powerful jazz clarion, stretching forward from Louis to Bix Beiderbecke, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Don Cherry, Woody Shaw, Jon Faddis, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, and Nicholas Payton got its wings from Armstrong's example. As Miles Davis was heard to say, there ought to be a time when every jazz musician kneels down and says a prayer of thanks for Louis Armstrong.
As a bandleader critics complained at several junctures of his career that he was often a figurative man among boys, leading units that were beneath his level of genius. Given his gifts for music making, that’s hardly a knock against those who performed under his leadership, which actually included quite a number of significant players. Among these were such venerable musicians as pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines; trombonists Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Trummy Young, J.C. Higginbotham, and Tyree Glenn; drummers Zutty Singleton, Baby Dodds, Big Sid Catlett, Cozy Cole, and Barrett Deems; clarinetists Johnny Dodds, Barney Bigard, and Edmond Hall; bassists Arvell Shaw and Milt Hinton, just a few of the many who passed through the Armstrong portals.
As a singer Louis Armstrong, with his matchless yet oft-imitated gnarly voice, seemingly effortless, and warm, down home, black beans and ricely swing set the standard for jazz vocalizing. His influence stretched from Billie Holiday, who often cited Pops as her biggest influence, to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Louis' vocal collaborations on record included not only Holiday and Crosby, but most notably Ella Fitzgerald, the Mills Brothers, even some late-period yodeling with Leon Thomas, and numerous of his band singers, from Teagarden's vocal breaks to full-time singers like Velma Middleton.
Perhaps even exceeding his enormous influence on jazz was his stature in world culture. Lucille Armstrong often described her husband as an ambassador without portfolio. The manner in which he was received on his many foreign tours by kings, queens, prime ministers, presidents and various potentates, and most importantly by the man and woman in the street clearly indicates that he was a transcendent American of his time, quite literally from Auckland to Zanzibar. Though often painted as fairly apolitical, Armstrong went on these journeys armed with keen insight into local politics, on occasion alarming even his bandmembers who feared reprisals from Louis’ quick-witted, on-point observations. Not only was Louis Armstrong a great jazzman, he also ranks as one of the signature Americans of the 20th century.
In this video from 1933, Louis Armstrong demonstrates his scat singing and his amazing talent on the trumpet.