In celebration of Louis Armstrong's 100th birthday July 4, National Public Radio will begin a 13-week documentary tribute to the trumpet and vocal legend on July 5.
"Satchmo: The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong" will begin with a two-hour show, to be followed by weekly 65-minute episodes, airing on various days nationally.
Author, critic and jazz specialist Stanley Crouch and singer Nancy Wilson of NPR's "Jazz Profiles" will host the programs, which will focus on Armstrong's lengthy career, from his New Orleans beginnings to his groundbreaking years in Chicago to his world travels as "Ambassador Satch."
Armstrong, considered by many to be the greatest jazz musician of all time, died July 6, 1971, at age 69.
"Just looking at Louis Armstrong you have all the raw material you would ever want for any type of treatment, whether it be a Hollywood film or a television show or radio series," said Jim Luce, executive producer of the series. "You've got drama, you've got the quintessential American success story ... you have romance, you've got that whole thing. And we haven't even begun to talk about the music."
Each show will include recent interviews with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, vocalist Jon Hendricks, Armstrong-influenced trumpeter Nicholas Peyton and various historians, as well as archived interviews with Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and Satchmo himself. There also will be up to three full Armstrong tunes per episode, including the classic "When the Saints Go Marching In" (RealAudio excerpt) during the week of Aug. 23.
The fifth broadcast is largely dedicated to Armstrong's relationship with his hometown of New Orleans, and the 12th episode (in late September) discusses his travels through Europe and his escape from the mobsters who controlled his career. The final broadcast, to air Sept. 27 in most cities, takes a look at Armstrong's influence. Titled "Armstrong Today," the episode will visit Louis Armstrong High School in Queens, N.Y., attend a Louis Armstrong class at Princeton University and feature final reflections from musicians and historians.
This is the second 13-week centennial celebration that Luce has produced for national radio. The first one, produced for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, featured Duke Ellington around his 100th birthday in 1999.
"It is just a different journey," Luce said. "They were both geniuses Ellington was cool and Louis was hot. Ellington was more intellectual and more of a thinker, and Louis was more of a doer. If you study the music of Ellington and you study the music of Armstrong, you just see that heat and that cold."
Nearly 125 member stations will be broadcasting the series. NPR also will cybercast the series on internet radio on its Web site (www.npr.org).
Other NPR shows honoring Armstrong include a June 27 salute with Payton and pianist Marian McPartland in New Orleans and a two-hour live performance at Lincoln Center on July 4 with Marsalis. On July 6, saxophonist Branford Marsalis' weekly show "JazzSet" also will pay tribute to Armstrong with guest appearances from bassist Arvell Shaw and pianist Marty Napoleon, who were Armstrong's sidemen.