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Satchmo SummerFest – Celebrating Louis Armstrong

30th July 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Louis Armstrong influenced musicians around the globe and not just those playing traditional jazz or blowing trumpet. As an innovator, superior technician, vocalist and entertainer, the trumpeter changed the way the music sounded and was felt. Armstrong’s presence remains constant in the souls and minds of homegrown musicians, most of whom have known his name and heard his music since birth. This weekend, Saturday, August 4 and Sunday, August 5, New Orleans celebrates Louis Armstrong’s recorded birthday, August 4, 1901 at the free Satchmo SummerFest held inside and outside the Old U.S. Mint. (For his entire life, Satchmo declared his birthday to be July 4, 1900.)

“Since I was a little bitty kid I’ve been listening to Satchmo,” says trombonist/vocalist Corey Henry, who performs at the festival at 6:30 on Saturday with his Tremé Funktet that also features trumpeter Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill. “His trombone players, Trummy Young and Jack Teagarden, have always been favorites of mine,” he adds.

COREY HENRY

“We don’t do that much Louis Armstrong, but if you hear me blow you hear Louis Armstrong because I have some of him in me because he’s the trumpet player that I pattern my style behind, ” says Hill of the Funktet’s repertoire. Though the nine-piece band mixes old school covers from funksters like Earth, Wind and Fire, the go-go of the dynamic, late Chuck Brown, original material, some second line beats, a touch of jazz and more, Hill says, “We’re never going to forget Pops.”

The Tremé Funktet includes many musicians recognized on the scene including guitarist Bert Cotton (Bonerama), keyboardist Rick Fletcher (Walter Washington), saxophonist Calvin Johnson and violinist Donald Surtain. While they might not boast the traditional jazz creds of veteran players like trumpeter Wendell Brunious (Sunday, 5:30 p.m.), Henry and Hill have been in the game since they were youngsters.

Henry, the grandson of drummer Chester Jones, nephew of Tremé Brass Band leader/snare man Benny Jones and son of grand marshal Oswald “Bo Monkey” Jones, was raised in the musically energized Tremé neighborhood. The great Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen mentored him as a child and at age 10, the trombonist organized his own Lil Rascals Brass Band. A natural talent with a beautiful tone on his ‘bone, Henry spent years alongside trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and has freelanced with many of the best – gigging with banjoist/guitarist Danny Barker and trumpeter Gregg Stafford, recording with the Tremé and Dirty Dozen brass bands and more.

TRAVIS ‘TRUMPET BLACK’ HILL

For the last four years, the trombonist has laid it down full-time with the funkified band Galactic and plays regularly at Preservation Hall with drummer Shannon Powell’s group and the New Birth Brass Band as well as hitting with a bunch of brass bands.

“That’s been kind of my thing, playing with everybody,” Henry acknowledges. “I like doing that. It’s just a way for me to better myself as a musician. Playing with a lot of different cats, you’re hearing and learning a lot of different things, you’re playing a lot of different tunes. I would recommend it. I definitely like playing with my own group too – doing my own material,” he quickly adds.

Hill is most often recognized by the nickname “Trumpet Black” given to him by his cousin, trumpeter James Andrews. “He was like the role model because he was grandmother’s oldest grandson,” says Hill who, like Andrews, is the grandson of the legendary Jessie “Oop Poo Pah Doo” Hill. The trumpeter gained attention as a child playing with his cousin, Troy Andrews, in Trombone Shorty’s Brass Band and even headed to Europe with the ensemble.

“I’ve been playing music ever since I was 8 years old – me and my little cousins Glen David Andrews and Trombone Shorty. We all grew up playing together by his {Shorty’s} mother’s house on Dumaine and Robertson. We used to be young street hustlers playing in the Tremé neighborhood and then we started going out to Jackson Square to play for tips.”

Hill, 27, boasts a whole crew of musical relatives including, his great uncle, guitarist Walter “Papoose” Nelson of Fats Domino’s band, vocalist Lawrence “Prince La La” Nelson and the incredibly musical Lastie family that makes him kin to master drummer Herlin Riley.

“It has always been embedded in us to play music,” Hill explains. “If someone didn’t play an instrument they knew at least how to tap dance. They had some sort of talent.”

Trumpet Black soon started playing with the Lil Rascals led by Corey Henry that boasted several of his Andrews cousins, blew with the Hot 8 and the New Birth brass bands, sat in with the Tremé Brass Band and, like Henry and so many other young musicians, was mentored by Tuba Fats.

Still a teenager, the then-promising musician was sentenced to10 years in jail for armed robbery. “I was living a style of crime,” Hill states without hesitation. “I took a downfall in my career because I did prison time.”

Hill was released in December 2011 and jumped right back into the music scene performing with his cousins Trombone Shorty and trombonist Glen David Andrews. He joined the latter in his efforts with the non-profit organization Trumpets Not Guns. Its goal is to put instruments in the hands of young people and Hill has reached out to the youth to advise them not to make the mistakes he did.

“I like to share my life experience with younger people because I think my story can be a help to the next minority child,” he says. “Since, I’ve been home, I’ve been blessed. Corey always told me, ‘Trumpet, when you get out, I’ve got a spot for you.’”

The Tremé Funktet will pay tribute to Louis Armstrong at its set at the Satchmo SummerFest by doing several of the legend’s songs right along with Lil Rascals’ numbers like “Buck It Like a Horse.” Beyond that, Armstrong’s great spirit and influence is core to whatever style Henry and Hill play. “If you listen to Louis, he always had some new stuff or some new kind of genre,” Henry explains. “What he did to music was amazing; he brought it to another level. Hopefully, we can just try to continue to play our part by being innovative musicians and follow Louis’ steps.”

The Satchmo SummerFest’s complete music schedule and all related activities are available at www.fgfi.org/satchmosummerfest.

This article was originally published in the July 30, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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