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Erik | Luis Armstrongs trumpeter
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Luis Armstrongs trumpeter

The Holy Grails of music
Apr 22 2015

Luis Armstrongs trumpeter

Som trumpetare har Luis Armstrong funnits med i min musikaliska utveckling och jag minns mycket väl hur min pappa spelade West End Blues när jag var liten. Jag nynnar introt till West End Blues när jag skriver de här orden för att se om introt fortfarande sitter. Det gör det.

När jag besökte Luis Armstrongs hus i Corona, Queens, New York City i USA så träffade jag lustigt nog en svensk som arbetade i huset, som i dag är ett museum. Vi började prata och han lät mig veta att Luis trumpeter skänktes av Lucille till Queens College och om man är trumpetare så får man åka dit och testa trumpeterna. Eftersom jag spelar trumpet sade jag att jag mer än gärna skulle vilja prova att spela på trumpeterna. Sagt och gjort hade jag en dag och tid bokad för att åka och provspela Luis Armstrongs trumpeter. Kan du tänka dig? Hur ballt är inte det? Vem känner du som har spelat på Luis Armstrongs trumpeter?

Samma dag som jag skulle åka dit fick jag ett samtal från personalen från Luis Armstrongs House Museum och de frågade mig om det var ok att en reporter från The New York Times kom med och skrev en artikel om det här. Självklart sade jag. Det var ju bara för roligt att det skulle förverkligas i den tidningen. Läs artikeln här nedan.

Three Golden Trumpets, Countless Gleaming Dreams

Louis Armstrong trumpet
Erik Akerberg made a pilgrimage to Queens College to play a horn that was owned by Louis Armstrong.

ONE day late last month, inside a reading room in the library at Queens College, a young visitor from Sweden named Erik Akerberg was handed a gold-plated Selmer trumpet with a small ding in the bell.

Mr. Akerberg fingered the valves knowingly, making sure that they sprang back to attention, and blew a little warm air into the mouthpiece before placing it in the instrument. Then he held the trumpet in front of him. “All right,” he said nervously. Drawing a breath, he put the horn to his mouth, and he began to play.

Mr. Akerberg, a 27-year-old amateur trumpet player from Stockholm spending a semester studying business at Berkeley College in Manhattan, was anxious, and with good reason. He was holding one of the Holy Grails of music, a trumpet that once belonged to Louis Armstrong. And his first thought was an anxious one: Just don’t drop the thing. “That’s not going to happen,” he recalled thinking. “That can’t happen.”

But the fear was quickly replaced by wondering: “What will the sound — my sound — be on Louis Armstrong’s horn?”

Gradually, as he relaxed, stilted notes and phrases gave way to robust musical sentences. Repeating a run of notes several times, Mr. Akerberg peppered the improvisation occasionally with a blue note or a bent tone as he gained ease.

Mr. Akerberg was in good company. Among trumpeters who have made a pilgrimage to Flushing and ended up playing Armstrong’s horns are such members of jazz royalty as Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval and Jon Faddis.


In life, too, Mr. Armstrong was happy to share his instruments with his fans. CreditLouis Armstrong House and Archives

The horns in question are five gold-plated trumpets, which were discovered in 1983 — after the death of Armstrong’s wife, Lucille — in Armstrong’s longtime home in nearby Corona. Two are on display, one at the college’s Louis Armstrong Archives, the other at the Louis Armstrong House.

The other three are kept under wraps, nestled in a hard brown case within the Armstrong Archives, in the Queens College library. Yet on rare occasions — “when the vibe is right,” said Michael Cogswell, director of both the archives and the house — the trumpets are wheeled out on an unceremonious wooden library cart and handed to schoolchildren to hold, or to trumpeters who, with awe, press their lips to history. To date, only about two dozen people have had this privilege since the archives opened in 1994.

“There is a talismanic power to an artifact like this,” Mr. Cogswell said. “For people to actually hold Louis’s own trumpet in their hands, it does touch them in a good way, in a beautiful way.”

The trumpets are objects of such reverence that some visitors have declined the offer. But for all the nightmares that could result, one argument trumps them all: Louis would have wanted it this way. The proof of this lies in the archives, in the dozens of photographs showing the musician backstage after concerts with fans enthusiastically trying out his fabled horns.

For Mr. Cogswell, it’s a tightrope of access versus preservation, but so far the limited exposure of the trumpets — perhaps two to four people play them a year — does not raise concern, he said. Still, fingerprints are wiped off immediately after the trumpets are handled, and instruments are annually deep-cleaned, lubricated and polished.

“My only regret is that there might have been some valuable DNA in there that we lost,” Mr. Cogswell said dryly. “What with cloning and everything today, you never know. We might have made a big mistake cleaning these horns the first time.”

This particular morning, after improvising awhile on a second horn, Mr. Akerberg pulled it away from his mouth, opened his eyes, caught his breath, and looked down at the instrument. “This is great,” he announced with a satisfied nod.

Picking up the third horn, an ornate trumpet decorated with floral chasing that crawled across the bell-pipe and into the bell, Mr. Akerberg posed as a friend dutifully snapped photos that showed him standing under the poster-size pictures of Armstrong that decorate the archives’ reading room. As he played on, including the melody from the song “Chameleon,” the notes drifted through an open window into the small courtyard outside, where the few students milling about seemed not to notice.

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Satchmo övervakade varje ton jag blåste ur hans legendariska trumpeter.