Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues is filmmaker Sacha Jenkins' valentine to one of the most influential figures in jazz, the New Orleans born trumpeter and vocalist, Louis Armstrong. Through rare interviews, Armstrong's personal audio recordings and his writings, the documentary covers his childhood in New Orleans, his initial fame in 1920s Chicago, and his influence in music that is still felt to this day. The most interesting sections of the film is when it deals with race and politics. Armstrong was a black superstar who played for white audiences in concert halls, while blacks had to sit outside on the levee to hear him play. Some in the black community considered Armstrong an "Uncle Tom," just catering to whites. There is a great interview with actor Ossie Davis explaining how he changed his mind about Armstrong when he caught the musician sitting in a room deep in thought. At that moment, Davis said, he understood the internal torture that Armstrong was going through.
When asked about politics in public, Armstrong would dismiss it by saying that he was "just a musician," but he did have deep feelings on politics. For instance, he took a stern stand for desegregation in the Little Rock crisis in 1957.
Trying to encapsulate a person's entire life in 106-minutes makes Black & Blues a bit scattershot. What is there in the film, however, is so engaging that I could have easily sat through another 100-minutes of Louis Armstrong's life and times, and music.
Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues will play Friday, Nov. 4 at The Prytania Theatre Uptown at 7:15 p.m. as part of the 2022 New Orleans Film Festival. The film is also currently playing at the Prytania Theatres at Canal Place, and is also streaming on Apple TV+.