(originally broadcast July 31, 1949)
|[Durham wrote several scripts highlighting black culture and its creative practitioners. Whether treating a musician, dancer, pop or opera singer, actor, poet, or novelist, Durham framed his dramas to communicate the ironic message that internationally recognized cultural beauty could emerge from the brute discrimination pervading American society but that the collective people from whom this cultural genius emerged continued to be socially abused, economically deprived, and politically exploited. In dramatizing the early life of the great jazz trumpeter, Louis Armstrong (1900-1971), Durham offered at once the story of Armstrong's music and a tribute to jazz, a new cultural expression formed through African-American talent and experience.]|
(RECORD: Open with trumpet prologue of Armstrong's "West End Blues")
TRUMPET: (Sanguine and a guy who has been in high and low places. Modest but knows his power. Worldly and mellow) That trumpet? That's me he's blowing. I'm Trumpet. Look at me: curved brass cylinder with a cup-shaped mouth. Three valves and a thousand tones. But the angel Gabriel touched his lips to my mouth and called home the quick and the dead. The Romans blew me when the earth was their empire. I've blown taps for the Caesars and the Napoleons. My voice has been heard in high and low places. But—until the "kid" blew me, I never knew what scales I could climb (record out)—He gave me tones I never knew were my own. He gave me a voice that was free and strong—so that his own could be—free and strong.
ANNOUNCER: Destination Freedom!
(MUSIC: Theme up and under)
ANNOUNCER: Destination Freedom—dramatizations of the great democratic traditions of the Negro people—is brought to you by station WMAQ as a part of the pageant of history and of America's own—DESTINATION FREEDOM!
(MUSIC: Theme up to finish)
ANNOUNCER: Out of the struggles of the Negro people against slavery and ghetto life has come the phenomenon of jazz, a truly American music...and one of the world's most potent art forms. It was from the narrow streets of once fabulous New Orleans, where jazz was born. And growing up beside it there came a jazz giant whose career set the pattern for the development of the new music. In a chapter entitled "The Trumpet Speaks" Destination Freedom dramatizes the early life of the king of the trumpeters: Louis Armstrong.
TRUMPET: Yes, I'm the trumpet. Brass cylinder and three valves. My tone was militant. In the orchestra pits in New Orleans 'round 1900 they fondled me with rondos, and runs blew sweet sonatas through my cylinders, blared a bit for Wagner and Beethoven, but left my tones intact as they'd been blown for a hundred years. (Worried) But across the tracks, around the levees and the work camps, in the wine rooms on Rampart and Basin Streets, husky bronze men filled my mouthpiece with wild winds and blew new notes that made the nerves of New Orleans quiver like a plucked string on a violin. A new rhythm was running up and down the spines of the river towns, and I sucked it into my valves and blew out new melodies, the new jazz, the ragtime that rocked the taverns and barrel houses. And over at Diamond Stone's Cafe, a tall leggy boy they called "Bunk" Johnson was in the back room...
(MUSIC: Brushes on drum, fade in)
TRUMPET: ... practicing a new beat with his drummer, "Baby" Dodds. And he gripped me in his iron fingers while the drummer tapped away—and wondered why he didn't blow:
(MUSIC: Brushes full)
DRUMMER: (Still working the drums) Aw right, aw right, Bunk, let's get with it.
BUNK: (Absently) Yea, yea.
DRUMMER: (Slight pause as he strikes two more beats) This is where you come in—Blow, man, blow, blow!—What you waitin' on?
BUNK: (Sighs, relaxes) I thought I heard "him" out there.
(MUSIC: Drum out)
DRUMMER: You mean that "kid."
DRUMMER: Diamond Stone say—
BUNK: (Tries to head him off) I know, I know....
DRUMMER: (Keeps on) Diamond says keep that "kid" away from the cafe. Says a kid hanging around a cafe like him draws cops like flies to honey. If you wanna keep your job as trumpet man in the trio, make that "kid" stop following you around.
BUNK: (In) He's not after me.
DRUMMER: Who's he after then?
BUNK: (Wistfully) This lil'o' trumpet. (Smiles) Some of these kids—are just like me. They hear the sound of a trumpet; they never forget it.
DRUMMER: You make this one forget it for your own good.
BUNK: All right, all right.
(MUSIC: Brushes on drum)
DRUMMER: (Picking up his beat) Now here's where you come in...right along here... (beats and pauses). You ready?
BUNK: (Pause) He's out there.
(MUSIC: Brushes out)
DRUMMER: Wait—don't blow. Put the trumpet down till he goes by.
TRUMPET: (Sotto, Quiet) He took me down from his lips and laid me on the table, and the drummer stopped his beat while outside in tenement alley an old horse drew an old wagon full of coal—and the "kid" guided it towards the back of Diamond Stone's Cafe
(SOUND: Ease in under and keep horse and wagon over cobblestones. Occasional lash)
TRUMPET: (Over sounds, sotto) The "kid" came calling in tone almost as clear as my own.
LOUIS: (Fading up) My mule is white a-n-d my face is brown
Ah sells mah coal all over town
C-o-a-l. Any c-o-a-l today, m'am?
Coal man. Coal (fade down to background and keep).
TRUMPET: (Over fade) The "kid" My mule is brown and my pants are came hawking his coal and peeping black. Ah sells my coal two bits a at the back windows of Diamond sack. C-o-a-l. Any c-o-a-l today, Stone's to see if he could get a m’am? Coal, man. Coal! glimpse of my shinin' cylinders in the hands of the trumpeter. He stopped his wagon at the door.
LOUIS: (Bring up and call somewhat softer and poignant) Coal? Any coal, today folks? Coal? (Hum and ad-lib the sales talk as the following narration goes through) Coal, man, coal... coal?
TRUMPET: (Low, quiet) He was perched on top the coal and straining his ears for the sound of someone blowing on a trumpet. And inside, the drummer gripped the trumpeter's arm and held him back.
DRUMMER: (Sotto, close) Just make like we haven't started practicing yet.
BUNK: (Quiet. A good guy who hates to do it) All right, all right. I ain't blowin'.
LOUIS: (From afar, going away) Coal? (Gives up, moves off, fading off) Coal man, coal. My horse is white and my skin is brown.... I sell my coal all over town ... coal ... coal man coal....
BUNK: (Over the fade down) Poor kid, too bad!
DRUMMER: (Snappy) Too bad "nothin." Let him grow into long pants first before he
grabs at a trumpet. A guy who blows a trumpet like you do's got to have steel lips and iron lungs. He's got to be a man. (Going off) No kids. He's got to be a man.
TRUMPET: (Soft and sympathetic) Yea, in New Orleans in the hot years when ragtime was being beat and molded into a new music—those who picked up the trumpet had to give body and soul to blowin' out the new music that stung the heart of those who heard it like a shot of adrenaline. The kid who sold coal came to a dead-end street, hitched his wagon to a lamppost, and walked up two rickety flights of tenement stairs.
(SOUND: Footsteps to door and knocking. Door open)
ARMSTRONG SR: (Peering. In sour situation) Yea? Who?
LOUIS: (Tired) Me, dad.
ARMSTRONG SR: (Fade back) It's about time. How much coal did you sell?
LOUIS: Well—I only got to go around the district twice.
ARMSTRONG: (Hard) You could have gone around four, five times if you hadn't stopped in that cafe—
LOUIS: I didn't stop—I—
ARMSTRONG: (Override him) Don't you think I know you and the gang of brats you run round with sneak in every cafe on Rampart Street, ape the drummers and the trumpet players—wastin' time when you should be workin', helpin' pay rent
LOUIS: (Gets a word in edgewise) I—I didn't stop—I worked all day!
ARMSTRONG: (Cut in, decisive) You laid out in Diamond Stone's Cafe too! (Beat) Admit it!
LOUIS: (Sullen) I didn't stop today!
(SOUND: Terrific slap)
ARMSTRONG: I will until you will tell the truth!
(SOUND: Terrific slap)
MOTHER: Will! Will—don't hit the boy.
ARMSTRONG: Let go of my arm, woman!
MOTHER: I say—don't hit the boy again. You hear?
ARMSTRONG: (Relaxes) Sure, sure, May—you're right. (Dismay) I—I don't know what's gotten into me lately. Fin all nerves, and I'm biting and snapping and fighting at every word the boy throws at me. I don't know. Sorry, son.
LOUIS: All right, dad.
ARMSTRONG: I don't know what's wrong with me. (Going off) I'm sorry I take it out on the boy.
TRUMPET: His father didn't know—but the "kid" knew. It was the twelve-hour day the old man put in at the turpentine fields. It was the invisible walls that penned him in the Negro ghettos around Rampart Street—it was the endless search for a way out of the blind alleys he'd walked for forty years. And he hadn't been stirred by the sound of a brass trumpet, like me, as the kid was. And at night when the moon hung over New Orleans like a silver penny you couldn't spend, the kid's mother would say
MOTHER: (Soft curiosity) Louis—you going out again tonight?
LOUIS: (Terse) Yes, ma.
MOTHER: Can't you tell me where?
LOUIS: Ain't "out" tellin' enough?
MOTHER: Not to me.
MOTHER: (Encouraging) Most boys your age are still children. But you've been working since zxc you were seven—you've earned a man's pay and shouldered a man's load—you're not a child,\ but you're still my boy. Can't you tell me where you goin'?
LOUIS: (Pause) To Diamond Stone's Cafe.
MOTHER: (A little strained) Why there—why always there?
LOUIS: There...I can sit in the back and listen to the men play that music...that's music.
When I hear it, I feel like they're talkin' to me, maw. When ol' Buddy Bolden—'n' Bunk Johnson and King Oliver blow on the trumpet. And when the piano rolls and the drum beats that way—
MOTHER: (Religious like) Nothin' but rowdies and drunkards in them cafes—!
LOUIS: Some folks don't mind.
MOTHER: (Religious wrath) Folks uptown says it's nothin' but "gutter" music!
LOUIS: (Pause. Quiet) Ain't I from the gutter? (Longer pause) Don't wait up for me, ma.
(SOUND: Footsteps to door open and close)
TRUMPET: (Quiet) The boy stumbled down the rickety stairs and picked his way
past the rubbish cans in the dark, headed towards the streets with the crowded cafes, ducked his head inside every tavern where he heard a musician blowing blues through my valves, and he came to Diamond Stone's Cafe and...
(RECORD: Bunk Johnson's "Panama" fade on)
TRUMPET: …eased in before the bouncer could see him—sat quiet while Bunk beat the ragtime tune into shape and stripped the loneliness off the listeners and melted them into one rhythm....
(RECORD: Bring up Bunk, Johnson's trumpet, and ease down and out)
TRUMPET: And when Bunk Johnson had blown himself out and was wrapping my brass mouth in velvet—the kid came up, and the drummer saw him.
DRUMMER: (Aside, nudging Johnson) It's that coal-sellin' kid again, Bunk. Shall I call the bouncer?
BUNK: (Quiet) Let him alone.
DRUMMER: He's looking at your trumpet like it's a girl he loves. Get him outta here
before Diamond thinks you invited him.
BUNK: All right, all right. (Up soft) Say kid.
LOUIS: (From a trance) Yea?
BUNK: You'd really like to blow that—huh?
LOUIS: If I could blow it like you 'n' Buddy Bolden.
BUNK: You know where Buddy Bolden is now?
BUNK: (Quick) Where
LOUIS: Insane asylum.
BUNK: Too much of this night-life and trumpet put him there.
BUNK: And this too....
TRUMPET: And he pointed to me and to the cafe and the ghetto outside. The kid didn't bat an eye.
LOUIS: (Wistful) I'd sure like to blow on it. I'd sure like for you to show me, Mr. Johnson.
DRUMMER: (Nudging) What'd I tell you? He ain't heard a word you said.
BUNK: Who are you, kid?
LOUIS: I sell coal.
BUNK: I know about the coal. What's your name?
LOUIS: Louie, Louie Armstrong.
DRUMMER: (Nudging) The kids 'round Rampart Street call him Satchelmouth. You see why.
BUNK: All right, Satchmo'. Tell you what. I'll show you how to blow in my spare time.
LOUIS: (Eager) You will?
BUNK: (Goes on) Sure, but two can't blow one horn. Buy yourself a trumpet. Come back—and we'll get together.
LOUIS: (Flat) Oh. (Realizes the task) Oh!
TRUMPET: He took a long look at my valves and shining mouth and went back home and rose the next morning and made the rounds of Rampart and Franklin Streets—
(SOUND: Horse and wagon in under)
LOUIS: My face is brown and my mule is black
I sell my coal two bits a sack.
Coal m’am? (Fade) Coal man, man. C-o-a-l.
TRUMPET: He stacked the pennies profit from his coal deals, and when the year ended, he dropped a sack of coins on the counter of a Basin Street music dealer.
DEALER: (Gruff, anti-youth) What's this sack of pennies fer?
LOUIS: I priced the trumpet in the window—you said seventy dollars could get it.
DEALER: (Cagey) Now I do remember sayin' something like that, I do.
LOUIS: I got seventy here.
DEALER: (Afterthought) But when I said that—well, that was near a year ago. Wages are still the same—but prices are higher. You'd need ninety.
LOUIS: (Disappointed) Oh....
DEALER: Tell you what—you just let me keep this here seventy on account—
LOUIS: (Suspicious) On account of what?
DEALER: On account of it's safer in my hands than probably where you live—isn't it?
LOUIS: (Agrees slowly) Well—I guess it might be.
DEALER: Sure, sure. Now you run 'long and peddle some more coal. Come back when you got the other twenty.
TRUMPET: The kid took a long look at me lying there, a cool silver trumpet between trombones and tubas, and he went and hawked his coal until the coins piled twenty dollars high, and he sat the sack on the dealer's counter again. The dealer was absentminded.
DEALER: (Now who) Er—boy—just what's the meaning of this dirty sack?
LOUIS: It means I got enough in it for the trumpet.
DEALER: What trumpet—?
LOUIS: (In) That trumpet I paid down on. That one.
DEALER: (Shakes his head) Get your dirty hands off that instrument. You want me to call the law?
LOUIS: But you said—
DEALER: I said get out!
LOUIS: Not until I get my trumpet!
DEALER: (Grabs) Here, here put that down you—(Up) Police! Police! Gimme that horn!
(SOUND: Scuffling and fade)
TRUMPET: (Excited) They pulled me back and forth between them, and the kid held on while the dealer screamed and a Basin Street policeman answered the call.
(SOUND: Door opened off mike)
POLICEMAN: (Fade on) Break it up, break it up there! (After he has parted them) Now, what's this ragamuffin doin' in your store.
DEALER: (Trying to adjust himself) Tryin' to steal a horn that's what—
LOUIS: (Cut in) No—officer—he's—got my money and
DEALER: Who do you think's lyin' officer?
OFFICER: (No thinking needed) Now boy—get back to your own neighborhood where you belong. If I catch you roamin' out of it again, it'll be hard on you. (Going off) Loosen that trumpet and get goin'.
TRUMPET: The kid's grip loosened on my shiny handle, and he left me in the dealer's hands. He went back to Rampart Street while he forced me out of' his mind, gathered his gang of coal sellers together, made a quartet, and sang for nickels along Perdido Street. Hid from the police patrols at night and sat inside the cafes 'til the early morning while traveling musicians from the four corners of the Delta convened in the New Orleans bistros, ballrooms, and dance halls and poured out the new music.
(RECORD: In under above, begin Sidney Bechet "Wild Man Blues")
TRUMPET: (On cue as record eases down) And the kid listened and created sounds of his own from bottles and cans, and rattled up and down Basin Street with his boys until one evening ...
TRUMPET: ... his father looked at his wide shoulders and said
ARMSTRONG SR: (Appraising) You've grown strong as a man, and you're not even nineteen
LOUIS: (Proud of it) That's what the guys who try to tackle me say.
ARMSTRONG: I was thinking,
ARMSTRONG: They need a strong man in the turpentine camp—I'd like to have you try it.
MOTHER: (Fade on) No—no, you won't take him.
ARMSTRONG: (Over his shoulder) I thought you had left this to me, May
MOTHER: Once they take a boy into the turpentine camps—that's all he's good for the rest of his days.
ARMSTRONG: (Hurt) What else is he going to do?
MOTHER: There's his music.
ARMSTRONG: He can't play a note!
MOTHER: (Quiet) He's got the notes inside him. I've watched him, and I've listened to him—and I believe he'll grow famous.
ARMSTRONG: All he'll play is the junk they shout out around the streets. You said yourself it wasn't worth listening to.
MOTHER: (In soft) I've changed my mind. Too many people come into New Orleans to hear it—and they get real pleasure from it. Maybe there's something in this "ragtime" music—you and I are too old to feel ... but it's in Louis's blood. Let him grow.
TRUMPET: (Soft) She saved him. And somehow his own dogged drive to find a horn to master the rhythms and the melodies he heard around him pushed him on. And in the evenings after the coal was sold, he carried the instruments for traveling musicians who were coming into New Orleans, and he would sleep besides the pianos waiting for the player to finish so he could collect his tips.
(RECORD: Under above, establish Meade Lux Lewis "Honkey Tonk Train." Fade)
TRUMPET: (Over fade) And one evening the piano player ended his odd chord— drilling on the keyboards and turned to the kid—
PIANO: (Shaking him) Say—say, kid.
LOUIS: (Waking) Uh—
PIANO: It's closin' time. Thanks for handlin' my suitcase.
LOUIS: Oh—sure, but—you said—
PIANO: (Cut in, disappointed) I—I know, I said I'd pay, but—well, if you hadda kept your eyes open, you coulda seen I didn't get a penny all night.
LOUIS: (Disappointed) You didn't show me how to play the piano either
PIANO: (Soft, chides) I know, I know. (Idea) I tell you what. You look like the kind who can handle himself.
LOUIS: I do all right.
PIANO: I thought so. (More secretive) I ain't got no dough, but I got something that gets dough. Here—put it in your pocket.
LOUIS: (Looking) A gun. A thirty-eight.
PIANO: Why shout out loud?
LOUIS: I—I ain't got much use for this.
PIANO: Oh—you'll find some. Believe me, you'll make money quicker with it—than with all the music I can teach you. Think hard. (Going off) A thirty-eight could be your best friend.
TRUMPET: The kid thought hard and then slipped the cold steel inside his pocket, walked out into the morning air, and headed towards the secondhand shop.
(SOUND: Door opened and jingles as footsteps pace up)
DEALER: (Suspicious) Eh—boy—what're you here for now?
LOUIS: I came to get the trumpet I bought.
DEALER: (Little nervous but bluffy) Listen here—didn't the cop convince you that you didn't have a chance against my word? Didn't he— ?
LOUIS: He convinced me I needed a gun to get what's mine—I'll take it.
DEALER: (Fear) Now—put down that gun, boy. The cop's outside. Beat it now, and I won't tell on ya.
LOUIS: (Grabbing) I'm taking the horn with me. Now stay back there.
(SOUND: Door thrown open)
POLICE: (Fade on. Has been watching) Hold on! Stand where you are, boy. Drop that gun
LOUIS: (Being held, struggling) Let me go! Don't
DEALER: (Slightly off) Hold him, officer! I told you he'd come back— hold him!
(SOUND: Struggle activity under)
POLICE: (Conquers) There—there now! Gimme this gun or I'll crack your head. (Breathes after struggle) Now—let's see (Notices) Well—
DEALER: (Nervous) He was aimin' to kill me officer, I told you-‑
POLICE: (Relaxes) He wasn't goin' to do much killin' with this pistol. Not a bullet in it. Come on boy, I'm goin' to put you where you'll be nice and safe for a long time. (Going off) A long, long time.
TRUMPET: He took the kid to the juvenile court, and the judge was having a busy day.
(SOUND: General sound of very busy courtroom. Gavel sound out)
JUDGE: (Bawls out) N-e-x-t c-a-s-e! Armstrong!
LOUIS: (Fade on) Yessir?
POLICE: (Turns to) Yer honor
JUDGE: (Ease in) I know, I know, I've decided on this one. Louis Armstrong?
JUDGE: (Somewhat kindly) I could send you to the road gangs—even at your age. But—there's something about what you were tryin to get from the music dealer that—well, makes me hesitate. Any kid wants to learn music that bad ought to be given a chance at it. I can't give you the chance. Maybe old director Davis over at the reform school can. Two years.
JUDGE: N-e-x-t c-a-s-e! Next! (Going off) Next case!
(SOUND: Going off, Gavel)
TRUMPET: They moved the kid out of the courtroom and into the crowded reform school—and closed the door behind him. And director Davis looked over the new charge.
DAVIS: (Old, kindly) I understand you've got a yen for music. You'll like it here.
LOUIS: (Noncommital) Yes sir.
DAVIS: I've trained a sort of band here, and sometimes we travel all over New Orleans playing marching music for the parades.
LOUIS: Yes sir.
DAVIS: There may be a place in the band for you. LOUIS: Thank you.
DAVIS: I'll start you out on the tambourines....
DAVIS: Then if you do well—perhaps we can teach you how to handle the drums....
LOUIS: Well, thanks, but—
DAVIS: (Continues) Then there's the horn. You noticed this morning we had a trumpet boy blowing reveille—
LOUIS: (Eager) I—I noticed.
DAVIS: Well—the regular boy's being discharged. Goin' home. I'd like to start training someone new. If you can make heads or tails out of this horn by tomorrow morning, come down to class and get started. (Going off) Yes, I think you'll like it here.
TRUMPET: The director put me, the trumpet, in the kid's hand. And his eyes were wet as he gripped my handle and ran to his bunk, and all night he was putting me to his lips and puffing through my cylinders. And when the mouthpiece slid off from his untrained touch, he took the breakfast knife in the morning and hacked notches in the mouthpieces so they would fit his lips. And he blew and learned the notes in the reform school classroom until his term was nearly up and his mother came by.
MOTHER: (Puzzled) Louis. You say you don't want to come home.
LOUIS: (Somewhat inner excited) Home! Ma, I'm trying to tell you, it's easier here. I don't mind it now
MOTHER: Son, what's happened? (Tearfully) In two years I've never seen such—such a change.
LOUIS: (Somewhat harsh) Maw—don't cry! I'm staying in's long as they'll teach me—all the music they know. (Quieter and more sympathetic) Be quiet. When I come out, I'll make the noise. I'll be able to make the kind of noise people'll come miles to hear. Let me learn. (Going off) I've gotta learn all I can.
TRUMPET: The kid left her and went back to me, the trumpet, and blew until his cheeks ached and his lips cracked and split, but he kept on. He marched in the parades, and his notes took on a military precision and cut clean and clear. And when "the day" came, the director called him inside the school's office.
DIRECTOR: (Pleased, amiable) You've learned more music here than most students get in college, Louis. What do you intend doin' now that you're leaving?
LOUIS: I'm looking for work.
DIRECTOR: Good. Well—(getting up). Stop by and visit us sometimes.
LOUIS: (Smiles as he fades) Sure, sure, maybe I'll have to.
DIRECTOR: No. I don't think so, Louis. Oh, by the way
DIRECTOR: You'll have to leave that trumpet here. It belongs to the school.
DIRECTOR: Sorry—you earned it. Maybe the next time you get a trumpet—it'll be your own. (Going off) You'll get one, Louis.
TRUMPET: The kid left me lying on the director's desk and went back to the work he knew people paid for.
(SOUND: Under above, the horse and wagon over the cobblestones)
LOUIS: Coal, man. Coal, man?
My face is brown, my horse is black
I sell my coal two bits a sack. (Going off)
Coal? Coal man, coal!
TRUMPET: He went back on the blocks, but there was a new tune in his voice, and over in Diamond Stone's Cafe, Bunk Johnson and his drummer were rehearsing—and again the drummer heard him coming
(MUSIC: Brushes beat in rhythm. Stops)
BUNK: Hey—be quiet a minute.
DRUMMER: You listenin' for something?
BUNK: Yea—it's him.
DRUMMER: Oh—that wild kid that sells coal? Still lookin' for you to teach him trumpet?
BUNK: I don't know. I ain't seen him in two years.
DRUMMER: Sounds like he's coming this way. You wanna duck out?
LOUIS: (Fade well under the above) Coal? Coal man. Anybody want any coal?
DRUMMER: The stuff they sell in this cafe keeps you a lot warmer than coal, kid, and it's liquid. Beat it!
LOUIS: (On) I'm looking for Bunk.
BUNK: What for?
LOUIS: I can blow the trumpet some. I want a place in his band.
DRUMMER: (Aside) Just by handlin' coal he's learned to handle a trumpet? Kid we ain't got time to teach beginners....
LOUIS: (Cut in) I've gone by the beginners. I'm working up to your class.
DRUMMER: Well, listen to that, will ya?
BUNK: Yea, I'm listening. Tell you what, kid. I got an old extra trumpet here. Suppose you come round tonight and sit up on the bandstand. We'll see what class you're in. (Going off) Yes, we'll see what class you're in.
TRUMPET: When night came, it found the kid back at Diamond Stone's, and they let him
get on the bandstand, and Bunk put a battered old horn in his hand.
BUNK: You listen to us play first
LOUIS: I've been listenin' all of nineteen years...
BUNK: You listen nineteen minutes more. We'll tell you when to try to blow in. The number's "Tiger Rag." You heard of it?
LOUIS: I know it.
BUNK: OK. Here we go. (Record: In with "Tiger Rag")
TRUMPET: The kid had me at his lips, and with his lungs grown strong by hawking coal and his dreams clear, bold and rich he pushed me through notes and chords I'd never hit before and captured the new music inside his horn.
TRUMPET: And when he had shot the last note high above high C, the band stopped and the patrons stood up and were staring at the raggedy kid from the reform school. Johnson nudged him.
BUNK: (Awed) I don't know where you got all that power, but if you'll stick around, I'll teach you what I know. (Going off) Come on along—there's a guy around here you gotta know—
TRUMPET: Bunk took the kid across the street and broke into the Blind Mole Cafe, where King Oliver, the man who first made New Orleans trumpets scream like panthers, was going through his rehearsals.
(RECORD: Sneak Oliver's "New Orleans Stomp")
TRUMPET: When the King saw what Bunk had brought in, he frowned.
KING: Bunk—you still pickin' up stray cats?
BUNK: (Anxious) Listen, King—this kid blows like mad.
BUNK: (Break in) King—you got to listen to him. In less'n a month everybody in New Orleans'll forget all about you an' me.
KING: You crazy
BUNK: Listen. They say when a new music's bein' born, you get one kid like this who comes along years ahead of himself. This kid plays tomorrow's music today.
KING: (Less sure) You crazy
BUNK: You listen. Say—Louis.
LOUIS: (Fade on) Yes
BUNK: Get up there with Oliver's band
LOUIS: King Oliver?
BUNK: Yea—the great "King." Get up there and blow some for 'em.
LOUIS: (Fading) Will I?
BUNK: Wait. Take my trumpet. just blow the way you blew across the street—if you've got any more left in you.
TRUMPET: (Sotto) He climbed into King Oliver's bandstand, and he had plenty more left in him. When the band began to play
(RECORD: Armstrong's "Lazy River")
TRUMPET: (Over record) The kid put me to his lips and blew with a phrasing that was peculiar to old New Orleans. When the shouts had died down from the people around ...
TRUMPET: King Oliver said—
KING: (Affected) Look, kid, when you blow you sum up all that’s been said around here in a hundred years, and you say it better. I’m going up to Chicago. I want you in the band. Jazz is going north to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, and from there—everywhere. You’ve got the power and the imagination to go with it—and lead it—believe me. Blow those "West End Blues" wherever you go. You’re the one who can make the trumpet talk—and tell the truth.
(RECORD: Prelude of "West End Blues" up and then as it ends, shift)
TRUMPET: Yes, he was the one who could make me talk—and he did. I’d spoken for the angel Gabriel and had blown taps for the Romans. My voice had been heard in high and low places. But he got out of me tones…
TRUMPET: …I never knew were my own. He made the trumpet tell the truth…
(MUSIC: "West End Blues" curtain)
ANNOUNCER: You have just heard Destination Freedom’s dramatization of "The Trumpet Talks, " based on the early life of Louis Armstrong.