15 Surprising Satchmoments

If you've studied Louis Armstrong's biography, you'll enjoy seeing it brought to life. If you haven't, this show will be full of surprises.

Sure, you could watch a documentary. Read a biography. Listen to a record or two or ten. If you want to simply learn about the life of jazz legend Louis Armstrong, there’s no shortage of material.

But there’s something special about a one-person bio-play—something less eerie than using a medium to conjure a spirit, but more present and more humanizing than most other media. When an actor breathes life into a figure who once lived, and we listen to their words with fresh ears, it’s a new level of “paying respects.”

Salim Sanchez as Louis Armstrong. Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics

Respect was something jazz trumpeter and singer Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong struggled to obtain, probably more than anyone in his position before or since. And in Triangle Productions’ Satchmo at the Waldorf, actor Salim Sanchez credibly and thoughtfully embodies that struggle. Performing a script by Wall Street Journal drama critic and Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout, Sanchez portrays three characters: Armstrong, his manager Joe Glaser, and musician Miles Davis.

Glaser, a classic gladhanding manager, alternately cheerleads and badmouths Armstrong. Davis, the trumpeter’s younger competitor,  trash-talks him to the press. And Armstrong—whom the play portrays in a phase of later life when he’d stopped traveling and taken up residence in the Waldorf Astoria, a fancy hotel—is at turns wistful, resentful and grateful as he recalls the lifetime of experiences that brought him there. (Notably, what brought him exactly there, to the Waldorf, was his trailblazing policy of only performing at venues that would accommodate a Black guest: “If I can’t stay, I don’t play.”)

Sanchez shifts effortlessly between these characters and their various dimensions and tensions, which in itself is a wonder, but the story that unfolds is also a doozy. For those not familiar already: no spoilers. Instead, just for fun, I’ve distilled the play’s juiciest revelations into celebrity “clickbait” form. If Armstrong were as alive today as he appears in this play, here’s what the press might be saying:

15 Surprising Satchmoments

  1. Satchmo Sick?—Moments after a sold-out show, jazz star struggles backstage
  2. The Jazz Man and the Mob –Armstrong confesses his gangster connections
  3. The Problem With Geniuses: A Manager Tells All
  4. Who Made Me Feel at Home—Armstrong reveals which ethnic groups did and didn’t welcome him to their table
  5. Don’t Call Me ‘Louie’; I’m not French or a Snob—Armstrong shrugs off his nickname and reveals the real name he answers to
  6. From Jazz Nerd to Superstar in 3 Easy Steps—Armstrong’s manager gave him THIS advice to shine…
  7. Raised in a ‘Waif Home’—the pros and cons of growing up in an institution
  8. Fighting Words!—Miles Davis calls Louis Armstrong THIS hurtful slur
  9. What I Really Think of My Crowds—Armstrong keeps it 100
  10. Does Louis Dislike Ike?—The jazz star sent the president THIS scathing message…
  11. It’s My Biggest Hit, But I Hate It—the song audiences love, but Louis Armstrong finds forgettable
  12. With One Hour Left To Live, I’d do THIS—Miles Davis reveals his shocking revenge fantasy
  13. Business Betrayal!—Who double-crossed Pops, his manager or the mob?
  14. My Mom’s Cottage Industry—Armstrong grew up doing THIS to survive…
  15. The One Thing I’ve Always Done—Learn Armstrong’s biggest single secret of success

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Triangle Productions’ Satchmo at the Waldorf continues through May 27 in The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza. Ticket and schedule information here.

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