Hanging With Satchmo

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In 2007 I visited the Louis Armstrong House Museum for what I assumed would be my first and only time. Only, something happened. I fell in love. Not just with Louis, but with the story of how a world-renowned legend came to call this modest brick house in the working class neighborhood of Corona, Queens “home.” He spent nearly thirty years there with his fourth and final wife, Lucille. After taking the tour, I went back to Beacon, NY and knocked out my own version of the story. I envisioned it as an interactive children’s e-book, and titled it Satchmo: King of Queens.

It was met with both enthusiasm and reluctant rejection, by both publishers and agents. In 2008 the economy collapsed and the publishing world went into a tale spin it still has not fully stabilized from. I had a legitimate agent who tried very hard within traditional publishing circles, but the response often was “too sophisticated” for the picture book age group.

My intent was that children could learn from the jazzy wordplay with links to things referenced like the Harlem Renaissance, the Nicholas Brothers, the Cotton Club, and of course, Satchmo playing live.

The high point of my pitch was hearing back from Phoebe Jacobs, Armstrong’s former press agent and, in 2012, the head of the Louis Armstrong Education Foundation. She liked my manuscript, and had sent it along to their legal team to see how involved they wanted to be. We spoke on the phone, where I was excited to tell her that I had just landed an agent.

I was thrilled that she was going to bat for my project. However, not long after that phone call Phoebe died, at 93. Satchmo: King of Queens was shelved while the Louis Armstrong Education Foundation reshuffled its hierarchy and put all its attention into the upcoming education/visitors center. When I reconnected with them, I was told that they had no funding available for books.

I had done a few illustrations for the book proposal, but kept thinking that I hadn’t nailed a style that fit the writing, or Louis. I wasn’t even sure that I was the right artist for the project. Meanwhile, I had written and done art for a short animated film, using Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues” as the soundtrack. Now I was thinking, maybe this was meant to be a short animated film all along!

That’s where I am now. I will need funding–where from? Maybe Kickstarter or another crowdfunding source. I will have to put together yet another pitch, this time on film. But now Satchmo himself will be my sales pitch partner, and who can resist that?

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Satchmo was soaring!
In the air, on the road, 300 days a year
Tooting his fine, brassy horn from Tokyo to Topeka,
Perched on the tip-top of the jazz world,
Pops pursed those lips and blew!

Wailin’ and sailin’,

Teasin’ and pleasin’,

Cattin’ and scattin’,

Zoot-suited, blues-rooted,

Raspy-throated, molasses-coated,

Growling through those pearly whites

“Satch” ruled the roost on Harlem nights.

(excerpt from Satchmo: King of Queens copyright Sharon Watts)

 Louis on Perdido Street - lo-rezartwork copyright Sharon Watts

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