August 4: Satchmo

Louis ArmstrongIf you had a time machine, where and when would you go? Honestly, I’d use such a machine to go to concerts and see some of the greatest musicians of all time in their prime. First, I’d see Queen because Freddie Mercury is the platonic ideal of a rock star, but after that, I’d go see Louis Armstrong, who by all accounts was one of the most entertaining musicians to ever walk the earth. Fittingly, Armstrong was born on this day in 1901!

Over his forty-odd year career, Armstrong (known to friends and admirers as Satchmo) was best known for his iconic raspy voice and his masterful playing of the trumpet and clarinet. However, Armstrong was also known amongst his contemporaries for his sense of humor. In concert, he’d often tell jokes between songs, and was a big fan of dirty jokes and limericks. He usually ended letters with the phrase “Red beans and ricely yours,” a playful reference to the great foods of his native New Orleans. Sometimes his sense of humor would find its way in to his music, like on his famous 1955 recording of “Mack The Knife,”where just before his own trumpet solo Armstrong yells out “Take it Satch,” as if he’s instructing one of his bandmates to play.

Armstrong was the consummate entertainer. Even if he messed up on a recording, he’d find a way to keep it interesting. An old story says that while recording the song “Heebie Jeebies,” the sheet music fell to the floor and rather than stop the recording, Armstrong just started singing nonsense syllables for fun. The recording team liked Armstrong’s improvisations so much that the this recording was the version officially released as the “Heebie Jeebies” single. The record was a hit, and popularized the then new jazz technique of scatting. In another famous incident, during a recording of “I’m A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas,” Armstrong started singing “I done forgot the words” to much amusement of all involved.

On top of all that, Satchmo was always finding new ways to keep things interesting. He’d never play a song exactly the same way twice, adding different vocal or trumpet flourishes or changing the tempo of songs with every performance. In fact, he’d often compare his own musical recordings to spot the differences and sometimes even improvised on his trumpet while listening to the radio.

So, what better way to honor an innovative New Orleans musician than a twist on a classic New Orleans cocktail? Invented by Warren Bobrow of the Brooklyn spirits shop DrinkUpNY, the Satchmo is a slightly spicier reworking of the Sazerac that I’m sure Louis Armstrong would enjoy. I’ve included the bottles that Bobrow used, but with the exception of the creole bitters you can feel free to use what ingredients you have at hand.

Satchmo

  • 1/2 ounce Tenneyson Absinthe
  • 2 ounces Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition Bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce Campari
  • 1/2 ounce Death’s Door Gin
  • 1 sugar cube
  • Several dashes Bitter Truth Creole Bitters

Chill a cocktail glass with the 1/2 ounce of Absinthe with ice and water. Let it sit for a bit and then either pour the mixture out or drink it up. Rub the inside of the glass with a lemon zest, add a sugar cube soaked with the creole bitters and muddle it with a bar spoon or stick. Pour in the bourbon, Campari and gin. Stir with a lemon zest threaded onto a cocktail stirrer.

Tomorrow: Now here’s a little story I’ve got to tell, about (one of) three bad brothers you know so well…

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