Evtushenko in New Orleans

Evtushenko in New Orleans


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Evtushenko visited the statue of Louis Armstrong by . . . Elizabeth Catlett. . . .

 Evtushenko regretted he had come without flowers, and so plucked and  laid,

somewhat appropriately, a yellow daffodil at the foot of the Armstrong statue



Satchmo CDs

Best Of Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong  /  Louis Armstrong – All-Time Greatest Hits  /  The Hot Fives & Sevens  

 The Definitive Collection / The Essential Louis Armstrong

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Books by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Early Poems / The Collected Poems, 1952-1990 Don’t Die Before You’re Dead / Twentieth Century Russian Poetry

A Precocious Autobiography / Ivan The Terrible and Ivan the Fool / Selected Poems

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Yevtushenko in Satchmo’s New Orleans

By Rudolph Lewis


A steady light rain, typically New Orleans, nearly spoiled the Annual Armstrong Fourth of July Celebration. However, a hundred or so undaunted souls refused to have their spirits dampened, though compelled to camp under newspapers and umbrellas, sometimes hopping and wading through concrete water puddles. They came to honor the great jazz musician and composer Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, and to hear a poetic tribute to Satchmo by the popular Soviet poet and world literary figure, Evgeny Evtushenko.

A local jazz band was playing “When the Saints Go Matching In” as we arrived at Armstrong Park from the Airport interview. Evtushenko quickened to the gospel/jazz rhythm, did a two-step, and moved toward the bandstand, camera cocked. I was left holding his opened umbrella. Many eyes turned to Evtushenko, his moving so freely on the bandstand and among the gathered devotees of Louie’s music, camera clicking, taking pictures of the musicians and dancers. Probably a photographer, a reporter, or an enthusiastic tourist, many at the gathering felt, still in the light rain, standing under newspapers, blankets, or umbrellas. A Negro man, a native of New Orleans, overcome by the occasion and place, performed the “second line” in a foot of water under a decorated umbrella. (The “second line” is a dance done to the swinging upbeat of a jazz marching band on its return from the cemetery as the final part of a jazz funeral.) Evtushenko followed him in, snapping away

Evtushenko & Louie

The park was dedicated April 15, 1980, to the memory of Louis Armstrong, who carried the charm of New Orleans to the world. The area is known also as Congo Square or Place Congo, created on the outskirts of the French Quarter, opposite St. Louis Cathedral and Place D’Armes, now Jackson Square. George W. Cable, a great New Orleans writer, described two areas in Century Magazine (1886) as follows: “One was the highest ground; the other on the lowest. The one was the rendevous of the rich man, the master, the military officer–of all that went to make up the ruling class; the other of the butcher and the baker, the raftsman, the sailor, the quadroon, the painted girl, and the Negro slave. . . . The hour (Sunday afternoons) was the slave’s term of momentary liberty, and his simple, savage, musical and superstitious nature dedicated it to amatory song and dance with his rude notions of supernatural influences.”

Channel 4 TV newsmen following, Evtushenko visited the statue of Louis Armstrong by the famous Negro sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, former art professor at Dillard University, a local private Negro institution. Evtushenko regretted he had come without flowers, and so plucked and laid, somewhat appropriately, a yellow daffodil at the foot of the Armstrong statue. Evtushenko said he had met Satchmo twice–once in Mexico and again in Europe. Before leaving, Evtushenko orchestrated a memorable pose for his camera: two Negro boys from Treme (an impoverished area on the edge of the park) on each side of the statue’s base, astride their bicycles.

Under the sheltered threshold of the Municipal Building, part of the park and frequently used for concerts, we took refuge when the downpour began. Here Evtushenko read in Russian his poem for Louis Armstrong to the Channel 4 TV cameras. The Armstrong poem was first read by translator Albert Todd, professor of Russian Literature, Queens College. After the reading of the poem, a representative from the Mayor’s Office presented Evtushenko the city’s Merit Award.

Poetry & the Soviet Union

Although we all had seen photographs of the Russian poet, none of us recognized him at his flight’s arrival gate. Evtushenko was dressed casually and looked inconsequential as he chatted with the wife of Dr. Todd, who had gone in search of the welcoming party. After the introductions, we all went to the airport’s Delta Crown Room. The TV newsmen had set up their equipment. Crowded in the small room, Evtushenko moved in behind the table of microphones and lit a cigarette. Somewhat awkwardly, the TV newsmen began with questions about the political situation between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Evtushenko asked that questions on Soviet policy be put to the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. “I am an artist,” he explained, “not a politician.” To a question about “terrorism in the air,” Evtushenko’s response was similar to President Reagan’s, but with a difference. “It’s barbaric action,” the poet responded. “But there is a terror of daily life, such as starvation. I am against any kind of terrorism. We must not overlook these other kinds of terror.”

“We need to develop a cultural exchange,” Evtushenko added. “Americans know very little about Russian life and culture. It is in cultural artifacts that we find the souls of the people. Americans need to know more. There are so many Russian writers not published in America.”

According to Evtushenko, cultural relations should be emphasized more than the political and military. “The Russian people love Americans. We are both children of the big spaces. Our souls speak between another. You must remember we took a common stand against fascism. It was the honeymoon. I remember seeing Americans in the Moscow crowd. I have a good memory of the honeymoon. I want it to be resurrected.”

Evtushenko expressed his amazement at the efforts to dissuade him from his desire to read his poetry at a steel mill in Buffalo, New York. “It is not uncommon in the Soviet Union,” the poet explained, “for tens of thousands of factory workers to come to hear Russian poets. One does not need to be educated to love poetry. Poetry is not disconnected from suffering. You know, the reader of poetry is great artist. There is a magic order of words. American intellectuals are lazy,” he concluded. “They do not educate the workers to love poetry.”

In response to reservations about himself because he had not been intimidated or confined like Solzenitsyn or Sarkarov, Evtuhsenko said: “Government is part of society. All criticism is of the confessional genre. You criticize the government, you criticize yourself. One must have courage to criticize oneself. Remember we are journalists of eternity. Ours is a spiritual newspaper.”

“Positive changes are taking place in Soviet life, contrary to American understanding,” according to Evtushenko. “What has been happening in the Soviet Union since 1953 is a spiritual revolution, one which subjects us to great tensions and which demands of us great patience. Dogmatists used, still use, and will go on using every opportunity they can to arrest the process of democratization of our country.”

“I am here in defense of Mother Earth,” continued the Russian poet. “The concept, as I understand it, embraces not just trees and animals but people.” He said he had received a special pleasure in his travels. “In every country, I looked for men who were prepared to fight heart and soul against lies, the abuse of power, and the exploitation of man by man wherever they exist. And everywhere I found such men.”

Soiree at Lee’s Palace

Evtushenko was soaked from head to toe when we left Armstrong Park. We stopped by my Marigny apartment for dry clothes. I offered Evtushenko a shirt and shoes, but they were too small for his large, lanky frame. Finally, he settled for Indian-made sandals, long converted into flip-flops. Still in good humor, Evtushenko quipped, as we got out of Marty O’Farrell’s van at Lesseps Street, “Ahh, this is Lee’s Winter Palace.”

Though subject to possible social ostracism for harboring a “Commie,” Lee and Reggie Grue felt honored. They hosted that evening a party for Evtushenko at their Lesseps Street home. As reported by the Times-Picayune‘s Society page, the theme was Literature a la Russe. Evtushenko’s visit to New Orleans and the party were sponsored by the New Orleans Poetry Forum and Bridges for Peace. Evtushenko began to enjoy himself truly at Lee’s, even though there were moments when some people wanted him to be more than a writer–some sort of foreign minister who was going to transform pervasive political evil into sweetness and light. Evtushenko, however, would probably like nothing more than to write and be judged on how well rather than on what he wrote. At the party, he was with a group of people who took him in that way, and he expanded wonderfully and visibly. By surprise, he spoke approvingly of Audrey Hepburn movies.

Local writers, including Yusef Komunyakaa, Tom Bonner, Kenneth Holditch, Peter Cooley, and Martha McFerren, felt fortunate to talk with Russia’s most popular poet. Helen Parnell, a member of Bridges for Peace, was photographed by the local paper chatting with Evtushenko, as he autographed a copy of his novel Wild Berries, written soon after his divorce when he was “very close to suicide.”

A Public Reading Uptown

At Newcombe Chapel, Friday, July 5, 1985, Evtushenko’s performance was truly extraordinary. His manner of reading startled many, which was unlike the typical cool, monotone reading of academic poets as they stand uneasily behind a podium. Evtushenko interpreted with every fiber of his body the nuances of his Russian-written poems, by dramatic gestures and movement in and out of the assembled audience. At one moment, he would declaim sonorously righteous indignation, and the next, coo convincingly to move the reluctant toward conviction and action.

In English, Evtushenko recited “Babi Yar,” the celebrated and controversial poem written in 1961. The poem recalls in 62 lines the massacre of more than 100,000 people, half of them Jews, murdered by Nazis during the German occupation of Kiev between 1941 and 1943 and buried in a ravine called Babi Yar. The reading of the poem received a standing ovation. Though some consider “Babi Yar” his best poem, Evtushenko prefers “Weddings.”

After the Newcombe Chapel recital, Evtushenko spent an hour chatting with members of his admiring audience at a reception. He looked haggard. With his coat across his left arm, Evtushenko, after two days in New Orleans, was still meeting and greeting strangers cordially, shaking hands and trying to respond to questions, which were sometimes idiotic. Faces were beginning to melt together. I walked near him, but he did not recognize me. Evtushenko thought I was still another wanting to shake the hand of the Soviet celebrity.

First published in The New Laurel Review, Vol. XV (Spring/Fall 1987), ed. Lee M. Grue  

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Louis Armstrong West End Blues—The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven—Kalamu ya Salaam—This is the big bang, the origin of modern jazz. Before Louis Armstrong jazz music was mainly about ensemble work featuring piano players and/or bandleaders, particularly Jelly Roll Morton but also others such as Fletcher Henderson, James P. Johnson, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and the up-and-coming Duke Ellington. But from 1921 when Armstrong went to Chicago, a major change was in the making.

By the time Armstrong went to New York to join Fletcher Henderson in 1924 people were coming out specifically to hear an amazing soloist. Satchmo was the preeminent personality in the music, but even so, no one was quite prepared for what Pops accomplished with a series of recordings known as the Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions.What did Pops do that was so different?

He established the blues as a basic foundation for modern jazz. He elevated the role of the soloists, not just himself as a feature in front of an orchestra, but rather Pops created a band of individual soloists, which was a radical departure from the collective improvisation of traditional New Orleans music and also from the heavily orchestrated arrangements of dance bands. He established scat singing and created a new style for American vocalists emphasizing rhythmic inflections and melodic variation rather than straight, operatic-like singing.

He introduced sophisticated harmonic improvisation with the soloist making on-the-spot variations. He established the trumpet as “the” major solo instrument in jazz and it would not be until the arrival of Charlie Parker that the trumpet’s reign would be challenged. Pick up any major book on the history of jazz and you will read ecstatic paeans about “West End Blues” (from Complete Hot Five – Volume 3). The opening fanfare alone is enough to establish the song as a masterpiece, but check also how Pops reverses the tradition of horn obbligatos behind a lead vocalist.—more Kalamu

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Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971), nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an “inventive” cornet and trumpet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the music’s focus from collective improvisation to solo performance. With his instantly recognizable deep and distinctive gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also greatly skilled at scat singing (vocalizing using sounds and syllables instead of actual lyrics).—wikipedia

Satchmo, the Documentary—Forty years ago (July 2011, the world lost one of the most influential musicians of all time. Dipper. Satchmo. Pops. The great Louis Armstrong, with his creative cornet and trumpet mastery, his distinctively gravelly voice and his remarkable stage charisma, not only revolutionized the American public’s relationship with jazz, but was also one of the first African-American entertainers equally revered by black and white audiences in a severely racially divided country. He codified the art of jazz improvisation and shaped the course of musical creativity for generations to come, his influence permeating a multitude of genres, eras, styles and subcultures.—brainpickings

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Trumpet Dreams—Kalamu ya Salaam—2006— Somewhere in America a young person looks at a trumpet. Ok, maybe they are not actually looking at a physical instrument. Maybe they are dreaming about a trumpet. Dreaming about playing a trumpet—the bell held high, gleaming in the sun, and people are dancing, and laughing, and shouting. Every riff played brings joy. Every move the dancers make in response, inspires our musician to higher heights of trumpetry. . . .

If this mythical kid dreaming of trumpet glory had studied the music, he certainly knew that King Oliver was the next trumpet great. Oliver traveled across the then new land called America, coast to coast. One of the iconic photographs of King Oliver and band was taken on the sidewalks of San Francisco. Coming rather early in the era of recordings, most of what comes down to us is but a pale sliver of sound compared to the reputation of the king, whose most lasting claim to fame was as a teacher and father figure for someone often considered the greatest jazz musician of all time: “Louis Satchelmouth” Armstrong.

Over the course of a long, long career that included hits in the 1950s, Armstrong grew to be affectionately known as “Pops” because he shouldered the responsibility of caring for and about at least three generations of jazz musicians. While Pop’s artistry as a trumpeter and vocalist will last as long as American culture lasts, what most of his fellow musicians valued most was the unstinting support he offered, including but not limited to, gifts of money when someone was down on their luck.

photo left: Herman Leonard

For the first half of the 20th century, you couldn’t get no bigger than Pops, couldn’t be more loved, or more welcomed worldwide. So when our kid is dreaming, undoubtedly the youngster envisions becoming as renown and loved as Pops was.

Armstrong’s shadow was so big that although he came along before the Harlem Renaissance, and although there were numerous other great jazz trumpeters including Bunk Johnson, who like Bolden came from the countryside, or Henry Red Allen (from Algiers, which is the part of New Orleans located on the west bank of the river), or Joe Newman, a stalwart of the Basie band, few knew that Joe was a New Orleans trumpeter, all of the brass men such as the aforementioned and many others notwithstanding, they were all dwarfed by the towering eminence of Louis Armstrong.

Within jazz in general there would be no serious challenge to Armstrong’s reign as the trumpet king until the meteoric rise of Dizzy Gillespie and the marathonic consistency of Miles Davis, both of whom would be eclipsed by another young man with a horn, another product of the New Orleans dream: Wynton Marsalis.—more Wordup

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The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World

By Daniel Yergin

Renowned energy authority Daniel Yergin continues the riveting story begun in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Prize, in this gripping account of the quest for the energy the world needs—and the power and riches that come with it. A master story teller as well as one of the world’s great experts, Yergin proves that energy is truly the engine of global political and economic change, as well as central to the battle over climate change.  From the jammed streets of Beijing, the shores of the Caspian Sea, and the conflicts in the Mideast, to Capitol Hill and Silicon Valley, Yergin takes us inside the decisions and choices that are shaping our future. Without understanding the realities of energy examined in The Quest, we may surrender our place at the helm of history. One of our great narrative writers, Yergin tells the inside stories—of the oil market, the rise of the “petrostate,” the race to control the resources of the former Soviet empire, and the massive corporate mergers that transformed the oil landscape.  He shows how the drama of oil—the struggle for access to it, the battle for control, the insecurity of  supply, the consequences of its use, its impact on the global economy, and the geopolitics that dominate it—will continue to shape our world.  

He takes on the toughest questions—will we run out of oil, and are China and the United States destined to conflict over oil? Yergin also reveals the surprising and turbulent history of nuclear, coal, electricity, and natural gas.  He investigates the “rebirth of renewables” —biofuels and wind,  as well as solar energy, which venture capitalists are betting will be “the next big thing” for meeting the  needs of a growing world economy. He makes clear why understanding this greening landscape and its future role are crucial.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion


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Louis Armstrong in His Own Words: Selected Writings

Edited by Thomas Brothers 

These writings from jazz great Louis Armstrong swing with the same warmth, rhythms, and inventive phrasing that made his music so popular. Armstrong toured with a typewriter and used it often for journals, writing letters to friends or strangers, and supplying reporters with material about his life. Eavesdropping backstage on Armstrong and his bandmates would make worthwhile reading for any jazz fan or historian, regardless of Armstrong’s ability as a writer. But Armstrong writes well, in a style completely his own. Editor Brothers provides context and insight through short introductions to each piece. But he has a deep respect for Armstrong and has interfered as little as possible with his idiosyncratic writing. Armstrong developed a unique usage of quotation marks, commas, dashes, and underscoring that gives the writing its rhythm. In a letter to his manager, Joe Glaser, he writes “IJust, Love, Your, Checks, in, My POCKETSOH They look so pretty, until, I hate like hell to cash them.” Armstrong uses jazz argot, much of it now assimilated into the language, translating when he thinks it necessary: “Here’s how we were busted (arrested to you) . . .”

Of some sharp sight-reading musicians he writes, “They might read a Fly Speck, if it get in the way.” The collection covers Armstrong’s entire life, from his poor beginnings in New Orleans to his heyday in Chicago to his last years in Corona, New York. But the most compelling reading comes from Armstrong on his passions for music, gage (marijuana), and laxatives. He even signed a telegram to President Eisenhower (offering to take “those little negro children personally into Central High School”) “Am Swiss Krissly Yours . . .” Swiss Kriss was the herbal laxative to which Armstrong credited his health. This collection transcends jazz and conventional grammar, revealing the humor and spirit of a legendary entertainer.—Kirkus Reviews / LettersofNote

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 28 December 2008



Home  Literature & Arts   Chick Webb Memorial Index  Music and Musicians   

Related Files:    Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans  Evtushenko in Satchmo’s New Orleans  Native Son: Louis Satchmo Armstrong (poem)  Satchmo   Armstrong’s Trumpet  

Ain’t Going Back No More   buddy bolden’s blues legacy     Didn’t He Ramble   Buddy Bolden in New Orleans   Buddy Bolden Short Story  Ode to a Magic City



What To Do With The Negroes?      Babii Yar  Lit a la Russe 

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