When not pressing the valves on his trumpet or the record button on his tape recorder, Armstrong’s fingers found other arts with which to occupy themselves. One of them was collage, which became a visual outlet for his improvisational genius. The story goes that he did a series of collages on paper and tacked them up on the wall of his den, but Lucille, who had supervised the purchase and interior decoration of their house in Corona, Queens, objected. Armstrong decided to use his extensive library of tapes as a canvas instead, and the result is a collection of some five hundred decorated reel-to-reel boxes, one thousand collages counting front and back.. The collages feature photographs of Armstrong with friends (like the snapshot captioned “Taken at Catherine and Count Basie’s swimming pool, at his birthday party, August 1969”) and with fans (Armstrong seems never to have refused a photo op or an autograph); congratulatory telegrams and clippings from reviews of his performances; a blessing from the Vatican (as reassembled by Louis, the first lines read: “Mr. and Mrs. Most Holy Father Louis Armstrong”); and cutouts from packages of Swiss Kriss herbal laxatives, which, judging from the label’s ubiquity in these pieces, were as much a staple of Armstrong’s daily life as playing the horn. Only occasionally do the collages indicate the musical content within; usually there is no correlation.(read more in Paris Review)
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