leave it all behind you

Jul 5, 2008 by

Louis Armstrong believed he was born on the 4th of July, 1900.

Turns out he was wrong. He was born on August 4th, 1901. But he lived his whole life – and even died – believing that he was born on July 4th. So out of respect for Mr. Armstrong’s memory, I’ll believe this, too, even though I know it isn’t factual. I think they call that faith. And as long as no one gets hurt, why not?

Facts can be bothersome at times. Sometimes not. Here’s a little known fact from the annals (almost-pun not intended) of New Orleans jazz history that is actually fun to acknowledge as true.

Yes, there he is, the man himself, Louis Armstrong, butt naked on the crapper, shilling an herbal laxative. Now, mind you, Mr. Armstrong did not need the money. He was not desperate in that way. This endorsement was done out of love and genuine conviction for a product that he held near and dear (to say the least).

I am not making this up. It is a well-documented fact. It’s also an endearing fact. And I can prove it (sort of).

In the great jazz biography, “The Louis Armstrong Story,” by Max Jones and John Chilton, Mr. Armstrong is quoted on page 220 thus:

“I take my Swiss Kriss, man, they keep you rollin’. Old Methuselah, he’d have been here with us if he had know about them!”

It’s even mentioned in Satchmo’s Wikipedia entry, like so:

“Armstrong was also greatly concerned with his health and bodily functions. He made frequent use of laxatives as a means of controlling his weight, a practice he advocated both to personal acquaintances and in the diet plans he published under the title Lose Weight the Satchmo Way. Armstrong’s laxative of preference in his younger days was Pluto Water, but he then became an enthusiastic convert when he discovered the herbal remedy Swiss Kriss. He would extol its virtues to anyone who would listen and pass out packets to everyone he encountered, including members of the British Royal Family. (Armstrong also appeared in humorous, albeit risqué, advertisements for Swiss Kriss; the ads bore a picture of him sitting on a toilet — as viewed through a keyhole — with the slogan “Satch says, ‘Leave it all behind ya!'”)”

Part of what I do for a living is the buying and selling of old jazz memorabilia. I’m not much of a collector myself (it’s how I stay in business) but every now and then I come across an oddity that I can’t bear to part with. This is one.

Now, on the back of the above photo is this:

The handwriting is definitely Satch’s. I’ve been dealing in jazz autographs for a long time now and I like to think I can spot a fake Armstrong signature from thirty paces in misty moonlight. This isn’t even signed, but you can bet that’s his hand. Who would want to fake something like this, anyway?

Why am I telling you this? Because you need to know. History means nothing without the little details. At the end of the day we’re all human, just flesh and blood – even those of us who wind up flailing about from the grave all dressed up in our mythological proportions.

Yet another reason to love New Orleans. They keep piling up.

Again; pun unintentional.

Have a great 4th of July weekend, everyone. And, if you would, please say a little happy birthday prayer for Mr. Armstrong.

Louis Maistros


These things may not be right, but they are true.

The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros is due for publication from The Toby Press in Spring 2009.

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