- Dec 17
How a New Year's Eve Stunt Launched a Music Legend
In the early 1900s, New Orleans’ 3rd Ward was nicknamed the Battleground.
It was a tough, impoverished neighborhood, populated by day laborers, musicians, hardworking families descended from former slaves and a criminal element that preyed on all of them.
On New Year’s Eve 1913, a 12-year-old boy from the Battleground found his stepfather’s revolver, loaded it with blanks and fired celebratory shots into the air.
He was arrested and sent to an all-boy’s reform school for two years.
His name was Louis Armstrong, future father of American jazz.
At the school, he was introduced to the cornet, a cousin of the trumpet. He learned the instrument quickly, practiced daily and, within a year, had become the school’s bandleader.
Armstrong would later describe reform school and the decades that followed as his “university,” where a dizzying number of jazz musicians mentored him and taught him to read music, play the trumpet and trombone, expand his musical awareness and become both a soloist and ensemble player.
He was always listening, always practicing, always evolving in his craft.
Why Kryterion loves the Armstrong spirit
We admire the perseverance necessary for the full expression of talent.
We revere the indomitable human desire to grow in the direction of a dream.
Armstrong could blow a hundred high Cs in a row, a nearly impossible feat.
When he played in Chicago and New York, young horn men would show up and try in vain to outplay him, splitting their lips in the attempt.
It took Louis Armstrong, the kid from the Battleground, 300 appearances a year for 30 years to become Louis Armstrong the legend.
His journey was as improvised and spontaneous as the music he played. And it took a long time.
Accelerate the path
These days, career-development paths are linear and progress more quickly than Armstrong’s 30-year musical odyssey.
Credentials in the form of licenses, certifications, and technical certificates offer today’s work force flexible, accelerated, highly focused options for skill and knowledge acquisition.
The unstoppable human desire to grow in the direction of a dream can be very impatient.
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New Orleans residents no longer refer to the 3rd Ward as the Battleground.
It’s now home to elegant hotels and an engineering marvel known as the Superdome, the world’s largest indoor arena.
The 3rd Ward is a story of transformation.
The same is true for some of its residents.
Louis Armstrong began life in the poverty and hardscrabble world of the Battleground. He concluded it as a world-famous jazz man who had changed the course of American music.
In 1967, four years before his death, he recorded a song called What a Wonderful World.
The lyrics speak to simple pleasures.
The title, at least in Armstrong’s case, is about what awaits when passion and perseverance conspire to reveal genius.