Writings about Music

Louis Armstrong with Tillie and Morris Karnofsky in New Orleans

Louis Armstrong

"It was the Jewish people who instilled in me singing from the heart. (Louis Armstrong)

"i love the Jewish people because they taught me three things. how to eat. how to sing. and how to play. (Louis Armstrong)

Quoted below from Black History and Politics: This working link stopped working on an unknown day after the article was published. (MER)

"A Jewish family Karnofsky, who immigrated from Lithuania to the United States, took pity on the 7-year-old boy and brought him to their home.

There he stayed and spent the night in this Jewish family home, where for the first time in his life he was treated with kindness and tenderness.

When he went to bed, Mrs Karnofski sang him Russian lullabies, which he sang with her. Later he learned to sing and play several Russian and Jewish songs.

Mrs. Tillie "Ester" Karnofsky

Over time, this boy became the adopted son of this family.

Mr. Karnofsky gave him money to buy his first musical instrument, as was the custom in Jewish families.

Morris Karnofsky

Later, when he became a professional musician and composer, he used these Jewish melodies in compositions such as St. James's Hospital and Go Down Moses.

The little boy grew up and wrote a book about this Jewish family, who adopted him in 1907. And proudly spoke Yiddish fluently.

In memory of this family and until the end of his life, he wore the Star of David and said that in this family he learned "to live a real life and determination."

This little boy’s name was Louis Armstrong. This little boy was called Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong proudly spoke fluent Yiddish and the origins of his nickname "Satchmo" are truly shrouded in mystery no one really knows yet what the full story is there.

The New Orleans House where Louis Armstrong lived with Tillie and Morris Karnofsky before it was demolished. How awful this was done before anyone could save a literal birthplace of jazz!

A much more detailed account on this subject may be read here: Louis Armstrong and the Jewish Family

From Melody of Words: "There are incredibly insulated people in academia and publications like the New Yorker and the New York Times, who don't understand how jazz was born from a historic confluence of African Americans, the primary great improvisers, with many notable exceptions, forced here for slavery, and Jewish Americans escaping Pogroms and the Holocaust, the primary composers and lyricists for the ragas of jazz, also with many notable exceptions, referring to the jazz standards used for improvisation together with blues forms, the lyrics being equally crucial as the music, they being inextricably intertwined, all the great instrumental improvisers of swing and modern jazz being intimate with the lyrics for rasa inspiration.

Italian Americans were also crucial in the history of jazz, including the greatest jazz vocalist, Frank Sinatra - Miles Davis, Lester Young, Art Blakey, Count Basie, Lee Konitz, Duke Ellington and Stan Getz being among numerous jazz greats who shared this opinion - and myriad others of various European and Latino ancestries were also indispensable, of course.

My first jazz idol was Charlie Parker, who taught how one lives is how their music sounds. We seek the truth in music as a form of self-realization, that is what writing about music is for me, and I'm glad to share it with others.

My jazz teacher, Lee Konitz, who later became a close friend, was a friend and colleague of both Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Lee exemplified what Parker believed, and this is how I was taught, to be truthful in music, something naturally extended to writing about music.

While primarily a composer, writing about music is a personal learning experience as noted, influencing both my composing and piano improvising.

Very unexpectedly, during our last phone talk before he left us, Lee in his Manhattan apartment, and myself driving over Benedict Canyon near Mulholland towards the Valley, he suddenly urged me to being playing jazz in addition to my composing.

Rather magically this came to be, with piano improvisation the same medium used by Lee's jazz teacher, Lennie Tristano, Pisces like myself, Lee being a Libra, myself knowing very little about astrology!

Jazz is too precious to lie about. African American innovators are so magnificent there is no need to pretend there weren't equally as great Jewish Americans, Italian Americans, and may other crucial ethnicities involved with its splendid entirety.

It actually is insulting to African American jazz greats of the past to patronize them with the strongly idiotic notion they are so weak as to be threatened by the inclusion of their equally great friends and colleagues with different backgrounds, something artificially and erroneously developed in academia and graduates of such who became jazz writers.

My favorite Richard Davis album is with Phil Woods, and my favorite Mile Davis album is with Bill Evans, and my favorite Duke Ellington album is with Frank Sinatra, and my favorite Lester Young album is with Buddy Rich. I could go on forever like this.

The actual musicians never believed in this marginalizing and disappearing stuff, it was only when jazz entered academia and spawned confused writers that the lies began. They're ugly lies and more so, a lot of times now students and readers don't even know they're lies because...

wisdom is thrown into jail

It rots in a cell

misguided as hell

Leaving no one to pick up the trail

Thank you Bob with an assist from Political World on the Oh Mercy album, one of the greatest ever.

I'm only able to untangle the mess because I was tight with one of the main architects of modern jazz, and I know for sure Lee Konitz, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis would all love me for telling the true story of jazz, not to mention Satchmo himself, who is without doubt the greatest jazz singer after Frank Sinatra in addition to his trumpet artistry that launched jazz.

I took a music study class in college and it was all about the history of jazz (my professor was a big jazz guy) and though I learned it was rooted in black culture I had no idea the Jewish influence involved.

ALSO, did you see the mothers name who adopted him was named Esther like my grandmother on my fathers side.

Love love love the four lines about wisdoms being thrown in a jail cell and rotting. SO TRUE.

And jazz did throw people for a loop because it wasn’t tradition sounds and vibrations together!

People always reject and lie about new stuff, I think it’s all based in the fear or change.

Such a good read. Thank you 

(Sent this morning out of the blue from Isabelle O'Leary with a B.A in Psychology from a leading California university who is currently working on her masters degree. O'Leary has Irish Catholic, French, Italian, Polish and Gypsy ancestries.)

- Michael Robinson, May 2024, Los Angeles


© 2024 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, pianist and musicologist. His 199 albums include 152 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.