No one to walk with, But I'm happy on the shelf.
One evening when Stephen was young, his parents were having a party and not old enough to go downstairs, he sat at the top of the steps listening to the gramophone… When “Strutten with some BBQ” came on he became transfixed by the remarkable sound of the trumpet... and that night marked the beginning of his love affair with Louis Armstrong.
His local library did not exactly have a huge Jazz compendium of reference materials so he subscribed to the Jazz Journal and every month devoured it from cover to cover.
Stephen learned that Louis had grown up in a life of poverty and at the age of 11 was placed in a home for boys, the exact same age that he was when he’d gone away to school.
Louis’ story was so compelling that he decided to write to him and tell him that if he was ever in the UK, that he would love to meet him… Much to his surprise, he received a handwritten note back and before too long they had started to correspond regularly.
True to his word, Louis sent Stephen a ticket to see him perform at the Empress Hall, London for May 3, 1956, together with an invitation for a private lunch in his dressing room before the show.
His uncle, who also had an affinity for Jazz, picked him up from school on the day and took him to London, for what turned out to be the best day of his life… they had lunch with Louis in his dressing room, VIP seats and back stage passes to see him after the show, along with Princess Margaret who was in her mid-twenties at the time.
Fast forward 60 plus years and Stephen, my father, is now on the board of the Louis Armstrong Museum in New York.
What people may not know was that Louis Armstrong was an incredible historian… He kept every single correspondence and some years ago I went to see the archives at Queens College and read those letters… Daddy of course had kept the ones he had received from Louis over the years..and now their letters live together in the archives.
An unusual friendship between Louis Armstrong, the Jazz legend, and Stephen Maitland-Lewis, the English school boy.