Byron Stripling performs the music of Louis Armstrong with the Portland Symphony. Armstrong’s audacious music was a product of the roaring 20s. Stripling thinks the next Louis Armstrong will emerge in years ahead. Photo by Sean Turi, courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

Byron Stripling has a hunch the 2020s will yield music and art that people a century from now will revere and cherish. Just as we look back at the Roaring ’20s of a century ago as a time of cultural swagger with the emergence of jazz, Art Deco and enlightened sensibilities, the people who follow us will treasure what we’re about to create.

“Art always comes through. Art always delivers joy and happiness and infuses us with love. Now more than ever, we need great music and great art,” said Stripling, an Ohio-based jazz musician, whose Louis Armstrong tribute concert with the Portland Symphony Orchestra is available for streaming through March, starting Wednesday. “Out of hardship and joy come great art, and Louis Armstrong was a shining example of the great art that came out of great hardship.”

It’s the latest concert produced by the PSO for its new streaming service and one of five distinct concerts from the orchestra available now or later in March.

Stripling performed the concert, “Satchmo: The Louis Armstrong Tribute,” with PSO musicians in February. The program is heavy on the music that Armstrong created and popularized in the 1920s, when cultural expression exploded in the United States, from New York to Chicago to L.A., and across cities in Europe, from London to Paris to Berlin, partly in response to the emergence of the global pandemic of 1918-’20.

Byron Stripling Phot by John Abbott, courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

Born in a dangerous place in dangerous times – New Orleans, 1901 – Armstrong embodied that cultural explosion in the Untied States. He struggled early in life. He was raised by a single mother in a bad neighborhood, and attained a fifth-grade education before he quit school to work. He spent time in jail, and learned to play the cornet. When he got out in 1914, he committed himself to music and worked the riverboats before heading north to Chicago in 1922.

From then on, he became “Satchmo,” a musician who reinvented his art form by popularizing long solos, and one of the country’s most sought-after musicians, coast to coast.


“Most of what we’re doing was written in the ’20s. In the early and late ’20s, he had a group called the Hot Five and Hot Seven, and they changed jazz,” Stripling said. “The world changed. People had never really heard improvisation before, but he became the master of it.”

The music was a product of the times – enthusiastic, daring and audacious, and imbued with the confidence of personality. “The spark of everything that Louis Armstrong did was ignited by the times,” Stripling said.

He sees parallels between those times and now. Black people like Armstrong migrated from the South to the North in search of employment and empowerment, and the automobile and telephone connected people who weren’t easily connected before. There is a different kind of cultural reshaping happening now, involving demands for equity and inclusion, all overlaid by a pandemic that has exposed racism in systems of healthcare and justice, he said.

Prohibition forced musicians underground, into speakeasies. Out of them came Louis Armstrong.

Byron Stripling Phot by John Abbott, courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

The pandemic has forced musicians out of clubs and off the road today, and left them to adapt to a new world. Stripling called it “a technological renaissance,” full of hardship and promise. He wonders about the next Louis Armstrong.

Stripling’s calendar is getting busy again, in different ways than before. “I have a rehearsal today, a live recording tomorrow, and another one later in the week,” he said in a phone interview two weeks ago. “And then with you guys after that.” When he does a live concert, as he did in Portland, it is without an audience, recorded solely for streaming.


“We’re still putting it out, but in a different way,” he said. “It’s forced us into a situation, we have to deliver music in a different way. Ultimately, that might be a good thing for us. … When God gives you a gift, sometimes he wraps it in a problem.”

His advice to musicians is to find a way to live in the new world and not give up, because people need art now and will need art more going forward. With everything happening – the pandemic, a demand for equity and inclusion, and intense political turmoil – artists will be called on in the years to come as they were in the 1920s, when musicians like Louis Armstrong, writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the innovators and engineers who brought us talking movies and Model Ts dared to step up and step out.

Byron Stripling Photo by John Abbott, courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

That’s the context for the music Stripling presents when he channels “Satchmo.” The concert includes songs like “St. James Infirmary,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “(Won’t You Come Home) Billy Bailey,” and the spirituals “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Down by the Riverside.” Stripling conducts, performs on trumpet and sings.

His credentials are deep. Classically trained at the Eastman School of Music, he has performed with orchestras across the country and on the PBS TV special “Evening at Pops” with John Williams and Keith Lockhart. He has performed as lead trumpeter and soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra, and played and recorded with the bands of Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry and Dave Brubeck.

He has performed his Louis Armstrong tribute nearly 100 times. “His sound is the sound of America,” Stripling said. “He said to everyone, ‘I am here in the cause of happiness.’ “

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