Satchmo’ Skid-dat-de-dat

Louis Armstrong

As the curtain opens on The Satchmo’ Suite, Hubert is panicking. He was asked to perform the first Bach Suite for solo cello, but he just can’t seem to get past a particular point in the piece.    

In his desperate hour he conjures up the image of Louis Armstrong in his hotel room mirror.

Doug Innis, wrote the play with director Hans Bögild. Elling Lien spoke with him about the show's original sundtrack and the ghost of Louis Armstrong.

How did you go about creating the music for Satchmo’?

Well we [Hans and I] were in Toronto and we were casting the actors for it. We were traveling on a streetcar to meet my son at a restaurant and we were talking about how we were using tunes like “Sunny Side of the Street”, you know, other peoples’ stuff. And we were having trouble getting to use this material because it belongs to other people, so we just decided okay we’ll write our own stuff.

And luckily when we got to that point, when we set down to do it, we had nine days. Every day when we got up we had a different tune written and composed by the end of it. It was like magic. Like we weren’t doing it, it was like someone was guiding us. 

How did that magic come about?
Well, I was thinking about it at the time, and Hans was thinking about it, and by the time I got down to Nova Scotia I had two or three melodies and a couple chords, you know. Then we went from there. As we did it, all of a sudden we had this impetus happening where all of a sudden we were just coming up with it. Let me put it to you this way: I’ve worked harder writing a tune. [laugh] But this here it just happened. Just click, click, click. I really haven’t worked so fast, or completed something so quickly as what we did with those nine tunes that we wrote then. Nine tunes in nine days.

It seems to go along with the spontaneity of Louis Armstrong… pressure building up and finally being released in a great loose rush.
Well it’s really funny. When we did the music, we knew that that’s what we were faced with; that’s what we were going to do, and somehow, without any kind of standard regimen or anything like that, we came together and really, it was almost magical.

[laugh] Did Louis Armstrong appear to you guys?
I would say – well especially to me. [laugh] Both of us are real Louis Armstrong fans, so that was always pervasive in our minds – that we’re doing it for Louis. We wanted it to be an homage to Louis Armstrong, and we tried to stay very, very true to the piece. It’s one thing that we’re very proud of. Nothing has deterred us from that particular goal of the piece. It is about Hubert, but it’s about Louis Armstrong and what he has meant to a lot of people.

What has he meant?
Well he was the kind of person, for me, he typified that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

You know, he could have walked around and been a very pompous guy and still gotten away with it because he was a marvelous musician. As a young man he was technically there. So in the 20’s he could have been pompous, but all through it he remained approachable. When he died, he lived in Corona, Queens, New York, which was very blue collar. He could have moved into Beverly Hills, you know. He didn’t do that to prove anything. He did that because he loved that neighbourhood, he understood those people, they understood him. And that is a testament to the guy right there. He was always himself…

[laugh] Hans just handed me a picture with myself in the middle and Hubert and Louis on either side of me and Louis is on the right side of the brain and Hubert is on the left. That’s exactly how we wrote it, where Louis’ all the heart and the emotion and the freedom and the creativity, and Hubert is kind of retentive.

The play’s become an entity of its own. It’s come to the point where I can really step back from it and look at it and honestly say jeez, I like the job we did.

The Satchmo’ Suite (Eastern Front Theatre) features Jeremiah Sparks and  Andrew Moodie, Paul Simons, Colin Matthews, Rick Waychesko. Directed by Hans Böggild. July 6 & 7 at 7pm, July 8 at 3pm & 9pm. $26. For tickets call 729-3900. DF Cook Recital Hall.