In the summer of 1964, two young boys from the North Shore suburbs of Chicago took a tape recorder and set out to interview jazz legend Louis Armstrong for their high school radio station. Armstrong was playing a concert at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, not far from the boys’ school in Winnetka. He agreed to an interview, and as a group of professional reporters from the city’s major news outlets waited impatiently outside his dressing room door, Armstrong spent 20 minutes answering questions for a little 10-watt FM radio station.
The story is told above, in the latest installment of PBS’s ongoing animation project with Blank on Blank, a group that brings unheard interviews back to life. Michael Aisner, who was 15 when he met Armstrong, and his friend James R. Stein, who was 14, recount their adventure and play a few highlights from the interview. Armstrong explains how he got the nickname “Satchmo” and talks a little about his Dickensian childhood and how he learned to play the coronet in the Home for Colored Waifs in New Orleans. He talks about the need for practicing hard every day, and about the talent that was his ticket out of the slums. “You’ve got to be good,” Armstrong says, “or bad as the devil.”