Louis Armstrong died in 1971, but the imprint left by his music has reached well into the 21st century, as evidenced by the multitude of tributes on hand at the fourth annual Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World Festival, held on Saturday, July 8, at Flushing Meadows Park. The event was curated by Jon Batiste, best known as the bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Attendees were treated to a fun and lighthearted afternoon, with activities ranging from carnival games to face painting available in Satchmo’s Lane, the festival’s walkway. An indoor beer garden provided much-needed refuge from the sweltering heat, while an exhibit from the Louis Armstrong House Museum gave fans a glimpse at an array of interesting artifacts, including portraits and sheet music for “What a Wonderful World,” perhaps Armstrong’s most famous song. A drumline from the Harlem Samba music school and a Batiste-led drum circle helped instill a communal feel into the proceedings, effectively bringing the streets of New Orleans into New York for the day.
Of course, music was the highlight, and Batiste proved to be the de facto star of the festival, performing in all three sets. Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks opened, doing right by Armstrong’s iconic music with faithful renditions of “West End Blues” and “Blue Turning Gray,” originated by Fats Waller. “Up the Lazy River” featured some impressive scat singing from Batiste, while Giordano was the driving force behind “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” delivering a steady yet lively bottom end with his bass saxophone. The band’s brass section did an admirable job of emulating Armstrong’s trumpet sound, capturing the brash, sensual and humorous phrasings that made his playing so recognizable.
The Dap Kings followed, with Batiste once more sitting in, and rather than pay direct homage to Armstrong’s music, they instead demonstrated his influence on the development of popular music by offering a funk-oriented set, highlighted by a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher.” The final performance was a set from Batiste with the Havana Roots Collective, putting the finishing touches on what was an exciting day for all.