Satchmo's house celebrates 10 years as NYC museum

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

NEW YORK — To mark the 10th anniversary of the Louis Armstrong museum in the modest brick house where he lived for 28 years, curators are introducing one of the jazz trumpeter's most unusual artifacts — a plaster mask that had been stored in a cupboard for decades.

Armstrong, who documented his career in unusual ways, had the life mask with a painted bronze-patina finish made in the 1950s. David Reese, curator of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, said it reveals creases on his forehead, bags under his eyes and scars on his lips from a lifetime of horn-playing.

Museum officials aren't sure who made the mask, but Armstrong must have been pleased with it: photos show it hanging in the house at the top of the stairs.

His two-story home in the Corona section of Queens is remarkably understated for the charismatic performer whose improvisational playing style and raspy singing won him fame as far back as the 1920s.

The house and its furnishings, including a funky, blue wood-lacquered kitchen, are virtually unchanged from when Armstrong lived there with his wife, Lucille, from 1943 to 1971, when he died from a heart attack in his bedroom at 69.

The man known as Satchmo could have lived in a house with “a pool in the shape of a trumpet” but chose to stay in the working-class neighborhood, said Michael Cogswell, director of the national and city landmark.

“Louis wasn't treated as a celebrity here,” Cogswell said. He could go to the corner barbershop and “wait his turn in line with the other men from the community.”

When Armstrong's bus would return from a tour, children from the block would help carry his trumpet and suitcases inside the house. “Then Lucille would fix up bowls of ice cream for everybody, and they would watch Westerns together on TV,” Cogswell said.

A new visitor and state-of-the-art multimedia exhibition center with a 72-seat jazz club across the street is scheduled to open in 2016. The massive archive will be moved there, allowing its current exhibition space — the Armstrongs' basement recreation room — to return to the way it looked originally.

“We want to be in our own way the Graceland of New York City,” Cogswell said.

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