Today’s the day for the Orange Satchmo. It’s August 4 and that means it’s Louis Armstrong’s 120th birthday. You know, the badass jazz trumpeter with an instantly recognizable, gravelly voice who was variously nicknamed Satchmo, Satch or Pops. He was also born in New Orleans, which even without the birthday lends itself well to drinking for the occasion. So today we’ve got a Louis Armstrong drink.
So we have direction for purposeful drinking, but it’s not like Louis Armstrong had a clear path from the start. Raised by his grandmother until he turned five, he was then returned to his mother. But that didn’t last long and from the age of seven he went to work for the Karnofskys, a family of Lithuanian Jews in New Orleans who made sure he never went home hungry.
He also learned a lot there, as Mrs. Karnofsky would sing him to him at night in both Yiddish and Russian. As he recounted in his memoir Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La he also saw the discrimination other white folks heaped on this Jewish family. He ended up becoming fluent in Yiddish and wore a Star of David until he died.
His Musical Career
The silver lining to his harsh youth, though, is that Armstrong’s first musical performance may have been next to the Karnofsky’s hawker wagon, playing a tin horn to drum up sales. With a clear eye for talent, Morris Karnofsky gave Armstrong an advance toward buying a cornet from a pawn shop. From that point forward it was game on.
Starting in dance clubs and riverboats as a teenager, by the age of 20 he became one of the first jazz musicians to be featured with extended trumpet solos. He even started singing and is often credited to inventing “scat” singing when recording Heebie Jeebies with his band, The Hot Five. His sheet music fell off the stand and not knowing the lyrics he improvised a gibberish melody to fill time, expecting the cut to be thrown out. That take of the song was the one released.
Through Chicago and New York, he landed in Los Angeles during the Great Depression, when the Hollywood crowd still had enough money to enjoy a lavish nightlife. There he Played at the New Cotton Club, with guys like Lionel Hampton and for customers like Bing Crosby.
From there he bounced all over the place. Back to Chicago, then again to New Orleans to flee the mob, and to Europe. By the 1950s he was an icon and cultural ambassador with worldwide recognition. In 1964 he even dislodged the Beatles from first place in the charts. Not bad for a guy in his 60s.
The Orange Satchmo
But what about drinking? Well, it turns out Louis Armstrong wasn’t much of a drinker. That said, he was a massive consumer of cannabis from sometime in the 1920s onward, apparently preferring it over drink. But not to worry. The fact that Louis Armstrong doesn’t seem to have had a favorite cocktail is no impediment for us.
We still have a Drink of the Day. After all, he’s from New Orleans, the place that produced things like the Cocktail a la Lousiane. But rather than turn to Stanley Clisby Arthur’s 1937 publication, Famous New Orleans Drinks and how to mix ‘em, we rely on Speakeasy: 200 Underground Cocktails, a modern reference by Benny Raff. This is in large part because it contains a recipe for the Orange Satchmo.
You see, the Orange Satchmo is appropriate not only because its name provides direct tribute to Louis Armstrong but also because it’s really a Mr. Potato Head variation on the Sazerac, the most well-known New Orleans cocktail of all time. And a Mr. Potato Head variation is obviously called for today because Potato Head Blues is widely considered to be one of Armstrong’s finest recordings.
- Mixing glass
- Old Fashioned Glass
- Fill Old Fashioned glass with ice to chill
- Dispose of ice, add absinthe to glass and twirl glass to coat inside. Discard excess.
- Add rye whiskey, Cointreau and Peychaud's bitters to mixing glass
- Add ice to mixing glass, stir and strain into the absinthe-rinsed glass
- Express orange twist over drink