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The Golden Girls, Redux: Inside the Boomer Roommate Trend (WNATL Podcast)

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Aging? Then this story’s for you. And, guess what? We’re all aging.

In just 12 years, one in four of us will be 60 or older in metro Atlanta. And as our demographics change, we need to change how we think about building communities that work for everyone.

In this episode, we visit Beth Hogan and Debbie Aschemeier, a pair of women in their 60s who became roommates to save money. But they’ve enjoyed the experience so much that now they want to expand their household. And it turns out this is happening around the country. It’s a national trend, called “Golden Girls” housing—like the old TV show.

More than half of all metro Atlantans aged 65 or older struggle with housing affordability. That means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. That doesn’t leave much for expenses like transportation—important in metro Atlanta—or medical care – often important to older individuals. This episode unpacks all of that.

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What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.
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MARTA scrambling to hire police ahead of Super Bowl (AJC)

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MARTA is scrambling to hire the police officers it needs to cope with the huge crowds expected to descend on Atlanta for the Super Bowl in less than three months.

The agency is about 40 police officers short of full staffing as it prepares for the big game on Feb. 3, MARTA said in response to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News. Though less pressing for the Super Bowl, the agency also needs to hire scores of bus drivers.

VIDEO: More on Super Bowl LIII

The Vince Lombardi Trophy is displayed during a press event Friday to overview Atlanta Preparedness for Super Bowl LIII. The game will be played Feb. 3, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Jon Barker, vice president of event operations and production for the NFL, speaks during Friday's event. Stadium Readiness panelists (from second from left) Steve Cannon (CEO, AMB Group), Scott Jenkins (GM, Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and Joe Coomer (Vice President, AMBSE Security) discuss matters during Friday's event. The Vince

Still, CEO Jeffrey Parker says MARTA will have the staff it needs when hundreds of thousands of visitors begin arriving for Super Bowl LIII in late January. And he said the agency has taken other steps to ensure there’s no repeat of the debacle that followed last January’s college football championship, when hundreds of fans were stranded at MARTA’s Five Points Station until the early morning hours.

“Preparation for the Super Bowl has been something we’ve been focusing on for well over a year,” Parker said in an interview Thursday. “It goes well beyond just staffing.”

Indeed, everyone from the Atlanta Police Department to the FBI is involved in planning for the NFL’s biggest game of the year. Last month, MARTA hosted a police exercise to practice for a possible terrorist attack.

Far from a one-day affair, it’s a 10-day series of events, stretching from Jan. 26 to Feb. 4.

MARTA has struggled to staff its police force in a competitive economy that has seen many departments competing for officers.

While it has hired more than 20, turnover has hindered the agency’s effort. MARTA has 256 officers and considers 295 to be full staffing.

MARTA spokeswoman Stephany Fisher said the agency is “aggressively recruiting” additional officers. Among other things, it has sought candidates from the military and from as far away as Puerto Rico.

In addition, MARTA will get assistance from 26 other police departments from across the country during the Super Bowl, Fisher said.

The agency also is short about 140 bus drivers. MARTA says it’s a chronic problem affecting transit agencies across the country. But because the Super Bowl is expected to impact rail service far more than buses, the bus driver shortage should not be a factor, Fisher said.

She said MARTA has enough train operators to carry out its plans to provide round-the-clock service at the peak of Super Bowl festivities.

Staffing is critical to managing crowds during big events, as MARTA learned last January.

After the college football championship at Mercedes Benz Stadium, Five Points – MARTA’s main hub for transferring between rail lines – became a scene of chaos. Hundreds of fans leaving the game became stranded because northbound trains weren’t departing Five Points.

MARTA said two medical emergencies at other stations sparked the delays. As more fans arrived, they packed into Five Points, pressing up against idle northbound trains. That caused automatic train doors to open, preventing the trains from leaving the station.

Some passengers told the AJC they looked in vain for MARTA employees, whom they hoped would provide information and control the crowd. The passengers said they feared being trampled as some fans pushed and shoved. A few fans crawled over cement barriers to escape the swelling crowds.

Eventually, the northbound trains started running. But video reviewed by the newspaper showed the station didn’t clear until nearly 2 a.m.

MARTA later acknowledged that many employees didn’t show up for work during the event. Freezing rain that day prevented some employees from getting to work and forced others to stay home with their kids, who were out of school.

Parker said MARTA will be prepared if inclement weather strikes during the Super Bowl. Among other things, the agency has stockpiled sheets and beds, in case it needs employees to spend the night at work so they can be available for duty.

MARTA added $2 million to its budget this year to ensure it has the staffing and other resources needed for the big game. Among other things, it plans to have employees at every entrance to each train to ensure passengers can get on and off.

“MARTA and the city and the entire region are focused on being prepared,” Parker said. “Preparation is the key.”

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Peachtree DeKalb Airport master planning underway (AJC)

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A workshop will be held tonight as part of the Peachtree DeKalb Airport master planning process.

The general-aviation facility is owned by DeKalb County and averages 230,000 takeoffs and landings annually. Formally, its name is the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. 

As part of the two-year process of outlining the airport’s long-term goals and a strategic plan, airport leaders are soliciting public input. 

The workshop will be held tonight, Nov. 15, from 6 to 8 p.m at the Chamblee Community Building at 3496 Keswick Dr.  

Residents who live near the airport or are interested in its future are also asked to fill out an online survey. Find the survey at https://www.pdkmasterplan.com/get-involved/.

website has been created to provide the public with updates about the Peachtree DeKalb Airport master planning process.

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Why do so many students believe they are just not cut out for math? (AJC)

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A new study examines the pivotal role that math plays in student achievement, calling it a “key mechanism in the distribution of opportunity. ”

The Mathematics of Opportunity: Rethinking the Role of Math in Educational Equity says that while math requirements are seen as a foundation for academic success, they can also become a filter that stops many students in their educational tracks, especially students of color.

“Misconceptions about math ability — like the assumption that only some kids can learn math — magnify existing inequities in the education system,” said Pamela Burdman, senior project director of Just Equations, project of the Opportunity Institute that is re-conceptualizing the role of mathematics in educational equity. “Math can serve as a foundation for success in school, work, and life, but it can also be wielded in ways that arbitrarily close doors to educational advancement.” 

Among the comments in the study worth considering is this one from Jo Boaler, a Stanford University expert on math education: “Mathematics, more than any other subject, has the power to crush students’ spirits, and many adults do not move on from mathematics experiences in school if they are negative.”

Georgia has long debated how to teach math, retreating in 2015 from an integrated math in which "traditional" algebra and geometry courses became Math I, Math II, Math III, and Math IV. The melded classes incorporated ideas from algebra, geometry, and statistics each year instead of separating the content into distinct courses under the contention that real-world applications of math concepts don't require "Algebra I" skills or "Sophomore Geometry" level knowledge but intersections of all forms of math.

Georgia adopted the integrated approach in 2005, citing its success in many high-achieving countries. But integrated math never won over teachers, students or their parents.  In a 2014 survey, 84 percent of Georgia teachers surveyed said they were not in favor of the integrated model and wanted to return to the more "traditional" approach.

One reason for the teacher antipathy was likely the lack of indepth and comprehensive training in how to teach integrated math.  The state did not invest sufficient funds in training. A chief critic of integrated math was former Fulton Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa, who, in 2014, said,  "My fear is we're creating a generation of kids who don't like math, who are scared of math, who are having a hard time stitching together these concepts because their teachers have a hard time stitching together these concepts.”

In an essay for Get Schooled, a Georgia high school valedictorian attending at an Ivy League college explained the challenges: “In practice, however, our integrated math curriculum didn't seem logical or helpful. Though the units were supposed to build on each other, they often seemed to jump around aimlessly. This illogical sequencing often led to wasted time. Each year, we'd spend a unit or two on statistics and probability. Instead of progressing with new information, we spent much of our time reviewing the concepts we'd forgotten since our last unit on statistics during the previous school year. This seemed to happen with each new unit we moved to.”

Despite its return to the traditional approach to teaching math favored by teachers and parents, Georgia still grapples with underperformance.  While Georgia students exceeded the national average this year in reading and write on the SAT,  they trailed in math by nine points.

In its annual benchmark report on college readiness released last month, the ACT found only 40 percent of 2018 graduates who took the test -- including Georgia teens -- posted scores indicating they were ready for first-year college algebra. The one-point decline in readiness from 2017 continues a downward trend; in 2012, 46 percent of test-takers earned scores that met or surpassed the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in math.

Among the points in the study:

Only about one-quarter of high school seniors are proficient in mathematics, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, compared to the more than one-third who are proficient in reading.

Large proportions of college students are placed into remedial mathematics courses.

Mathematics practices and policies contribute to educational equity gaps, with African American and Latino/Latina students disproportionately judged below proficient or in need of remedial math coursework. 

Calculus remains a gatekeeper for many high school students applying for college. But it's not essential for students in non-STEM fields. A political science or history major, for example, may be better served by statistics.

Traditional math practices appear intended to winnow students out: Only in mathematics, for example, is an accelerated pace needed to reach an Advanced Placement course. 

Though calculus is rarely (if ever) used by doctors, medical schools have traditionally used it as an admissions screen. 

The beliefs that only some people are good at math, that there is a single right way to do math, and that speed is central to math ability interfere with effective learning.

As a remedy, the study cites promising changes in how math is taught, including the integrated approach that Georgia tried and rejected. The study also mentions diversified math pathways where states offer statistics, quantitative reasoning, and mathematics modeling as general education courses.

The study applauds new approaches to how math is both being taught and tested -- less focus on timed problems -- and praises college programs that are eliminating remedial math courses in favor of co-requisite strategies, which place students into college-level courses and provide support to help struggling students through the classes.

“The purpose of math is not to make students’ lives difficult or create artificial barriers to success, but to ‘expand professional opportunity; understand and critique the world; and experience wonder, joy, and beauty,’” Burdman said, referencing a definition from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “Unfortunately, that’s not the experience that many American students are having. Too many people get the message early on that they’re not ‘good at math.’ And the resulting anxiety can permanently limit an individual’s future.”

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Atlanta commercial property values are lower than sales (AJC)

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Just a mile from Atlantic Station, Westside Provisions changed ownership in 2016, and the $128 million sales price reflected its value as one of the city’s premier shopping and dining destinations.

Two years later, however, if you examined the Fulton County property appraisers’ determination about the property, known for restaurants like JCT Kitchen and Ormsby’s, you might conclude that the buyers were fleeced. County assessors sent the new owners, a partnership group that includes real estate powerhouse Jamestown Properties, an appraisal that valued the property at $51.6 million — about 60 percent less than the purchase price.

Such a dramatic undervaluing of a commercial property for tax purposes is not unusual — not in Fulton. In fact, it’s almost the norm, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation that found a pattern of dozens of apartment buildings, warehouses, office complexes and shopping centers in the city of Atlanta that are valued for property tax purposes at far less than what buyers paid for them in recent sales.

Westside Provisions District offers shopping on both side of Howell Mill Road. The retail options in the area include Perdot West, Calypso St. Barth, Savannah Bee Company and many more. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography)

Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Undervaluing commercial properties means that the city, Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County and community improvement districts may not receive tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars they could be owed in annual property taxes. Critics say that shifts the burden to pay for vital services such as police, fire, the courts and public education to other companies and homeowners.

The county assessor’s office appraises property each year to determine how much it is worth. It then sends an appraisal notice to property owners and a tax assessment. The assessment is 40 percent of the appraised value and is used as the basis for property tax bills.

The AJC and Channel 2 examined 264 multi-million dollar commercial property sales since 2015 that were recorded by the research firm Databank Atlanta. The analysis found 119 properties that sold for more than twice the value they were appraised at by the county.

“The result of that is really the residents of this town are being made fools of by the big-moneyed interests, the big property owners, who are not paying their fair [share] by any means,” said Julian Bene, a former board member of Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency. “It’s this untold story of big money getting away with highway robbery.”

The reporters’ analysis comes as residential property owners in Atlanta have seen their values soar in recent years. Fulton, meanwhile, is locked in litigation with the state Department of Revenue after the state tax commissioner refused to approve its 2017 or 2018 tax digests after county leaders froze residential values at 2016 valuations.

Meanwhile, the county didn’t freeze commercial values and has maintained that they are accurate after years of failing to keep up with assessments as property values tanked, then rose following the recession. According to the analysis, the county has increased commercial values in subsequent years, though in many cases, they are still significantly lower than sales prices.

Dwight Robinson, the Fulton County chief appraiser, strongly disputed the AJC and Channel 2’s findings. Robinson said “nothing could be further from the truth” than the assumption that Fulton is undervaluing commercial property.

“We don’t go around just valuing properties low because we don’t know what we’re doing,” he said. “I can debunk every last one.”

Westside Provisions District was valued for less than it sold for in 2016. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography)

Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

About a year ago, Bene started to notice after marquee properties in Atlanta sold, the county would routinely assess the property for tax purposes at a value far under the sales price.

He broached the subject with the Fulton commission, the tax assessor’s office and other leaders, he said, but their responses didn’t satisfy him. He then brought his figures to the AJC and Channel 2, which conducted a broader analysis using sales during the past four years.

Bene said the potential undervaluing affects not only recent commercial sales, but properties that haven’t sold. Those properties are valued in part based on comparable transactions, meaning hundreds of other properties might be undervalued by comparison. The result, Bene said, could be that the taxing entities are leaving hundreds of millions of dollars each year on the table.

“What I was finding again and again was that these offices, hotels and apartments and so forth were selling for three- or four- or even five-times what they were assessed for,” Bene said. “I will tell you my house ain’t going to sell for five-times what it’s assessed for.”

Robinson said there are often good reasons for the gap between sales prices and county assessments.

In some cases, he said, values were frozen after a property owner appealed, and he could not raise assessments in that year. In others, the county’s Development Authority owns the land as part of an economic development incentive, and he cannot fully value the property until the January after a certificate of occupancy is issued.

And sometimes, commercial property owners, wary of high tax bills, spend money on lawyers who can argue that their assessments should be altered. While many residents can’t afford to fight their valuations, Robinson said, commercial owners can.

He also said there are instances where sales prices, though high, may not be indicative of a property’s fair market value. In some cases, Robinson said, businesses will trade properties or make other exchanges that show as sales, but really aren’t.

To revalue properties that are sold through something other than an arms-length transaction would be unfair to other owners in an area, he said, who could be penalized based on faulty information.

“You’re not being fair to us if you paint a picture that commercial is low. It is not,” Robinson said. “I would love for you to tell folks that some of those are low for good reasons.”

Westside Provisions District was valued for less than it sold for in 2016. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography)

Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

But the result is the same. English Norman, who lives in Chastain Park, said her property taxes have gone up significantly in seven years. She’s happy to pay taxes if it means roads are maintained and schools are funded, but she wants commercial owners to pay what they owe, as well.

“If they’re not contributing their fair share, it just puts the burden back on the homeowner,” she said. “I don’t understand how they feel comfortable with that. If you’re in a community, why wouldn’t you want to support a community?”

Norman said the breaks are especially troubling when they go to wealthy developers who are simply increasing their profits when they avoid taxes.

Matt Bronfman, the CEO of Jamestown, said he wasn’t familiar with the assessment for Westside Provisions. He planned to look into it, but did not get back to the AJC before deadline Thursday. But Westside Provisions is far from the only property where the value appears to be low.

A 10-acre parcel next to Two Urban Licks that used to be a Georgia Power facility is another that appears undervalued. In October 2017, developer New City paid $34 million in a bidding war with other real estate companies for the coveted site along the Beltline just south of Ponce City Market and the Historic Fourth Ward Park. It was seen as one of the city’s most sure-fire development sites, with Beltline frontage and views of the award-winning park.

Indeed, New City has proposed a $750 million mixed-use development, with offices, retail and apartments. But to Fulton, the land was worth a mere $4.9 million in this year’s tax digest, about one-seventh of what New City paid last year.

And Krog Street Market, which sold in April for $45.8 million, was valued at less than a quarter of that price — $10.7 million — after the previous owner disputed its value in 2016, and won its appeal at the Board of Equalization. With that win, the Fulton Board of Assessors was prohibited from raising its assessment for three years, even as the value jumped. Representatives for New City and for Asana Partners, which owns Krog Street Market, could not be reached for comment.

Lee Morris, a Fulton commissioner, took an interest in the issue after Bene brought him his findings. The fact that some properties appear to be undervalued should make Atlanta homeowners “pretty upset,” he said.

“We’re all in it together,” Morris said. “The commercial property owners make sometimes a very nice living and a very nice profit and ought to be paying their fair share of the general fund services of the city, the county and the school system they’re in. It is a question of fairness.”

Morris said commercial property owners have several structural advantages to maintain lower tax bills. Many of the biggest commercial property owners already get breaks in their taxes, through incentives they are granted in exchange for new jobs and the promise of higher property taxes in the future. The Development Authority of Fulton County and Invest Atlanta routinely offer such tax breaks for big jobs deals.

Critics say local incentives have often become an unnecessary giveaway, and if they aren’t needed, they can also lead to less money for cities, counties and school systems.

J.C. Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University, said undervalued assessments on commercial property act as “a shadow incentive,” even if that’s not the intention of policy makers.

“Homeowners and other business owners who aren’t getting these benefits are the ones bearing the costs,” he said.

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Louis Armstrong’s Life in Letters, Music and Art (NYT)

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Behind his blistering trumpet solos, revolutionary vocal improvising and exuberant stage persona, how did Louis Armstrong see himself? What was it like to be the first pop virtuoso of the recorded era — the man whose earliest releases set the tune for America’s love affair with modern black music, and who went on to become one of history’s most famous entertainers?

Those questions aren’t rhetorical. There’s actually a deep well of resources on hand to help answer them. For his entire adult life, away from the spotlight, Armstrong amassed a huge trove of personal writings, recordings and artifacts. But until this month, you would have had to travel far into central Queens to find them. Now anyone can access them. Thanks to a $3 million grant from the Fund II Foundation — run by Robert F. Smith, the wealthiest African-American — the Louis Armstrong House Museum has digitized the entire collection he left behind and made it available to the public.

Armstrong wrote hundreds of pages of memoir, commentary and jokes throughout his life, and sent thousands of letters. He made collages and scrapbooks by the score. Over the final two decades of his life, he recorded himself to reel-to-reel tapes constantly, capturing everything from casual conversations to the modern music he was listening to.

All told, Armstrong’s is not just one of the most well documented private lives of any American artist. It’s one of the most creatively documented lives, too.

“Posterity drove him to write manuscripts and make tapes and catalog everything,” said Ricky Riccardi, the director of research collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum and a noted Armstrong scholar. “He was just completely aware of his importance and wanting to be in control of his own story.”

And it wasn’t just posterity. The same things that drove him as a performer — faith in unfettered communication, an irreverent approach to the strictures of language, the desire to wrap all of American culture in his embrace — course through his writings, collages and home recordings.

Armstrong had been largely responsible for shaping jazz into the worldly, youth-driven music it became in the 1930s. He emerged as a symbol of racial pride, crossing Tin Pan Alley gentility with street patois, and sometimes singing directly about black frustrations. But as his career went on, his grinning stage persona — an expansion on the minstrel shows and New Orleans cabarets of his youth — fell out of step with most African-American listeners’ tastes. (“I loved the way Louis played trumpet, man, but I hated the way he had to grin in order to get over with some tired white folks,” Miles Davis wrote in his autobiography.)

With jazz’s identity solidifying as an art music in the 1950s, Armstrong became especially unfashionable to the critical establishment. The autumnal hits he scored in the mid-1960s, “Hello, Dolly!” and “What a Wonderful World,” seemed only to confirm the media consensus that the times had passed him by.

But these archives contain the tools for a better understanding of Armstrong: as idiosyncratic an artist as any, one whose creative instincts only grew deeper and broader over time.

In part, we see a man attuned to race and politics, who took his role seriously as a global ambassador for American culture and kept a close eye on the achievements of fellow African-Americans. When he spoke out against school segregation in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, he surprised the nation. Some activists said it was too little, too late. The archive, however, shows that he considered it both a proud moment in his career and wholly of a piece with his life up to that point. In the collection is a telegram he wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower on the day Eisenhower announced he would be sending Army troops into Little Rock, urging him “to take those little Negro children personally into Central High School along with your marvelous troops.”

And as solicitous as he was, Armstrong was unwilling to let critical judgments define him. He kept a close eye on reviews, but he wrote acerbically about music critics and sometimes taped his interviews with them — perhaps for evidence, in case they misreported something. On one tape, from 1959, he barks at a journalist after being asked about changes afoot in jazz. “I just live what I play, and I can’t vouch for the other fellow. As long as I feel and hit the notes and I’ve got my own audience, then no critic in the world can tell me how I should play my horn,” he says.

◇ ◇ ◇

Armstrong Looking at Us Looking at Him

Raised in New Orleans, Armstrong came to fame in his early 20s after joining King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in Chicago; his early recordings as a leader, with his Hot Five and Hot Seven, established jazz as a soloist’s music, and made him one of the first pop musicians of the radio era. By the 1940s and ’50s he was regularly included on lists of the most admired Americans.

Starting in his 20s, Armstrong frequently clipped newspaper articles about himself and bundled them into scrapbooks. The books began as a tool to convince club owners of his legitimacy, but they turned into a historical record. The dozens of scrapbook binders contained in the archive are a window into his self-image as a celebrity: Armstrong looking at us looking at him.

Armstrong began his career as an idol to many African-Americans. Watch the well-circulated video clip of him performing in Copenhagen in 1933 — bountiful and aggressive as he scats over “Dinah,” then carves his way through “Tiger Rag” with a sweltering trumpet solo — and you’ll get why. But as time wore on, many younger people, particularly musicians of the bebop generation, expressed misgivings about his genuflecting stage persona.

Armstrong’s scrapbooks make it clear that he kept a close eye on how he was perceived, as an artist and as a black statesman. When he traveled to Baltimore in the winter of 1931, he donated 300 bags of coal to residents of a needy black neighborhood, and privately saved the news clipping from The Baltimore Afro-American. When his band was arrested in Arkansas simply for traveling in the same bus as its white manager, he saved the article reporting it.

And when a blatantly racist British critic referred to him as “Mr. Ugly” the following year (“He looks, and behaves, like an untrained gorilla,” the article read), Armstrong kept a copy of that too. Reading what arts journalism was like in the late ’20s and ’30s, it becomes obvious how narrow the berth was for a public figure like Armstrong to emerge onto the national stage.

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Musical Originality Matched in His Written Words

Armstrong wrote constantly — mostly letters and short stories about his life, but also in the form of limericks and pages-long jokes. He wrote in a galloping, oddly punctuated style, treating literature almost as an outsider art. Commas turned into apostrophes; jive talk collided with standard English; words were underlined all over. His musical originality is matched on the page.

When Armstrong joined King Oliver’s famed band, he brought along a typewriter. By 1936, when he was in his mid-30s, he had already published an autobiography. Over the course of his career he wrote more than 10,000 letters to fans, hundreds of pages of personal memoirs and enough lengthy jokes to fill an entire book.

In 1969 and ’70, with his health failing, Armstrong set about writing a long essay about his relationship with the Karnofskys, a Jewish family in New Orleans. When he was 7, he worked as a servant in their house, and they recognized his musical talent early, advancing him a small amount of money to buy his first cornet.

In this essay, which stretches on for 77 pages, Armstrong enshrines a number of other elements of his personal mythology. He reports his birthday as July 4, 1900, an apocryphal but symbolic date he was fond of using. And he describes the importance of the Storyville neighborhood where he was raised, and where much of early jazz was developed.

Just months after he wrote this piece, he died in his sleep at age 69. This story would be collected in a posthumous book, “Louis Armstrong, in His Own Words,” that featured essays from across his career, many of which are included in the Armstrong archive in their original, handwritten form.

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Making His Own World, With Scissors and Tape

Armstrong’s creative hobbies outside writing were less easily wrangled for posterity or publication. One example: the hundreds of collages that he made over the course of his life, cutting out and combining photographs, illustrations and text.

Starting in the early 1950s, few pieces of paper were safe from the blade of Armstrong’s scissors: magazines, risqué photographs, even a Christmas card from Richard Nixon wound up cut and collaged. Most of the time, he taped his collages onto reel-to-reel tape boxes; they were purely decorative. Elsewhere, he turned larger pieces of paper into what amounted to a personal hall of fame.

In one such collage, he crammed a page with almost a dozen photos of Jackie Robinson. On another, Duke Ellington and Kermit Parker, the first black man to run for governor as a Democrat in Louisiana, gaze toward each other from across the page.

And on the collage above, a photograph of King Oliver is pasted inside an image of Armstrong’s head, as if to make clear how much Armstrong felt he owed to Oliver. To their left are two other trumpeters: Bix Beiderbecke, a prominent jazz star of the 1920s, and Bunny Berigan, who drew heavily from Armstrong’s influence, both as a trumpeter and a vocalist. Other musicians pictured include Duke Ellington, the R&B vocalist Ruth Brown, and Big Sid Catlett, an influential early drummer who played with Armstrong’s big band at the height of its popularity.

In a far corner of the image, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had been president around the time when most of these musicians were stars, looks on.

◇ ◇ ◇

The Once-Reluctant King of Queens

When Armstrong died in 1971, his wife, Lucille, ensured that the house they shared in Corona, Queens — the place where he recorded his tapes, made collages and wrote his manifold letters and notes — remained exactly as he had left it.

At first, Armstrong didn’t want the house. But Lucille bought it in 1943, the year after they married, while he was on a lengthy tour. He eventually fell in love with the narrow two-story brick home, and with the working-class block into which it was tucked. Armstrong — whose four marriages never resulted in a child — proudly became an avuncular presence on the block, and bragged in a 1971 manuscript that he had watched three generations grow up around him. Years later, when Lucille eventually wanted to upgrade, he insisted they stay. So she made improvements. The ornate, Fifth Avenue-rate bathroom is a prime example. And the “Throne,” as Armstrong called it in his writing, was of prime import.

Armstrong took health and diet very seriously, partly because of having been raised by a single mother who focused, for lack of a doctor, on keeping her children healthy with natural remedies. After Lucille introduced him to Swiss Kriss, an herbal laxative, he became a zealous proponent and offered his endorsement for free. The couple wrote a diet plan that called for regular consumption of Swiss Kriss, and they circulated it among friends and fans along with a comical photo of Armstrong seated on his decked-out Queens toilet, with his “Satchmo-Slogan” printed below: “Leave it All Behind Ya.”

◇ ◇ ◇

On the Record

Starting in December 1950, Armstrong used a tape recorder to capture casual conversations, ambient road hangouts, interviews with journalists, radio broadcasts he liked and more. Most often, though, he would simply record his shellac and vinyl discs to tape, consolidating the music and making it easier to carry. He kept careful documentation of the track lists, and together the tapes and their accompanying lists provide a revealing glimpse into his broad music tastes.

Ever the careful documenter, Armstrong wrote out a playlist anytime he recorded music to tape — whether it was a recording of his own concert, a dub of an entire album or a more piecemeal mixtape.

The range of his listening is striking. He was as likely to listen to the Beatles as he was to Rachmaninoff. On one playlist, the old vaudeville singer Al Jolson and Miles Davis butt up against each other. “The man was obsessed with all kinds of music,” Riccardi said. “Anywhere he’d go — if he’d go to South America, he’d bring back South-American records. If he went to Africa, he’d bring back African records. He’d go to record stores everywhere.”

On a disc marked “Reel 24,” he is listening mostly to the bebop musicians that had succeeded him in the jazz spotlight of the 1940s and ’50s. On the audio of the tape itself, you can hear him announcing the tunes like a radio D.J.

After that tape plays, Armstrong introduces another: a bootleg recording of a jam session at Minton’s, the venue where bebop was born. After he plays it, he expresses approval. “Cats jumpin’, man,” he says, apparently unperturbed by the beboppers’ sometimes-ambivalent relationship to his own legacy. Later on, he jumps to a track of his own, “Among My Souvenirs.” In the handwritten playlist, Armstrong closely notates each turn in the tape, including the moment when he pauses to mention the children playing outside.

These are the children that Armstrong said he was thinking of when he sang his most famous song, “What a Wonderful World.” Here we have their very voices, documented for all time.


Produced by Jolie Ruben and Josephine Sedgwick.

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