In many ways, Louis Armstrong is the embodiment of the American Dream.
The jazz icon and trumpet great was born into poverty in New Orleans but rose to become one of the most influential American popular musicians in history. It is that indomitable spirit that will be celebrated by the Modesto Symphony Orchestra with its “Sounds of New Orleans” concert March 13 at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
The show will pay tribute to Armstrong and his music and feature performances by trumpeter and vocalist Byron Stripling. Guest conducting will be New York-based drummer and conductor Michael Berkowitz.
Stripling serves as artistic director and conductor of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra in Ohio and has performed on the PBS special “Evening at Pops,” at Carnegie Hall and as a featured soloist with more than 70 other orchestras. This will be his first performance with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra.
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He said Armstrong’s music has been a great influence on him throughout his life and that he hopes to spread the legendary musician’s message with his upcoming show.
“(Armstrong) said himself, ‘I am here in the cause of happiness.’ So my philosophy is that people come to the theater to forget their troubles. They come to get happy,” Stripling said. “Joy and happiness are very powerful, and that’s why his legacy endures today. So that has to be my goal, to have people leave the theater transformed in a way. To leave lifted, inspired and maybe a bit transformed by great art and music.”
Still, he said his performance is more than just an impersonation of Armstrong, who was known for his gravelly voice and puffed-cheek playing style. The show will feature some of the biggest New Orleans jazz hits from Armstrong’s era, including “St. Louis Blues,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
“He demonstrated that we can use whatever gift we’re given. I want to honor that gift,” Stripling said. “That’s the best way to say ‘thank you’ to someone who had a great influence on me.”
Modesto Symphony Orchestra “Sounds of New Orleans”
When: 8 p.m. March 13
Where: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
Call: (209) 338-2100