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August 4, 2023

Louis Armstrong in the Rocking Chair, Photographed by Art Kane in 1958

Photographer Art Kane wanted to shoot Louis Armstrong in a contemplative mood, rather than the usual way where he would be playing his instrument, with his cheeks puffed out. Armstrong’s song Old Rocking Chair, and a sunset he saw while sketching fashion layouts several weeks earlier, inspired this image of the aging legend. When they landed in the middle of the Mojave Desert, in 1958, with only minutes of a sunset left, Art Kane had an epiphany as he began photographing what was his first interpretative portrait.

Kane hired a small four seat Beechcraft plane (which Louis Armstrong was none too happy about) to fly from Las Vegas, where Armstrong was performing, to a deserted stretch of road in the Mojave desert, where Kane wanted to make the photograph. Armstrong had to leave his wife Lucille, who accompanied him everywhere, in Vegas, as the plane only had room for Armstrong, Kane, the pilot, and the rocking chair he wanted Armstrong to sit in – on that day the chair was more important than Lucille. Kane was tired of seeing photographs of him playing his trumpet, with his cheeks puffed out, and so during the shoot, asked Armstrong to put down the instrument. This was about portraying him as a man at ease, with the sun setting in the background, and not as a musician or entertainer.

“I realized the intense joy of having an idea, based on research and some understanding of my subject, conceived 2000 miles away and seeing it start to happen. Louis Armstrong was in a rocking chair at late light.”


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