With the last of the amps packed up and the stages disassembled, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest has added another year to the books. And for all the variety on this year’s lineup, so many of the acts can still count among their influences a man born more than a century ago: Louis Armstrong. Of course, the musicians most influenced by Armstrong are those, like Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, who play the trumpet. “Anybody who can play considers Louis Armstrong an influence,” Marsalis says. “He’s the foundation of our grammar, syntax, of our way of playing.”
Marsalis spoke with LIFE about jazz in New Orleans, and Louis Armstrong’s enduring impact on the city, its people and its music. Armstrong both came up in the music of the Big Easy—playing in church and in marching bands—and influenced it. “His spirit permeated New Orleans,” says Marsalis.