The Boy Who Played for Louis Armstrong

Enrico Tomasso’s position as one of the top British trumpeters, with five British Jazz Awards to his credit, seems almost inevitable given his upbringing. He started playing trumpet when he was five because he heard Louis Armstrong’s record of Basin Street Blues, turned to his father, a jazz clarinettist, and said, ‘Can I play the trumpet?’ His father agreed, got him a trumpet and a good teacher.

Two years later when Louis arrived to play in Batley Variety Club in Yorkshire, Enrico played Basin Street Blues when he walked down the aircraft steps. Louis was knocked out and when the welcome recital was over he took Enrico’s hand and kissed it. The media there got very excited about this unexpected story and asked for more, at which point Louis said to Enrico ‘Don’t listen to them or they’ll have you playing all day. Save your “chops”.’ He then insisted that he spent the rest of the day with him and accompany him to the press conference.

Enrico was invited to every night of the two-week engagement and got great advice from Louis like ‘You gotta great sound so develop it by practising your long tones and learn the melodies of the tunes before you go improvising,’ ‘Don’t go playing none of that jujitsu music now,’ and referring to the future lifestyle of being a musician, ‘Don’t marry no woman who don’t dig your horn.’

They later exchanged letters and met again a year later in London. For a little kid who wanted to play jazz trumpet there wasn’t a better start than that!

In a perfect pairing this September, Enrico plays Louis when the RTÉ Concert Orchestra performs the first ever live version of the iconic Ella and Louis Porgy and Bess album . Singing as Ella will be Nicola Emmanuelle ( ‘the real deal’ – Time Out) and the album has been re-created by award-winning trumpet player and arranger Ryan Quigley, whose own pedigree includes gigging with the likes of Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Harry Connick Jr, George Michael and Tom Jones.

Ella & Louis Porgy & Bess is on Wednesday 11 September, National Concert Hall in a programme that also features Rhapsody in Blue with Adam Johnson.