This 1962 b/w photograph, up for auction on eBay, shows a smiling Satchmo and Cotton Club owner Frank Sebastian celebrating before another large photo of Armstrong's 1930 appearance at the club in LA. Both have autographed the picture.
According to the seller, Louis Armstrong was a lifelong "gage" smoker who was busted in 1931 and encouraged Pres. Dwight Eisenhower to change the pot laws. The New Orleans-born trumpeter first smoked gage or "shuzzit" in his early 20s when he lived in Chicago. "We did call ourselves vipers," Armstrong explained in Max Jones and John Chilton's Louis: The Louis Armstrong Story, 1900-1971, "which could have been anybody from all walks of life that smoked and respected gage. That was our cute little name for marijuana, and it was a misdemeanor in those days. Much different from the pressure and charges the law lays on a guy who smokes pot - a later name for the same thing... We always looked at pot as a sort of medicine, a cheap drunk and with much better thoughts than one that's full of liquor."
By 1931, word had gone around that Armstrong was a regular reefer smoker. One day, when Armstrong was taking a smoke break outside the Cotton Club, two cops or "dicks" arrested him, making Armstrong the first celebrity to be busted for marijuana.
"I spent nine days in the Downtown Los Angeles City Jail," he recalled. At his trial, "The judge gave me a suspended sentence and I went to work that night - wailed just like nothing happened. What strucked me funny though - I laughed real loud when several movie stars came up to the bandstand while we played a dance set. and told me, when they heard about me getting caught with marijuana they thought marijuana was a chick. Woo boy - that really fractured me!"
In a letter, Armstrong also famously called on Pres. Eisenhower to legalize marijuana.
"It makes you feel good, man," Armstrong said about marijuana, "[it] makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro. It makes you feel wanted, and when you're with another tea smoker, it makes you feel a special kinship."
One of America's most beloved entertainers, Armstrong was a founding father of jazz, starting in the ragtime and Dixieland eras and graduating to big bands. Among his most famous songs are "West End Blues," "What a Wonderful World, "Hello Dolly and "Muggles" (another of his names for marijuana).
Frank Sebastian was known as an elegant gentleman who knew talent when he saw it. His first Los Angeles restaurant was Café Sebastian (or Frank Sebastian's Café Venice) in Venice, CA. in the 1920s with French and Italian Food. He opened his famous Cotton Club (previously Moonlight Gardens and Mandarin Gardens and the Green Mill) on Washington Blvd. in Culver City in February of 1926. This was one of the earliest and best known sites for Jazz and other acts by Afro-American performers in Los Angeles. The Cotton Club was also the venue for many great Jazz performances, including Duke Ellington's Band.
In July of 1935, Sebastian was jailed for contempt when he refused to answer grand jury questions regarding liquor and gambling at his club. He was rumored to have mob ties. He lost his liquor license and then was accused of bribery when he regained it. News about the Cotton Club seems to end around 1938. It later became Casa Manana under different ownership.
He also owned the Cubanola at La Brea near Beverly. Frank Sebastian also owned the "Café of all Nations" in Sacramento. The building that housed the Cotton Club (last known as Zucca's Opera House) burnt down on 2-20-1950.