It has taken a while for New York to get around to it, but one of its most famous residents at last has a fitting memorial. On October 15, after a US$1.6 million renovation, the Louis Armstrong House in Corona, Queens, opened to the public as a fully fledged museum dedicated to perhaps the greatest of the founding fathers of jazz. The house, which Armstrong bought in 1943 and lived in until his death in 1971, was willed to the City of New York by his widow, Lucille. It has been in the civic authority's hands since she died in 1983, and was long ago designated a National Historic Monument and a City of New York Landmark. So it has taken 20 years for Pops, Dippermouth, Satchelmouth and Satchmo as he was variously called to get his tribute. It's already two years on from the centenary of his birth, but at least the memorial sounds like an appropriate one. The house has been lovingly restored and refurnished, with artefacts from Queens' College's Armstrong Collection of personal effects, to reflect the unassuming way the couple lived. Although prone to the occasional extravagance - Lucille Armstrong was once asked how she kept the gold-coloured bathroom taps from tarnishing and replied that with solid gold it wasn't a problem - generally speaking Armstrong didn't live the life of a star. The couple chose to live in a mostly working-class area where they were well liked by their neighbours. Although they had no children of their own local kids were always welcome to drop in to eat ice cream and watch western movies. The Satchmo of What A Wonderful World was the real deal. So of course was the jazz genius - something he continued to be far later into his career as a family entertainer than is generally allowed. Reading about the museum sent me back to some of his recordings, which in turn reminded me that without Louis Armstrong jazz as we know it today simply would not exist. Many of them of course - even after modern electronic processing - remain of resolutely low fidelity, which is why listening to early masterpieces from the legendary Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions often feels a bit of an effort. Our ears simply aren't attuned to the crackle, hiss and tininess of primitive recordings transferred from 78s. Make that effort though, and you can begin to hear the very concept of 'swing' being invented. Armstrong was not the first New Orleans musician to blow hot solos, but he was the first to play them with that extraordinary freedom from the constrictions of conventional time that made jazz so radically different from ragtime and anything else that had gone before. Even the unwanted patina of surface noise on those brittle old shellac discs can't diminish the imaginative scope, the breathtaking virtuosity, and the inimitable pulse of that playing. That sound and that attitude in New Orleans in the mid 1920s really was revolutionary, and jazz did not get another jolt like it until another virtuoso named Charlie Parker emerged from Kansas City almost two decades later and bebop was born. By that time of course the first truly great jazz soloist was well on his way to being eclipsed by his other persona - the avuncular singer, entertainer and occasional clown. That side of Armstrong has been anathema to every movement in jazz from bebop onwards as at best uncool and at worst as 'Uncle Tom'. By the 50s Armstrong had ceased to be perceived as a role model for aspiring jazz musicians, and became an example of how serious musicians supposedly ought not to behave. Parker could not bear Dizzy Gillespie - Armstrong's heir in so many ways - clowning about on stage, while Miles Davis throughout his most creative period not only eschewed the style of the showman, but often played his solos with his back to the audience. Jazz snobs who cannot deny Armstrong his greatness accordingly cast him as Christ for the first 20 or so years of his recording career and as Judas Iscariot for the rest. Yet for all the hokum in the movies, the mediocrity of the pop tunes, and the seldom varying formula to which his concerts were ultimately reduced, in the studio when called upon to tap into his genius as a jazz improviser, Armstrong could always do it. In 1957 he recorded a four LP set called Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography - now available as a three CD set on Verve - in which he revisited tunes he had recorded many years earlier with a view to recreating the old magic with better sound. However much purists may love those original 20s sides, it is obvious on the basis of even cursory listening that he not only achieved that aim but also improved on his original solos. His singing has also been unjustly dismissed. When discussion turns to the great jazz singers, and in particular to 'scat' vocals, Armstrong's name seldom comes up - presumably because most people immediately think of Hello Dolly and What AWonderful World. Yet Armstrong invented the technique. The first recorded scat vocal is Heebie Jeebies, and according to legend he simply slipped into the wordless vocal style when he dropped the lyric sheet. Recordings of Armstrong duetting with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday show him more than holding his own. As for Armstrong the 'Uncle Tom' this was a man who, while widely regarded as a musical ambassador for the United States, scuppered plans for a tour of Russia over the scandal of the National Guard being used in Arkansas to prevent integration of schools. He also helped shame President Eisenhower into enforcing federal law in the south by publicly calling him 'gutless'. When, in 1957, the entertainer told the US government to 'go to hell', as Armstrong did, it was not exactly a self serving career move. The long-delayed opening of the Armstrong House - and a new book by the curator of the Armstrong Collection, Michael Cogswell, called Louis Armstrong: The Offstage Story Of Satchmo - should help to correct some misleading preconceptions about a complex, many faceted man. It's not before time.