Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong


Music from African rhythms, Blues, Work Songs, Church Songs, Minstrelsy, Hot Bands, Ragtime and European Harmony fused into a New Orleans playing style which first emerged in the unrecorded Buddy Bolden Band. Three giant virtuosos developed the style and left the recorded evidence; Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet.

The music of Louis Armstrong provides the finest examples of the innovations which produced amazing physical & perceptive effects on folk which bounced Jazz into prominence and the music was heard & felt in the recorded evidence -

Blues; hauntingly different novel melodies & scales with complex rhythms & infectious syncopations

improvisation; spontaneous creative unwritten collective self expression, which posed an intriguing challenge for players and listeners alike as surprisingly coherent musical trajectories emerged from a spontaneous, apparently chaotic environment

swing; buoyant, detached, floating, melodic & rhythmic trajectories, away from the 'ground beat', resulting in a lilt, which was difficult to describe but unmistakable when heard and felt, the manifestation of the tension & release created by the interaction of juxtaposed rhythmic lines.

Thanks to Louis blues singing and instrumental lines were established in American popular music, his spontaneous musical trajectories were beautifully coherent and he informed all American music that followed how to swing, including the shuffle rhythm of R&B and the big band swing of Fletcher Henderson and every subsequent singer & jazzer.

Just listen, in Jazz the three characteristics were all there somewhere ... and it was all Louis... and still is! Diluted, emphasised, developed, messed with but if it was American popular music it was swinging improvised Blues ...

Swing EighthsCritical progress in rhythmic sophistication came from the emergence of the swing eights of Louis Armstrong's time ... the straight 8ths ... /dum-de, dum-de, dum-de, dum-de/ ... like regular post in a continuous fence ... became the swing 8ths ... /dum--ti, dum--ti, dum--ti, dum--ti/ ... with the characteristic 'kicking quaver' 'lifting' into the down beat ... the second 8th note became 'associated' with the next downbeat.

These 8ths notes were always written the same way but the sound and feel was very different ... listen ... just like the 'blue notes' some rhythms were felt and not written down ...

... the whole trajectory ebbed & floated away in time from the ground beat ... not detached but excitingly juxtaposed ... a phenomenal innovation ...

Little LouieLouis Armstrong (1901-71)

'Louis' a 2010 silent film with music by Wynton Marsalis told the story of Little Louie ...

 Louis Armstrong was from the 'Battlefield', he left school at 11 and sang along and absorbed all the jazz music he heard everywhere in the City of New Orleans.

May Ann's son begged a cornet off the Karnofski family for a $5 advance on his coal sales. And he played 'Home Sweet Home' great. He was in trouble for pranks and was taught to play the cornet by Peter Davies in The Waifs Home. In 1914 Louis came out and started playing parades. And listening to Joe Oliver at Pete Lala's Place. He was soon playing what others were trying to play, replacing Joe Oliver in Kid Ory's band, in 1918, and then flirting with 'The Silver Leaf Band' and 'The Tuxedo Brass Band' and finally with Fate Marable on the riverboats.

'Coal Cart Blues'.

An aspiring cornet player at 22, Louis left his native New Orleans on August 8th 1922.

Chicago was the place for the jobs. The southern Jim Crow laws forced the exodus of the talented. Negroes started to pick themselves up in the face of the KKK and build their own institutions. The Speakeasies of Prohibition offered big opportunities for black musicians in Chicago.

Louis & LilLouis finished his apprenticeship in 1923 along side Joe Oliver at 'The Lincoln Gardens Cafe' in Chicago. He married Lillian Hardin in 1925.

Jazz was novelty music until Louis showed the way.

In October 1924, now a brilliant musician, Louis joined Fletcher 'Smack' Henderson at 'The Roseland Ballroom' in New York. Abstraction and swing and punch and bounce.

Young Louis started to teach the older established players how to swing. After two years he became disillusioned with sloppy musicianship and no singing.

Louis returned to Chicago in 1925 as a star ready to tell the story of his musical development on record.

Initially he played with Lil Hardin Armstrong at 'The Dreamland' in Chicago until divorce in April 1926.

Then in November 1925 the single most influential combo in the history of jazz, The Hot 5, started to record a series of jazz classics.

New Orleans jazz matured in 1925, Louis brought it all together in his Hot 5 and 7 ensemble playing, solos, and vocals.

In December 1925 Louis was invited to join Erskine Tate’s ‘symphony orchestra’ at The Vendome Theatre. Early 1926, Earl Hines persuades Louis to join Carroll Dickerson’s gang at Joe Glaser's 'Sunset Café' with Percy Venable organising the floor show. The gig lasted until November 1927.The Hot 5 recordings reflect the musical Development of Louis and Dixieland Jazz -

 the traditional New Orleans ensemble with the best New Orleans musicians available

unbridled technical skills and confidence of individual solo expression

freedom and fun but overwhelmingly emotional – exuberance, joy, tragedy, drama, deep sadness …

from embellishing the melody to playing the changes

the emergence of swing …

Louis invented swing and jazz singing with his across-the-bar phrasing, odd syncopations and rhythmic innovations; he added more to the jazz language than anyone else. Louis Armstrong became an internationally famous jazz cornet and trumpet player, singer and bandleader. He brought New Orleans-style jazz to an wide audience and almost single-handedly transformed the music from a group form into an art for the individual swinging soloist.

In April 1928 Louis was at 'The Savoy' fronting his big band (Carroll Dickerson again) and then in 1929 Tommy Rockwell enticed him back to New York and after recording ‘Knockin’ a Jug’ with Jack Teagarden he abandoned the small Dixieland groups and moved on to big bands and swing and was introduced big time to white audiences. 'Lafayette' for starters then 'Connie's Inn' on 7th Avenue with Dutch Schultz. Then 'Hot Chocolates' on Broadway for whites ! 'Ain't Misbehavin'' made all his contemporaries look ordinary. Singing like never, a born showman.
During 1930/31 Louis recorded using Luis Russell's band in New York and Les Hite's band in California. Johnny Collins springs Louis in LA after a marijuana bust and claims management rights. But Dutch Schultz and Tommy Rockwell wanted Louis back at Connie's Inn! But he never played in New York until the gangster era was over.
1930-1939 - In 1930 Armstrong swings harder than ever. In 1931 he records 'Stardust'. The same year, the young Charlie Parker is given his first alto saxophone by his mother. In 1932 Duke Ellington records the classic 'It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing'. Also in the 1930's, jazz begins to develop its own spoken language. New terms and phrases are being used. Examples include hot, break it down, freak lips, my chops are beat, boogie man, and chill ya.

Louis was in Europe in 1933 with big lip problems and being fleeced by Collins.

Back to New York in 1935 with no job and Joe Glaser took over, sorted out the mob, got a contract with Decca, took 50% and things looked up.

In 1939 war breaks out in Europe.

Some movies led the way and Louis' big band survived until The All Stars were formed in 1947 at Billy Berg's Club in LA.

Younger musicians were preoccupied with Bird but Louis recorded an immense Town Hall Concert which white audiences loved. Louis was playing with whites in the band; Jack Teagarden !

Some young blacks were astonishingly ashamed of Louis and his 'Uncle Tom' attitude but he was playing small group jazz again, the original jazz which he defined. 

1957 Louis still and all rounder loved by the whites but speaks out about the treatment of blacks in Arkansas.

Musical AutobiographyIn 1957 Louis recorded a magnificent musical autobiography.

Louis learned faster, he heard harmonies, invented trajectories and was always in tune and in time. The whole world of popular music imitated him ...

The venues - Lincoln Gardens, Sunset Cafe, Vendome Theatre, Dreamland Cafe, Friars Inn, Royal Gardens, Savoy Ballroom, Roseland Dance Hall, Connie's Inn, Saratoga Club, Arcadia Ballroom, The Pekin ...

Influenced -
all popular music, popular singing and trumpet playing - everything!

'Louis' by Max Jones & John Chilton, Mayflower 1975.

'Louis Armstrong: A Biography' by James Lincoln Collier, Pan Books 1993.

'Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life' by Laurence Bergreen, Broadway 1997.

'Louis Armstrong - his life, his music, his recordings' by Abbi Hubner, Oreos 2001.

'The Young Louis Armstrong on Records - a critical survey of the early recordings 1923 - 28' - Studies in Jazz No.39 by Edward Brooks, Scarecrow Press 2002.

'The Original Hot Five Recordings of Louis Armstrong' by Gene H Anderson, Pendragon Press 2007.

'Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong' by Terry Teachout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

'Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism' by Thomas Brothers, W W Norton, 2014.

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