The Hot 5 & 7 Transcription Project


‘If it feels so good when listening to this music what can it possibly be like to actually play it’?


The Project -

This was an educational project to assist students in the musical analysis of the Hot 5 & 7 recordings.

The objective was to transcribe the original instrument parts so they could be musically understood to enable imitation and recreation.

The first priority was to identify the basic harmonies of the chord sequences, then detailing all the improvised melody parts (cornet, clarinet, trombone). We used 'Band in a Box' backing tracks for the banjo and piano rhythm. Ultimately we were striving for as near a 'replica' of the recorded performances as we could get ... but maybe that was a pipe dream? Striving for accuracy forces the analysis of all the elements in the musical mix; pitch, harmony, rhythm, accentuation, timbre and all the dynamics which together produce the synergies which were so dramatic when they were recorded from 1925.

These performances were historically significant innovations, the 'unfathomable swing and apparent spontaneity' were astonishing at the time and their established longevity make them a rewarding focus for study.

Band in a BoxWe tried to write the harmonies and melody lines into 'Band in a Box' software where the effects could be both musically analysed and heard as the transcription progressed against a suitably realistic 'Band in a Box' rhythmic style. Particularly important was the rhythmic impetus of the 'shots', 'pushes' & 'breaks' throughout these recordings together with the 'swing feel' of the 8th notes which the 'Band in a Box' engine handled particularly well.

This was essential to our project as hearing our lines played against realistic backing chords and rhythm was helpful if the subtle timings and accents which made the music swing were to be faithfully reproduced.

We debated at length about the idiosyncratic vocals. Louis Armstrong's vocals were just as influential as his trumpet playing, and popular singing was never the same after the recording of 'Heebie Jeebies' in 1926. In the end we decided to use the trombone midi patch an try and indicate the complex rhythms of the Louis lines which were blue hollers and rhythmic grunts. These vocals and the piano of Earl Hines proved to be insurmountable problems for transcription. Help!  

The project was conceived to help students to understand the structure of the ensembles and solos; it provided sheet music for folks who prefer to learn that way; and of course it provided a way to practice without having all the parts covered with live musicians. Hopefully it would guide all those wannabe musicians who wanted to recreate these masterpieces.

We believed that playing jazz was a process of aural imitation – listen and learn – this could never be replaced by musical analysis of transcriptions. However, the learning process could be speeded up if we could explain in sound and notation how the original innovators did the job.

NB We were acutely aware that just as the recipe was not the cake ... in the same way the score was not the music!

The 'Band in a Box' transcriptions resulted from hours of effort and were intended to be an educational resource for the personal use of students who wanted to learn. They were not for commercial use nor indiscriminate distribution to others. They were private property, please respect the rights of those who have done all the work.

Feel free to download examples and tell us what you think. However we not only needed your reaction but also your assistance, this was an ongoing project over years … lots of enthusiastic musicians helped over the years! 

A word about the significance of the OKeh company -

OKeh Records, an American record label founded by Otto K E Heinemann phonograph supplier established in 1916, which branched out into phonograph records in 1918.
In 1920, Perry Bradford encouraged Fred Hager, the director of A&R at OKeh, to record blues singer Mamie Smith. The records were popular, and the label issued a series of 'race records' directed by Clarence Williams in New York City and Richard M Jones in Chicago. From 1921 to 1932, this series included music by Williams, Lonnie Johnson, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. Also recording for the label were Bix Beiderbecke, Bennie Moten, Frankie Trumbauer and Eddie Lang.

OKeh was reorganised as the General Phonograph Corporation in 1919 with business support from Germany. They used Mamie Smith's popular song 'Crazy Blues' to cultivate a new market in 1920 and they could not keep the record on the shelves because of its popularity. Portraits of Smith and lists of her records were printed in advertisements in newspapers such as the Chicago Defender, the Atlanta Independent, New York Colored News, and others popular with African-Americans. OKeh had further prominence as African-American musicians Sara Martin, Eva Taylor, Shelton Brooks, Esther Bigeou, and the W C Handy Orchestra recorded for the label. OKeh prospered on the 'race records' series and the success led OKeh to start recording music where it was being performed, known as 'location recording'. Starting in 1923, OKeh sent mobile recording equipment to tour the country and record performers not heard in New York or Chicago. Regular trips were made once or twice a year to New Orleans, Atlanta, San Antonio, St Louis, Kansas City and Detroit.
The OKeh studio in Atlanta also catered to Hillbilly stars. One of the first was 'Fiddlin' John Carson, believed to have made the first country music recordings there in June 1923. A double sided record with 'The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane' and 'The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going To Crow'.

In 1926 the OKeh company was sold to Columbia Phonograph. The OKeh True Tone system of electric recording which had been introduced in the spring of 1926 was abandoned and from November 1926 when OKeh records began to use the same studios, electrical recording process, laminated pressings, and label type-faces as Columbia. Tommy Rockwell and better technology took over, OKeh secured access to the superior Western Electric electrical recording system.
From 1918 to 1932 OKeh made around 8,332 acoustic and 7,216 electrical recordings. They were among the very best from this period. The quality of the acoustic recordings were at least on par with those of OKeh’s major competitors (Brunswick, Columbia, Victor) and frequently surpassed them.

The University of Michigan produced an informative review of OKek and the Hot 5 well worth a read.

Here's what the pundits said about the music and the recorded songs of the Hot 5 & 7 -

Gene Anderson - 'On November 12 1925, in their Chicago studios, the OKeh Company recorded a small five piece Negro ensemble for the first time. This apparently insignificant event was to have quite a repercussion on the history of jazz'.

OKeh, 'black music for black audiences', had enjoyed previous success with Mamie Smith's Crazy Blues in 1920 and King Oliver's Creole Jazz band in 1923. But young Louis was different. Musicians recognised the genius of Louis Armstrong immediately the original Hot 5 recordings were released.

George Avakian - Louis Armstrong is the father of all jazz and it is exhilarating to realise that 75 years later, this is still brilliant, beautiful music. It would be easy to dismiss the Hot Five and Hot Seven as "old-time stuff" particularly in light of the instrumentation (trumpet, clarinet, piano, banjo and trombone, with the later addition of tuba and drums). But when the notes begin to pour out of the speakers, the unbidden urges come in a rush, and stay for as long as the music continues - first, we grin widely; next, we tap our feet or even to stand up and dance foolishly about the room.

The commonly-cited tracks from these groups, ‘Cornet Chop Suey’, ‘Heebie Jeebies’, ‘Potato Head Blues’, ‘Lonesome Blues’ and ‘Muggles’, are all glorious, but it's the less well-known tracks that are the real treasures, not only for their musical performance, which is uniformly excellent, but also for more...earthy reasons. ‘That's When I'll Come Back To You’ a duet between Armstrong and wife Lil, features blackly hilarious lyrics. For connoisseurs of crude pleasures, ‘That's When I'll Come Back To You’ and ‘Shit Outta Luck Blues’ are definite keepers. These seminal recordings document an utterly captivating, riveting music. Louis Armstrong transmitted an energy to his musicians that propelled them to play what was almost by any measure of judgment completely new jazz.

The compositions were built on syncopated rhythmic innovations and presented radical melodic challenges to the dominant blues idiom. The material was treated by the Hot Fives and Sevens with layers of complex dynamics, elevated to ecstatic heights by Armstrong's dazzling execution on trumpet and the pioneering clarinet work of Johnny Dodds. Dodds' expressive range and penetrating timbre paved the way for the great clarinetists of the swing era: Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw.

Some of the themes are so abstract and ironic they sound decades ahead of their time. ‘Potato Head Blues’, ‘Wild Man Blues’ and ‘Twelfth Street Rag’ are so intensely vigorous that you'll see straight away why this music took off as it did, why reactionaries thought it was the music of the devil, why conservatives thought it was subversive, why progressives didn't understand it. Louis Armstrong was the best thing happening to the people of America during the Prohibition years before the crash of 1929. The subsequent Depression made the lives of most black people miserable, but the Hot Fives and Sevens remain testament to an optimism black America wouldn't have cause to feel again until the 1960s. Although pioneering black musicians forty years later expressed either anger or mysticism rather than hope, it is no coincidence that many of them looked to the purity of feeling in these records for their inspiration.

Danny Barker - all the alert jazz musicians and local music lovers waited anxiously for each of Louis Armstrong's latest releases as there was much to learn from these classics.

Rudi Blesh – an important series of New Orleans jazz records, unforgettable memories, achieving great popularity and influencing musicians more than is commonly recognized by planting in their minds the seeds of jazz. Blues and popular music were transformed into jazz.

Edward Brooks – the closer you listen the greater the reward.

Laurence Bergreen – Louis ebullient personality, leering humour, pathos and geniality are reflected in these collaborative efforts … Lil's confidence, Ory's amusing swagger, Dodds's burning blueness … they were playing for fun, unaware of their musical legacy.

John Chilton – Louis established the whole structure and technique of jazz. From 'jerky' staccato ragtime to the effortless flow of majestic improvised rhythmic phrasing. Johnny Dodds was a master of superb counterpoint and intense feeling.

Routines were worked out in the studio, with typical verse, chorus, solo, vocal, ensemble.

By the fall of 1927 Louis superb technique enabled the projection of quite complex musical ideas.

James Lincoln Collier – These 65 songs constitute one the most significant bodies of American recorded music, extraordinary and enthralling. The old New Orleans style was wiped away. The only alternative was Bix’s development of the ODJB style. Louis had a warm full tone with a razor sharp attack, he escaped from the ground beat, took liberties with time and introduced extended phrases. A pattern was established with a statement of the melody, then development around the melody and finally Louis' 'routines'. The correlated choruses, building up coherence.

Richard Hadlock – Louis musical growth is clear. Dodds and Ory were in awe and, perhaps, not best pleased by Louis soaring digressions and were more relaxed on the Bootblacks and Wanderers records with a 'conventional' George Mitchell lead? After these recordings jazz was a soloist's art.

Brian Harker - The Hot Fives redefined jazz from lively ensembles to statements by virtuoso soloists. No one in 1925 was predicting the rise and influence of someone like Armstrong and his seminal contributions and momentous developments. This was neither the traditional New Orleans dance music of King Oliver nor the novelty entertainment of the vaudeville stage, Armstrong was an innovator and consolidator.

Andre Hodeir - The Hot 5 recordings constitute the most impressive, if not the most authentic, evidence of what the New Orleans style was like in its golden age.

Art Hodes – Louis didn’t use drums, Miss Lil and the banjo, St Cyr, had to carry the beat, so Lil had to play a lot of chords – ‘solid piano’ – instead of ‘spreading out’. Louis knocked me out, his ideas, while the rest of the band didn’t penetrate my skull. Louis had ideas and the technique to bring them out. Bix didn’t have the rhythm behind him that Louis did.

Abbi Hubner – Peter Davis taught Louis the fundamentals of major and minor triads, scales, chromatic scales, interval leaps, seventh chords, triplets, 16th notes, double timing and appoggiaturas. There followed persistent training and fanatical daily practice. Louis, genuine originality, a brilliant, radiant tone with a powerful, driving crescendoing vibrato, extraordinary richness of movement in the phrasing, modern timing with surprising changes in accentuation of on and off beat.

Louis then produced something innovative - swing. Relaxed, so sure, so effortless, so light, the music floats and has wings. It seems to accelerate even though the tempo is the same, it gains momentum becoming loose and elastic. Armstrong was the inventor of swing, the 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4, so much more agile than 1 and 2 and 3 and 4!

Edward Lee –The brilliance and penetrating insight of Armstrong only served to accentuate the deficiencies of those who accompanied him. Above all there was Armstrong, developing. There were other significant contributions, particularly from Hines but also the banjo starts to play four to the bar this was not two beat music.

Humphrey Lyttelton – A towering peak in Louis career, profoundly affecting the whole course of jazz and popular music.

Leroy Ostransky – I wish to establish the unequivocal position of Lil Hardin in jazz history. Lil was heavily involved in all the moves that made Armstrong one of the most significant figures in jazz.

Hugues Panassie – An extraordinary series of recordings. The best and the most famous of Louis’ recordings. Collective improvisation alternating with solos. The banjo provided accurate chording and a pulse beat rhythm which was a trump card for Louis to play against.

Gunther Schuller – The most remarkable long term recording contract in the history of jazz, making jazz famous and a music to be taken seriously. Louis produced much superior - note choice and line shape, tone quality, vibrato and shakes, and above all swing. This music summarised the past and predicted the future. Phrasing, tone & swing, not the jerky syncopation of ragtime but onward momentum & continuity across the bar lines. .

Frank Tirro – Time has immortalised these recordings as the classics of the period. A remarkable group of musicians, the best of New Orleans. Consistency, quality; superlative jazz recordings.

Preston Jackson - I first saw Lil demonstrating music at Jones Music Store in Chicago. Lil was just a young miss then but how she could swing, yes, I mean swing, no ragtime... I knew she wouldn't be there long, no, man, not with all that piano she was swinging. One month later she joined the New Orleans Creole Band with such men as Freddie Keppard, Ed Garland, Paul Barbarin, Jimmie Noone and Eddie Vincent ... Man, Lil didn't know how much she could swing. Lil never was a flash. She is a fine soloist and can lay those chords four beats to a measure and solid just like the doctor ordered ... When playing some of Louis Armstrong's records recorded by the Hot Five, notice the foundation. It will speak for itself.

The development of Louis Armstrong and Dixieland Jazz -

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

His apprenticeship was completed in 1923 along side Joe Oliver at The Lincoln Gardens in Chicago.
Now a brilliant musician in October 1924 Louis joined Fletcher 'Smack' Henderson at The Roseland in New York.
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 at Bill Bottoms' 'black & tan' place The Dreamland Café in Chicago until their divorce in April 1926.

In December 1925 Louis was invited to join Erskine Tate’s ‘symphony orchestra’ at The Vendome. 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.In April 1928 Louis was at The Savoy fronting his big band (Carroll Dickerson again) and then in 1929 he went to New York and after recording ‘Knockin’ a Jug’ with Jack Teagarden abandoned the small Dixieland groups and moved on to big bands and swing. The Hot 5 recordings reflect the musical Development of Louis and Dixieland Jazz -

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

2 unbridled technical skills and confidence of individual solo expression

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

4 from embellishing the melody to new interpretations and playing the changes

5 the emergence of swing … Louis owned the sounds, phrasings & rhythms, he 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. Instantly recognised cornet / trumpet sound and gravel voice.

6 the recording technology in the studio imposed a 3 minute time limit on 'New Orleans' jazz, which was first & foremost dance music & fun. An agreed 'structure' was essential. Often an introduction & coda, with verse and chorus, with ensembles, solos, vocals and inspirational breaks and scats. Not yet the American song book 32 bar structure with a middle eight but, always of course, there were lots of the old faithful 12 bar blues form ... all of them were all interestingly and flexibly different.

Mutt Carey was clear, 'every time Louis played a chorus it was different. He set the pace for the whole world. He played more blues than I ever heard, it never did strike my mind that blues could be played in so many different ways. Louis sang like he played, he was singing in his head all the time and had the fingers to reproduce on his horn the sounds he heard'.

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 November 1925 the single most influential combo in the history of jazz started to record a series of classics.

The songs and records -

The songs were sometimes inconsequential scraps, but the interpretations were mind bending.

They were playing familiar songs but there is little repetition in all the total 65 recordings!

The original Hot 5 recorded 26 songs, 24 for OKeh. OKeh was formed in 1918 by the Heineman Phonograph Supply Company and gained remarkable technical success for high quality recordings under C L Hibbard and run away commercial success with 'race records' starting with Mamie Smith's 'Crazy Blues' in 1920. The King Oliver Creole Jazz Band recordings of 1923 followed, then the Clarence Williams Blue Fives, and on November 12th 1925, advised by Richard M Jones, came the first Hot 5 recordings.

Two recordings were also done for Vocalion as Lil’s Hot Shots. Lil Hardin with Louis wrote 14 of the first 22 songs. Wholly original phrases and infectious unstoppable swing. Moderate tempo fun in major keys. The soloist grew out of the New Orleans ensemble. No longer the finely balanced King Oliver ensemble.

Preparing solos from a semitone below but not straying far from the chord notes, there were few harmonic innovations. Louis’ harmony was barber shop singing. The variety is rhythmic and melodic. Short staccato phrases with plenty of accents and rips not strings of eighth note arpeggios.

The Hot 7 recorded 11 songs for OKeh under the new management of Tommy Rockwell.

Pete Briggs playing tuba on beats one and three and Baby Dodds on drums are added. Also a limp John Thomas replaces Ory's sturdy contrapuntal style. Kid Ory could not be on the Louis Armstrong Hot 7’s recorded in Chicago, as he was in New York with King Oliver at the time. Electrical recording and the drums help the balance.

Dodds plays well but everyone is under Louis's musical thrall. He is now on trumpet and on top form, with more complex ideas and double tempo breaks. There are a lot more solos and some songs are a string of solos with various arrangements. Set pieces of New Orleans ensemble give way to more invention. Louis worked out set lines night after night until his irreproachable ear let him invent wholly new melodies over the original chords. He heard the chord as well as the melody note.

Majestic, soaring ardency …

The Hot 5 again recorded another 9 songs. Back to New Orleans with opening and closing ensembles.

New Hot 5 with Earl Hines recorded 19 songs. New Orleans was gone. Some jammed ensembles but also some arranged passages and much soloing. Don Redman was brought in to help.

Progress of the Project –

The original Hot 5

- 26 recordings (24 OKeh, 2 Vocalion as Lil's Hot Shots) – Armstrong, Dodds, Ory, St Cyr, Lil Hardin.

From Erskine Tate at The Vendome Theatre, Lil at The Dreamland Café and Carroll Dickerson at the Sunset Café ... into the OKeh studio.

Hot 51 My Heart [Lil Hardin] - Nov 12th 1925. Eb - bpm 196. Acoustic recording.

The Hot Five records start in the traditional New Orleans style with cornet, clarinet and trombone ensemble lines over a bedrock rhythm provided by piano and banjo.

The underlying material was unimportant it was the interpretation that counted. This was Storyville dance music heard at Lulu White's place and Tom Anderson's Cabaret ... Basin Street Blues and Mahogany Hall Stomp. Daisy Parker was Louis' first moll, straight out of the spotting houses, but he had met Lil Hardin in Joe Oliver's band in Chicago ... and Lil was a class act.

 My Heart was a pleasant 'popular' song by Lil for an opener which defined the mature New Orleans jazz. No doubt most of these songs credited to Lil or Louis were a partnership ... Louis would have prolific musical ideas which Lil would  'organise' and write out the dots.

My Heart is a charming melodic / harmonic vehicle, a 32 bar chorus with a 16 bar verse later used by Maceo Pinkard in ‘Them There Eyes’. Here is the clear musical concept, tight ensemble playing, understood by all the players with instrumental roles strictly adhered to and coherently cross referenced. The clarinet and trombone play their traditional roles largely avoiding clashes with the rhythmic lead cornet in both octave, chord inversion of the pitches and rhythmic line. The three instruments are complementary making the whole much more than the sum of the parts. The style defined - relatively unadorned cornet lead, higher octave clarinet obbligato a constant stream of eighth notes, lower octave trombone obbligato of a longer note bass line. Rhythmic and melodic independence is vital producing the impression of a constant flow of syncopated ebb & flow.

Louis is the intense, driving lead cornet and ensemble leader from New Orleans. Exemplary. More embellished than Joe Oliver but still a lead based firmly on the theme. Although the lead is evolving into a more prominent line than was traditional in New Orleans.

However it is not an overpowering lead and even at this early stage Louis displays a very distinctive musical signature, a staccato 'rat – tat – ta – tat' attack. Crisp and flawlessly played, quite different from the older cornet players he admired. The essentials of his style are the unmistakable brilliant, radiant tone, fast crescendo vibrato and highly original phrasing, timing and accentuation which ‘swings’. This would be impossible without the prodigious technique and complete command of his instrument which resulted from a thorough ‘classical’ training. Louis is in excellent form, his tone lithe and well centred, his ideas well shaped, his rhythm secure and varied.  He's in a sunny mood, playing with an easy kind of swing with his friends.

Dodds was the main soloist with King Oliver and unsurprisingly he takes the solo here, a flowing stream of 8th notes, a clear toned limpid clarinet and a brooding solo ... a minor masterpiece.

Lil, who wrote the song originally as a waltz, also solos, not too debilitating and quite sprightly.
An auspicious start.

2 Yes I'm in the Barrel [Louis & Lil] - Nov 12th 1925. Dm / F - bpm 152 - 'in the barrel' = destitute, no money for clothes so I'm wearing a barrel!

A slow 12 bar blues mating of cornet and clarinet with the trombone clearly subordinate. Much 'darker' than the joy of My Heart with a piano vamp introducing the minor verse.

Louis plays a plunger solo on the verse.  Joe Oliver was Louis' idol and mentor and a great plunger gut bucket man, but Louis seldom played with contraptions and secured the pure, instantly recognised sound through his horn.

Dodds again is the main soloist with one of the finest clarinet solos on wax - two blues choruses in a row ... another minor masterpiece. Typical blue Dodds, his style mature and it develops little in the years to come.

Louis comes in on the first ensemble two beats early! But the change to F major contrasts nicely and Louis introduces some effective clarinet mimicking triplets.

Vividly evocative of the barrel house and honky tonk atmosphere of New Orleans.

3 Gut Bucket Blues [Louis & Lil] - Nov 12th 1925. C - bpm 148 - 'gut bucket' = the bucket to collect the drips from the barrel house spigots, or the waste from 'gutting' the carcasses in the kitchens.

This funky named song was popular and put the group 'on the map'. Used as a vehicle for the introduction of the band as they all take a solo; a gimmick which was imitated by other band leaders.

An easy tempo common 12 bar blues masterpiece, everybody from New Orleans played 'the blues'.

Uninhibited earthy jazz. A neat St Cyr introduction to avoid the 'monotony' of the classic 12 bars. 

The sequence of two ensemble choruses, a series of solos, with breaks and a closing ensemble, sets a pattern for the future which just about sums up the Hot Five. The only thing missing is a stop time chorus by Louis.

An excellent subliminal banjo intro, then two perfectly balanced classic ensemble choruses, models of good collective improvisation, still strongly reminiscent of Oliver. Then come the string of solos from Lil, Ory, Dodds and Louis, with a robust trombone like low register. The final ensemble is the best of all with a riff by Ory and Louis which makes the music swing.

Louis with a quicksilver contribution skipping around the melody, always leaving the listener to participate. Ideas rattling out bypassing the conscious mind direct from his boisterous fertile unconscious.

4 Come Back Sweet Papa [Paul Barbarin & Luis Russell] - Feb 22nd 1926. C - bpm 194 - Paul Barbarin was an old friend.

3 months later Louis was getting better and Feb 26th 1926 produced some wonders.

Always remembered because Dodds states the theme on 'alto' saxophone (who would believe it!) sounding incongruous and unadventurous, an example of swingless soloing. But Louis follows perfectly as if to give his clarinetist a lesson in how to swing.

Louis' lead abounds with fresh startling ideas. Wonderful traditional ensemble parts with the clarinet.

Louis break in the final chorus before the verse tentatively suggests the later superb stop time chorus in ‘Potato Head’.

5 Georgia Grind [Papa Charlie Jackson & Clarence Williams] - Feb 26th 1926. Eb - bpm 142.

Feb 26th produced six quality sides of sustained creativity and lip endurance. A sensational session.

Georgia Grind is poor pop blues by Clarence Williams. Slow tempo, which in those days was 'slow' for dancers. A minor verse played poignantly on cornet, with a major swinging chorus. Dodds attempts some virtuosity but his simple line is very appealing. Ory solos and Lil sings but doesn't capture the bawdiness of the lyrics.

Louis first vocal, manipulating words to serve rhythm. A Louis hallmark.

6 Heebie Jeebies [Boyd Atkins] - Feb 26th 1926. Ab - bpm 168 – 'heebie jeebies' = a jittery or nervous state and a 'Butter Beans and Suzie' dance routine in vaudeville.

Boyd Atkins and Richard M Jones ‘lifted’ the tune from Joplin’s ‘Heliotrope Bouquet’. It became the 1st hot 5 hit with 40,000 copies sold in weeks exposing the music to a wider audience. National recognition, the most famous band in the land. Louis popularity was now 2nd only to the blues singers. A breakthrough, this song set the standard for new pop singing for the century. Improvising, gravely voiced scat, phrasing and tempo all over the place, delivering swing and interest. It was a particular contrast to the Rudy Vallee 'crooner' tradition. Unbeatable singing, full of feeling and swing. The nuances, inflections, natural ease, bends, scoops, vibrato and shakes imitate his cornet playing.

What a shock; rasping and unorthodox, primitive and uncouth? No, it was hair raising hokum. Nonsense words but the timing in front of a steady beat produced an astonishing effect. Was it an old minstrelsy tick, freeing vocals from the melody? Louis was ‘scatting’ with his vocal quartet years ago on the Streets of New Orleans as he imitated the comedians from minstrelsy. The standard was set for pop singers for decades to come.

Dodds also solos. But Louis is lighter and more relaxed but full of complexity, just try to copy any one of his phrases in his solo?

 A best seller, opens with Lil’s broken chords and Ory’s long swelling upwards glissando leads into an ensemble which is an object lesson in New Orleans polyphony. Ory’s solo of tantalizingly delayed stresses.

This recording changed the focus of jazz from New Orleans collective ensembles to Louis' spectacular cornet and vocal improvisations. The music was redefined. Armstrong gave jazz scat singing in 'Heebie Jeebies', virtuosity and stop timing in 'Cornet Chop Suey' on the same recording session and then with the Hot 7 the majestic maturing of his style in the stop-time chorus on 'Potato Head Blues'?

7 Cornet Chop Suey [Louis] - Feb 26th 1926. F - bpm 190 – 'chop suey' = fooling around.

A second thunder clap after ‘Heebie Jeebies’, a showcase for Louis at last, the first instrumental feature. What an introduction! The triplet phrase mimics Picou’s ‘High Society’ which Louis learned to play on the cornet as a practice routine, but here he reverses the direction and moves into repeated downward phrases. The four bars demonstrate how simple triads and inversions can be masterfully turned into jazz. Simple New Orleans with swing phrasing. A 16 bar verse is full of melody which Louis gives a haunting quality, then 32 choruses which are 16 bar repeats with variations.
A terrific impact. Amazing technique with fast phrases. A personal triumph for Louis. A showcase, elegant subtle vibrato in all registers. A tour de force exposition of Louis' ever expanding musical imagination. Constructed with seemingly simple eighth and quarter note patterns, displaying a superb sense of melodic balance and restraint. Each note falling into place with discomforting rightness and inevitability, yet with bubbling spontaneity. The highlight is a 16 bar stop time, 4 square cut figures, then the phrases run on longer, first short and regular then longer variations but a coherent whole. A demonstration to others of exuberant swing.

Lil’s piano chorus is insignificant giving Louis a rest and it is almost embarrassing. This solo is laced with figures which became common currency for generations of jazz musicians. Look out for the ‘In the Mood’ riff at bars 93/94 and does the final coda anticipate the ‘West End Blues’ opening cadenza or Joe Smiths ‘TNT’ figure in the final coda? The pace slows but nevertheless it is a masterpiece.

Virtuosity can lead a New Orleans ensemble without being isolated in the solo, thrillingly and beautifully revealed in its original setting.

8 Oriental Strut [St Cyr] - Feb 26th 1926. Dm / F - bpm 188.

An unusual St Cyr song with a pretty verse. There is switching between minor and major chords and the chorus sequence does not follow the common cycle of 5ths.

Louis carries the performance almost single handed. A rewarding searing stop time chorus and a mighty climax. But maybe the material was not known well enough for a truly great performance?

Ory's solo is more vaudeville than jazz?

9 You're Next [Lil Hardin] - Feb 26th 1926. Fm / Ab - bpm 128.

A song written by Lil. An incongruous Rachmaninoff piano intro then a haunting minor verse. Was Lil little more than a vaudeville pianist?

In 1918, Lil moved with her family to Chicago. Lil go to Jones Music Store and amaze them with her talent as a pianist. A job offer followed as a music demonstrator playing sheet music for customers. After learning all the sheet music available, Lil started to improvise on the songs. She added embellishments, and incorporated aspects of the hard-driving jazz style perfected by her inspiration, Jelly Roll Morton. She soon built a reputation as a pianist, and became a local star attraction.
The key moment came in 1921 when Lil joined King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. It was with the Oliver band that Lil met Louis. A young rustic trumpeter from New Orleans. Their relationship blossomed, and the couple married on 5th February 1924. Lil believed that Louis was wasting his time playing second cornet and convinced him to venture on his own. She gave him a 'modern look' and Louis left to start playing in New York. Lil returned to Chicago after struggling to find work in the male-dominated jazz scene in New York. Thanks to Lil, and her promotional efforts, the New York experience made Louis a star. OKeh Records wanted to issue a series of sides under the Louis Armstrong name, and the celebrated 'Hot Five' recordings came into being with Lil at the piano.

Lil's efforts with this song and Louis's career were rewarded. In 'You're Next' Louis anticipates the majestic style of later years, a sober and intense mood.

10 Muskrat Ramble [Kid Ory] - Feb 26th 1926. Ab - bpm 182 - 'muskrat' = brown aquatic rodent sold for its pelt. A typical New Orleans tune with characteristics of French quadrilles.

The exuberant ensembles on this record are a definition of New Orleans style.

Typical classic New Orleans solo style of the period by Louis, perfect tempo, neat, well cut phrases. Leaning on the beat, much richer and more inventive than contemporaries.

Splendid New Orleans lead cornet but in the 13/14th bar of his solo Louis makes a wrong harmonic change? Perhaps he was away into ‘Heebie Jeebies’ which has Db/Ab chords here? These guys were playing their pet phrases or licks that recur time and again not only in repeated playing of the same songs but also the same lick would be played in other songs over the same chord and sometimes appropriately adjusted for any chord change.

Generations of jazzmen have played Ory’s closing lick of ‘Muskrat’. Brazen and beautiful Ory timbres. Dodds discloses the secret of preserving momentum by syncopation and inner rhythm.

Lil’s Hot Shots

- 2 recordings, an interlude on Vocalion / Brunswick for 'contractual' reasons, same personnel but sounding somewhat different. Louis generally inferior and Ory and Dodds simple but effective, why? Were they intimidated by Louis on the OKeh  Hot 5s?

11 Gorgia bo bo [Fats Waller & Jo Trent] May 28th 1926. F - bpm 145.

A 12 bar blues and some powerful hollerin’. Dodds plays one of his best solos. Louis sings, swinging a great deal, and his 'out of contract' playing was instantly recognised by OKeh executives.

12 Drop that Sack [Louis] - May 28th 1926. Ab - bpm 185.

Fatigue sets in? Louis muffs in the intro and bum notes in the ensembles. But the song was more satisfying in many ways than the 'decorated' Bo Bo?

Perhaps the greatest solo Ory ever recorded? (Alma Hubner)

Back to the Hot 5 at OKeh

– to total 26 recordings

13 Don't Forget to Mess Around [Lil Hardin] - June 16th 1926. Ab - bpm 195 - ‘The Mess Around’ = a jazz dance popular in the 1920’s in which the hips were swung in a circular motion. Paying homage to jazz dance, fun & the 'Charleston' craze!

June 16th was not a very memorable session, the nadir? Quasi novelty numbers from Lil. Rough hewn commercialism? But all 4 songs were different and strangely endearing if not typical and virtuosic.

Jazz was always first & foremost fun!

14 I'm Gonna Gitcha [Lil Hardin] - June 16th 1926. F - bpm 195.

How could Lil write a problem song like this with a strange 6 bar bridge and also gems like 'Struttin' with some Barbeque'?

Although a 'dog' tune the key gives Louis great upper register sonority and it is a highlight technically and artistically. The spirit of the whole thing bubbles with energy and joy and he blows up a storm hardly waiting for his turn and pulling the band with him.

A great ride out and does the two bar closing phrase anticipate ‘Potato Head’?

15 Dropping Shucks [Lil Hardin] - June 16th 1926. Am / F - bpm 170 - 'dropping shucks' = playing a dirty trick on someone, corn shucks, the outside of maize, was used instead of toilet paper.

Another magical transcription from Cliff Harper, illustrating Louis staccato style nicely!

Was this song motivated during Lil's divorce as marital revenge?

Typical Hot 5 format minor verse, ensemble chorus, solo piano with banjo breaks, Louis ‘rubato’ vocal with stop time, clarinet solo, trombone solo, ride out ensemble with breaks. Listen to the magical way Louis phrases 'dropping shucks on me’ …!

16 Who'sit [Richard M Jones] - June 16th 1926. C - bpm 208.

Maybe the weakest of all the Hot 5 recordings. But it works wonderfully well! Jazz was fun. 

Assumed to be written by Lil as one of her June 16th 'novelty' songs bur in fact written by Richard M jones (Beatrice Jones his wife?) together with 'Big Fat Ma & Skinny Pa' recorded the following week. Kid Ory suggested Richard M Jones(1892-1945) had the idea for the Hot Five recordings. He grew up in New Orleans and worked for the OKeh company in Chicago as a jazz pianist, band leader, and record producer. He accompanied blues singers and wrote & selected songs. Numerous songs bear his name as author, including 'Trouble in Mind'.

Typical format but Louis plays slide whistle instead of a vocal, with superb Dodds chalumeau backing.

Ory plays a 'laugh' chorus - tongue in cheek ‘imitating’ the slide whistle to come. But great moments from the cornet. Did Dodds tried to turn every song into a characteristic blues? Amongst all the hokum Dodds produced ... another minor masterpiece.

17 King of the Zulus [Lil Hardin] - June 23rd 1926. Em - bpm 170 - 'Zulu' = 'The Zulu Aid and Pleasure Club' which was a Mardi Gras organisation, Louis was appointed King Zulu in 1949. Also called 'At a Chit'lin' Rag'?

Another relatively poor Hot 5 recording with rehearsed comic interjections from Clarence Babcock. The comedy routine came straight out of the old minstrel shows and the ‘coon song’ jamborees. But these were the start of jazz and historically important for understanding the roots of jazz.

Nevertheless an impressive cornet solo full of melodic ideas emerged from the carnival atmosphere and turned  the whole number into a melancholy lament. The June 23rd recordings Louis was getting better still

This is an extended cornet solo like 'Cornet Chop Suey' built from a few chord notes and brushing anything oppressive aside. A shimmering sequence of notes swings into the ride out ‘liberating’ the sustained harmony of the mournful trombone. Louis playing over simple minor chords is was pre-taste of the majestic ‘Tight Like This’ which was to come. Ory moans, Dodds tends to be under recorded but Louis never sounded fatter. His artistic superiority confirms his solitary greatness giving him a certain ‘distance’ over his sidemen who end up more and more in his shadow. Louis was increasingly crossing borders and undertaking expeditions, although playing ‘off the cuff’ his creative act falls back on an inexhaustible fund of pre-structured musical ideas, secured and nurtured through education, training and experience.

18 Big Fat Ma & Skinny Pa [Richard M Jones] - June 23rd 1926. Eb - bpm 172.

Back to the real McCoy. On the whole very good. They were beginning to swing more consistently, the rhythm seems to fall automatically into place.
 Relaxed swing.

19 Lonesome Blues [Lil Hardin] - June 23rd 1926. Bb - bpm 86.

A really slow blues of five choruses, three by Dodds and two sung by Louis, typical of New Orleans blues shouting / singing.

20 Sweet Little Papa [Kid Ory] - June 23rd 1926. F - bpm 190.

Again very good. Louis roams over the entire cornet range. It borrows it's melodic structure from 'Cornet Chop Suey'? Several 'arranged' passages to link independent phrases together.

Louis' trademarks emerged. Smooth rhythms give way to stronger, harder, contrasting ones in great arching descending and ascending lines. The contours are more striking. Louis begins to solo over the chords not paraphrasing the melody. Double time breaks abound. The Da da dah pattern of descending arpeggios, the flutter tongued lead in note, embellishing shakes and the ripped upper note.

Unusually St Cyr takes a useless break. Dodds does not get the notes in the right place and plays a suicidal break? Ory’s solo is corny syncopation ‘polka style’? Stiff ‘on the beat’ but Louis follows soaring. 

21 Jazz Lips [Lil Hardin] - Nov 16th 1926. F - bpm 210.

A melody paraphrase. Simple and restrained, but the flippant ease is coupled with new tensions. Ory is ill at ease with this over structured piece. Louis outgrowing his sidemen is at home?

Maybe marred by the over planning, uncertainty and a glut of organised breaks which destroy the usual free wheeling feel?

But Louis seems to understand the unconventional, constantly interrupted melodies of this song and ‘Skid dat de dat’ which followed. In the same way he always produces a stop time tour de force.

22 Skid Dat de Dat [Lil Hardin] - Nov 16th 1926. C - bpm 120.

A bit of scat nonsense from Lil. An attempt to cash in on the scat success of 'Heebie Jeebies'? The two bar breaks allow comparison of the Louis brilliance with his sidemen who have tawdry ideas and poor intonation.

The intro 'blue' notes suggests Eb so the tonic in bar three sounds strange?

A melancholy mood song in the 'St James’ vogue. 'Melancholy Blues' and 'Tight Like This' were to follow. Sparing and tender. A patchwork quilt of 4 bar breaks on a 4 bar theme of 4 whole notes which Louis plays behind the beat. Ory is ill at ease again. Louis scats, and is far more extreme than 'Heebie Jeebies'. An elegant blues with Louis making bad notes into good ones with ease.

23 Big Butter & Egg Man [Louis & Percy Venable] - Nov 16th 1926. G - bpm 195 – 'big butter & egg man' = wealthy farmer from the Midwestern States spending lavishly on the girls.

Superb. A melodious inventive paraphrase, a milestone record.

This song was played every night at the Sunset Café, written by Percy Venable as a routine for May Alex and Louis. May Alex was a pretty girl and expert at running splits but not a jazz singer! But Louis was at ease swinging the spoken word after May's vocal, a perfect prelude to Louis' finest solo?

The same note, the A, appears all through the chord changes with dramatic effect. A simple easy figure repeated three times, with a sudden interruption before returning to the easy mood sliding down to a series of plateau to explore the ground below. The rapid run up to the major 7th in the second line is used effectively in ‘Strutting with some Barbecue’ which was to come. The second half involves rapid tension notes and tense descents before going back to a relaxed rise to an absent tonic! Utterly confident easy grace.

Intuitive grasp of logic and continuity, with imaginative variation. 'Kicking' from the 2nd to the tonic. The astonishing swing out of the bridge into the last eight bars!

Kid Ory, the finest tailgate 'bone.

Louis' solo is won from daily routine, a impeccable unified whole, an evergreen with an easily remembered melody whose logical structure was not the result of spontaneity but of careful preparation, the economic and effective use of notes betrays previous planning.

No doubt Percy Venable wrote the lyrics but Louis' inventive input would have been undeniable. This was the first of the 4 Venable accreditations, the others 'Sunset Café Stomp', also brilliant, 'You Made Me Love You' less successful in the absence of Kid Ory, and 'Irish Black Bottom', a weak attempt at the humour of the day.

24 Sunset Café Stomp [Louis & Percy Venable] - Nov 16th 1926. Bb - bpm 210 - 'sunset café' = night club on East 53 street Chicago organised by Percy Venable.

Another masterpiece, not spoiled by the May Alix vocal?

Louis plays a ravishing verse, motoring chorus and crazy coda. Ory plays a masterful break. Dodds reliable as usual but may be a miserable introduction?

Outstanding ensemble playing. A 'nice' structure and 2 bar tags work well.

25 You Made Me Love You [Louis & Percy Venable] - Nov 27th 1926. C - bpm 200.

Henry 'Hy' Clark replaces Ory on trombone for this session and produces inauspicious semibreve interjections and a corny solo.

Dodds is poorly recorded.

But a very good performance or even brilliant. Dodds at his best, Louis on top form.

Is this the verse from 'After You've Gone'?

26 Irish Black Bottom [Louis & Percy Venable] - Nov 27th 1926. F - bpm 205.

The first electrical recordings at Colombia?

A weak commercial song damaged by Clark's bum notes. Louis is the only one not using corny syncopation in the first chorus.

But a very good performance from the master.

The Hot 7

– 11 recordings at OKeh with Louis switched to trumpet, John Thomas replacing Ory and Pete Briggs on tuba & Baby Dodds on drums added.

27 Willie the Weeper [Marty Bloom & Walter Melrose] - May 7th 1927. Bb / Gm / C - bpm 200 - 'willie the weeper' = dope addict.

 One of the hottest and best of the Hot 7. Louis solo begins with a tense figure of syncopated stubby notes, in bar 6 the tension is released with a pretty rise and fall gem. Then the screws go on again with rapid repeats, a high leading note behind the beat, loaded with vibrato, repeated in bar 15, aiming for the tonic but delaying the final bang before spilling and sweeping into the final ensemble.

Marvelous, very cohesive opening, good St Cyr with swinging chords intro to Louis and a grandiose 16 bar solo, attacking each note with terrific strength. Many played on the up beat with incisive cymbal back beat. At the end of each chorus Louis plays a vibrating call in the high register.

Mainly a paraphrase of the melody but from this point on more melodic invention is heard.

The last chorus is the greatest ensemble playing ever recorded.

28 Wild Man Blues [Jelly Roll Morton] - May 7th 1927. Fm / Ab - bpm 95.

Louis is restrained on the Dodds 'Black Bottom Stompers' version of this song but here is 'Wilder Man Blues'! Positively volcanic. Full of phrases never heard before, one after another, executed with incredible power. What an influence on young trumpet players.

An expansive affair.

Dodds fares much better with a good solo.

29 Alligator Crawl [Fats Waller] - May 10th 1927. F / C - bpm 110 - 'alligator' = a well dressed swaggering Negro or a disparaging term for a white jazzman.

12 bars blues with a modulation to an excellent Fats Waller composition, a 24 bar theme with a melodious Louis, with good cymbal and tuba support.

Does Louis muff octave jumps in bar 17 and his last break is 'lame'?

30 Potato Head Blues [Louis] - May 10th 1927. F - bpm 190 - 'potato head' = stupid person. And Zutty Singleton's nickname!!

Just listen to this!! A trumpet clarinet duet with some intermittent prompting from John Thomas (or Gerald Reeves?)!

A perfectly formed jazz solo, but a transcription cannot reveal the tonal beauty and expressive vibrato.

A 32 bar structure with a superb moment in the 9 and 10th bar where a same phrase note is reiterated with different fingerings.

Paraphrasing in the first solo on the verse then a wholly new invention in the second solo on the chorus! Starts by tailoring to the stop time then cuts completely loose, but there is development and contrast … a coherence. Louis changes the beat like skipping out of step and then getting back in again. It sounds inventive, bright and astonishing even though some of the phrases used are in the breaks on Oliver’s ‘Tears’, recorded four years earlier.

 A further word on stop time. Stop time is not on the off beat like 'struttin' but the first beat of every other bar. Stop time perhaps originated in tap dancing, blues & ragtime, but became an essential ingredient in jazz to emphasise rhythm. It is a rhythmic device, an accompaniment pattern interrupting (stopping) the song time by regular accented attacks on the first beat of each or every other measure, alternating with silence or instrumental solos leaving the melody line exposed. An opportunity for virtuosity.
Stop-time appeared in ragtime music and became a prominent around the turn of the 20th century and was important to the rhythmic vitality. Some of the first examples of this in written music are in Scott Joplin's rags such as The Ragtime Dance (1906) and Stop-time Rag (1910).

A rip to the high D is memorable.

The verse with beautiful embellishments and a stop time chorus with brilliant breaks and logical development.

From bar 17 on … is he going to make it? Unbearable tension. There is a most memorable phrase in Bar 25, Hoagy's 'Stardust' opening?

Playing against the pulse, then a sudden release with an on the beat figure.

Another 'society band' ending.

The Johnny Dodds solo inspired generations of clarinet players …  Louis’ second chorus reaches heights of invention and subtle eloquence few cornetists have ever reached. The stop time chorus is definitive of the term. The ride out ensemble sounds like a free blowing parade band.

31 Melancholy Blues [Rube Bloom,WalterrMelrose] - May 11th 1927.Melrose] - May 11th 1927. Ab / Fm - bpm 118.

The Dodds 'Black Bottom Stompers' version is more commercial with Louis close to the melody but here it is unrestrained improvising. His trumpet sounds as though he is singing.

Louis improves the melody without altering it much.

32 Weary Blues [Artie Mathews] - May 11th 1927. F / Bb - bpm 210.

Also a Dodds 'Black Bottom Stompers' recording is available for comparison. This one is full of fire.

Louis' solo has a poor start as he muffs a chromatic line and later starts 'quoting' 12th Street Rag?

33 12th Street Rag [Euday Bowman] - May 11th 1927. Eb - bpm 120.

Probably another worst! But a hit song was given a new innovative interpretation. Not released until 1941 because of some cracked notes but an unforgettable very original chorus. Much humour and juggling with the familiar theme, each phrase a surprise, includes much of the complexity of modern trumpet playing.

Played as a slow stomp, Dodds characteristically bluesy and John Thomas jokes to escape the difficult motor riffs.

34 Keyhole Blues [Lil Hardin] - May 13th 1927. C - bpm 110.

A pop song not a blues.

A swinging scat chorus and a very effective three note trumpet riff in the last ensemble.

A superb song with a charming scat, deeply felt. Louis tries the impossible and emerges unscathed. Jumping to difficult positions to resolve gracefully.

Louis last break is too clever and doesn't really come off?

35 SOL Blues [Louis] - May 13th 1927– 'S.O.L.' = shit out of luck. Eb - bpm 210 & 110.

Same as 'Gully Low' recorded the next day but not as good. Same song and a remarkably similar interpretation implying no spontaneity? Starts with a fast 'Sister Kate', then after Dodds solos (quite good) it slows to a moody 12 bar blues. Louis plays six two bar phrases, long notes then cascading downwards. Five descending phrases starting on Louis's high C.

A 'Lombado’ ending with the cymbal clash? A typical set piece worked up over time, a replay of an old New Orleans cutting contest song 'If You Don't Like the Way I Play'?

A forerunner to 'West End Blues'?

36 Gully Low Blues [Louis] - May 14th 1927. Eb - bpm 240 & 112 – 'gully low' = low as a ditch or gully, mental depression.

An 'acceptable' repeat of SOL Blues. Rough earthy jazz. Starts at a fast tempo, then a low down slow blues. Dodds has two fine choruses, high and chalumeau.

Louis plays a unique chorus of two bar phrases beginning with a violently attacked and shaken note. A King Oliver idea? Many have tried to copy this solo few have succeeded. Louis improves on SOL with more intelligent dramatic pauses.

An inspired clarinet solo. A vocal by Louis, taking 2 choruses this time, husky guttural African in timbre and a cornet solo of dramatic, repeated descents from a clear high note.

37 That's when I'll Come Back to You [Frank Biggs] - May 14th 1927. Bb - bpm 130.

An imploring vocal by Lil. Louis replies with bold cynicism. As Louis said, 'All in all this tune brings a little laughter. It certainly was real kicks making this record ... especially with Lil Hardin ... who later became Mrs Satchmo Louis Armstrong ... it amused the recording company so well they started looking around for new material for Lil and I ... Lil also knocked me out with that cute little voice of hers ... and to me, she always could ‘Swing Sing’ (an expression of mine) with feeling ... if I’m not mistaken I think that Lil wrote this tune ... she was very much versatile when she and I were married, between us we wrote some pretty good songs together'.

Louis thought Lil had written the song, but the credits belong to Frank Biggs, a mysterious one song guy that nobody knew? Was he the drummer with Clarence M Jones Orchestra in 1929?     

The Hot 5 again

- 9 spectacular recordings back with the original Hot 5 and a matured blend of relaxed tension. Kid Ory returns home to the Hot 5 line up ...  

38 Put 'em Down Blues [Eloise Bennett] - Sept 2nd 1927. Ab - bpm 15.

A pretty, most unusual 48 bar chorus song, is one of the most beautiful jazz recordings. The trumpet as melodious as Benny Carter, tells a story, each phrase a perfect continuation from the previous. One of the most coherent and perfectly built solos in the history of jazz.

A pop song written by Louis or Eloise Bennett (1889-1990)?

A new mellower voice. Highly informal. A light ensemble swing seldom attained before.

39 Ory's Creole Trombone [Kid Ory] - Sept 2nd 1927. F / Bb - bpm 210 – ex ‘Carbolic Acid Rag’ 1904.

A series of strains and breaks that ‘forces’ the New Orleans style of parade playing. A lot of drive with subtle variations. Several cracked notes in the solo delayed it's release until 1941.Ory was not at his sharpest and the breaks were a bit cumbersome leaving Louis to whip up the excitement. But Ory plays his own composition well in that punchy, leathery style of his.

Quaint, but was Louis being held back by Ory and Dodds?

40 The Last Time[Bill Ewing & Sara Martin] - Sept 6th 1927. F - bpm 166.

Louis is great, but Ory exposes some 'stiffness and wrong notes'.

As with 'Creole Trombone' this was originally rejected because of minor goofs and not issued until 1941. But it is entirely successful.

One of Louis most spectacular breaks.

41 Struttin' with Some Barbecue [Lil Hardin] - Dec 9th 1927. Bb - bpm 210 - 'struttin' with some barbecue' = dancing with an attractive girl.

The first of 6 classics! Six even more spectacular sides!

A fine tune by Lil with intro and coda carefully arranged. Two beat feel and not the usual two/four ambiguity? A lovely bright ensemble catches fire from the first bar. Louis soars into his stop time solo with great panache and rhythmic assurance. Brilliant solo. Fast triplet breaks. Long lines without sacrificing simplicity.

A great lead on the final chorus, not setting up the lead for the others to play off but soaring above the crowd.

An ascending octave outlining the major 7th opening phrase. Ragtime grouping of three eighth notes in the last phrase of his solo plays tricks with the steady accompaniment.

An arranged ending and the decline of Dixieland? A cornball ending, without the cymbal clash of a typical Lombado 'mickey' ending?

42 Got No Blues [Lil Hardin] - Dec 9th 1927. Eb / F - bpm 160.

Another example of how transcriptions can illustrate and support musical analysis. A three way conversation, the cornet, trombone and clarinet.

This is a pop song which lacked the same verve as 'Struttin' but Louis introduced a hallmark effect of playing his final phrases over a sustained chord.

Not as good as the others, it slows down, but a brilliant interpretation nevertheless. A motoring continuity.

Dodds abandons his traditional ensemble parts. A soaring Ory solo.

43 Once in a While [William H Butler] - Dec 10th 1927. C - bpm 210.

Johnny St Cyr had a regular gig with Doc Cooke's band in 1927 and Billy Butler was their sax player and violinist.  The OKeh sessions were very informal and Louis was often 'short' of numbers and St Cyr probably brought this one along. Ory explained, 'Sessions started with OKeh calling Louis saying they wanted so many sides. They never told him what numbers they wanted or how they wanted them playing. Then Louis would give us a date and sometimes say he was short of a number for the session. We'd run over a new number a few times before we recorded it. We spoiled very few records'.   

Exceptional quality collective improvisation with a stop time solo just as good as 'Potato' or 'Struttin''.

Not entirely comfortable over a Charleston rhythm from the first four bars of the tune.

Ory makes a wrong entrance and ends rather abruptly. But the cornet solo is dazzling. And Johnny Dodd produced ... another minor masterpiece.

44 I'm not Rough [Lil Hardin] - Dec 10th 1927. Bb - bpm 115.

Lonnie Johnson joins the Hot 5 for 3 recordings. Lonnie's rhythmic innovations were a catalyst for Louis if not the others. This is the very core of the blues.
A real blues, typical New Orleans style. Not as the title suggest but a hard bitten driving blues. Together with 'hotter than that' this was the apex of Armstrong's development. The three opening ensemble choruses are of rare homogeneity. A lot of blue notes with rubato singing, notes falling randomly around the beats. ‘But the woman that gets to treat me right’ starts way too late but catches up, akin to Pat Fields. The final riff is barbaric!

45 Hotter than That [Lil Hardin] - Dec 13th 1927. F - bpm 230.

One of greatest jazz records ever cut! Exuberant. Remarkable. The most ebullient record in jazz. This was true to the title!

A 32 bar solo on the last simple strain of Tiger Rag. Bill Bailey again! No 'official' melody? Back to back with Savoy Blues, Louis was 'on song' on Dec 13th 1927! In the 2nd bar he unfurls a figure that expects to end in bar 3 with a held note but … no … the 4th beat of the 2nd bar becomes the start of the next phrase. Bar 16 has a similar surprise as he leaps into the 2nd half with a memorable descending sawtooth that Bach explored! Most begin it on beat 3 of bar 16 or beat 1 of 17 Louis starts at beat 4 of 16!! His scat solo is full of interest. His long sequence of dotted quarters as in ‘String of Pearls’. Louis' breaks with Lonnie are far freer. Armstrong snatches the last note of Ory’s solo and leads out, 'routining'. A most adventurous scat with a kindred spirit. An immortal jazz phase exploiting 'Tiger Rag' familiarity with a fitting climax. Phrases getting longer and longer, only breathing curtails the flow.

Dodds was inspired not overshadowed and produced yet another minor up-tempo masterpiece of a solo.

The last 16 has Louis riffing on 4 and 1, a pattern which became a cliché for swing in the 30's. No 'Mickey' ending but an unresolved diminished chord on the submediant.

No other song displays better the virtuosity, balance and lyricism, the first fruit of Louis' maturity. Starting fast, rattling off a series of quick silver arpeggios. Scintillating because Louis is not blowing his brains out, just sensitivity. High level scatting. Is there anything this man cannot do?!

46 Savoy Blues [Kid Ory] - Dec 13th 1927. Ab - bpm 135 – ‘savoy' = Savoy Ballroom on South Parkway Street, Chicago.

A real blues. Three repeated notes but Louis alters them characteristically. 16 times played differently, rewards study of phrasing! Louis is gentle and tender after Lonnie’s excellence, with an exquisite opening phrase. One of his best solos, sparkling. Around the beat, delayed, rushed. Stretched then compressed. Sinuous, subtle, ravishing lines, smoothly played and ranks among one of his best. In the 17th bar there is an admirable held vibrato.

Sadness, which become more frequent in his work. A new mood, why? He was not just a joker? Or was it when Mayann died?

A worked out riff then Louis zooms into a cluster of impassioned phrases.

Dodds and Louis poles apart. Louis constantly developing, rhythmically, harmonically and technically, whereas Dodds' style had matured by 1925.

A low key 16 bar theme then the 12 bar blues with riffs and advanced Louis.

Overtones of melancholy, nostalgic sounds of a faraway locomotive? St Cyr plays the blues on his banjo and then Louis cornet enters singing with gentle, caressing sad tone in high phrases. Ory declaims gruffly and abruptly, then sounds long, upward thrusts of sonorous tone.

The New Hot 5 or the Chicago Hot 5 (or Hot 6 with Zutty)

- Columbia purchased OKeh and a new line up for 1928. Armstrong, Fred Robinson, Jimmy Strong, Mancy Cara, and two giants to match the virtuosity of Louis - Earl Hines & Zutty Singleton.

Earl 'Fatha' Hines (1903–1983)
The piano was the basis of modern jazz harmony and it was Earl Hines who changed the old piano playing style as he blazed the path for the post stride generation.
Born in Pittsburg he moved to Chicago in 1923/5 and played with Erskin Tate and joined Carroll Dickerson's band at the Sunset Cafe where he fell in with Louis in 1926. Louis was astounded by the Hines 'trumpet style' piano playing, using dazzlingly fast octave tremolos so he could be heard.
In 1927 the Hot 5 was revamped for Okeh Records with Hines as the pianist, as Louis replaced his wife, Lil Hardin.
Hines was also involved with Jimmy Noone at The Apex Club then in December 1928 he opened at Chicago's 'Sunset Café' re-launched as 'The Grand Terrace Cafe' leading his own big band. He was there for over 10 years. 'All America was dancing' and the musos were an interbred bunch who all knew each other.
Stanley Dance - 'Earl Hines and The Grand Terrace were to Chicago what Duke Ellington and The Cotton Club were to New York ... but fierier'!
Boppers Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker met in the Hines Big Band, they all learned from Louis.
'I'm an explorer, I'm looking for something interesting all the time. Folk see me smiling and they know I'm lost but they know I'm trying to get back.

Gunter Schuller - 'The personnel changes in June 1928 constituted an immediate improvement in the case of Earl Hines and Zutty Singleton. However some poorer sidemen resulted in uneven performances. But an unforgettable series well recorded. These recordings were Hines’s first major recordings. With his radically new piano conception and his clear, light, linear style, Hines bought a whole new texture to the ensemble and a greater sense of swing. Armstrong had met a colleague who understood him and was almost his equal. He was the first to a style that assigned different functions to the left and right hands. From 'stride' to right hand linear melody with parallels to Louis with trumpet like attack and brilliance'.

Immortal jazz from Hines and Louis, two giants, far removed from New Orleans. Innovative, competitive co-operation. Zutty Singleton with a full set of drums for the first time. All the virtues of great jazz were here.

Two songs from Spencer Williams for starters. (Very early on the Hot 5 did the dirty blues song 'Georgia Grind' another Spencer Williams song).

47 Fireworks [Spencer Williams] - June 27th 1928. Eb / Cm / A - bpm 240.

Aptly named at a faster tempo than anything previously recorded. A display number testing out the new ensemble.

A nod to tradition in the first 16 bars then a Louis solo showcased by crisp off beat figures. 

48 Skip the Gutter [Spencer Williams] - June 27th 1928. Eb - bpm 125.

Louis and Hines throw ideas at each other in a manner new to jazz. Explosive phrases. After 'West End' this is probably the most beautiful in this set. A grandiose 32 bar duet, similar phrases, similar minds.
At the end, three times, Hines plays a chord and Louis improvises a break on it.

Chase choruses of whimsy antithematic improvisation. Double time is becoming common place.

Some unevenness with a 'corny' trumpet break and typically Robinson and Strong are not good.

49 A Monday Date [Earl Hines] - June 27th 1928. C - bpm 240.

A muted trumpet solo of rare lyrical invention. The vocal with the piano is audacious and original, a marvel of mutual understanding.

Rhythmic freedom, Louis floats over the tune. Quarter note triplets.

With Zutty Louis no longer has to keep the beat as well as the melody.

The solo is built up logically in units.

An accidental masterpiece, Louis is around, under and over the melody with complete confidence. Offhand yet sophisticated.

50 Don't Jive Me [Lil Hardin] - June 28th 1928. Bb - bpm 180 - ‘jive’ = negro slang, don’t try to fool me. Jive was also a term used for marijuana.

An example of Hines' revolutionary technique, single note runs, pulsating tremolos suggesting a trumpeter.

Show material from the Sunset Café? Improvising over chords. Patchy as mistakes appear, a 23 bar chorus!

Constant challenges as Louis and Earl start phrases which can't possibly fit into the arrangement only to squirm out of them in the nick of time. Breathtakingly daring.

Stiffly and incongruously arranged with 'let's wow the public' and 'fancy' endings.

No harmonic co-ordination between piano and banjo. Is Hines ‘way out’ or making errors? Robinson and Strong not good, again.

51 West End Blues [Joe Oliver & Clarence Williams] - June 28th 1928. Eb - bpm 85 - 'west end' = a resort on Lake Pontchartrain.

A simple blues written by Joe Oliver. Never has a blues been recorded so loudly. Tragic drama. The peak of Louis’ art, his finest recording? This was before the arrival of Redman but very much in the new style. The first 4 notes establish the difference between jazz and other music although they are 'on the beat' 1-2-3-four … ? The tempo changes in the opening cadenza with the 2nd bar triplets! The rest is descending with upward twirls away from where we expect them. Echoes of 'Dippermouth'? The intro is in Eb with shifts to Cm the relative minor spiced with blue 3rds and 7ths ending on the dominant 7th for the 1st chorus. The Bb ending the 1st phrase is dropped in early! The 2nd phrase is pulled away from time.

Building with increasingly complex figures. In the 7th bar he speeds up then hesitates barely getting the 6th note in! Controlled sadness.

A poor trombone solo but a remarkable vocal. The last chorus is perfect, listen to the last 3 notes … genius! The piece was rehearsed and developed previously as sequences of descending runs from high held notes are a frequent feature of Louis work. Music had changed and would never be the same again.
A masterpiece, electrifying intro, a great moment in 20th century music. Everyone of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale is played but they are resolved firmly into Eb. Nuances of timing. Ending the 12 bars with an ascending phrase that provides the perfect link to the following solo.

Indicative of the change to arranged swing hot and sweet. Louis plays real blues, Hines’ solo builds on harmonies that didn’t belong to the blues.

52 Sugar Foot Strut [Billy Pierce] - June 28th 1928. Eb - bpm 190.

Louis stop time doesn't quite come off but generally bouncy and happy.

53 Two Deuces [Lil Hardin] - June 29th1928. G - bpm 95 & 250.

Another excursion into advanced jazz playing. Harmonic alterations and double time.

An 'extension' of 'West End'? Too flashy?

54 Squeeze Me [Fats Waller] - June 29th 1928. F - bpm 90.

Exuberant scat against a hummed backing.

Thoroughly modern with a high tension 'High Society' break.

Solid 4/4 backing but Louis finds spaces with fast bundles of ideas.

He constructs a chain of four bar thematic units each a miniature chorus in itself but essentially linked to the next unit and a logical part of the whole. A startling effect.

Starts with a poky drag but then Louis enters building intensity! Command of two instruments … trumpet and voice. Inept compared to 'West End'. Too flashy again? Did the music stand fall over!?

55 Knee Drops [Lil Hardin] - July 5th 1928. Bb - bpm 210.

Another improvisation on the chords of 'Tiger Rag', credited to Lil.

A very comfortable performance, with a rollicking continuity. Familiar inspirational jazz.

Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra

- 2 recordings same personnel, now labeled an 'orchestra' cashing in on fame.

56 No Papa No [Victoria Spivey] - Dec 4th1928. C / G / Bb / Eb - bpm 110.

A 12 bar blues at a semi slow easy tempo. A different mood from the traditional blues. Louis plays a beautiful solo with amazing support from Hines which is counterpoint rather than accompaniment. Call & response.

Hines has one of his finest blues solo.

In the fourth chorus Louis plays around with a phrase like a cat with a mouse.

57 Basin Street Blues [Spencer Williams] - Dec 4th 1928. Bb - bpm 115.

Full of arranged passages. Louis considered this one of his best records. Hines is on celeste for the first chorus with 'organ' chords by the band. Then a 12 bar chorus from Louis which is a model with an indescribable surging entrance.

Held back power busts forth with grandiose, wide moving phrases which surge out with fantastic romping high register aplomb. The trumpet shouts for a while then dims down.

Free melodic style as in 'Squeeze Me'. Intense off centre rhythm.

Undeniably beautiful, sad broken only by Armstrong’s intensely dramatic solo which spends itself descending into soft low register.

Louis Armstrong & his Savoy Ballroom Five

- 3 recordings, Don Redman joins as 'arranger' alto player making the 'Hot 6 plus' and Dave Wilborn replacing Cara? Nice little arrangements from Redman and Alix Hill.

58 No One Else but You [Don Redman] - Dec 5th 1928. Eb - bpm 195.    

A fine medium tempo song, one of the greatest of this series, with well arranged ensembles, great rhythm section, 4 beats all through, the heart of the jazz performance. The sidemen Hines and Singleton are now really swinging with Louis.

Louis' first chorus is beautifully conceived bewildering invention. Hines, with amazing intuition, feeding chords to Louis for his trumpet lines. Then when Louis sings Hines produces some dazzling piano fireworks.

No limit to Louis imagination as he plays as fast as he can think.

59 Beau Koo Jack [Louis & Alex Hill] - Dec 5th 1928. F / Bb / Eb - bpm 240 - 'beau koo jack' = French, beaucoup, a lot of 'jack' = money.

Textbook arranging of the time at a blazing tempo. One of the best arrangements as artistic Alex Hill prods Louis' musical intellect to a lucid example of his powers of thematic development. Impetuous trumpet.

Alex Hill (1906–1937)a a child prodigy on piano, he went to music college and was in the thick of it all from 1922 - playing & arranging with all of note - Alphonse Trent, Speed Webb, Mutt Carey's Jeffersonians, Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders, Jimmy Blythe, Jimmy Wade, Jimmie Noone, Sammy Stewart, Ikey Robinson.
In 1927 in Chicago he arranged for Melrose Music Publishing Company & Carroll Dickerson Orchestra.
In New York he arranged for Paul Whiteman, Benny Carter, Claude Hopkins, Andy Kirk, Ina Ray Hutton, Mills Blue Rhythm Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Eddie Condon, Willie Bryant, Mills Music Company, Adelaide Hall.
In 1929, Hill as 'The Hokum Boys' recorded for Paramount Records, and later Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell joined 'The Famous Hokum Boys'.

60 Save it Pretty Mama [Don Redman, Paul Denniker, Joe Davis] - Dec 5th 1928. F - bpm 110.  - 'save it pretty mama' = a request to save sexual favours for a particular man.

No formal  'arrangement', Redman interprets the pop song . A very simple 16 bar song in comparison to the previous Beau Koo Jack which was 'over arranged' and controlled Louis' or show cased his talents.

Louis is muted, Redman on clarinet and Hines is as inventive as ever. The alto is charming and relaxed. Louis sings and the last collective ensemble is good.

An Eastern flavour from Redman.

15 61 Weather Bird [Joe Oliver] - Dec 5th 1928. Ab - bpm 210.

Outstanding. Trading breaks at the end as the Oliver record, with an 'Amen' end cadence.

Incredible technical performance, sensitive and versatile with no ground beat.

Jazz giants exchange ideas.

A monumental duet. Complete abandonment of the Oliver style. Wild volleying of modern ideas. Melodic and thematic continuity, Louis seemed incapable of losing the melody.

Back to the Orchestra

62 Muggles [Louis] - Dec 7th 1928. Bb - bpm 90 - 'muggles' = marijuana.

Outstanding. A simple 12 bar blues. Piano, trombone, clarinet solos then Louis takes a break on the last 2 bars of Strong’s solo to start double time. Only 2 syncopated notes in the 1st bar and we feel the new tempo immediately! Two rising figures filled with interest then a 2 bar break [4 at the new tempo]. 3 eighth notes on the 2nd half of the 2nd beat! In the next bar he plays a similar figure but shifts it half a beat into the measure. Rhythmic counter meters! Then his own solo at double tempo i.e. ‘long meter’ of a 24 bar blues! Or a 12 bar blues in 8/4! Minimum melody but enormous swing and heat by playing rhythms! A reiterated tonic dropped at different places. Hitting the notes hard then cut them off sharply. In bars 10 and 12 he plays the same bar backwards standing the rip on its head! Back to heart felt slow blues with stretched blue notes. Starting with notes around repeated blue 7th, blue 1/3rds over the subdominant, low blue 7th on the tonic, finishing with a blue 1/3rd and a 6th!

A different blues but the roots are in the slow drag honky tonks.

A reworking of Oliver's 'Jazzin' Babies Blues' solo? Robinson and Strong are not up to it, but then Louis suddenly bursts forth at a faster tempo with one of the most swinging choruses ever. Fascinating repetition, insisting on one note for most of the chorus before returning to the slow tempo at the end with one of King Oliver's favourite riffs.

A fascinating essay on rhythm, all built around the tonic. 30 different ways to phrase one measure of music.
A new kind of Armstrong triumph which influenced so many other musicians.

The Savoy Ballroom 5

- 3 recordings finish off 1928 in grand style

63 Hear Me Talkin' to Ya [Louis] - Dec 12th 1928. Bb - bpm 200.

One of Redman's best solos. Eastern flavour again as in 'Save It Pretty Mama'.

Like 'No One Else but You', the chorus and verse are first stated by the whole band and arranged by Redman. Three solo choruses, piano, alto and trumpet. The first phrase which starts on the last beat of the preceding chorus is almost five bars long!

As close to Bix as Louis ever came?

64 St James' Infirm'ry [traditional] - Dec 12th 1928. Fm -  bpm 120.

The traditional minor theme Fm. Dramatic minor atmosphere. Simple but effective arrangement. Somber trumpet, long poignant vocal.

Smooth 4/4 rhythm. But little harmonic interest doesn't lend itself to solos.

65 Tight Like This [Langston Curl] - Dec 12th 1928. Dm - bpm 115 - 'tight like this' = superlatively good, particularly sexual intercourse.

The second minor theme Dm. Deep emotional sadness or commercial saccharine sentimentalism?

A rejoinder to very popular ‘Tight Like That’ by Georgia Tom from McKinney. A Louis showcase. 3 dramatic choruses at the end over a modest riff. Stormy melancholy. He charges through the first 2 choruses ranging up and down flinging off frantic phrases before the final long high notes. This became a standard finish instead of the ride out ensemble. Louis in the high register with simple figures. The three trumpet choruses are overwhelming. Beginning keen, eager, insistent low register, then phrases start moving in a more elaborate way, up and down until that one desperate long note which Louis holds high … A series of double time arpeggio embellishments on a minor blues theme. Drama, intelligently building up over four choruses increasing tension and excitement to the final bars. Masterful variation on only two chords; the tonic and the dominant.

Louis's three choruses on this number would be a strong contender for a favourite Armstrong solo building from a slow introspective beginning to an impassioned climax, helped of course by the extremely simple but effective riff backing, presumably arranged by Don Redman.

The final masterpiece. By 1929 Louis style was fully established & mature. No one ever made music like these recordings, and no one, not even Louis would ever manage to again.

World shattering in the context of the times. Popular music had changed for ever.

Organising the Work

Edward BrooksGene H AndersonIndispensible scholarship from Edward Brooks and Gene H Anderson ... read them both before you start work!

1 confirm tempo, key and structure of the song -
introductions, verses, choruses, codas, ensembles, solos, breaks

2 get the chords ‘right’ -
published chord sequences which are not copyrighted and exceptional ‘big ear’ men who can discriminate the chord sounds. One guitarist just sat with the recording and strummed his guitar until he ‘got’ the chord.

3 construct the instrument lines -

 familiarise, understand & know the player's phrasing, licks & idiosyncrasies ... ‘blue’ notes ... classical portamento, glissandi & mordents ... 3 over 4 feel of the beat & groove ...
everything that makes up an individual & collective ‘style’.

4 Andy Robinson’s Transcribe! from Seventh String -
brilliant free software see -

5 all these old songs go the same old way variations on -
 ... 'circles of 5ths', ‘Bill Bailey’ & ‘The Blues’!

6 adjust the sound balance, panning, reverb & groove to taste.

 All very fascinating ... Louis Armstrong and the Hot 5 recordings 'invented swing’?


The different midi instruments were allocated to different midi channels and panned as follows -

MIDI Settings    

       Patch                 Channel      Velocity        Pan   

Clarinet 72                    8              90           left    

Cornet/Trumpet 57       1            115       centre - (‘bone centre used for Louis vocals)

Trombone 58                 5            115         right


Piano 2                           3              60

Banjo 106                       6              70

Drums                          10              40

Tuba 59                         2              60

Alto Sax 66                   7              80

Guitar 25                       7              90

john p birchall - https://www.themeister.co.uk/dixie/hot_5_project.htm

john p birchall

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