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 is an educational project to assist students in the musical analysis of the Hot 5 & 7 records.
The objective is to transcribe the original instrumental parts so they can be musically understood to enable imitation and recreation.
The first priority is to identify
the basic harmonies of the chord sequences, then detailing all the improvised
melody parts (cornet, clarinet, trombone) and later the banjo and piano rhythm.
Ultimately we're striving for as near a 'replica' of the recorded performances
as we can get ... but maybe that's 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.
We are currently writing the harmonies and melody lines into 'Band in a Box' software where the effects can be both musically analysed and heard as the transcription progresses against a suitable 'Band in a Box' style.
Hearing the lines played against realistic backing chords and rhythm is helpful if the subtle timings and accents which make the music swing are to be faithfully reproduced.
The project should help students to
understand the structure of the ensembles and solos; it provides sheet music for
folks who prefer to learn that way; and of course it provides a way to practice
without having all the parts covered with live musicians. Hopefully it will
guide all those musicians who want to recreate these masterpieces.
We believe that playing jazz is a process of aural imitation – listen and learn – this can never be replaced by musical analysis of transcriptions. However, the learning process can be speeded up if we can explain in sound and notation how the original innovators did it.
Private property -
The 'Band in a Box' transcriptions result from hours of effort and are intended to be an educational resource for the personal use of students who want to learn. They are not for commercial use nor indiscriminate distribution to others. They are private property, please respect the rights of those who have done the work.
Feel free to download examples and tell us what you think. However we not only need your reaction but also your assistance, this is an ongoing project … please help !
Here's what the pundits say about the music and the recorded songs of the Hot 5 & 7 -
Gene Anderson - 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 clarinettists 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.
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.
- 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 The Dreamland in Chicago until divorce in April 1926.
Then in November 1925 the single
most influential combo in the history of jazz started to record a series of
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 playing the changes
5 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.
The songs and records -
The songs were sometimes inconsequential scraps, but the interpretations were mind bending.
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 so far –
The original Hot 5 – Armstrong, Dodds, Ory, St.Cyr, Lil Hardin.
1 My Heart [Louis Armstrong & Lil Hardin] - Nov 12th 1925. 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.
This pleasant 'popular' song by Lil is used to define mature New Orleans jazz. The underlying material is unimportant it is the interpretation that counts.
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 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 stream of changing syncopated eighth notes.
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 clear toned limpid clarinet, a brooding
solo. Lil, who wrote the song originally as a waltz, also solos, not too
debilitating and quite sprightly for her.
An auspicious start.
2 Yes I'm in the Barrel [Louis & Lil] - Nov 12th 1925 - 'in the barrel' = destitute, no money for clothes so I'm wearing a barrel!
A slow bluesey 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 but Dodds again is the main soloist with one of the finest clarinet solos
on wax - two blues choruses in a row. 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 - 'gut bucket' = the bucket to collect the drips from the barrel house spigots, or the waste from 'gutting' the carcasses in the kitchens.
Uninhibited earthy jazz.
An easy tempo common 12 bar blues masterpiece, everybody from New Orleans played 'the blues'.
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.
The pattern of two ensemble choruses, a series of solos, 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 - Electrical recording.
Dodds states the theme on 'alto' sounding unadventurous, an example of swingless soloing. But Louis follows perfectly as if to give his clarinettist a lesson in how to swing.
Louis lead abounds with fresh startling ideas. Wonderful traditional ensemble parts.
Louis break in the final chorus before the verse tentatively suggests the later stoptime chorus in ‘Potato Head’.
5 Georgia Grind [Clarence Williams] - Feb 26th 1926.
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.
6 Heebie Jeebies [Boyd Atkins] - Feb 26th 1926 – '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 a 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.
7 Cornet Chop Suey [Louis] - Feb 26th 1926 – '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 practise 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
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.
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.
An incongruous piano intro then a haunting minor verse. Was Lil little more than a vaudeville pianist?
Louis anticipates the majestic style of later years, a sober and intense mood.
10 Muskrat Ramble [Kid Ory] - Feb 26th 1926 - '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
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 - an interlude on Brunswick and sounding very different. Louis generally inferior and Ory and Dodds simple but effective, why? Were they intimidated by Louis on the Hot 5s?
11 Gorgia bo bo - May 28th 1926.
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.
Fatigue sets in? Louis muffs in the intro and bum notes in the ensembles.
Perhaps the greatest solo Ory ever recorded? (Alma Hubner)
Back to the Hot 5 at Okeh –
13 Don't Forget to Mess Around [Lil Hardin] - June 16th 1926 - ‘The Mess Around’ = a jazz dance popular in the 1920’s in which the hips were swung in a circular motion.
June 16th was not a very memorable session, the nadir? Quasi novelty numbers from Lil. Rough hewn commercialism?
14 I'm Gonna Gitcha [Lil Hardin] - June 16th 1926.
How could Lil write a problem song
like this with a strange 6 bar bridge and also gems like 'Struttin; with some
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 - '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 [Lil Hardin] - June 16th 1926.
Maybe the weakest of all the Hot 5 recordings. But it works well.
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. Fumbling Dodds tried to turn every song into a characteristic blues.
17 King of the Zulus [Lil Hardin] - June 23rd 1926 - 'Zulu' = 'The Zulu Aid and Pleasure Club' which was a Mardi Gras organisation, Louis was appointed King 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 comes straight out of the old minstrel shows, and the ‘coon song’ jamborees.
Nevertheless an impressive cornet solo full of melodic ideas emerges from the carnival turning the whole number into a melancholy lament.
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 a 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 is 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.
On the whole very good. They were
beginning to swing more consistently, the rhythm seems to fall automatically
19 Lonesome Blues [Perry Bradford] - June 23rd 1926.
A really slow blues of five
choruses, three by Dodds and two sung by Louis, typical of New Orleans blues
20 Sweet Little Papa - June 23rd 1926.
On the whole 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 emerge. 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.
A melody paraphrase. Simple and restrained, but the flippant ease is coupled with new tensions. Ory is ill at ease. Louis outgrowing his sidemen is at home?
Maybe marred by over planning,
uncertainty and a glut of organised breaks which destroy the usual free wheeling
But Louis seems to understand the unconventional, constantly interrupted melodies of this song and ‘Skid dat de dat’. In the same way he always produces a stop time tour de force.
22 Skid Dat de Dat
[Lil Hardin] - Nov 16th 1926.
A bit of scat nonsense from Lil. The two bar breaks allow comparison of Louis 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.– 'big butter & egg man' = wealthy farmer from the Midwestern States spending lavishly on the girls.
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 plateaux 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!
Ory, the finest tailgate 'bone.
This is a solo won from daily routine, a 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.
24 Sunset Café Stomp [Louis & Percy Venable] - Nov 16th 1926 - 'sunset café' = night club on East 53 street Chicago.
Another masterpiece, spoiled by May Alix?
Louis plays a ravishing verse and
crazy coda. Ory plays a masterful break. Dodds has a miserable introduction?
Outstanding ensemble playing.
25 You Made Me Love You
[Louis & Percy Venable] - Nov 27th 1926.
Is this the verse from 'After You've Gone'!?
Hy Clark on trombone produces
inauspicious semibreves. Dodds is poorly recorded.
A very good performance. Brilliant. Dodds at his best, Louis on top form.
26 Irish Black Bottom [Louis & Percy Venable] - Nov 27th 1926.
The first electrical recording.
A weak commercial song damaged by Ory's bum notes. And Louis is the only one not using corny syncopation in the first chorus.
But a very good performance.
The Hot 7 – John Thomas replaces Ory and Pete Briggs on tuba & Baby Dodds on drums are added.
1 Willie the Weeper [Walter Melrose] - May 7th 1927 - '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.
Marvellous, 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.
2 Wild Man Blues [Jelly Roll Morton] - May 7th 1927.
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.
3 Alligator Crawl [Fats Waller] - May 10th 1927 - 'alligator' = a well dressed swaggering Negro or a disparaging term for a white jazzman.
Fats Waller composition, with a melodious Louis, with good cymbal and tuba
Bar 17 Louis muffs octave jumps and his last break is 'lame'.
4 Potato Head Blues [Louis] - May 10th 1927 - 'potato head' = stupid person. And Zutty Singleton's nickname!!
Just listen to this!! A
trumpet clarinet duet with some intermittent prompting from John Thomas (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.
The stop time is not on the off
beat like 'struttin'' but the first beat of every other bar. A rip to the high D
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.
5 Melancholy Blues [Walter Melrose] - May 11th 1927.
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.
6 Weary Blues [Artie Mathews] - May 11th 1927.
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?
7 12th Street Rag [Bowman] - May 11th 1927.
Probably another worst! Not
released until 1941. Some cracked notes but an unforgettable very original
chorus. Much humour and juggling with the familiar theme, each phrase a
surprise, much complexity of modern trumpet playing.
Played as a slow stomp, Dodds
characteristically bluesy and John Thomas jokes to escape the difficult motor
8 Keyhole Blues [Lil Hardin] - May 13th 1927.
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?
9 SOL Blues [Louis] - May 13th 1927– 'S.O.L.' = shit out of luck.
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 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'?
They were playing familiar songs but there is little repetition in all the total 65 sides!
10 Gully Low Blues [Louis] - May 14th 1927– 'gully low' = low as a ditch or gully, mental depression.
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 S O L with more intelligent dramatic pauses.
An inspired clarinet solo. A vocal by Louis, husky guttural African in timbre and a cornet solo of dramatic, repeated descents from a clear high note.
11 That's when I'll Come Back to You - May 14th 1927.
An imploring vocal by Lil. Louis replies with bold cynicism.
The Hot 5 again
- matured blend of relaxed tension, spectacular recordings.
1 Put 'em Down Blues [Louis] - Sept 2nd 1927.
A pop song written by Louis. A new
mellower voice. Highly informal.
A light ensemble swing seldom attained before.
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.
2 Ory's Creole Trombone [Kid Ory] - Sept 2nd 1927– 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?
3 The Last Time - Sept 6th 1927.
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.
4 Struttin' with Some Barbecue [Lil Hardin] - Dec 9th 1927 - 'struttin' with some barbecue' = dancing with an attractive girl.
The first of 6 classics! Six spectacular sides! A great lead on the final chorus, not setting up the lead for the others to play off but soaring above the crowd.
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.
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?
5 Got No Blues [Lil Hardin] - Dec 9th 1927.
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.
6 Once in a While [Lil Hardin] - Dec 10th 1927. + Lonnie Johnson guitar.
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.
7 I'm not Rough [Lil Hardin] - Dec 10th 1927.
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!
8 Hotter than That [Lil Hardin] - Dec 13th 1927.
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 13/12/27! 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.
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?!
9 Savoy Blues [Kid Ory] - Dec 13th 1927– ‘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 Hot 6, Columbia purchased Okeh. Armstrong, Fred Robinson, Jimmy Strong, Earl Hines, Zutty Singleton, Mancy Cara.
Immortal jazz from Hines and Louis,
two giants, far removed from New Orleans. Innovative, competitive co-operation.
An unforgettable series well recorded. Zutty Singleton with a full set of drums
for the first time. All the virtues of great jazz are here. However some poor
sidemen result in uneven performances.
1 Fireworks [Spencer Williams] - June 27th1928.
Aptly named at a faster tempo than
anything previously recorded.
A nod to tradition in the
first 16 bars then a Louis solo showcased by crisp off beat figures.
A display number and 'Tiger Rag' again.
2 Skip the Gutter [Spencer Williams] - June 27th1928.
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.
3 A Monday Date [Earl Hines] - June 27th1928.
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
4 Don't Jive Me [Lil Hardin] - June 28th1928 - ‘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
5 West End Blues [Joe Oliver & Clarence Williams] - June 28th1928 - '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 very 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.
6 Sugar Foot Strut [Billy Pierce] - June 28th1928.
Louis stop time doesn't quite come
off but generally bouncy and happy.
7 Two Deuces [Lil Hardin] - June 29th1928.
Another excursion into advanced jazz playing. Harmonic alterations and double time.
An 'extension' of 'West End'? Too flashy?
8 Squeeze Me [Fats Waller] - June 29th1928.
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
9 Knee Drops [Lil Hardin] - July 5th1928.
Another improvisation on the chords of 'Tiger Rag'.
Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra -
10 No Papa No - Dec 4th1928
A 12 bar blues at a semi slow tempo. Louis plays a beautiful solo with amazing support from Hines which is counterpoint rather than accompaniment.
Hines has one of his finest blues solo.
In the fourth chorus Louis plays around with a phrase like a cat with a mouse.
11 Basin Street Blues [Spencer Williams] - Dec 4th1928.
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. The Savoy Ballroom 5 - The Hot 6 with Don Redman replacing Strong and Dave Wilborn replacing Cara. Nice little arrangements from Redman and Alix Hill.
12 No One Else but You [Don Redman] - Dec 5th1928
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.
13 Beau Koo Jack [Louis & Alex Hill] - Dec 5th1928 - 'beau koo jack' = French, beaucoup, a lot of 'jack' = money.
Textbook arranging of the time. One of the best arrangements as artistic Alix Hill prods Louis' musical intellect to a lucid example of his powers of thematic development. Impetuous trumpet.
14 Save it Pretty Mama [Don Redman] - Dec 5th1928 - 'save it pretty mama' = a request to save sexual favours for a particular man.
No arrangement. 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 15 Weather Bird [Joe Oliver] - Dec 5th1928.
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 -
16 Muggles [Louis] - Dec 7th1928 - '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 -
17 Hear Me Talkin' to Ya [Louis Armstrong] - Dec 12th1928.
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?
18 St James' Infirm'ry [traditional] - Dec 12th1928.
Simple but effective arrangement. Dramatic minor atmosphere. Sombre trumpet, long poignant vocal.
Smooth 4/4 rhythm. But little harmonic interest doesn't lend itself to solos.
19 Tight Like This [Curl] - Dec 12th1928 - 'tight like this' = superlatively good, particularly sexual intercourse.
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.
The final masterpiece. No one ever made music like these recordings, and no one, not even Louis would ever manage to again.
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.
[ PS I've listened to jazz for years but only started to play jazz saxophone in retirement with some mates. Bags of enthusiasm but awful sound. We play mainly the old 1920's Dixieland ... its a bit easier than later stuff ... I got into 'Band in a Box' as a learning tool using the backing tracks for practice ... I use it all the time and the format is especially useful for 'collecting' lead sheets for songs that we may want to play.
Unfortunately I don't play a midi keyboard so inputting is a bit of a chore with the mouse!! But you get surprisingly adept after a time.
The Hot 5 & 7 project is a great help, wonderful music and you learn and learn and learn about what these blokes were doing. My ear struggles a bit with the transcriptions but my friends are sharp and demystify a lot of the chords, rhythms and ensemble work!
And of course nowadays there is
helpful technology – Andy Robinson’s
john p birchall
back to louis armstrong