Louis Armstrong Transcriptions

hot 5Hot 5 Hot 7 Transcriptions ... ?

"Louis Armstrong died on July 6th 1971, but no one can make me believe it if I don't want to ..."

Think again! ... here's the question ...

how did a young black musician from the pits inveigle white 'uber alles' to change their tunes ?  

In 1925 a group of New Orleans musicians assembled in Chicago to record a series songs which became models for a tradition of hot Dixieland Jazz which persists today - the Hot 5 & Hot 7 recordings.

The creative innovations of Louis Armstrong influenced, not only the contemporary music of the time, but also all American popular music of the twentieth century. 

A sort of mixture of deception & flattery ... some said it was magic!

On these records Louis Armstrong defined not only jazz music and particularly 'swing' but also revealed the future of jazz and popular music. Ebb & flow, call & response, tension & release, jazz was on a roll. 'Potato Head Blues' ... a reason enough for living ... and mum loved it too. And the voice, Louis didn't sing, he scatted rhythm and 'loosened up' the melody into a fluid flood of imaginative timings. Simple songs were played in the New Orleans style but with agog audients just 'waiting for Louis'. The others were no slouches, but rather the best in town who started to sound a little old fashioned when Louis flew high to the stratosphere. Louis, a loveable giant who single handedly made American music swing in the 1920s. Girls & boys, young & old, black & white, Jew & hobos ... everybody loved Louis and his great big smile. Even the beboppers & dot readers followed and came round in the end.   

These new interpretations produced amazing physical & perceptive effects which bounced the music into prominence - 

the blues; hauntingly different novel melodies & scales with complex compelling rhythms & infectious syncopations

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

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

The haunting blues, incredible spontaneity and unfathomable swing, how did they do it?

In an attempt to answer this question we started to transcribe the actual recorded performances of the Hot 5 and Hot 7 into 'Band in a Box' where the effects could be both musically analysed and heard. 

The Louis Armstrong Transcription Project was a massive endeavour ... we needed help ... will it ever be finished?

'Band in a Box' was a superb tool for helping all music students, and here you will find some supporting comments for this software choice. In transcription work the lead lines can be heard against realistic backing chords and meter. This was helpful if the subtle timings and accents which make the music swing were to be faithfully reproduced.

Learning to play Dixieland Jazz had traditionally been an process of aural imitation - listen and learn. Musical analysis of transcriptions can never replace this process but it can dramatically speed it up. We can explain in sound and notation how they did it. All those miraculous licks are available for practice. Jazz will always be a personal interpretation but what better place for a student to start paying his dues than with the Hot 5 recordings?

Particularly for Jazz musicians transcribing is an important educational method, it helps in developing essential musical skills –

aural discrimination, phrase construction and musical vocabulary

instrumental technique by imitation

interpreting style - rhythm, pitches, harmony and dynamics

Our 'Band in a Box' files were also useful as notated aural examples for study with the written lessons - A Musical Basis for Improvisation through Aural Perception.

We worked on all the Hot 5 and Hot 7 recordings and CDs/mp3s were readily available and should be in every jazz musicians collection. They could also be heard at RedHotJazz ... Scott Alexander's legendary web site ... alas now defunct but The Syncopated Times now keeps the flag flying!

If you want to learn more about the progress of the project, and read some of the comments on the music from 'the pundits', all the songs are listed here.

The project was initially inspired by Alan Rouse and if you want to hear a draft midi file of our first transcription try this My Heart, the first Hot 5 recording from November 12th 1925.

Another example Put 'em Down Blues, was a monstrous effort from my mate Cliff Harper who managed to unravel this unusual and seldom heard 48 bar song with amazing skill. Cliff, a great friend, a great musician and a gentleman, always on hand to help with those unexpected chords and rhythms ... thank you Cliff, well played; R I P.

These transcriptions resulted from hours of effort and were intended to be an educational resource for the personal use of students who want 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 the work. 

Feel free to download the examples and tell us what you think. However we not only need your reaction but also your assistance, this is an ongoing project!

Send me an email if you are interested in helping ... email