Potato Head Blues
Up very early this cold and frosty morning to get a train back from Cardiff to Brighton, I listened to this track on my iPod and no longer felt either tired or cold. I have posted this before, but that was six years ago, so I hope you won’t mind me posting it again too much.
At one point in the film Manhattan, the character played by Woody Allen makes a list of the things that make life worth living. This record is one of them. Potato Head Blues was recorded on May 10th 1927 in the Okeh Studios in Chicago by Louis Armstrong and the Hot Seven. It’s not actually a blues, but we won’t quibble about that because whatever it is not it is definitely a timeless Jazz masterpiece.
The other members of the band are Johnny Dodds (clarinet, heard to good effect in the solo before Louis Armstrong), Johnny’s brother Warren “Baby” Dodds (drums), Louis Armstrong’s first wife Lil Armstrong (née Hardin, piano), Johnny St Cyr (banjo), Pete Briggs (brass bass or tuba) and John Thomas on trombone. But the star of the performance is, of course, Satchmo himself, who was at the absolute peak of his powers when this record was made. If you have any doubts about what a musical genius he was, go straight to the point (at about 1:50) where he announces his intent with a characteristic three note BA-DA-DAA, a device he used very often to kick off a solo. In this case it provides an entry into his famous stop-time chorus which is just breathtaking in its power, inventiveness and sheer beauty. Built from a succession of dazzling impromptu phrases, it explodes into a joyous climax which is beautifully sustained into the final ensemble chorus that follows. If I ever had to go on one of those radio programmes that involve people picking their favourite pieces of music, this would definitely be one of my selections.