Archive for Louis Armstrong

See See Rider Blues

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , on May 23, 2020 by telescoper

There have been dozens of versions of the old song See See Rider and its origins are lost in the mists of time, but I’m pretty sure that the first ever recording was this one, made in October 1924 by the fabulous Gertrude `Ma’ Rainey (vocals) together with a stellar backing group including Louis Armstrong on cornet, Buster Bailey on clarinet and Fletcher Henderson on piano.

A Musical Memory: Mabel’s Dream

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2019 by telescoper

So that’s that. The funeral is over. We all said our goodbyes, and there many tears.

My Mam chose the music for her funeral a long time ago, and the piece that was playing as we arrived in the West Chapel of the West Road Crematorium was one that I wrote about about a decade ago, so I thought I’d indulge myself by posting here the version we heard today.

Years ago my Mam told me that she heard the tune Mabel’s Dream played on the piano by a friend of the family by the name of Johnny Handle. Best known as a folk musician (and founder member of a well-known band called The High Level Ranters) he is also a music teacher and musicologist with a wide range of interests in music. I read somewhere that this lovely tune was originally written by Jelly Roll Morton and performed by him on solo piano, but by far the most famous recording of Mabel’s Dream was made by King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1923. This was the band that the young Louis Armstrong belonged to before going on to make the classic Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, one of which I posted a bit ago. It’s interesting how different the earlier band sounds: with two cornets (King Oliver and Louis Armstrong), clarinet (Johnny Dodds), and trombone (Honore Dutrey) playing together virtually all the time except for short improvised solo breaks. King Oliver usually played lead cornet, at least in their earlier recordings, with Louis Armstrong playing a decorative counterpoint around him rather like a clarinettist might. Later on, they swapped leads freely and completely intuitively producing a sound that was entirely unique.

The ensemble playing is intricate, but the band had no written music, preferring to work exclusively from “head” arrangements. Their music is consistently delightful to listen to, with a succession of marchy themes that makes it impossible not to want to tap your feet when you listen to them.

Over time, this classic type of polyphonic Jazz- derived from its New Orleans roots – gradually morphed into musical form dominated by much simpler arrangements and a succession of virtuoso solos. This change was also reflected in the differing fortunes of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. The former went on to become an international celebrity, while the latter lost all his savings when his bank went bust during the Wall Street Crash.

Considering the relatively brief time that they played together, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong made an astonishingly large number of astonishingly beautiful records, including this one which I’m posting here to show that as well as many other things my Mam had great taste in Jazz.

Wild Man Blues

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 16, 2018 by telescoper

Time, I think, for some vintage jazz. This one doesn’t really need many words of introduction. It was recorded on May 7th 1927 in the Okeh Studios in Chicago by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven: Louis Armstrong (cornet), John Thomas (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Lil Armstrong (piano), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo), Pete Briggs (tuba), and Warren `Baby’ Dodds (drums). Two things are worth saying, though. One is that this piece is very modern-sounding for its time, in that there’s very little of the ensemble work that one associates with New Orleans jazz, just two extended solos by Louis and Johnny Dodds, and that those solos are both very free. The other is that Armstrong’s solo is so good that there were only a few soloists who could have taken over from him without creating an anti-climax. Fortunately, one of those men (Johnny Dodds) was in the studio and did just that, matching Satchmo in power and invention. Enjoy!

Stardust – Louis Armstrong

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on August 22, 2017 by telescoper

This wonderful recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s great song Stardust was made in 1931 by Louis Armstrong with his big band. After the heights that Armstrong reached in the 1920s, starting with King Oliver and then with the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, some jazz critics maintain that the 1930s were a comparative wilderness. Well, I think he sings and plays beautifully on this so if this is a wilderness just take me to it, and I’ll pitch my tent there anytime!

Jazz and Physics

Posted in History, Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on May 26, 2016 by telescoper

No time for a full post today, so I’ll just share this intriguing picture I found on the interwebs of two great figures from very different fields: Jazz trumpet legend Louis Armstrong and pioneering quantum physicist, Niels Bohr.

Armstrong-Bohr

When I first saw this I assumed it had been photoshopped, but I’m reliably informed that the picture is genuine and that it was taken in Copenhagen in 1959. Other than that I know nothing of the circumstances in which it was taken. I’d love to hear from anyone who knows the full story!

Potato Head Blues

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on February 2, 2015 by telescoper

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.

 

 

Cornet Chop Suey

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by telescoper

Just time for a short lunchtime post in between loads of end-of-term business and travelling up to London for this afternoon’s meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society. I’m a bit tired, to be honest, largely owing to a late night last night at the Sussex University Mathematics Society Ball, but this is an excellent pick-me-up. You can dip into the classic “Hot Five” recordings at any point and come up with something wonderful, but I think this is one of the very best. Recorded in Chicago on February 26, 1926, Cornet Chop Suey was written by Louis Armstrong and features him on trumpet, at the centre of the amazing front line that also included Kid Ory on trombone and Johnny Dodds on clarinet. Johnny St. Cyr plays banjo and on piano is the superb Lil Armstrong (née Hardin), Louis’ first wife, who plays a very fine solo on this track.  Above all, though, it’s a vehicle for Louis Armstrong himself who is on absolutely superlative form, especially in the stop-time choruses from about 1:47 onwards. The ending’s pretty good too…

Enjoy!

 

Let’s call the whole thing off

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on April 12, 2013 by telescoper

I’m up early to travel up to the Big Smoke where I’ll be all day todayday today so here’s something nice while I’m away. Music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and vocals by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Who could ask for anything more? Take it away, Ella & Louis!

Lonesome Waterloo Sunset Blues

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , on July 27, 2012 by telescoper

Just saw the song Waterloo Sunset by the popular beat combo The Kinks in a list of the ten best songs about London in this week’s New Statesman. I wonder if anyone else has noticed the remarkable resemblance between that tune and the classic Lonesome Blues recorded by Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five in 1926, with the main theme played by legendary clarinettist Johnny Dodds:

I wonder if, by any chance, they might be related?

Muggles

Posted in Jazz with tags , on May 10, 2012 by telescoper

A bit fed up today, and too tired to post anything substantive, so I thought I’d cheer myself up this lunchtime the old-fashioned way with a bit of Louis Armstrong. This was recorded in 1928 by Satchmo with the later incarnation of the Hot Five, which naturally numbered six people in total. The title, Muggles, has nothing to with Harry Potter but is a slang word popular in 1920s Chicago that refers to a certain smoking material of an illicit nature, to which Mr Armstrong was rather partial all his life and which no doubt contributed to the relaxed atmosphere pervading this recording session..