Archive for Louis Armstrong

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…



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?


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..


Weather Bird

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on January 15, 2012 by telescoper

Time to try countering the melancholy mood that has settled on me over the last few days. I just heard this track on the radio and coincidentally it came up on a random play on my iPod on Friday too. Clearly someone up there is telling me to share it with you.

This gem, recorded in New York city in 1928, is a duet between Louis Armstrong (on trumpet) and Earl Hines (piano). Both were marvellous musicians in their own right but in combination they were dazzling. This piece  is obviously totally spontaneous and it’s almost miraculous how it holds together while the two men attempt mischievously to pull it in different directions. But hold together it certainly does; this piece takes “making it up as you go along” into another dimension altogether and the result is 2 minutes and 38 seconds of the most joyful music-making you can ever hope to hear..

My Sweet Lovin’ Man

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2011 by telescoper

A high temperature and raging sore throat have confined me to the house today. I got up as usual at 7.30 but quickly realised I wasn’t going to be of much to anyone; trying to give a lecture when barely able to produce a whisper didn’t seem worth the effort. So off I went back to bed, after feeding the cat, and got up again about an hour ago.

I’ve been trying to cheer myself up by listening to – and transferring to digital using my USB turntable – some lovely old jazz records that I haven’t heard for ages. Not all of them came out well, but fortunately one of my all-time favourite records is actually on youtube anyway so I thought I’d put it up.

This is My Sweet Lovin’ Man recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band on June 22nd 1923, in Chicago. It  is a purely mechanical recording, meaning that the musicians stood shoulder-to-shoulder  blowing into a horn causing a needle to cut the record directly onto a disk;   copies would be pressed using this master which could be played back for the listener by a gramophone, usually amplified by another horn. Obviously the technology was very limited, but it’s good enough to reveal the superb musicianship involved in creating this wonderful piece of music.

I love jazz from all eras of its history, but there can’t have been many  finer collections of musicians than this. It’s led by King Oliver, who plays cornet, with the young Louis Armstrong also playing cornet alongside him. Honoré Dutrey is the trombonist and the unmistakeable clarinet sound is supplied by the great Johnny Dodds. By the way, why is Johnny Dodds’ wikipedia article so brief? He was a colossal figure in the history of jazz! I must do something about that if nobody else does…

The piece was co-written by Lil Hardin, whose lovely piano playing is unusually well recorded on this track; pianos generally proved very difficult to record with the technology available in 1923.  Lil Hardin, incidentally, became Lil Armstrong when she married Louis Armstrong in February 1924. The rhythm men are Bud Scott on banjo and Warren “Baby” Dodds (Johnny’s brother) on drums, who provide an insistent yet fluid pulse underneath the rest of the band.

King Oliver’s band never used written arrangements; the musicians worked out the ensemble segments together and then played them from memory. When Louis Armstrong joined the band,  King Oliver  at first led on cornet, with  Armstrong providing decorative embellishments,  but  later on the two cornettists  developed such an understanding that they were able to swap leads almost telepathically. Their playing together on this track is sublime. The improvised counterpoint provided by Johnny Dodds and Honoré Dutrey is also breathtakingly beautiful. Although it was recorded in Chicago, this is the classic form of New Orleans polyphony sustained throughout at the very highest level.

I think this is one of the greatest jazz records of all time, but it also reminds me that there was  a move some time ago to refer to jazz as black classical music. It never caught on, but in this case the term seems to me to be perfectly apt. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,576 other followers