Archive for Louis Armstrong

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.


We have all the Time in the World

Posted in Music, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on February 14, 2011 by telescoper

I came across this on Youtube a while ago, but I’ve been saving it up because I thought it might make a nice St Valentine’s Day gift for all lovers of astronomy (and/or someone special). Enjoy!


Bare Necessities

Posted in Jazz with tags , on January 7, 2010 by telescoper

The title of this isn’t meant to reflect the state of science funding. It’s just that it’s a bleak and freezing January and I thought we could probably all do with a bit of an injection of happiness. If Louis Armstrong can’t do that for you, then nobody can. OK, so it’s a far cry from the exhilirating adventurousness of the trumpet playing on his early recordings, but he was an old man when this was recorded and had already more than paid his dues. Anyway he always saw himself as much as an entertainer as a musician, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I just love the infectiously swinging  way he sings on this track, and I hope it brings a smile to your face as it does to mine every time I see it.

This is the great man, recorded in 1968, singing a tune from Walt Disney’s film The Jungle Book, which came out the year before. Take it away, Satchmo!

Mabel’s Dream

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , on June 22, 2009 by telescoper

I could attempt to make a cheesy Radio 2 kind of link between my previous post and this one, along the lines of “From one dream to another..” but I don’t think I’ll bother.

Years ago my mum 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 I’ve never managed to locate a solo version. However, every time I try looking for it (which I did this evening) I seem to come across something really nice. Today was no exception.

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, even though the recordings are very low-fi, with a succession of marchy themes that makes it impossible not to want to tap your feet when you listen to them. You can find their version of Mabel’s Dream here.

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. He ended his days working as a janitor, and died in poverty in a dingy rooming house in Savannah, Georgia in 1938.

When the traditional Jazz revival happened after the Second Wold War, many fans turned against the Hot Sevens because they weren’t genuine “Noo Awlins” meaning that they hankered after music that was made more collectively and had less emphasis on the soloists. Across Europe in particular, many bands tried to recreate the sound of the earlier era of American Jazz, with varying degrees of success. 

Looking around for a version of Mabel’s Dream, I came across the following clip from a French band called The High Society Jazz Band which I think is just gorgeous. The recording was made at a live performance in 1960, at the height of the “trad” revival. The lineup of the band is just like King Oliver’s many years earlier, complete with the front line of two cornets, clarinet and trombone as well as piano, drums, banjo and sousaphone. Mostly it’s a deliberate note-for-note copy of the King Oliver version, but at a slightly slower tempo. Normally I don’t really go for deliberate copies like this, even if they’re meant as a tribute, but any two cornettists willing and able to copy Louis Armstrong and King Oliver deserve the greatest respect! Hats off , then, to Pierre Merlin and Claude Rabanit (two names quite new to me) for doing such a great job. In fact, I also like Pierre Atlan’s take on Johnny Dodd’s clarinet breaks, and the trombonist (Mowgli Jospin) deserves a mention for his name alone!

Potato Head Blues

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on June 12, 2009 by telescoper

I’ve just spent several hours ploughing through yet more examination scripts – first year ones, not needed before the finals Examination Board. By way of a bit of refreshment I thought I’d listen to this, and enjoyed it so much I thought I’d share it on here.

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 launches into his famous stop-time solo chorus which is just breathtaking in its power and inventiveness. 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.  Enjoy!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,282 other followers