Sunday, April 6, 2008

85 Years Ago....

Hello all. Don't let the recent one-week layoff fool you, friends. I already have a full blog on the Armstrong tune "Cain and Abel" in the books and I was about to publish it tonight when something hit me. My wife asked me the date, I replied "April 6" and then my mind began saying, "My, my, my that sounds awfully familiar." I lunged for my copy of Jos Willems's All of Me and there it was: Louis Armstrong made his very first records on April 5 and April 6 of the year 1923, 85 years ago this weekend. Thus, "Cain and Abel" was put on the backburner, but now I don't have time to provide a full portrait of those two King Oliver Gennett sessions and all the wonderful music that came out of that recording horn during those days (with "Little Louis" standing 15 feet away in the corner as not to overpower the rest of the band!). Nevertheless, we have the Red Hot Jazz Archive, so if you'd like to commemorate this important historical event, I'll provide the links (and if you have your own copies of this music on C.D., you can commence spinning now!).

Armstrong joined the Oliver band in 1922 and soon caused quite a commotion during the band's performances at Chicago's Lincoln Gardens. These April dates were the band's recording debut, made for the Gennett label in Richmond, Indiana. The band consisted of Oliver and Armstrong on cornets, Honore Dutrey on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Hardin on piano, Bud Scott on banjo and Baby Dodds on drums. This is one of the great New Orleans jazz bands of all time and though the recording techniques were primitave, the excitement of these practically all ensemble-performances still startles the listener 85 years later, especially on the first two tracks recorded at the April 5 session, "Just Gone" and "Canal Street Blues."

Just Gone
Canal Street Blues

Those first two numbers were Oliver compositions, the first done with Bill Johnson, the second with Armstrong, but the Oliver band also handled popular tunes in their own fashion, as can be heard on the too short "Mandy Lee Blues" and "I'm Going To Wear You Off My Mind." Baby Dodds gets to take a break from playing the woodblocks, beating a tom for a bit on the former, which also features some patented Oliver "wah-wah" playing, whilt the latter featuring Lil Hardin's piano and the first break, a simple one not quite indicative of what was to come...
Mandy Lee Blues
I'm Going Away To Wear You Off My Mind

Finally, the reason we really celebrate: Louis Armstrong's first recorded solo on "Chimes Blues." It was a written solo, but Armstrong's tone and easy swinging feeling are already in place:
Chimes Blues

The next day opened with one of Louis's finest compositions, "Weather Bird Rag," later to be immortalized in Armstrong's 1928 duet recording with the pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines. The original recording features more great ensembles, as well as some neatly executed breaks:

Weather Bird Rag

King Oliver's shining moment was provided during his three-chorus muted solo on that all-time classic, "Dipper Mouth Blues," co-written with Armstrong, the "Dipper Mouth" in the title, as well as the lead player in the ensemble right before Oliver's solo. Doesn't get much more classic than this one...

Dipper Mouth Blues

"Froggie Moore" features more spirited ensemble playing, as well as some lovely Armstrong, who leads the main strain (which always reminds me of the changes to "Potato Head Blues" in places):

Froggie Moore

Finally, the second session ended with "Snake Rag," which I've already blogged about in graphic detail in the past.

Snake Rag

So there it is, the best I can do in a half hour. I'll let everyone enjoy this wonderful, timeless music for the next day or so and then I'll publish my "Cain and Abel" work on Tuesday. But here's to Pops, who 85 years ago this weekend began changing the course of popular music one record at a time...made while standing in a corner 15 feet away from the microphone!

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