Friday, June 22, 2012

85 Years of the Hot Seven: Wild Man Blues

Recorded May 7, 1927
Track Time 3:13
Written by Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong (not really)
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet; Honore Dutrey, trombone; Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Lil Armstrong, piano; Johnny St. Cyr, banjo; Pete Briggs, tuba; Baby Dodds, drums
Originally released on Okeh 8482
Currently available on CD: Both the JSP and Sony Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven boxes have it (I like the JSP better but the Sony has much better packaging if you go for that sort of thing)
Available on Itunes? Yes

The second Hot Seven tune recorded is another classic, "Wild Man Blues." Unlike "Willie the Weeper," Armstrong already had some familiarity with this number going into the studio to record it on that May day; he had already recorded two different takes of it with Johnn Dodds on April 22. But to look at the label, you'd think that Armstrong was REALLY familiar with it since he's given co-composer credit with the great Jelly Roll Morton.

Wow, Armstrong and Jelly Roll, what a pairing! Picturing them huddled together in the after hours of a Chicago nightclub, Armstrong suggesting melodies, Morton playing different changes until they get it right. They finally nail it, go out for chop suey and tell dirty jokes and stories about New Orleans. What a team!

Of course, this is all nonsense. Armstrong had no idea how his name got on the tune; he was adament on his private tapes that he never knew Jelly Roll in New Orleans and never met him until much later in Chicago and even then, they weren't exactly best friends. (Morton preferred Freddie Keppard and later told Alan Lomax that Armstrong got too much credit for inventing scat singing; Armstrong put him down harshly for both of those opinions in later manuscripts and on his private tapes.)

So how did it happen? It's a little messy but fairly easy to figure out. Frank and Walter Melrose were music publishers who handled Morton's compositions. Morton had a song called "Ted Lewis Blues" that is pretty much identical to "Wild Man Blues" (he never recorded it as "Ted Lewis" but the score survives). Melrose probably didn't want to give a plug to another entertainer so suggested a new, more exotic title, "Wild Man Blues," with "Wild Man" harkening back to Morton's New Orleans roots as one of the kinds of Mardi Gras Indians. Fine.

Meanwhile, also in 1927, Melrose hired Louis Armstrong to do books of transcriptions for them, "50 Hot Choruses" and "125 Jazz Breaks." As the story goes, Armstrong recorded short solos on a variety of tunes backed by pianist Elmer Schoebel. The solos were recorded on Edison cylinders. Once transcribed, the cylinders were discarded (check your basements!) and books of transcriptions were released. (See my 2009 blog for more on these books, including audio recreations by the great Bent Persson.)

So though don't have any concrete evidence on how it went down, it's clear that the Melrose brothers, publishing both Morton and Armstrong's music in 1927, though it might be profitable to have a composition attributed to both men. How they got them to agree to this, I don't know (I highly doubt Morton had a say in the matter and it probably caused a great deal of bitterness), but that's how Armstrong got his name attached to what was most definitely a Morton composition.

Interestingly, Armstrong got to record it first--multiple times. By the time Morton got to record it with his Red Hot Peppers on June 4, 1927, Armstrong had already recorded it twice. When Morton did get to do it, he played up the "Wild Man" angle with some good-natured, vaudeville hokum. Here's Jelly Roll's if you haven't heard it:

Louis, on the other hand, didn't find anything comedic about the song. He thrived on minor-key changes, so that was a plus, but the song also had built-in breaks. And if you know anything about Louis in the 1920s it's that breaks = gold.

The Melrose books of Armstrong transcriptions were released in early April 1927, around the same time that Louis left Erskine Tate's band at the Vendome Theater. He began leading his own group, Louis Armstrong and His Stompers, and as he later related, "Wild Man Blues" became a favorite number to perform live, with Armstrong and Dodds taking such long solos, each one would take turns going in the back room and eating spaghetti while the other was soloing!

So when Dodds got his Vocalion session on April 22, "Wild Man Blues" was a no-brainer. The two takes recorded that day, plus the Hot Seven version, are not only testaments to Louis Armstrong's genius but they also feature some of Dodds's finest work. As Gene Anderson has written, "Dodds at his best is Armstrong's equal as a soloist." (Anderson knows what he's talking about; he analyzed Dodds's solos on "Wild Man Blues" for the Annual Review of Jazz Studies in 1996.)

But enough from me (didn't I promise to write less with these Hot Seven entries?). In 1926, Armstrong sat in on a Johnny Dodds session and couldn't repress his style on "Drop That Sack" nor his voice on "Georgia Bo-Bo." OKeh wasn't pleased so for the 1927 session, Armstrong attempted to play in a more reserved, sober style. I'll let you decide if he succeeded but what is not in doubt is the issued take of "Wild Man Blues" with Dodds's group is an out-and-out masterpiece. Let's listen:

Armstrong takes the introduction on a series of calm breaks before the ensemble comes in to play the last four bars of the melody. After that, it's Pops's show...and what a show it is! While he resists the urge to fly into the upper register or unleash any opera-like pyrotechnics, what he plays is quite beautiful, a little haunting and extremely melodic. However, notice Earl Hines's mind drifting as he plays a wrong change. Dodds follows with some lovely work in the chalumeau register....what a tone! (You can see why so many clarinetists have used this as a feature over the years.) At the end of Dodds's solo, the ensemble enters and blows everyone home, Dodds wailing in the upper register.

Now let's listen to the second version:

I hesitated to call this the second take because after listening to it closely, there's enough sloppiness to make me think this one might have been the first attempt. For one, Louis has a slight cracked note in the introduction, but more importantly, Hines plays a wrong change behind Armstrong 39 seconds in (though then again, Hines's mind was known to wander). Louis is full of ideas on this take, showing that even though he might have been playing this live (and had even set down a transcribed solo for Melrose), he didn't have anything that resembled a set routine. In his last extended stop-time break, Armstrong starts with a high note but then realizes that it might give him away, so he scampers into the lower register. Dodds's solo, on the other hand, is pretty similar to the first take....not a bad thing at all! Two great performances.

Finally, on May 7, Louis got a chance to record "Wild Man Blues" under his own name with the Hot Seven. Without anything holding him back, he let loose. Stand back:

Phew! John Chilton gets credit for being the first to refer to this as "Wilder Man Blues" and he's not kidding. (Quick note: I analyzed a transcription of this solo for a Master's class back in 2004. I've edited and punched it up a bit but I just wanted to throw that out there because I'm about to get a little more theoretical--did that come out of me?--than normal in the ensuing paragraphs.)

Right from the start, Louis plays the introductory breaks with more pizzazz than he did on the Dodds recording. He obviously can't wait to dig in. Louis starts his solo by taking the first line of melody, which descends C-Ab-F-C, and arpeggiates the F minor chord the solo begins on, actually sounding a bit flat in the quick F-Ab-F pattern he plays in the middle of the phrase.  He then rests for a beat.  This will soon become a pattern that runs throughout the solo: quick bursts of notes followed by some sense of space.  Unlike trumpeters from later generations who would try to squeeze as many notes as they possibly could within the framework of a bar, Armstrong always leaves space, making it easier to savor every one of his phrases.

Then it's time for the first break. Besides being rhythmically flowing, Armstrong’s use of a limited amount of pitches is ingenious.  Except for an E natural in the second note and a later B natural that is used as a neighbor tone, all the pitches in the break are either F’s, Ab’s or C’s—the three pitches that make up an F minor triad.  Today, in the era of flatted ninths and diminished thirteenths, this kind of improvising might be viewed as simplistic, but one might argue that it is harder to make three pitches sound interesting than it is to use strictly non-chord tones. Armstrong’s secret is his sense of rhythm, so ahead of its time in 1927, making the break swing effortlessly. I like George Mitchell a lot but go back and listen to his solo with Morton. He uses many of the same basic pitches but his phrasing is so overly syncopated, the solo sounds like it was recorded 20 years before Armstrong’s, not one month after.

After a few bars featuring some relaxed blue note notes, the seventh and eighth bars feature Armstrong’s second break.  He gives the impression at the start that it’s going to be a quick, double-timed break, but after the first three notes, he floats in slow motion once again, ending on a very low F.  In the ninth bar, he hits three C’s, and then leaves a lot of room for space, clearly foreshadowing the later style of Armstrong that we will examine in his 1957 recording of this same piece.  Then again, if the early recording has traces of what is generally referred to as Armstrong’s “later style,” then perhaps too much is made of this stylistic difference.  Sure, the younger man might have had more daringness, but the high notes, the rhythmic floating, the use of space, the melodic improvisation, all these characteristics of young Armstrong would definitely never leave him throughout his long career.

Bar ten features a descending chromatic phrase from Eb to C that appears later in this solo and foreshadows the use of chromatics in Armstrong’s later solo as well.  Armstrong’s break in bars 11 and 12 plays with a half-step-based idea, starting with a high E natural-F, descending to an A natural-B, descending again to a lower E natural-F, then going way down for another A natural-B, changing the rhythm on each two-note phrase.  He continues the pattern in the second half of the break by hitting the A natural-B combination twice an octave higher before a surprising high G which he kind of fluffs.  He regains his footing at the end and casually begins bar 13 with the same three eighth-note C’s as he began the ninth bar.  He gets rhythmically playful at the end of bar, setting up a phrase that crosses the bar line into the 14th bar.  Phrases that crossed the bar line are not just a modern jazz invention as Armstrong was doing them here and would continue crossing bar lines throughout his career.  The phrase features a pattern of an eighth-note followed by two 16ths, followed by an eighth-note, followed again by two 16ths, ending on another eighth.  Following a short rest, he goes up to that high G again, hits it stronger, then goes chromatically down with a Gb and an F and rests, building tension for the ensuing break.

Finally, in the break that takes up bars 15 and 16, we get the double-time work he’s been building towards in the previous breaks.  It’s very chromatic:  Ab-G-F#-G-Ab-A-Bb-A-Bb, which then goes into G-G#-A-Bb-A-Ab-G.  The speed and choice of notes makes it a very modern sounding break for that era and any other one for that matter.

In the 17th bar, Armstrong again plays with the melody but hits an A natural instead of an A flat which sounds a little like a flubbed note.  These little fluffs have led many to prefer the more level-headed playing on the Dodds record but I love that Louis is taking chances here. After a slight pause, he begins his next break by hitting a high Ab, juxtaposing the one from the previous bar by playing it an octave higher.  This time he holds it then glisses up to a high C, the highest note in the solo.  He descends with some more wonderfully rhythmic phrasing. 

The next break in bars 23 and 24 opens with a string of 16th notes (the first note is a B natural off the bar’s C7 chord) before Armstrong rhythmically spells out a C triad by building upward through C, E and a G.  He continues upward with a higher C, but instead of an E, goes up to an F, the 11th of a C chord. 

Almost all of the rest of the solo is done in break form.  The first break in bar 25 continues the pattern of a quick phrase followed by space as Armstrong plays four descending sixteenth notes before hitting an Eb, holding it and glissing down to a C.  Off the Bb7 chord in bar 27, Armstrong starts with a F-Ab pattern.  As we have seen, these first two notes of an F minor chord appear throughout the solo and would continue to do so in the 1957 version.  He then plays a phrase that extends into the 28th bar, a fast, chromatically based phrase that would become a trademark of Roy Eldridge.  Coming off of it, Armstrong has some fun with non-chord tones, playing a B natural off both a Bb7 chord and an Eb chord.  Yes, B natural is the blue third of the Ab key of this piece, but Armstrong also knew his harmonies (B natural is the flatted ninth and flatted 13th of a Bb chord and an Eb chord, respectively).

For his final break, Armstrong goes out adventurously.  The piece finally resolves to Ab so Armstrong alternates Eb and Ab, the fifth and the tonic, but in a very complex rhythm, almost foreshadowing the beginning of Lester Young’s “Shoe Shine Boy” solo of nine years later (the phrase can also be traced backwards to the beginning of Armstrong’s “Cornet Chop Suey” stop-time solo).  It’s a frantic break, Armstrong clearly trying to dazzle, and he does so with one final, perfectly placed high C.  In the final bar, he slowly, dramatically descends through the notes of an F minor chord but then ends with an E natural and a C, implying the C7 turnaround chord that is not being played by the band (remember, this is a break).  By changing his pattern to reflect a C7 chord, Armstrong perfectly sets up the following solo by clarinetist Johnny Dodds.  

Dodds's solo is a gem, too. Obviously inspired by Armstrong's heat, Dodds forgoes the lower-register playing that featured predominantly in his own recordings and instead almost immediately starts off in the higher register. His breaks have a sense of urgency, much like Armstrong's, and a fair amount of double-timing, too. Dodds handles the extended breaks at the end beautifully before Armstrong reenters to end the piece with some more scorching, two-note clarion calls, calling everyone home.

Armstrong and Dodds might have had a ball playing this song for 45 minutes straight each night in Chicago but once Louis got established, it seems to have disappeared from his repertoire altogether. There's no recordings, nor any print mentions of him ever performing it again...until 1957. The occasion was the seminal Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography, an album that, in a perfect world, would be just as well known as Louis's 1920s recordings (how nice to talk with Bria Skonberg during a visit to the Armstrong Archives a few weeks ago and hear that the Autobiography is her favorite Pops album...hooray for this younger generation!).

Jon-Erik Kellso recently told me a story that Ruby Braff told him about Louis inviting him over to his house in Corona, Queens as he prepared for the sessions. Louis listened to all of his early recordings and talked about what worked, what didn't work, what he wanted to change, etc. Sy Oliver and Bob Haggart transcribed Armstrong's early solos but made sure to write "Go for yourself" on Armstrong's parts so he wouldn't feel like he had to play exactly as he did 30 years earlier. Armstrong's style had matured and become grander; six months before the session, he told the Voice of America that he was playing better than ever and that was no stage joke. Let's listen to the remake:

The outline of the piece is the same as the Hot Seven recording in terms of solo order though the tempo is a little slower causing the performance to run three minutes and 56 seconds as opposed to the three minutes and 15 seconds of the Hot Seven performance.  Another difference is the number of breaks has diminished greatly.  Whereas in the 1927 performance, Armstrong took a break every two bars, the 1957 recording only features one completely solo break in the first 24 bars before the same series of breaks at the end. 

He begins the opening bars by sticking to the melody without even bothering to embellish it as he did the first time around in 1927.   Armstrong always spoke about the importance of melody so the fact that he opens a 32-bar solo by sticking to the melody like glue does not mean he’s lost the ability to improvise in his old age.  He’s just laying the framework on which he is about to build upon during the rest of the solo.  He taps the melody note F in the first beat of bar three but then goes up and hold a C for a beat and a half before playing with F’s and Ab’s, the same two-note pattern that appears throughout the earlier solo.  The phrase in bar three extends into a chromatically descending phrase in the fourth bar, another feature borrowed from the original recording.  Also, the quick chromatic phrase is followed by a held C, repeating yet another pattern introduced in the 1927 recording, that of playing a fast run, then letting things breathe a bit.

In the fifth bar, Armstrong plays the four melody notes but instead of playing them straight as he did in the original fifth bar, he speeds them up, then lays out, creating more space.  He has already begun to rhythmically play with the melody.  The sixth bar of the 1927 version featured three C flats (or B naturals), the blue note of the piece.  The note is still the centerpiece of the remake, but now Armstrong builds up to it with a three note phrase and instead of repeating it, he holds it, then plays a phrase that resolves the B natural to a B flat and ends on an A flat.

Where he relaxed in the seventh bar in 1927, Armstrong double times here, perfectly arpeggiating an F minor chord before chromatically descending into eighth bar from F to C, where after a quick rest, he plays the same chromatic phrase an octave lower, but even quicker.  Armstrong then plays with bar lines and rhythm, phrasing ahead of the beat here where he stuck to plain melody 30 years earlier.  

After all this playing, very few rests, much of it rhythmically free, floating across the barlines, Armstrong finally creates space, resting two beats then hitting a high F, holding it into the 12th bar.  In this bar on the original recording, Armstrong played around with those two-note half-steps before jumping up to the high G, which he kind of fluffed.  The half-steps are gone in the remake, but Armstrong does arpeggiate an F minor up to the same high G and hits it much more solidly.  To prove it, he leaves some space and begins the 13th bar with three more high G’s, which is also the 13th of the Bb7 chord being held by the band.  Coming down from the Bb he plays the three main notes of both solos, F, Ab and C, but again, like in the original, there’s nothing simple sounding about it. 

This sets up the performance’s first break in bar 15.  Off of an Eb7 chord, he plays the first five notes of an Eb scale and starts heading down the same way before he changes course and throws the lightening fast chromatic phrase played in bars 27 and 28 of the first solo, what I referred to as a Roy Eldridge lick.  Here, however, it’s played higher, topping out on a high Bb.  He begins his descent in the 16th bar by hitting a E natural square at the beginning of the bar, signaling an unheard chord change to a C7, and flying down to an F.  He plays with the F for a bit, setting up tension, and resolves it with another E natural, making the chord change complete and setting up the F minor chord that begins the second 16 bars perfectly. 

Again, the second 16 bars begin with those same first four melody notes, C-F-Ab and C.  Louis plays them quickly as he did in bar five.  At this point in the 1927 version, Armstrong played three behind-the-beat C flats.  Here, he just hits one and holds it about a full bar earlier than expected. He plays the four melody notes then immediately hits the blue third and holds it until the 18th bar, echoed beautifully by Trummy Young's trombone, which appears from out of nowhere to join in on this somber note.  It’s an example of Armstrong’s playing really achieving a kind of freedom but it’s actually leading to one of the great moments of the piece.

Armstrong holds that blue note into the eighth bar, pauses for a second, then plays an Ab and an F downward.  Liking it, he makes it a three-note phrase, B natural-Ab-F.  He plays it twice before ending the bar with a Bb and Ab as he did in bar six.  The segment has a very slow motion feel to it as the phrase gets quicker and quicker before resolving on a Bb.  He continues this trend but in reversal in the next bar.  He hits those two favorite notes of his, F and Ab, first quickly together, then with a little more space, then with even more space.  Again, it’s more rhythmic freedom.  Taking bars 17 through 19 together you can feel Armstrong starting in slow motion, gradually speeding up, then slowing back down again, all with a relatively simple series of phrases (the second one consists of two notes!). 

Bars 20 and 21 are pretty crowded with little of the space that has marked most of the solo up to this point.  He ends his first downward phrase in bar 20 with a short, clipped F, then immediately begins his next phrase opening with another B natural, crossing the bar line into bar 21 where he hits a quick, almost slurred six note phrase.  In fact, the quick, slurred phrases of both these bars are strongly reminiscent of Red Allen’s work.  In December of 1957, Allen would perform “Wild Man Blues” on the landmark telecast “The Sound of Jazz.” Allen is mainly thought of as coming out of the Armstrong school but with a more unpredictable, different sound but even some of those slurred phrases that seem to define his unique style can be heard in Armstrong.

Armstrong ends his busy playing with an Eb in the second half of the 21st bar, which he hold for three beats.  Before that, he had almost eight beats of constant blowing.  Bar 22 features more rhythmic playing as Armstrong alternates just two notes Eb and Db, first playing them as 16th notes before settling into slower eighths.  He’s also planting the seeds for an idea he develops perfectly over the next bar.  Using the final Eb and Db from bar 22, Armstrong hits a C to begin bar 23 making for a three-note phrase.  He takes this three-note idea and just takes it down a step every time (Db-C-Bb, C-Bb-Ab), then turns it into a four-note phrase which he again takes down a step at a time (Bb-Ab-G-F, Ab-G-F-Eb) before he just spirals downward ending on a low G.  Perhaps it’s not as “wild” as some of his work in the original but it’s hard to find elsewhere such perfectly executed ideas that make so much sense. 

Bar 25 features the beginning of the series of breaks that end the piece.  The break in bars 27 and 28 really show Armstrong boiling everything down to the essentials.  This is the spot where he did the quick Roy Eldridge-like phrase in 1927.  Having already played that phrase (and having played it higher than he did 30 years earlier), Armstrong plays a simple three-note ascending phrase up to a high B natural, once again using the minor third of an Ab.  Here, though, Armstrong puts all he has into it, holding it with great power well into the second bar.  Sure, recording methods had improved in the ensuing 30 years but when listening to a lot of later Louis Armstrong, it’s arguable that his sound actually got bigger as he got older.  Either way, it does not get much bigger then it does on this note.
In the original, bar 29 featured an Eb followed by a little space but in the remake, the Eb is an octave higher and instead of the four-note descending chromatic phrase used in the original, Armstrong plays a longer, more relaxed seven-note phrase starting with a high G.  The next bar, using the pickup F from bar 29, uses the exact same pattern of notes as bar 30 in 1927:  F-Ab-F-Ab-C-C.  But whereas in 1927, the phrase was more syncopated eighth and 16th notes placed squarely on the beats, he’s much more relaxed with his phrase in the remake.  He hits the first Ab, lets it settle, then makes the ascending F-A-C into one phrase.  It’s Armstrong not content to play things as he did when he was 30 years younger.  In terms of maturity and rhythmic phrasing, it’s arguably stronger then the earlier recording.

Armstrong finished wildly in 1927 with that final rip up to the high C.  Here he ends more relaxed with a smaller rip up to Ab before taking it down and landing squarely on a C in the final bar.  Like in 1927, he sets up the clarinet solo with a descending slurred phrase down to a G once again setting things up beautifully for the following clarinet solo, played by Edmond Hall. Hall's outing is a beaut (when wasn't in) and with the extra space allotted to the long-playing era, Trummy Young gets to take a nice,d subdued spot as well. Louis brings everyone home again, still full of slippery, bluesy phrases, before a Haggart-arranged ended brings this incredible performance to a close.

So what can be concluded from these solos? For one thing, there was no one quite like the Louis Armstrong of 1927.  His solo on the Hot Seven “Wild Man Blues” features some daring ideas that he does not always pull off perfectly but it’s safe to say no other trumpet player was thinking of these phrases at the time.  His rhythmic concept alone made everyone else, including the members of his own band, seem square by comparison.  And in his choice of notes, relying mainly on chord tones but adding in lots of blue notes as well as some flatted ninths and 13ths, he was creating the vocabulary from which all future jazz would come to depend on.

So what of the elder Louis Armstrong? Times changed as Armstrong’s style gave way to the likes of, first Red Allen and Roy Eldridge and later, Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown.  With those musicians on the scene doing what they were doing, it was easy to label Armstrong as old-fashioned based on his conception of playing and his age alone.  However, when you really listen to the later Louis Armstrong and analyze a given solo such as “Wild Man Blues,” you find that the man never really did falter, at least not until shortly before his death.  But at the time of the Autobiography, Armstrong was in the midst of a prime period of his September years.  The relaxed, floating phrasing was still intact.  His ability to develop motives and tell a story with his playing remained unparalleled.  His tone was bigger than ever and his command of the upper register was arguably better than when he was younger.

The only main difference between the two are the risks the younger Armstrong took, but that can probably be attributed to a young man doing a little showing off to impress his peers (remember, this is the same man who would hit hundreds of high C’s during this same era!).  The elder Armstrong did not have to do such grandstanding to win over other musicians.  He was respected enough by musicians (if not by the critics of the era) that he did not have to blow his top to win some applause.  All he had to do was keep playing the kind of relaxed, melodic, dramatic solo he plays so well on “Wild Man Blues.”
Thus, while the younger Armstrong should be studied and analyzed for changing the sound of music forever, it might be about time that the older man gets a fair shake since he was still doing remarkable things with his horn until the end of his career, as this analysis of “Wild Man Blues” hopefully shows.  Perhaps he was not the “wild man” of 1927, but he was still one of the greatest trumpeters the world had ever seen.

Now I'll admit, much of the above analysis was written for a class in 2004. As many of you might know, I got my Master's in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers, a wonderful program, the only one of its kind. But this experience was an eye opener for me. When I had to present my analysis to my Theory class, I prepared a no-brainer of an opening. "Surely, every one here is familiar with Louis Armstrong's seminal 1920s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. But how many people have listened to the remakes he did 30 years later for Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography?" And with that, I'd be off and running.

When I finally got up to face the class, I uttered the first part of that opening, "Surely, everyone here is familiar with Louis Armstrog's seminal 1920s Hot and Hot Seven recordings." I smiled, looked into my friends' faces...and saw blank stares. I paused and waited for a smile or nod in the affirmative. And that's when it hit me: Jesus, never mind my crusade for later Armstrong, here's the only program in the world pumping out jazz history majors and no one in the room is really familiar with the Hot Fives and Sevens, never mind the All Stars." I gave the whole 40-minute presentation but I felt a little off, as that opening reaction kind of caught me offguard. 

Well, it's 8 years later and I'm firmly entrenched in the Armstrong business now, whether through the blog, my book, my job as Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, liner notes, producing reissues, lectures, you name it. But I still feel that Louis gets taken for granted by the up-and-coming jazz musicians and it's a damn shame.

Fortunately, there's hope. Last week at the Armstrong House, I attended one of our "Pops is Tops" concerts for New York schoolkids. Jon Faddis was his usual incredible self but for me, one of the highlights was when he called up his young trumpet student Max Darche and told him to play "Wild Man Blues." Without thinking about it, consulting any sheet music or anything, Darche picked up his trumpet and played Louis's entire 1927 chorus flawlessly (unaccompanied, too). It sounded so good, yet still so fresh--and judging by Darche's effort, pretty damn challenging, too. It made me feel good and gives me hope that future generations of jazz musicians will study and learn Louis's solos (early, middle and later years) like they've been doing with Charlie Parker for decades. 

After my presentation in 2004, my fellow classmates came up to me, their jaws agape over what they just heard. "Man," one of them said, "we went to school today." Amen. As Ruby Braff pointed out, he was in "the University of Louis Armstrong--from which you never graduate." Let's hope the current and future generations continue to attend that University.

Coming up next time, something shorter! "Alligator Crawl."


Phil said...

Ricky, thankyou for this superlative blog!!
You write: "Perhaps he was not the “wild man” of 1927, but he was still one of the greatest trumpeters the world had ever seen."
One of the greatest?? Who was the other one?
"But enough from me (didn't I promise to write less with these Hot Seven entries?"
No. Write more. We need our regular fixes of dipper-blog.

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan said...

After listening to the all the hot fives and hot sevens for the first time in several years, I've reached the conclusion that it is criminally irresponsible that knowledge of this music has not been made a requirement for a high school diploma here in America.

Jennifer Power said...

Hi Ricky,

I'm preparing for a "Tribute To Louis" concert in August covering a selection of tunes from each period of his life. I'm finding your articles really helpful and interesting !!

Geoff Power