Louis Armstrong's 50 Hot Choruses

Continuing with part three of my tribute to my dear departed friend, and all-around friend of Pops, Gösta Hägglöf, I want to spend some time with one of Gösta’s greatest projects: the recreation with Bent Persson of Louis Armstrong’s “50 Hot Choruses.” I already discussed it in my first entry of Gus and I even included a sample, “Tia Juana,” which I noticed has been listened to quite often this week. And after reading Michael Steinman's excellent tribute to Gus this week, focusing on the “50 Hot Choruses,” I wanted to do something on them myself.

So what are the “50 Hot Choruses”? Well, for the answer, we must go back to the year 1927 and pianist Elmer Schoebel. Here’s Schoebel in 1968 discussing the project:

“During the Chicago days I was sharing office with Walter Melrose of the ‘Melrose Music Co.’ One day in 1927, Melrose said he was going to publish a set of Louis Armstrong breaks, but there was a technical problem of getting the Armstrong ‘hot’ breaks down on paper. Finally Melrose and I hit on the idea of having Armstrong record his breaks. We bought a $15 Edison cylinder phonograph and 50 wax cylinders, gave him to Louis and told him to play. The cylinders were duly filled up by Armstrong and the ‘breaks’ were copied into written for. I transcribed the ‘breaks’ which were published. These were not orchestrated at any time and were not made for that purpose. I had all the records (cylinders), later I turned them over to Melrose. When I was in Chicago, in 1949, a collector was offering $1000 per cylinder but Melrose and I couldn’t find them.”

The cylinders have never appeared but many collectors still sought out the original folio, which looked like this:

I even found a website ("The Scream Online") that transcribed the original forward:

“Throughout the world the name of Louis Armstrong is known to thousands of musicians. It is a byword with the interpreters of jazz and commands at all times a place of honor. During the past few years jazz music has come into international vogue. Armstrong was among the pioneer proponents that brought it into popularity and has been a big factor in keeping it to the front. His influence is felt everywhere. Hundreds of jazz cornetists, who, by the way are an important feature in all dance orchestras, have adopted the Armstrong style of playing. His ability is enthusiastically endorsed by all the great and near great.
“The solos in this book depart in principle of production from any solos on the market. They are genuine inspirations obtained, not by the old method of the artist writing down his solos one note at a time, but from actual recordings. Special phonograph recording apparatus was employed to make them. They are red hot inspirations extracted from red hot jazz recordings.
“If you want to get hot and stay hot, play these solos. They will prove invaluable to all jazz cornetists as they can be used in playing any of the famous selections in this book. All cornet strains are indicated by letter or number and correspond with the same strain as marked in the orchestration. Therefore, all that is necessary is to place this book on the stand next to the orchestration—then when the orchestra reaches the cornet strain read your book instead of the orchestration. If you will do this and carefully observe all markings and phrasing, we guarantee that the results will be overwhelmingly satisfactory.”
Though the title said “50 Hot Choruses,” the book actually included 53 tunes and many breaks...125 to be exact. This was Louis Armstrong in his peak, 1927, the year of the Hot Seven and some of the greatest Hot Fives. And here he was, playing his heart out on many tunes he would never again perform (some, though, reappeared later in his career). Oh, how he must have sounded...
Well, that’s what Gus wanted to know, too. So with the help of the great Swedish trumpeter Bent Persson, the two began the project in 1974...and didn’t complete it until 2002! It took many years and many different people but Gus finally got the complete project done, issuing it originally on LPs and finally in complete fashion on his Kenneth label.

As I wrote earlier, Bent’s playing is something to marvel at but really, I love the idea of placing the solos and breaks in different settings: Armstrong with just a piano, in a Hot Five or Seven-surrounding, with a mock “Fletcher Henderson” group, with almost Bix-ian bands and so on.

For this blog, I don’t want to talk too much but I would like to share 11 of these performances, showcasing the many different settings featured in the series. For example: what if Armstrong recorded as part of Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers? Here’s “Kansas City Stomps” from 1976. The original Armstrong solo comes at the 1:40 mark, the two 16-bar choruses in between the trombone statements. The breaks in the closing coda are also Pops’s:

For the next one, a bonus for all the musicians in the house. The website “The Scream” which I already linked to included a few examples from the book. Unfortunately, I can’t include them here but if you’d like to see the transcription for “Black Bottom Stomp” click here. And if you’d just like to listen, here ‘tis (Pops’s solo is the 16-bar one after the clarinet solo as is the break in the first ensemble chorus after the banjo solo):

For “Angry,” the group added a wonderful Pops-like vocal by Nils Rehman. The break before the verse is Pops but the actual verse playing over the banjo is Bent. However, the 32-bar solo after the soprano saxophone of Tomas Ornberg is Pops:

In 1979, the group did a hot version of “King Porter Stomp,” another Jelly Roll tune probably best known for the version(s) by Fletcher Henderson. Again, if you’d like to see the original transcription, click here. After the piano solo by Ulf Lindberg, it’s all Pops for a 16-bar chorus followed by an incredibly smoking 18-bar close. Scorching stuff!

Speaking of Henderson, Armstrong recorded “Sugar Foot Stomp” with that group in 1925 and this version mimics the original almost to a tee. Basically a reworking of King Oliver’s “Dipper Mouth Blues,” Pops liked to put his own spin on Oliver’s famed three-chorus solo. For another transcription, click here. For the music, complete with three choruses by Pops/Bent, this is the place to hear it:

And while we’re on the subject of Oliver, here’s “Jackass Blues,” featuring Pops digging out Oliver’s old “Jazzin’ Babies Blues” solo for the first time, used memorably in 1928 on “Muggles.”

How about a little trumpet and piano action? Here’s “High Society” featuring Bent and Ulf Johansson in 1977. I think Ulf’s great, with bits and pieces of Jelly Roll, Fatha Hines and even the pounding chords of Lil Hardin. Bent’s dynamite the entire time playing his own stuff, then takes off for Pops’s original transcribed solo, which takes up the final 32 bars of the song (the tune’s six breaks are all from Armstrong’s mind and Bent’s fingers, too).

Time and space prevents me from listing all the swinging Swedish musicians involved in the project but for an example of how hard these cats swung listen to this romp through Santo Pecora’s “She’s Crying For Me.” Only 16-bar trumpet solo is Louis’s; the rest is just wonderful hot jazz, backed by Christer Ekhe’s superb authentic drumming:

“Tin Roof Blues” became a staple of the All Stars years but here’s proof that Pops was familiar with it back in 1927. The two choruses after the piano solo are Pops’s (click here for more sheet music). Listen to the genius of Pops in full-flight in his second 12-bars as he completely deconstructs the melody of the song, much as he did with “Twelfth Street Rag” that same year:

“Tin Roof Blues” came from 1996. The project was still going strong at the time of its final session in 2002 which produced this neat version of “Maple Leaf Rag” placing Bent in a four-piece combo with Frans Sjostrom’s baritone saxophone, Ulf Lindberg’s piano and Jacob Ullberger’s banjo. The crazy breaks in the beginning are Armstrong’s, as is the trumpet chorus after the piano solo (again, the other fantastic playing is all Bent):

I want to close with “Milenberg Joys.” Persson originally recorded it as a duet with pianist Ulf Johansson in 1979. But in 2000, he remade it with a larger nine-piece group for this swinging performance. The three breaks, including the introductory one, are all Pops’s but the highlight is the closing 34-bar solo, which opens with such a righteous phrase, you can’t help but shout, “Yeah!” Pops even trots out a break he originally stunned the world with on Clarence Williams’s “Cake Walking Babies From Home.” One of my favorites:

So again, here’s to the late Gösta and to his partner-in-crime, the magical Bent Persson, for giving us this beautifully executed project. Please search the Internet for copies of all three volumes because they’re equally fantastic. And as always, here’s to Pops and his mind for giving us all those great choruses and breaks in the first place!

Now, who is going to find the original cylinders!?


Anonymous said…
Ricky, as always, your blogging is enjoyable, interactive, and in this particular case, timely. Just this week I've been reading Gary Gidden's Satchmo and marveled at the section about those breaks, which I hadn't before known existed. Alas, they may have to remain one of Jazz's holy grails, like the Bolden Cylinder.

Ah, but what a treat were they to be found...
uwlundin said…
At a concert last week celebrating Duke Ellington's 110th birthday and featuring Bent Persson, I found out that the CDs are still available and finally I got them today. Everybody interested in early jazz should get them!
DPartner said…
I'd like to transcribe Mr. Armstrong's solos for guitar. Is it possible to get a copy of "50 Hot Choruses" in any format, digital or print?

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