The Year of Tony Bennett notes that Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
A few months back, I got Thomas Brothers’ new book Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. This book focuses on the career of Armstrong from the time he left New Orleans in 1922 for Chicago until the early 1930s. When I purchased this book, I wondered about a 591 page book that covers approximately a decade of Armstrong’s life and career. What I got was so much more: a masterful analysis of the transition of jazz from the New Orleans sound as played by King Oliver in Chicago … a band that Armstrong played with most of this time … to the modern jazz sound of the 1930s. In between the two King Oliver gigs, he played with Fletcher Henderson in New York.
Working for King Oliver and Fletcher Henderson were good experiences for Armstrong, though neither band leader let Louis play his cornet his way.
Starting around 1925, Armstrong began recording on the OKey label with groups he pulled together just for these sessions. These groups included some great jazz musicians who, like Armstrong, were young and starting out. Jack Teagarden, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Jimmy Noone and Zutty Singleton all played with Armstrong in the Hot Fives and Sevens. The Hot Five and The Hot Seven recordings, with Armstrong as leader, is not only exciting music to listen to but is an opportunity to hear Armstrong move the nature of jazz into modernism.
In memory of the great Louis Armstrong, I’m including a few favorites from these recordings. His recording “St. James Infirmary” stopped both of us dead in our tracks.
Cornet Chop Suey by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
Recorded on February 26, 1926 in Chicago
Note: This song was composed by Armstrong
Potato Head Blues by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven
Recorded on May 19, 1927 in Chicago
St. James Infirmary by Louis Armstrong and His Savoy Ballroom Five
Recorded on December 12, 1928 in Chigao
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love
Recorded March 5, 1929 in New York