This book published in 1995, which has Louis Armstrong record reviews that are repeated here is now out of print
In Chicago, on the 12 November 1925, Louis Armstrong recorded My Heart; Yes, I’m In The Barrel; Gut Bucket Blues and Come Back Sweet Papa. This was his first date during the formation of his now famous Hot Five.
This young 25 year old cornetist to whom we are listening on his first tune My Heart, is talking about (if ‘talking is the right expression to use) is Lillian Hardin. They had not long been married when Louis cut this record and, the result is that here we have a charming harmonic number. He plays with an easy swing not often heard on his other early recordings.Take a crack at standing on one spot and not moving from it in any jazz dance square and, see what I mean. It’s the ‘Scat-Tapping Jive’.
Yes, I’m In The Barrel and Come Back Sweet Papa are tributes to Joe Oliver (Papa Joe) whom he left in the summer of 1924.
It was during the two years with King Oliver that Louis picked up valuable points of rhythmic phrasing, although he spent four years perfecting his style and, with the Joe Oliver band, Louis learned the technique of how to take the lead in melody.
Gut Bucket Blues, on the lyrics Oh Play That Thing; Everybody in New Orleans Can Do It was one of Louis’ early attempts at vocals and his public came to like his garbled words and appealing shouts. This blossomed and, later the important quality and feeling of tenderness came into his singing,
Next issue I'll say a word or two about the six tunes recorded in 1926 on the 26th of February.
Louis Armstrong (corner, vocals); Kid Ory (trombone); Johnny Dodds (clarinet, alto); Lillian Hardin (piano); John A St-Cyr (banjo).
The place, Chicago; the date, 26th February 1926 an epoch now well known in the annals of Dixieland jazz. Louis Armstrong recorded “Georgia Grind; Heebie Jeebies; Cornet Chop Suey; Oriental Strut; You’re Next” and “Muskrat Ramble”.
Louis was by then well known, by way of his many recordings, produced whilst working third chair in the new three-man trumpet section of the Fletcher Henderson band in New York. These records were made in collaboration with pianist Clarence Williams and soprano-saxophonist Sidney Bechet. But his Hot Five series were the first expression of him as a soloist musician. Above all, the Hot Five sessions have become special masterpieces among his vast Armstrong output, notably for the particular style, which came about by playing with his fellow New Orleansians who understood exactly what the musical situation demanded. More remarkable because by this time Louis had outgrown his early ideas and was then beginning to make less use of the plunger mute, an Oliver trademark. He had moved over to playing the trumpet, but for these occasions, in order to obtain the New Orleans sound he bowed to tradition and played cornet.
Lil (Lillian) Armstrong (nee Hardin) could see the potential in her husband’s rapidly expanding abilities. It was largely through her influence that the Okeh record company offered the contract for these dates. Louis gave notice to Henderson and came to Chicago to be with Lil, who was sharing the Dreamland bandstand with trombonist Kid Ory. Clarinettist Johnny Dodds and banjoist John A St-Cyr, both Oliver alumni, were in town and therefore there were no adjustments needed for the recording and there was little requirement for rehearsals. Interestingly, the group assembled for the sole purpose of cutting these records and never played together as a band elsewhere.
A prime element in the success of these recordings was that Louis learned, when playing with King Oliver, the value of discretion and restraint, working to create the best image and sound for his band, rather than seeking outright attention for the individual soloist.
However, in later years the public was to demand more of his individual talents and it was virtually impossible for him not to oblige.
The first of the six recordings is Georgia Grind” a minor performance by Louis’ for it features mainly some beautiful Blues clarinet and positive, punch trombone playing. Clearly, Louis’ devotion on this record centres on the catchy, chanting love-call tune sung between Lil and himself. Lil leads the way with Papa, Papa, just look at her, out in the backyard shaking like tha’a, with a return call from Louis. Come in here now girl – come in here right now.
Georgia Grind makes one want to listen to it over and over again.
Heebie Jeebies put Louis into the best selling category by his impromptu scat vocals; the question is, did he drop his song lyrics during recording? The great thing about jazzmen is their ability to improvise, and I get the feeling that that may have happened in this case, to marvellous effect. The tune has a lovely lilt to it, embracing a nice swing.
Cornet Chop Suey is a powerful exposition of Louis’ ever expanding musical imagination. A crisp three bar cornet opening solo, and later much higher register playing. There is some nice lead timing on banjo and a long piano solo, for a lovely balancing effect. The main bedrock of New Orleans bands has always been sensitive ensemble playing, and while Ory and Dodds were perhaps in praise of Armstrong’s abilities they were, at times, ill at ease with his soaring digressions.
Oriental Strut is a St-Cyr tune, one that all banjo lovers should listen to. It is one of my favourite numbers. I’ll call it a singing cornet melody. I say this because Louis gives us an unhurried cornet melody full of song. On Lil’s Your Next, one can detect the Armstrong innovative style which later he was to develop to the full. But to bring it all into perspective Muskrat Ramble is an early number, credited to Kid Ory, and features splendidly the Louis New Orleans lead cornet.
In the next edition, the four recordings of the 14th of June 1926
I am to apologise. It was pointed out that the date referred to in the previous quarterly should have read the 16th of June and not the 14th June 1926 as written. This is quite correct, for on that day Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five recorded:
Don’t Forget To Mess Around; I’m Gonna Gitcha; Droppin’ Shucks and Who’s It.
Any jazz trumpeter who has not listened to any one of those records is missing an invaluable element in the playing of their chosen music, as those records are part of a collection that is unique in history and never to be repeated. They chart Louis’ progress from his first realisation of his own potential and show how he was able to remain a true New Orleans musician whilst upholding his position in the advance guard of other progressive trumpet players around Chicago and New York at the time.
Although Louis worked creatively within the constraints of the gutbucket atmosphere of the Hot Five session period, one can feel that there was a natural inclination in him to exploit his abilities exhibitionistically. Today we are the beneficiaries of those rigid rules of New Orleans playing. The musicians anticipated each other’s move in turn, as each one passes the parcel, and they play with joyous movements of expression and extraordinary unity, with spontaneous creativeness and astonishing rapport. As a result of these sessions we are rewarded by many appealing components of magnificent cornet solos.
To the Armstrong follower it must be very difficult to deflect attention to the other members of his Hot Five ensemble that is to say from the listener’s point of view. In Don’t Forget To Mess Around,there are words to the tune as when you’re doing the Charleston…don’t forget to do your stuff with the jazz band men around, Louis is inviting his fans to take heed of the talent that he has around him, in so doing, one will be able to hear some of the most beautiful jazz co-ordinating playing one is ever likely to encounter for some time to come.
It was a period in which jazz undertook some dramatic changes, significantly so when one begins to realise that few jazzmen of prominence recorded any records of any standing prior to the 1924-year.
Yet without Armstrong during this period of white band expansion, there would not have been any correct balance of advancement in the musical development of jazz.
In I’m Gonna Gitcha, Louis is out on his very own and portrays beautifully the novel creations that we were to hear coming from his horn in later years. He holds the listener’s interest with phrases, unhurried and timely, in anticipation of the melodic passages that he mirrors are to follow. An accomplished first foot on the platform for the Armstrong vocals in Hey Mama …I’m Gonna Gitcha…some sweet day…you can’t get away make listening to this one all the more enjoyable, but to overlook the Dodds alto saxophone and the ‘dut dut, te dut ta’ clarinet play would be most unforgivable, for it really is enchanting.
The tempo on Droppin’ Shucks is much slower, with the piano and banjo controlling the mood most of the time. One can savour some of the best of Johnny Dodds’ Blues clarinet playing. As with several New Orleans tunes, there are musical phrases that intermingle in various tunes and the vocals here could quite easily fit in comfortable with the previous number. Sweet Mama …droppin’ shucks…I’m gonna droppin’ on you…roses are red, violets are blue…what’s the matter with you. It would not be complete without a mention that there cannot be many trombone players around today who have not at one time or another emulated note for note Kid Ory on this tune.
On Who’s It one can listen to some clear, beautifully articulated piano and a composition of perfectly formed Blues clarinet of opulence in the low register, in accompaniment to a Louis novel slide-whistle. Now, just listen to Kid Ory, in no way does Louis outshine his Hot Five sidemen. Yes, Louis is playing full bodied, yet with rounded cornet tone and a profound feeling in line for the Blues; it is his kind of blend of musical creation and an acknowledgement form of entertainment that has kept for him a tremendous global following of listeners, sympathetic to jazz music.
Next edition will continue with four tunes that were recorded in 1926 on the 23rd of June.
With no quarrel about dates mentioned in the last quarterly to contend with, I can without any more ado name four tunes that the Hot Five recorded in Chicago on the 23rd of June 1926, "King Of The Zulus", "Big Fat Ma And Skinny Pa", "Lonesome Blues", and "Sweet Little Papa"
It was a year during the first golden age of jazz, the second age coming as from that period in New York some twenty years later. But, for the moment, Chicago was the place where much progression was taking place, and new ideas in jazz were being developed and created.
Having been refused more money from Bill Bottoms, owner of Café Dreamland, Lil Armstrong and her pieces of eight band (group) had quit playing at this venue. Louis having been persuaded by Earl Hines to join the “Young Ones” was by now holding a chair in the Carol Dickerson Sunset Café Orchestra. It is perhaps important to mention that it was during Louis’ stint at Dreamland that he was at his most creative and where he gained his reputation as being the best jazz trumpeter around, with several notables in challenge for the title. Thus, Armstrong was beginning to live-up to his billing, insisted upon by Lil on his starting work at the café as the “World’s Greatest Trumpet Player”.
Kid Ory had recently moved to Chicago and was with King Oliver’s “Dixie Syncopators”. At the Dreamland cafe Ballroom, Doc Cook had put together an orchestra with John A St-Cyr in the line-up. In the more intimate surroundings of the Nest Club the Dodds’ brothers were in residence, so that the Hot Five jazz musicians were all readily available and on hand to make these historic recordings.
During this period, Louis kept playing for Erskine Tate, a popular orchestra conductor of the theatre and it was during his days at the Vendome Theatre under Tate that he acquired a vast young audience from those who could not afford the high entrance prices to the nightclubs, but who could afford a box office ticket to watch a film show. Indeed, many of them went to the place for the sole purpose of listening to the great man himself, and so the Hot Five recordings present only a small but important picture of the complete Armstrong musical activities.
We can now turn to the first of our four tunes mentioned above. Apart from the opening few bars of ensemble playing there is a very fine cornet solo on King Of The Zulus with much feeling and emotion, taking in a meteoric scream on a seven pulse High C, not to mention some beautiful banjo accompaniment, marred by a short interaction by the other instruments. I cannot help feeling that the cornet and banjo were all that was required of this recording to make it stand out as one of the greats among great Armstrong classics in the series. Presumably, in sympathy with the title, but with what certainly seems to have been an afterthought, the intrusive, strange incantations, chippling row from Jamaica...interruption of the solo...wait, man wait, somehow seems not right and sounds utterly misplaced since recordings were limited to three numbers in those days, this one just short of that, I get the feeling that the slot-in chanting was for commercial reasons, to appeal to the great influx in the Chicago population coming up from the South, for it is certain that Armstrong could have extended his solo threefold as he was accustomed to when playing the clubs.
With an audible blow and whistle down into his instrument, Kid Ory leads in with a full bodied rounded tone trombone on a commanding four, five pulse two bars repeat introduction to Big Fat Ma And Skinny Pa, as if to announce without ambiguity to which side on the dance display lay his support. In this second tune of the four in question, Louis concentrates on vocals turning the lyrics into song, more tuneful than his earlier garbled vocals Everybody fall in line, grab your partners and get back on time, creating for the first time new tone and melodic musical expressions on the Hot Five recordings.
There is a marked sign that the musicians are now moving onwards from the New Orleans style of playing, following the Louis lead, yet very much retaining that competent, collective improvisatory movement, pertinent to their music. Dodds shines on the Blues style of playing and, with a lovely piano rhythm, this number makes one want to join ‘Ma and Pa’ on the dance floor doing the Kings Jazz Review, Scat-Tapping jive.
Louis takes a back seat on instrumentation, sticking mainly to vocals, yet through his special phrasing he obviously had a great deal of influence on the new swing movement of the tune, much of that stemming from the fact that he had accompanied many of the great variety of Blues singers of the day prior to making his unique Hot Five series.
Lonesome Blues is perhaps one of the finest of early Blues recordings ever made. A lilting, clear and well-articulated movement on piano gives this number an air of aplomb and dignity. Johnny Dodds takes over in one of the most beautiful Blues clarinet solos I’ve ever heard, making it a must for all lovers of the Blues clarinet to listen to. Then comes a taste of the Armstrong vocals, sung in a noticeable stage of development, setting out parameters and laying the groundwork which made Louis become in later years a masterly jazz singer of character, with a style and manner whom many were attempting to copy and still try to emulate to this very day.
Aye e mama, I’m so sad and lonely, just for you only, I’m blue, Ohhhh mama, won’t you write me-e, that will enlighten me, to go through with this miser-ee...I don’t know – what to do. With real tearjerker words, yes, but singing and the music does not in anyway leave the nation or its people listening to it in a crying state of depression. The Blues ‘is’ jazz and jazz is a music created to get the limbs moving and free one from the blues; whatever other and higher achievements jazz also has to its credit, and it has many, (New Orleans/Dixieland/Traditional) jazz is a music that makes one feel happy and want to get up and dance. Even with an apple a day, come to the Arnhem Gallery and listen to hear jazz play. It is a Johnny Dodds number.
Sweet Little Papa is a well-rehearsed number, and every New Orleans jazzman should if they have not already done so, get hold of “Cornet Chop Suey” (See No 3 issue above) the forerunner to “Sweet Little Papa”, and listen to them in concert. We can learn a little on how Louis’ progression materialised by introducing pre-determined phrases, superbly intertwined to produce a melodic structure of ‘perfect’ timing, exciting behind the beat and before the featuring jazzman’s end of phrasing in take-up of the solo for the next musician in line. Any jazz band that can effectively master that technique will, notwithstanding the jivers and tappers, have its listeners, if sitting, wear out the seats of their knickers and pants as they involuntarily bounce, rock and roll in tune to the music, as the leader increases the rhythm to such a pitch that his band ends in a climax, causing the kind of listeners applause commensurate with something commonly referred to as bringing the house down in ecstasy.
Courtaulds (cloth and garment makers) will not be rubbing their hands together with the prospects of a share price increase, for with Ken Colyer no longer with us; there are few jazz bands around today able to play that way.
All told there are about a score, and a baker's dozen of these Hot Five recordings, so that it will take several more issues to complete the series. Next quarterly will cover the four made in 1926 on the 16th of November.
Nearly all the big names in jazz in the mid 20s were centred in or around the “Windy City”. Jelly Roll Morton the self-styled creator of stomps and rags, always willing to teach and encourage new talent; King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators consisting of Kid Ory, Albert Nicholas and Darnell Howard, held a spot at the Club Plantation, and at Dreamland there was Doc Cook’s Orchestra with Freddie Keppard, George Mitchell, Jimmie Noone and John A St-Cyr.
The Dodds brothers and Natty Dominique in trio played the West Club and finally, at Sunset Cafe, the greatest attraction of all was Louis Armstrong fronting the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra. Louis started at the Sunset in 1926 and stayed there for 18 months when jazz then moved to New York. Whilst at the Sunset only one known recording was ever made, which was Chicago Breakdown, and that was cut between two “Hot Seven” sessions in 1927 during the month of May.
By now, towards the end of the Hot Five series, Louis in some respects learned from Oliver and was beginning to show us just how jazz could retain its spontaneity and emotional power even when played with a large measure of control, for he was playing with a nonchalant innocence that he was about to lose, for the group was soon to enlarge by taking on the drums and tuba, a change which I was to cover in future issues.
It becomes noticeable from the following four recordings, cut on the 16th of November 1926, with variations in playing on each one of them, whereas, the previous numbers nearly all had phrasing very much alike, with slight differences throughout, never ever since to have been quite matched, and that is what makes them unique and charming as the major block of the Hot Five series.
The four records as mentioned are: -Jazz Lips; Skid – Dat –De – Dat; Big Butter And Egg Man From The West and Sunset Cafe Stomp. The latter two records have May Alix on vocals. Jazz Lips is perhaps the start of the new phase for Armstrong. Tension is created by a call and response routine between the cornetist and the trombonist on opening, following through all artistes, stilted, yet creating some beautifully timed musically facetious harmony. The sheer power and drive of Louis’ playing provides a new dimension for young jazzmen to get excited about, and Jazz Lips becomes the touchstone for others to experiment upon.
Louis was playing superbly during his recording sessions on this day, for on Skid – Dat - De - Dat, by way of some fast thinking, he was able to turn this beautiful Blues number into a polished performance by the Hot Five. Dodds was in his element having all but succeeded in turning Jazz Lips into a Blues, won the day on this tune with some fine low register improvisations, aided by trombone, piano (Lil) and banjo, during which time Louis was occupied on scat vocals – Da, de do da do, dey de da dey, de da del la. Not so easy. Big Butter And Egg Man, a descriptive term for the weekly farmer, possibly from Iowa and Missouri who came to Chicago to do business and spend his leisure time in night clubs, a tune popular among traditional bands of today, composed by Lucius Venable (Lucky Millinder). A much faster tempo with a beautiful ensemble opening, commanded by some lovely accentuated piano, following on with joyous vocals by May Alix as if the ladies (Lil Armstrong - include) together firmly aimed at putting their stamp on the number. Clearly, Louis was revelling in the attention paid to him by those two fine artistes, yet holding his own well in response to the leg pulling coming from the chanteuse as he refers to himself in song as becoming her big butter and egg man from away down South, other than from the West, as the lyrics go. Indeed, he’ll even play a solo in G Minor, or even hit a High C for her. We are now beginning to get the picture as to why Louis’ performance on this number in particular, was truly outstanding and perfect. If only our society in the late 60s and early 70s had listened more to those Hot Five recordings, it would have learned much that is good from them, and perhaps would have saved face and been less susceptible to being duped into a confused, neutered state of confusing play acting, for it was nature’s true difference and complexities that inspired Armstrong to produce his masterpiece of trumpet playing on this number, for without the Lil and May ladies, playing their natural uninhibited womanly roles, it would have undoubtedly turned out to be a mere orchestrated chorus of precision, instead, what we have on Big Butter And Egg Man is the work of a natural musical genius – inspired by woman.
There is everything that is pure in those words, but what is all the more wonderful, is that the simple format of them formed the basis of one of Armstrong’s best solos on this series. His rhythmic composition of melody made up of triplets, eights and sixteenths, with over and under-lapping measures in strict two four time, and his curtailing notes far removed from his earlier New Orleans style, are played without stumbling the imagination of the listener, whose ear denotes all the marvels and intricacies about them, yet, deceptively creating an unique swing movement. How did he do it? Passionate feeling for his music, coupled with emotion aroused by his ladies! Johnny Dodds was overshadowed.
Sunset Cafe Stomp is a number based on Joe Glaser’s nigh spot of the same name where musicians among the clientele come to study Armstrong. Although the main attraction of the club was the floorshow and chorus line, Louis was regarded as an entertainer, even whilst he was a sideman in the orchestra. This recording opens with a five bar honky-tonk piano intro, moving into a screaming Dodds clarinet setting down nicely into a lovely bluesy piece, only to be rounded off by the cabaret shout song, sung by May Alix (Liza Mae) who was the singer with Sunset Orchestra (Dickerson’s). Johnny Dodds takes this number, and that makes two each.
To avoid the impression that a battle for supremacy was raging between Armstrong and Dodds, created by myself on these four recordings, indeed, throughout the series, I ought to mention that Dodds was leading the Freddie Keppard house band at Kelly’s Stables, and that all five musicians were key players in their own field who had come together, not for their own enjoyment, but because they new exactly the importance of setting a high standard on their recordings. After all, they were the best musicians around at the time. Although Armstrong was much later to gain in stature over Dodds, a point on which I hope to expand upon at a later date, there were still a full year’s enjoyable recordings ahead of them, taking in the Hot Seven series.
The Charleston was a dance of the 20s, which appeared in the 1922 musical “Liza” later becoming a popular dance song used in other dances, notably the “Black Bottom” a dance which came out of the Eubie Blake/Noble Sissle “Shuffle Along” introducing dancing to jazz music.
In our next issue, I will cover the two numbers recorded on the 27th of November 1926, which concludes the first group in the Hot Five series giving a total of 24 in all. Interestingly the “New Grove” mentions a figure of 26 but does not list them, so I will do just that and make a point of sorting out the variance. I will also cover two of the nine sleeves out between September and December 1927 in which I am in agreement with this figure.
As mentioned in the last edition, I said that I would list the 24 tunes so covered in this series and so here they are:
My Heart; Yes, I’m In The Barrel; Gut Bucket Blues; Come Back Sweet Papa; Georgia Grind; Heebie Jeebies; Cornet Chop Suey; Oriental Strut; You’re Next; Muskrat Ramble; Don’t Forget To Mess Around; I’m Gonna Gitcha; Droppin’ Shucks; Who’s It; King Of The Zulus; Big Fat Ma And Skinny Pa; Lonesome Blues; Sweet Little Papa; Jazz Lips; Skid Dat De Dat; Big butter And Egg Man From The West; Sunset Cafe Stomp.
On the 27th of November 1926, the Hot Five recorded You Made Me Love You and Irish Black Bottom, making it a total of 24 tunes in the premier group.
In approaching those last two numbers it becomes clear that we are entering into the beginning of what was perhaps one of the most important periods of jazz history. At the tail end of the nineteenth century more than just the knowledge to write a score was needed by the Downtown New Orleans Creole jazz musician if he was to make a living from playing jazz music.
The powerful feeling for the Blues and the head arrangements adopted by the Uptown blacks were beginning to take precedence, a tenet that was to hold good a quarter of a century later when one Louis Armstrong was to make a profound change in concept and style to the Fletcher Henderson band when he joined it at Roseland, an event which was to turn the tables on the New York jazz scene.
Yet, understandably so it was from such leads as Henderson’s with arrangers that Louis was able to make his living in those days, just as it is today for musicians playing the works of the great classical composers of the past. The Hot Five series recordings were noted for the pleasure they brought to the jazzmen taking part.
Today, (late 80s, early 90s) Britain is seeing a revival in Armstrong’s early jazz music. Not a great deal has been written about the potent power of jazz being able to sustain the onslaught of the commercial trappings that were being gained by dropping it in favour of embracing the rag-doll (RD) syndrome towards the pop artist, when jazz was at its height in this country in the 50s and 60s. KJR hopefully tempers the taste buds.
Jazz, if it is not to fall victim again during this current ‘throwaway RD sleepy time’ truce or vacuum mud, as it enters into the last decade of this 20th century, it should prepare itself now for a jazz work of art, based on Louis’ Hot Five series. It is hoped that KJR will still be around when jazz celebrates the century of the birth of its greatest artist, appropriately with an overture entitled “Armstrong’ two dozen Hot Five overture, for in doing so, non-metronome jazz will be given a new lease of emolument life, providing it adheres to the basic Armstrong principles. (I've made it - 2007)
It is not necessarily true to say that the greatest achievements in any art form come about because of the love for it, and that abject poverty is thought synonymous with inventiveness regardless of whether such talent can make a sound living at what they are trying to create. In other words, the small jazz group, if it gets recognition from the establishment will not feel any less passionate for the love of their music. It has, therefore, for far too long now gone unnoticed by those to whom it should be of concern, that it is the warm instrument that makes the sweetest note. That brings me on to Louis’ number, You Made Me Love You. Johnny Dodds was at his bluesy best on this number, but was no match for Louis’ power and creativeness. Armstrong’s ability to read had by this time much improved, which came about during the time he spent with the Henderson band, and this was very much in evidence. The tune is not the popular one of later years, and apart from the title and the sad and glad line, the similarity ends.
This tune was perhaps the turning point in Louis’ career. On piano the recording was Lil’s finest so far, a superb performance, and it was little wonder that the title of the tune was used at a later stage, although one wonders how this was allowed to come about.
Irish Black Bottom opens with a passage sounding something like Easter Bonnet moving on to a smooth, effortless composition quite indistinguishable from any of Louis’ previous ones in the series, showing just how much of a grand master he had become – not only as a master of his horn, but also as a bandleader and entertainer, or solo artist, as he became later.
It is apparent that this recording was meant as a ‘fun’ record, cut every bit for commercial purposes. Armstrong was perhaps now feeling that this would be his last get together in the studio with this small group, and thus set about stretching his talents to the utmost in creating both an hilarious hotchpotch ballad coupled with some very fine inventive playing.
Dodds and Ory were in ‘dreamland’ both wrong-footed, Perdu, or more regal; an uncustomary lapse had overtaken them, although the former regained control showing some of his true talents as if to remind Armstrong that he was with his old New Orleans friends, or had he forgotten it? Louis was undeterred and rattled on into song by telling us that all over Ireland the people were dancing to a new reel, “Black Bottom” the new rhythm dance, being the biggest change that he had ever seen whilst wearing of the green.
A truly uninhibited entertainment masterpiece, of jazz acumen supreme by the “Worlds Greatest Trumpeter”.
To conclude on this group of 24, I’ll return to the previous number mentioned that for the first time Louis fitted in a two-bar string of High C’s, which on occasions he would adopt later on in his career. It took some time for the listener (me) to reflect on what he had just heard. It is therefore no blarney that the jazz fan digs You Made Me Love You”, Louis Armstrong. The classical musician simply cannot do the things a jazz musician can with his instrument.
At this point, I call upon a Jelly Roll Morton quote there is nothing finer than jazz music, because it comes from the finest class of music.
(Was he in fact referring to the European Schottisches and Quadrilles’ movements)?
KJR Vol 3 No 3 (Apr/Jun ’91)
Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five – 1927
I am now able to return to the Louis Armstrong series, having had to miss out on reviews in the last three issues of KJR due to an increase of live jazz material in our area growing over the period.
The “first group” of the Hot Five recordings was completed in Vol 2 No 3 and this amounted to 24 tunes in total. I promised to try and sort out the variance, which exists between those 24 and the figure of 26 referred to in the New Grove dictionary. Brian Rust, in his 1897 to 1942 Jazz Records volumes, published by Storyville, throws some light on the matter. He includes one tune entitled “Leave Mine Alone” which was rejected, making 25 in his list, thus leaving only one tune still unaccounted for in the New Grove dictionary.
Another interesting point that comes to light in his Jazz Records is that on You Made Me Love You and Irish Black Bottom Henry Clark allegedly replaces Kid Ory on trombone. In my KJR review, no mention was made about Ory in the former tune, but in the latter, it read as follows: “Dodds and Ory were in ‘dreamland’ both wrong footed, Perdu or more regal, an unaccustomed lapse had overtaken them, although the former retained control showing some of his true talents, as if to remind Armstrong that he was with his old New Orleans friends, or had he forgotten it? Could it have been that Kid Ory went to the studios that day only to record You Made Me Love You and for some reason Henry Clark had to take his place on Irish Black Bottom causing a minor upset which Louis Armstrong immediately handles in his usual skilful way?
There are eleven Hot Seven tracks plus Chicago Breakdown, recorded in Chicago on the 9th of May 1927 by his “Stompers” in the “second group” which I’ll be looking at on completion of the Hot Five band series. New Grove gives no figure for this group, which was recorded between the 7th to the 14th May 1927 but agrees with the Jazz Records lists.
In the “fourth group” of his Hot Five ‘plus’ recordings, I’ll cover in future issues, but for now I’ll start upon the “third group”, which returns to the Hot Five band that recorded 9 tunes in Chicago during 1927 between the 2nd of September and the 13th of December. There is no disagreement on this figure, which reads as follows:
Put ‘Em Down Blues; Ory’s Creole Trombone; Last Time; Struttin’ With Some Barbeque; Got No Blues; Once In A While, I’m Not Rough; Hotter Than That and Savoy Blues in 1927 on:
the 2nd, 2nd, 6th, of September, the 9th, 9th, 10th, 10th, 13th, 13th of December respectively.
We have heard how Armstrong learned the value of discretion in the Oliver Band, and of ensemble playing rather than in creating a group of individual soloists, the finer points of rhythmic phrasing and in establishing a positive lead melody. Then, when he was with Fletcher Henderson during 1924/25, how he transformed the popular tune arrangements of the day into swinging jazz numbers whenever he was given the chance to solo on them.
We have learned how he varied his playing to the moods of accompanying Blues singers; how he exchanged views with the top New York jazzmen, and how they admired his feeling for the Blues in his playing when they first met each other. Then how when he left Henderson and returned to Chicago, where his wife, Lil Hardin, had a job lined up for him at Dreamland and that Okeh Records offered him a recording contract and within days of the agreement he had started to turn out his Hot Five series.
By way of those November 1925 to December 1927 recordings, we get a good idea or measure of Louis Armstrong’s musical development and to appreciate just how much he had moved on to becoming a soloist in the series, one only need listen for comparison to any of the George Mitchell New Orleans Wanderers numbers that were cut in July 1926 alongside the Hot Five records.
To turn now to Put ‘Em Down Blues the first tune of the nine in the “third group”. It was when the Sunset job had ended that Louis Armstrong turned to, or more likely was asked, to cut this new Hot Five series. Judging by results, it was all to his credit that he set about these recordings with willingness akin to his nature of always wanting to achieve his best no matter in what circumstances he found himself in. However, on these 9 tunes there is one big difference, and that is he played trumpet on them throughout, and did not resort to the cornet as he had done so on the earlier Hot Five tunes already covered in this series, a point which “Jazz Records” overlooks.
There is a lovely trombone opening with clarinet, and, banjo by John A St-Cyr follows through accordingly, then Louis takes command with a brilliant effortless, performance, showing the sentimental side of this very fine trumpeter’s nature. Let Him Put You Down, I’ll pick you up for myself referring to either May Alix or Lillie Delk Christian.
Kid Ory gets a chance to shine, while Johnny Dodds gets cut out early but is rewarded later with a break just prior to vocals, showing just how fine a clarinettist he really was. I’ve been looking for a girl like you for so long; A girl as nice and gentle with a lovely sweet song.
There are signs of the beginning of the end of this group as Armstrong moves along in ‘swing’ four-four, over Lil’s two-four piano, and no doubt Louis would have liked this number to have been, or at least have ended as such. This was not to be, and Armstrong probably felt that his clarinettist’s incursion towards the end of the track was best left out. I expect so too did Dodds in listening to it afterwards.
I for you, you for me, that’s the only way two loving hearts should be; So just be glad when he puts you down, I’ll pick you up for myself an ideal number for any budding trumpeter to learn note for note.
Ory’s Creole Trombone has been taken up by many a trombonist and to a large extent Armstrong declines to overshadow Ory on this tune although it is noticeable that the tune becomes lively at his making, and he rounds the number off with some daring experimentations.
The other seven tunes of the nine in this “third group” will be covered in the next issue.
Out of the blue, I suddenly stumbled upon the answer to the vexing question of the two extra recordings in the “first group” of 24 Hot Five tunes, noted as 26 in a publication elsewhere (New Grove).
It happened the day after the evening we had all met at Fairfield to discuss the setting up of a Surrey and Kent Jazz Federation. It was a hot, gloriously sunny day and we were returning from a visit to Tunbridge Wells in Kent, and had just happened to stop by at a beautiful hamlet – Westerham – on the way back home.
As if by a miracle, there staring us in the face was what I’d been looking for although I did not know it at the time, it occurred literally seconds after we had parked the car in a spot just a few feet away from the sidewalk cafe bar, where we were to take refreshments.
On the 28th of May 1926, Lill’s (sic) Hot Shots, the same group of jazz artists as the Hot Five above made two cuts to Vocalion, part of the Brunswick label; Georgia Bo Bo and Drop That Sack, and those records came to the attention of the Okeh representatives. The story goes that someone from Okeh called Louis Armstrong into their office, played the records and asked who he thought was the singer on them. Louis replied, “I don’t know, but I sure won’t do it again”.
On April the 24th 1991, the Tunbridge Wells Jazz Club featured George Webb and his Dixielanders with American Blues singer, Marilyn Middleton Pollock at the town’s Corn Exchange in the Pantiles, and as a point of interest it was Lil’s Drop That Sack that George, as it were, cut his jazz teeth on this “Hot Shots” record to give Britain its first taste of “trad” in the early 40s that has endured well to this day*, sustained by a healthy devolved minority following of the British jazz public.
Resolved, I now return to the Hot Five series. In Vol 3 No 3 where I covered briefly two of the nine tunes in the “third group” Put ‘Em Down Blues and Ory’s Creole Trombone – Put ‘Em D...” as can be gleaned from the lyrics in the last (previous) quarterly, is not a Blues, but ‘jazz Louis Armstrong’ from a popular song of the Day. Ory’s Creole Trombone is of course a classic New Orleans number, which he (Kid) recorded earlier in 1922 with his own band, the Sunshine Orchestra (read article on latest discoveries about this recording in the magazine “New Orleans Music 1991 Vol 2 No 4 – April".
The other seven tunes in the “third group” are as follows: The Last Time; Struttin’ With Some Barbecue; Got No Blues; Once In A While; I’m Not Rough; Hotter Than That and, Savoy Blues.
“Jazz at the time of Armstrong was a captive of show business, not free to go it own way,” states James Lincoln Collier. It was his book “Louis Armstrong – A Biography”, in paperback form that the mystery, or should I say the vexing question, stated in paragraph one above was solved. The book which was acquired for a peppercorn sum at the stop-over spot on that day mentioned, was the means whereupon reading at the heart of it - my mind was put to rest and the records put to right.
The Last Time, Honey babe, mean it’s the very last time – I mean – it’s the very last time, jumps ahead of its time as a precursor to the ‘swing’ bands, which came much later. Johnny Dodds opens the number with Louis leading in on a high note. There is mellow singing by Louis, fine solos by Dodds and Ory, with some beautiful interplay and nice harmonics by Ory, making this number a firm entry to the jazz classics. I’ve told you many times before; it’s the very last time, but never ever, will there ever be a last rime to play The Last Time.
Struttin With Some Barbecue was recorded on the same day as Got No Blues the 9th of December 1927, both tunes having been written by Lil. It would appear that the former was a quick tempo warm up for the latter. The former has a lovely low register, infectious, Johnny Dodds clarinet chorus followed by a warm Ory trombone leading into a heavy off beat piano rhythm which Armstrong, with inventive, crisscrossing, alternating, overlapping bars without losing the basic three note melody,ending up on a neatly worked out ingenious head arrangement. It is little wonder that Struttin’ With... has now become popular with many ‘trad’ jazz musicians of today*.
Got No Blues has a nice banjo intro taken up by a smooth gliding ‘Very Special Old Phonographic Lil/Kid Time’ movement, which is based on the three note – two quarters and a half note G above the stave – over which the melody intertwines. Louis moves this soaring past from a nice St-Cyr banjo solo, relying for timing on Lil’s austere, firm left hand one chord piano beat as he explores new realms of his horn, and in turn reins himself in from sailing daringly over the precipice of an ‘aglobal’ world, “not spherical”, as if was then believed to be by the many at the time. Dodds does not quite succeed in turning it into a Blues, (it isn’t), and there is a wonderful moment when Ory flows in without any stop-time from his solo, blending beautifully in harmony with Armstrong as he, Louis, brings this jazz masterpiece to a close.
For Once In A While a repository perhaps of the instrumentation facing the recording bell of antiquity from the previous day’s sessions could have taken place, lending currency to the improved piano tone, or who knows, maybe it was because of the presence of guitarist Lonnie Johnson, who was to appear on the next record, I’m Not Rough that same day in 1927 on the 10th of December.
Whatever the reason, with Louis playing much within the middle register Once In A While turns out to be a fine New Orleans jazz number. Here we get the feeling of consolidation of all that has gone into the previous strictly Hot Five sessions, leaving us to marvel at the wealth of jazz that has been created by them.
Leaving aside the “second group” i.e. the Hot Seven tunes cut for Tommy Rockwell of Okeh, this the “third group” and in particular the next three Hot Five tunes in it, which include guitarist Lonnie Johnson, mark new horizons in Armstrong’s mood and improvisations, heralding the start of a remarkable jazz epoch.
Lil opens on piano on I’m Not Rough and the guitarist immediately brings a new tension into the group but they soon settle down to turn tables on the listener who discovers that the tune is a brash Blues, relished by Dodds. It is faster than a normal Blues as is made apparent by a double time four-bar movement brought in towards the end. Louis takes no solos on this number, but makes up for it by articulating the lyrics, I ain’t rough, and I don’t fight, but the woman that gets me got to treat me right; ‘Cause I’m crazy ‘bout my loving, and I must have it all the time. There is a lovely eleven bar guitar solo with banjo backing, which Johnson and St-Cyr most likely had worked out at together previously making this tune overall a Lonnie Johnson country Blues number.
Hotter Than That cut on the 13th of December 1927 has an exciting introductory ensemble part and the whole tune can be classified as a quite outstanding piece of work. It would seem as though Louis used the two free days following the previous recording session to mastermind a truly jazz classic, for this number is all his doing, although the writing of it is accredited to Lil. Clearly the inclusion of the guitarist, Lonnie Johnson had much to do with it, in as much as that Louis was perhaps determined not to allow the new comer to the group outshine him. Both Dodds and Ory rose to the occasion and produced some very fine playing. But what is most remarkable is that directly after a superb 32 bar clarinet solo, Louis’ scat vocals produce some exquisite acute jazz phrasing that few, if any, instrumentalists would have been able to accomplished so masterfully. Then within nanoseconds, there is a switch to a duel with the guitarist, when Louis articulates various notations over Lonnie’s seemingly standard phrasings, that is, until the Armstrong vocals are creatively complementing in identity the sounds produced by this fine guitarist. A piano break to allow Ory to show his skills, then Louis explores new pastures, yet; somehow it all fits in beautifully with the theme gone before it, constituting a complete movement that defies the logic of swing. He had set parameters for various versions of existing and new jazz tunes for him and others to play and record in later years. Louis allows Lonnie to end the recording on a reverent Amen break. It is an outstanding performance of perfection, created by a conductor leading but five musicians with an off the cuff composition that matches the works of the classical Grand Masters composers that have passed before him.
George Webb in an interview, (with me at one of his jazz festivals in Kent, England) referred to Louis Armstrong as a genius, and, I doubt if there is anyone to argue with that after listening to “Hotter Than That”.
Written by Kid Ory, Savoy Blues is the last in the group, which on the face of it, is a catchy riff tune for trombone made fuller by guitar fill-in. Underlying this, one detects a change of mood in Louis’ playing, which portrays a touch of real tenderness, serenity and calmness about it.
It was a monumental period of jazz recording in cylindrical format that is listened to today* around the world by an ever growing international circle of jazz followers.
I hope in time to cover online separately the:
Louis Armstrong - Hot Four, Hot Seven and his Stompers series.
(*Written - Late 20th century – transferred online in Inverness, Scotland by KJR in 2007 during January - the 21st century)
Kings Jazz Review
Tuesday the 30th of January 2007