August 4, 2017

Louis Armstrong ~ Trumpeter & scat singer extraordinaire

~ 
Today is the birthday of Louis Armstrong who was born August 4, 1901, 116 years ago. He was an American trumpeter, composer, singer and actor who was an influential figure in jazz. His career spanned five decades, from the 1920s to the 1960s, and different eras in jazz. He came to prominence in the 1920s as an "inventive" trumpet and cornet player. He was an influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance.


     
   
Louis Armstrong    
photographer unknown
     
Armstrong was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was the grandson of slaves. He was born into a poor family in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was the grandson of slaves. He spent his youth in poverty, in a rough neighborhood known as the Battlefield, which was part of the Storyville legal prostitution district. The district was immortalized by the photographer, E. J. Bellocq, in the early 1900's.

He attended the Fisk School for Boys, where he most likely had early exposure to music. He brought in some money by selling newspapers, delivering coal, singing on the streets at night, and also by finding discarded food and selling it to restaurants, but it was not enough to keep his mother from prostitution. He hung out in dance halls close to home, where he observed everything from licentious dancing to the quadrille. For extra money he also hauled coal to Storyville, and listened to the bands playing in the brothels and dance halls, especially Pete Lala's, where Joe "King" Oliver performed as well as other famous musicians who would drop in to jam.    

After dropping out of the Fisk School at age eleven, Armstrong joined a quartet of boys who sang in the streets for money. He also started to get into trouble. Cornet player Bunk Johnson said he taught Armstrong (then 11) to play by ear at Dago Tony's Tonk in New Orleans, although in his later years Armstrong gave the credit to Oliver. Armstrong hardly looked back at his youth as the worst of times but drew inspiration from it instead: "Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine—I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans... It has given me something to live for.

Louis Armstrong ca 1900's
photographer unknown

In Louisiana on New Year’s Eve, 1912, Armstrong fired a pistol (loaded with blanks) in the air in celebration. A nearby policeman arrested him for the offense and took him to juvenile court. The following day, eleven year old Louis was sentenced to the Colored Waifs Home for Boys, a New Orleans reform school. The year and a half sentence would have an incredible impact on his life (link below). He developed his cornet playing skills by playing in the band of the Home.   
 

Louis Armstrong, front row center 
1931 visit to the New Orleans boys' home 
formerly known as the 'Colored Waifs Home' 


In 1919, Joe Oliver decided to go north and resigned his position in the Kid Ory band; Armstrong replaced him. He also became second trumpet for the Tuxedo Brass Band.        

Armstrong had considerable success with vocal recordings, including versions of famous songs composed by his friend Hoagy Carmichael. His 1930s recordings took full advantage of the new RCA ribbon microphone, introduced in 1931, which imparted a characteristic warmth to vocals and immediately became an intrinsic part of the 'crooning' sound of artists like Bing Crosby. His interpretation of the Hoagy Carmichael song, Stardust, became one of the most successful versions of this song ever recorded, showcasing Armstrong's unique vocal sound and style and his innovative approach to singing songs that had already become standards (link below).    

Armstrong's radical re-working of Sidney Arodin and Carmichael's Lazy River (recorded in 1931) encapsulated many features of his groundbreaking approach to melody and phrasing. The song begins with a brief trumpet solo, then the main melody is introduced by sobbing horns, memorably punctuated by Armstrong's growling interjections at the end of each bar: "Yeah! ..."Uh-huh" ..."Sure" ... "Way down, way down." In the first verse, he ignores the notated melody entirely and sings as if playing a trumpet solo, pitching most of the first line on a single note and using strongly syncopated phrasing. In the second stanza he breaks into an almost fully improvised melody, which then evolves into a classic passage of Armstrong "scat singing" (link below).    

Armstrong moved to Los Angeles in 1930 to seek new opportunities. He played at the New Cotton Club in Los Angeles with Lionel Hampton on drums.   
 

Louis Armstrong - February 27, 1932 
photographer unknown


In 1931, Armstrong appeared in his first movie, Ex-Flame and was also convicted of marijuana possession but received a suspended sentence. He returned to Chicago in late 1931 and played in bands more in the Guy Lombardo vein and he recorded more standards. When the mob insisted that he get out of town, Armstrong visited New Orleans but soon he was on the road again and after a tour across the country shadowed by the mob, Armstrong decided to go to Europe to escape.   


Louis Armstrong publicity portrait 
Chicago - 1932
to promote Armstrong's first European tour







Louis Armstrong, Europe - 1932
photo by Anton Bruehl

After spending many years on the road, Armstrong settled permanently in Queens, New York in 1943 in contentment with his fourth wife, Lucille. Although subject to the vicissitudes of Tin Pan Alley and the gangster-ridden music business, as well as anti-black prejudice, he continued to develop his playing.      

Following a highly successful small-group jazz concert at New York Town Hall on May 17, 1947, featuring Armstrong with trombonist/singer Jack Teagarden, Armstrong's manager, Joe Glaser dissolved the Armstrong big band on August 13, 1947, and established a six-piece traditional jazz group featuring Armstrong with (initially) Teagarden, Earl Hines and other top swing and Dixieland musicians, most of whom were previously leaders of big bands.      


Helsinki, Finland - October 1949


On June 26, 1950, Armstrong recorded the first American version of C'est si bon (Henri Betti, André Hornez, Jerry Seelen) and La Vie en rose (Louiguy, Édith Piaf, Mack David). When it was released, the disc garnered worldwide sales.    



Louis Armstrong - 1953
photo by Herman Hiller 
          

In 1964, after over two years without setting foot in a studio, he recorded his biggest-selling record, Hello, Dolly!, a song by Jerry Herman, originally sung by Carol Channing. Armstrong's version remained on the Hot 100 for 22 weeks, longer than any other record produced that year, and went to No. 1 making him, at 62 years, 9 months and 5 days, the oldest person ever to accomplish that feat. In the process, he dislodged the Beatles from the No. 1 position they had occupied for 14 consecutive weeks with three different songs.   

Of course, I can't ignore one of his other great hits, Mack the Knife by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for the music drama Die Dreigroschenoper, or, as it is known in English, The Threepenny Opera. There is a link to the song from the Hollywood Palace filmed on the 1st of May, 1965 (link below).   




Producers Showcase - 1956


Against his doctor's advice, Armstrong played a two-week engagement in March 1971 at the Waldorf-Astoria's Empire Room. At the end of it he was hospitalized for a heart attack. He was released from the hospital in May, and quickly resumed practicing his trumpet playing. Still hoping to get back on the road, Armstrong died of a heart attack in his sleep on July 6, 1971, a month before his 70th birthday. He was residing in Corona, Queens, New York City, at the time of his death. He was interred in Flushing Cemetery, Flushing, in Queens, New York City. His honorary pallbearers included Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Earl Wilson, Alan King, Johnny Carson and David Frost. Peggy Lee sang The Lord's Prayer at the services, Al Hibbler sang Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen and Fred Robbins, a long-time friend, gave the eulogy.         


       
           
           
        
Viewfinder links:            
       
Chrisma ~ Chinese Restaurant      
The Ray Charles Singers        
Al Jarreau ~ Breakin' Away & scat
Verve Records ~ the inner sleeve & Norman Granz     
Carl Van Vechten & the Harlem Renaissance   
William P. Gottlieb ~ Jazz photographer       
        
Net links:            
       
spclarke.com ~ Louis Armstrong ~ An American Original     
E. J. Bellocq ~ The Storyville photographs         
Jazziz ~ Colored Waifs Home for Boys  
       
        
       
YouTube links:            
       
Louis Armstrong:       
          Stardust (1931)
          Lazy River (1931)      
          C'est si bon (1950)   
          Hello, Dolly (1964)    
          Hello, Dolly (live in Berlin 1965)                     
               Mack the Knife     
         
      
Styrous® ~ Tuesday, August 4, 2017        









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