Monday, November 2, 2009

The Most Important Figure In Jazz

Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong
(trumpet, b. 1901 - d.1971)

There is no denying that Louis Armstrong is the most important figure in jazz. New Orleans best loved son worked with King Oliver and Flecther Henderson before branching off on his own as leader in 1925 with his highly influential group The Hot Fives & Hot Sevens. The Hot Fives & Hot Sevens are essential cornerstones for jazz listeners. Consider it the "Noah's Ark" of jazz. This group created various styles within just a few short years. And it wasn't all about Louis. Two of his bandmates (Baby Dodds (drums) and Kid Ory (trombone)) in particular help shape what would later be termed "improvising". Also in the band was the electrifying Earl "Fatha" Hines on piano. Hines would carve his own place in history just a few years later.

While it may be difficult to hear how influential this band really was to listeners who have been used to hearing the CD or digital sound quality. The Hot Fives & Hot Sevens recordings were done in the 20s and they still sound like that today (with the tape hiss cleaned up nicely). But if you can step back in time for a few moments you can hear how incredible this recordings were for the time period. Louis Armstrong would go on to record countless more albums with his orchestra (see a brief essential listens below).

His popularity after the war waned slightly but his vocal ability and his charismatic appeal keep Louis and his orchestra on the touring circuit and in the studio for years to come. His legendary recordings with Ella Fitzgerald are also a great touch point for anyone interested in jazz and the vocal talents of the great Mrs. Ella. Armstrong would also score a number of chart hits with the classics "What A Wonderful World" and "When You're Smiling" to a name a few.

Louis Armstrong became the benchmark that other trumpet players and band leaders would be measured against (excluding Duke Ellington) as the years went on. In a career that consisted of hundreds of recordings you can imagine that there are a few records that are not up to par but those are heavily outweighed by the ones that are. For anyone interested in the two great periods of Louis Armstrong I would suggest The Essential Louis Armstrong (Columbia/Legacy) and Back Through The Years: A Centennial Celebration (MCA/Decca). Both are two disc collections with The Essential covering his Hot Five & Hot Sevens as well as many great pre-war influential recordings; Back Through The Years brings the listener up to date with the material that you may be more familiar with including vocal recordings and collaborations with Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan.

If you only bought these two collections you would have everything you really need. For those who would love to dig deeper try this on for size.

Plays W.C. Handy (Columbia)
The Complete Ella & Louis On Verve (Verve)
Ambassador Satch (Columbia)
The Complete Town Hall & Symphony Hall Concerts (Fresh Sounds)

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