Listening to Louis Armstrong

I heard some Louis Armstrong in the car yesterday, on one of the few radio stations that still plays him, WKCR-Fm. If you don’t know Armstong’s music, or just know his vocal recording of “What A Wonderful World,” have a listen to this. (He sings and plays the brilliant trumpet solo.) Incidentally, WKCR is a real gem and I prefer it to streaming services because I learn so much from hearing some of the DJs speak.

The music got me thinking about Armstrong and his music. Here are a few quick thoughts, some of which I’ll expand upon in future posts:

1. Jazz has changed, but it hasn’t gotten “better.” (It was perfect and fully-developed way back in the 1920s, if not earlier.)

2. Armstrong plays with a joy that’s been rarely equalled in any kind of music.

3. Armstrong expanded the upper range of the trumpet. Think about this for a moment. A kid who was born poorer than poor, without conservatory training, could play higher notes than the brass players in the New York Philharmonic. They had to catch up to him!

4. His trumpet playing sounded the same as his singing.

5. He grew up singing in an a cappella quartet on street corners.(And we think the “a cappella” movement is new!)

6. He was such a good scat singer that when his first wife, Lil, heard him coming home singing one day, she told him that if he learned to play trumpet as good as he sang, he’d become famous.

7. Armstrong was the first “crossover” artist. In the 1920s, record companies marketed some artists to white audiences and some to black audiences. The music was different and the marketing was entirely separate. When they unexpectedly noticed that whites were listening to Armstrong, they gave him a different repertoire to record and packaged his records differently. It was a tradeoff: he became world-famous, but never recorded anything as creatively diverse as his Hot Fives and Hot Sevens ever again. (Sigh!)

Hats off to a great, great musician!!!

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