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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences

 

 

 

Original Hot Five Recordings of Louis Armstrong , includes audio CD by Gene Henry Anderson and Michael J. Budds (CMS Sourcebooks in American Music: Pendragon Press) Between 1925 and 1928 the Hot Five the incomparable Louis Armstrong and four seasoned practitioners of the burgeoning jazz style recorded fifty-five performances in Chicago for the OKeh label. Oddly enough, the quintet immortalized on vinyl with recent technology rarely performed as a unit in local nightspots. And yet, like other music now regarded as especially historic, their work in the studio summarized approaches of the past and set standards for the future.
Remarkable both for popularity among the members of the public and for influence on contemporary musicians, these recordings helped make "Satchmo" a familiar household name and ultimately its bearer an adored public figure. They showcased Armstrong's genius, notably his leadership in transforming the practice of jazz as an ensemble improvisation into jazz as the art of the improvising soloist.
In his study Professor Anderson-for the first time-provides a detailed account of the origins of this pioneering enterprise, relates individual pieces to existing copyright deposits, and contextualizes the music by offering a reliable timeline of Armstrong's professional activities during these years. All fifty-five pieces, moreover, are described in informed commentary.

Contemporary musicians—black and white recognized the genius of Louis Armstrong immediately on the release of his Original Hot Five recordings. By the time of the New Orleans revival in the late 1930s and early 1940s, he and these performances were already well on their way to achieving the iconic status famously articulated by French critic André Hodeir a decade or so later:

On November 12, 1925, in its Chicago studios, the OKeh Company recorded a little five-piece Negro ensemble for the first time. This apparently insignificant event was to have quite a repercussion on the history of jazz...

Just as they are, the Hot Five recordings ... constitute the most impressive, if not the most authentic, evidence of what the New Orleans style was like in its Golden Age. Beneath an apparent equilibrium, there are already signs of the powerful creative urge which, through Louis Armstrong's perfect rhythm and settled individual style, was going to lead to classicism. More than a quarter of a century later, these records ... show clearly that Johnny Dodds and Kid Ory may have been precursors but Louis Armstrong was the first great classical figure of jazz.'

Although one might argue how authentically the Hot Five embodied the New Orleans style, Hodeir's assessment of the quintet's importance has become commonplace since his 1956 pronouncement. Today, the ensemble's position in jazz hagiography long secure, its music has been extolled as probably contributing "more than any other single group of recordings to making jazz famous and a music to be taken seriously."' With time the Hot Five performances established beyond any dispute Armstrong's titanic profile as the "first great soloist," an "American genius," and the "single most creative and innovative force in jazz history."' The impact of his example, of course, extended powerfully beyond the nebulous boundaries of the jazz tradition in the years to follow.

The Nature of This Study

When determining the scope of a Hot Five-related project, perhaps surprisingly, one encounters the problem of what to include. In addition to the fifty-three titles released as Hot Fives or Hot Sevens between 1925 and 1928, Armstrong recorded almost two dozen more with the same or similar personnel under an assortment of names: Lil's Hot Shots, Johnny Dodds's Black Bottom Stompers, Jimmy Bertrand's Washboard Wizards, Carroll Dickerson's Savoyagers, Armstrong's Stompers, Armstrong's Orchestra,' and Armstrong's Savoy Ballroom Five. Some or all have been considered by various compilers to fall under the Hot Five / Seven rubric.' Complicating matters further, the style and personnel of the first Hot Five changed radically with the formation in 1928 of a second or "Chicago" Hot Five, which, by the addition of drums, was actually a "Hot Six."

In this study I avoid questions of inclusion or omission by limiting my consideration to the recorded performances of the "Original" or "New Orleans" Hot Five, under the assumption that examination of thirty-three recordings by the same group, leader, and record company over a two-year period allows the most meaningful comparisons to be drawn and conclusions to be made.9 Unfortunately, this approach filters out such acknowledged masterpieces as "Potato Head Blues," "West End Blues," and "Weather Bird." These titles, nevertheless, are among the most thoroughly discussed in the literature and, in my opinion, deserve separate attention in the context of their own Hot Seven or Chicago Hot Five milieu.

The purpose of this investigation is to determine the extent to which the Original Hot Five and its leader deserve their hallowed position in jazz history. Despite the plethora of Armstrong-related materials, few writers scrutinize his music beyond his most celebrated solos; fewer still attempt to contextualize his achievements, to develop a reliable chronology of his activities during his music-making, and to relate individual pieces to available copyright deposits; and none provide a satisfactory explanation for the origin of his pioneering recordings. I hope that applying these heretofore neglected strategies to a comprehensive study of the Original Hot Fives will help clarify and verify Armstrong's and the group's already formidable stature in jazz history.

Because the analytical portions of this study are best confirmed by ear as well as by eye, those Hot Five performances discussed in the greatest detail are supplied on the compact disc that accompanies this volume.

The Transcriptions

The unique quality of Armstrong's solos was recognized from the beginning. His slightly younger contemporary, "Bix" Beiderbecke, noted their coherent structure, Tiny Parham transcribed one for his 1927 arrangement of "Wild Man Blues,"" and a collection of them was published the same year. Later players memorized his solos, and a discussion of Armstrong's style appeared autobiography,appeared in his own 1936 "Swing That Music." Transcriptions Hot of Armstrong's most memorable Five and Hot Seven solos can presently be found in numerous studies of his music as well as in several collections; entire pieces have also been fully or partially transcribed (see my bibliography). In 1989 the Hot Five repertory was written out for The Louis Armstrong Connection, a fifteen-CD re-creation of Armstrong's pioneering works. Efforts to locate relevant transcriptions for this project, produced in Germany and featuring British trumpet player Kenny Baker, have so far proved unsuccessful.

Jazz is notoriously difficult to write down in European notation. Communicating pitches, rhythms, harmonies, and their inflections is challenging enough, but changes in tone quality, varieties of articulation, and the elusive ingredient called swing can at best be only approximated in notation, if at al1. Armstrong's performances often embody all these features in the extreme. His rhythm, in particular, frequently seems to float above or hover around the beat rather than being exactly on top of it."

Transcriptions for this inquiry attempt to balance accuracy with utility. Swing eighths are understood unless otherwise indicated. Excessive playing before or behind the beat and timbral variety are designated. Unless important to the analysis, articulation signs have been kept to a minimum. Ascending or descending straight lines identify rips and falloffs; a wavy line specifies a shake; an ascending wavy line represents a long glissando; and u-shaped lines mark bends or lipped pitches. Ghost notes or fluffs are shown by x note-heads. All transcriptions and tempo markings are based on Sony's Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (see note 8) and, unless otherwise indicated, are my own.

The Early New Orleans Jazz Band

The instrumentation of the Original Hot Five combo—cornet, clarinet, trombone, banjo, and piano—emerged from the pragmatic spirit of early New Orleans practice, which embraced various ensemble combinations. Rooted in the tradition as well was a distribution of labor within such entertainment units, that is, the assignment of specific duties to specific instruments. In this case, the cornet, clarinet, and trombone carried out the tasks of the "melody group," and the banjo and piano functioned as the "rhythm group." It is equally important to appreciate this system's general fluidity, which allowed the banjo or the piano to participate as a "melody" instrument in addition to providing a bass line, supplying harmony, and keeping time.

The make-up of Armstrong's Hot Seven—cornet, clarinet, trombone, piano, banjo, tuba, and drums—is more reflective of early New Orleans jazz or ragtime bands than that of the Original Hot Five. Even so, there are major differences. New Orleans dance bands used a string bass instead of a tuba or a sousaphone (considered marching band instruments) and a guitar instead of a banjo. They seldom had the benefit of a pianist but frequently included a violinist, whose responsibility as the only music reader was to play parts from stock arrangements for his comrades to learn by rote. "Kid" Ory's band in New Orleans was a seven-man outfit with a violin but no piano, as was the Creole Band (all New Orleanians) that toured the country on various vaudeville circuits between 1914 and 1918." The possible model for these was Buddy Bolden's 1905 band of cornet, two clarinets, trombone, guitar, string bass, and drums."

When New Orleans bands left the Crescent City, they dropped the violin; retained the standard front line of cornet, clarinet, and trombone; and varied the rhythm section. In 1915 Tom Brown's Ragtime Band (cornet, clarinet, trombone, piano, drums), which may have lacked a regular violinist, initially left its bassist behind for an engagement at Chicago's Lamb's Café. The following year Stein's Band from Dixie, the progenitor of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB), assembled in the New Schiller Café on Chicago's South Side with instrumentation identical to Brown's." Pianist Lil Hardin's replacement of guitarist Louis Keppard and the subsequent departure of violinist Herb Lindsay produced an ODJB instrumentation plus string bass in Lawrence Duhé's band at Chicago's DeLuxe Gardens in 1917." The 1921 Friars Society Orchestra, the first incarnation of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (NORK), added a tenor saxophone and banjo for a total of eight pieces on the bandstand at Chicago's Friar's Inn," and in Los Angeles "Kid" Ory's 1922 Sunshine Orchestra (Spikes' Seven Pods of Pepper) recorded with the same instrumentation as Duhé.

Adopted by NORK, "King" Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, and numerous others groups, the banjo became the string instrument of choice in the Windy City. Hot Five member Johnny St. Cyr bought his unique guitar-banjo hybrid in 1919, when on the riverboats with Armstrong in Fate Marable's band, and played it on all of his Chicago recordings." But to my ears, St. Cyr never takes full advantage of the instrument's guitar capabilities during Hot Five or Hot Seven sessions with the possible exception of "Savoy Blues" (see Table 9.7). It would seem, then, that without either a drum or bass instrument, the makeup of Armstrong's Original Hot Five was anomalous. In anticipation of the discussion to follow, it is my contention that the instrumentation of the Hot Five was driven more by commercial than artistic reasons./p>

 

 

Miles Davis and American Culture edited by Gerald Lyn Early (Missouri Historical Society Press) When East St. Louis-born jazz trumpeter Miles Davis is remembered, it is usually recalled that he was a great innovator, that he had several distinct creative periods like Picasso, that he was a prickly, often unpleasant, personality. Davis is talked about often as a product of Cold War America and the "containment" culture it produced. (Was cool or Davis's reformulation of "free" jazz with his 1960s quintet versions of "containment" music?) He is contextualizes within the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the height of jazz-rock fusion in the 1970s. He crossed several genres in his return to performing in the 1980s: hip hop, pop, smooth jazz, rock, world beat, probably none of them to the satisfaction of critics or even to hard-core fans of those genres themselves, although he was accorded an enormous respect and, of course, a sort of indulgence, by the last audiences he had before his death in 1991. He also made a great deal of money in the 1980s, more than he had ever made in his life. Curiously, his last project before his death was a new performance of some of his Gil Evans charts from the late 1950s under the leadership of longtime friend Quincy Jones. This might signal to some that he was ready to go back and revisit his past, and thus he had come full circle in some respect; but this is not likely. It was a project that he enjoyed but that he did with some reluctance, and it was not his idea to do it. For those who like to be especially antiquarian and source‑oriented, Davis is contextualized as a St. Louisan, a man who emerged with a particular attitude and sound from a particular regional culture.

This collection of memoirs and essays about Davis makes good reading It is a way to understand the music in the context of the history and politics of creativity.

Miles Beyond: Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991by Paul Tingen (Billboard: Watson-Guptill) is the first analysis of Miles Davis's controversial electric period, 1967-1991, and his unorthodox working methods. Based on new research as well as first-hand recollections by over 50 musicians, partners, producers, and artists, Miles Beyond offers hundreds of never-before-revealed facts, insights, and revelations about Miles's remarkable artistic and personal life. Readers will discover new perspectives on Miles's approach to music, his spiritual awareness, his working methods, the impact he had on those around him, and his neglected and misunderstood electric music.

Includes, from Miles discographer Enrico Merlin, the most detailed and complete discography compiled on Miles's music from 1967-1991. Features interviews with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Michael Henderson, Dave Liebman, James Mtume, Pete Cosey, Lenny White, Marguerite Eskridge, Marcus Miller, George Duke, Billy Cobham, John Scofield, Mike Stern, Robert Irving, Ricky Wellman, Adam Holzman, Jo Gelbard, and more.

Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life by Wynton Marsalis and Carl Vigeland (Da Capo) Experience the inspiration and joy of creation and performance in Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life, an intimate portrait of a unique artist and his audience. Set in the studio, on the stage, and in great cities and small towns across the country, this book captures life on the road for Marsalis and his musicians, evoking its ritual and renewal, energy and spirituality. Describing the art of improvisation, the book's two voices mirror the interplay at the heart of jazz-both among the musicians, and between them and the people they meet in their travels. "On the road and on the bandstand," Wynton writes, "something great may happen at any moment, something that might even change your life." Alternately luminous and boisterous, often poignant, and always passionate, Marsalis and Vigeland's extraordinary dialogue is a must for fans, musicians, and anyone curious about America's only indigenous art form.

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