Armstrong gained fame as a horn player, then later became better known as a bandleader, vocalist, musical ambassador and founding figure of modern American music.
Horn playing and early jazzEditHot Five and Hot Seven records, as well as the Red Onion Jazz Babies. The improvisations he made on these records of New Orleans jazz standards and popular songs of the day are unsurpassed by later jazz performers. The older generation of New Orleans jazz musicians often referred to their improvisations as "variating the melody." Armstrong's improvisations were daring and sophisticated for the time, while often subtle and melodic.
He often essentially re-composed pop-tunes he played, making them more interesting. Armstrong's playing is filled with joyous, inspired original melodies, creative leaps, and subtle relaxed or driving rhythms. The genius of these creative passages is matched by Armstrong's playing technique, honed by constant practice, which extended the range, tone and capabilities of the trumpet. In these records, Armstrong almost single-handedly created the role of the jazz soloist, taking what was essentially a collective folk music and turning it into an art form with tremendous possibilities for individual expression. Armstrong's work in the 1920s shows him playing at the outer limits of his abilities. The Hot Five records, especially, often have minor flubs and missed notes, which do little to detract from listening enjoyment since the energy of the spontaneous performance comes through. By the mid 1930s, Armstrong achieved a smooth assurance, knowing exactly what he could do and carrying out his ideas to perfection.
He was one of the first artists to use recordings of his performances to improve himself. Armstrong was an avid audiophile. He had a large collection of recordings, including reel-to-reel tapes, which he took on the road with him in a trunk during his later career. He enjoyed listening to his own recordings, and comparing his performances musically. In the den of his home, he had the latest audio equipment and would sometimes rehearse and record along with his older recordings or the radio.
As his music progressed and popularity grew, his singing also became very important. Armstrong was not the first to record scat singing, but he was masterful at it and helped popularize it. He had a hit with his playing and scat singing on "Heebie Jeebies" when, according to some legends, the sheet music fell on the floor and he simply started singing nonsense syllables. Armstrong stated in his memoirs that this actually occurred. He also sang out "I done forgot the words" in the middle of recording "I'm A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas."
Such records were hits and scat singing became a major part of his performances. Long before this, however, Armstrong was playing around with his vocals, shortening and lengthening phrases, interjecting improvisations, using his voice as creatively as his trumpet.
Colleagues and followersEdit
During his long career he played and sang with some of the most important instrumentalists and vocalists of the time; among them were Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, country musician Jimmie Rodgers (The Singing Brakeman), Bessie Smith and perhaps most famously Ella Fitzgerald.
In the movies and on television, he was a frequently featured singer in dramas, musicals, and variety shows, appearing with Danny Kaye, Carol Channing, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and many others. He also recorded a whole series of Disney standards for Walt Disney entitled Disney Songs the Satchmo Way'.'
Bing Crosby & Influence on White American MusicEdit
- It is his influence upon Bing Crosby, though, was particularly important with regard to the subsequent development of popular music.
- Armstrong was the first African-American musician to cross over the divide of white America and black America which was highly segregated politically, culturally and socially. Many white performers admired black performers, and tried to emulate aspects of their performance for "this side of the tracks" consumption.
- Crosby admired and copied Armstrong, as is evident on many of his early recordings, notably "Just One More Chance" (1931). The New Grove Dictionary Of Jazz describes Crosby's debt to Armstrong in precise detail, although it does not acknowledge Armstrong by name.
|“||Crosby... was important in introducing into the mainstream of popular singing an Afro-American concept of song as a lyrical extension of speech... His techniques - easing the weight of the breath on the vocal cords, passing into a head voice at a low register, using forward production to aid distinct enunciation, singing on consonants (a practice of black singers), and making discreet use of appoggiaturas, mordents, and slurs to emphasize the text - were emulated by nearly all later popular singers.||”|
—New Grove Dictionary Of Jazz
Armstrong recorded three albums with Ella Fitzgerald: Ella and Louis, Ella and Louis Again, and Porgy and Bess for Verve Records, with the sessions featuring the backing musicianship of the Oscar Peterson Trio and drummer Buddy Rich.
His recordings Satch Plays Fats, an album of Fats Waller tunes, and Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy in the 1950s were perhaps among the last of his great creative recordings, but even oddities like Disney Songs the Satchmo Way are seen to have their musical moments.
His participation in Dave Brubeck's high-concept jazz musical The Real Ambassadors was critically acclaimed. For the most part, however, his later output was criticized as being overly simplistic or repetitive, and trading on his past accomplishments.
Hits and later careerEdit
Armstrong had many hit records including "Stardust", "What a Wonderful World", "When The Saints Go Marching In", "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "Ain't Misbehavin'", "You Rascal You,"and "Stompin' at the Savoy." "We Have All the Time in the World" was featured on the soundtrack of the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and enjoyed renewed popularity in the UK in 1994 when it featured on a Guinness advert. It reached number 3 in the charts on being re-released.
In 1964, Armstrong knocked the Beatles off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "Hello, Dolly!", which gave the 63-year-old performer a U.S. record as the oldest artist to have a number one song. His 1964 song, "Bout Time" was later featured in the film "Bewitched" (2005).
Armstrong performed in Italy at the 1968 Sanremo Music Festival where he sang "Mi Va di Cantare" alongside his friend, the Eritrean-born Italian singer Lara Saint Paul. In February 1968, he also appeared with Lara Saint Paul on the Italian RAI television channel where he performed "Grassa e Bella," a track he sang in Italian for the Italian market and C.D.I. label.
In 1968, Armstrong scored one last popular hit in the United Kingdom with the highly sentimental pop song "What a Wonderful World", which topped the British charts for a month; however, the single did not chart at all in America. The song gained greater currency in the popular consciousness when it was used in the 1987 movie Good Morning, Vietnam, its subsequent rerelease topping many charts around the world. Armstrong even appeared on the October 28, 1970 Johnny Cash Show, where he sang Nat "King" Cole's hit "Rambling Rose" and joined Cash to re-create his performance backing Jimmie Rodgers on "Blue Yodel #9".
Armstrong enjoyed many types of music, from blues to the arrangements of Guy Lombardo, to Latin American folksongs, to classical symphonies and opera. Armstrong incorporated influences from all these sources into his performances, sometimes to the bewilderment of fans who wanted Armstrong to stay in convenient narrow categories. Armstrong was inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. Some of his solos from the 1950s, such as the hard rocking version of "St. Louis Blues" from the WC Handy album, show that the influence went in both directions.
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