Louis Armstrong - Instrumentalist and Vocalist
Louis Armstrong is included in this summary of jazz history due to the massively influential role he played in the development of jazz over many years. By 1919 Marable's band had been joined by the young cornet player Louis Armstrong (1901-71), who was destined to become the most influential of all early jazz performers. Armstrong's lowly background in New Orleans was typical of many first-generation jazz musicians. On his release, Armstrong resolved to pursue a career as a musician and owed his initial success to the timely patronage of King Oliver, who was then playing in an ensemble led by trombonist Kid Ory In 1918, Oliver decided to follow the trend of relocating to Chicago, giving Armstrong the chance to fill the vacancy in Ory's band. Not long after, Armstrong also joined Marable's riverboat 'conservatoire'. However, Oliver had not forgotten his protege, and Armstrong was invited in 1922 to join his mentor's Creole Jazz Band at the Lincoln Gardens in Chicago.
Armstrong was faced with a challenging task when he joined Oliver's band. This experience undoubtedly sharpened Armstrong's aural perception. As Gunther Schuller has demonstrated in an analysis in Early Jazz (1968), the counter melody Armstrong provided to Oliver's lead in their 1923 recording of Mabel's Dream on the Okeh label (one of the most important of the early independent record companies) is a striking example of Armstrong's innate ability to adapt improvised melodic shapes to the prevailing harmonic sequence. Armstrong's playing was characterized by a wide variety of original melodic and timbral devices that make his style instantly recognizable. Meanwhile, in 1924, Louis Armstrong set off for New York to join the dance band led by pianist Fletcher Henderson.This influential group, which a few years later provided the direct model for the swing bands of the 19305, gave Armstrong the opportunity to appear as featured soloist and to develop the improvisational skills that had such a profound influence on later jazz musicians. Oliver's original had been named after Armstrong himself, whose capacious mouth earned him the affectionate nickname 'Satchmo', short for'Satchelmouth'.
Armstrong learnt to read music fluently for the first time during his work with Henderson's band, and he in turn inspired them to play with a greater sense of swing. Returning to Chicago in the autumn of 1925, Armstrong formed with his wife the dynamic Hot Five and Hot Seven ensembles. The Hot Five comprised cornet or trumpet (Louis Armstrong), clarinet (Johnny Dodds) and trombone (Kid Ory) as its formidable front line, with a rhythm section of piano (Lil Armstrong) and banjo (Johnny St Cyr). The Hot Seven featured the same quintet with the addition of tuba (Pete Briggs) and drums (Baby Dodds).These groups arguably represent the peak of Armstrong's career and with them he achieved a standard of virtuosity he never surpassed. In promoting the extended improvised solo as the core of a performance, Armstrong laid the foundations for almost all subsequent jazz.
West End Blues begins with a stunning cadenza for unaccompanied trumpet, radical for its time and much imitated by later adherents of the Armstrong style. This technique, made famous by Armstrong in the Hot Five recordings of Heebie Jeebies (1926) and Hotter Than That (1927), involved singing nonsense syllables to an improvised melody. The significance of Armstrong's scatting lies in his skilful vocal adaptation of the resourceful style of his instrumental improvisations. Lil Armstrong was replaced in some later Hot Five recordings by Earl 'Fatha' Hines (1903-83), who had been working with Armstrong and violinist Carroll Dickerson at Chicago's Sunset Cafe since 1926. The stylistic distance travelled by jazz in the five years since Oliver's Creole Jazz Band recorded the piece is stupendous. Hines remained in Chicago when Armstrong left for New York in 1929, and formed a band at the Grand Terrace Ballroom, a favourite haunt of the Mafia. Armstrong was by no means the only prominent jazz musician to secure for himself a lucrative career in the entertainment industry. As a result of his transatlantic tours of 1933 and 1934, Armstrong's fame spread to Europe. When the big-band craze evaporated after World War II, Armstrong returned to the traditional style of small-ensemble jazz then enjoying a revival, in a performance at Town Hall, New York, in 1947.