History of Jazz, Episode 8: Louis Armstrong, let the legend begin

Posted: January 14, 2013 in Music
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Louis ArmstrongAKA Louis Daniel Armstrong

Born: 4-Aug-1901
Birthplace: New Orleans, LA
Died: 6-Jul-1971
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Flushing Cemetery, Queens, NY

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Jazz Musician

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Jazz trumpeter

Perhaps the most significant influence on the direction and development of jazz, and certainly the leading musician to emerge during its formative years, Louis Armstrong shared a birthplace with that of the genre he helped to create: New Orleans, Louisiana. Born in the city’s dangerous Storyville District, Armstrong spent the earliest years of his life with his grandmother, eventually being delivered back into the care of his mother — a woman whose circumstances of extreme poverty occasionally forced her to resort to prostitution as a means of survival. By the age of seven the young boy was already working to help support his family, singing on street corners as part of a vocal quartet and doing various jobs for a junk wagon owned by the  , a family of Russian Jewish immigrants. It was around this time that Armstrong came into possession of his first cornet, purchased with money lent by his employers.

Ironically enough, the first development to aid Armstrong in his escape from poverty was brought about by an arrest at the age of 13. After having been caught firing a pistol in the air during celebrations on New Year’s Eve 1912, he was removed from his family and placed in the custody of the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys; it was here that he received his first musical instruction from the home’s band director, Peter Davis, who, by the end of Armstrong’s year of internment, had promoted the promising young talent to the position of bandleader. Upon his release, Armstrong began supporting himself selling newspapers and doing manual labor, while spending his free time absorbing the sounds of the emerging jazz scene in local nightclubs. Eventually he came under the tutelage of cornetist Joe Oliver, and after Oliver’s move to Chicago in 1918 Armstrong was enlisted as his replacement in The Kid Ory Band, one of the leading jazz groups in New Orleans.

In 1919 Armstrong was offered an opportunity to perform on Mississippi riverboats as part of the The Fate Marable Orchestra, and it was during the next two years working under Marable that the young musician received his most intensive musical training. An invitation to re-join with his old mentor Oliver in Chicago arrived in 1922, bringing about a two-year stint as second cornetist for King Oliver’s Creole Band, as well as his first recording session (as part of the band) in April of 1923; a year playing with Fletcher Henderson’s band in New York followed in 1924, supplemented by several opportunities to record with other jazz and blues acts. Towards the end of 1925, Armstrong decided to return to Chicago and assemble his own band (named Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five), and the first recordings under his own name were subsequently made with this ensemble in November.

Purely a studio-based act, the Hot Five (occasionally expanded to the Hot Seven) produced an impressive catalogue of recordings over the next three years, while Armstrong continued to perform live with artists such as Erskine Tate, Earl Hines and the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra. Two records that had a particularly strong influence on the course of jazz music were created during this period:Heebie Jeebies (1926) (performed with the Hot Five and featuring one of the first recorded examples of scat singing) and West End Blues (1928) (a King Oliver track recorded with the Hot Five and Earl Hines). The short-lived live band Louis Armstrong and His Stompers was assembled in 1928, but by 1929 Armstrong had once again returned to New York, where he spent part of the year touring with the Broadway show Hot Chocolates.

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With the arrival of the 1930s, Armstrong found himself positioned as one of the top bandleaders in the jazz field, and numbered amongst the most highly-regarded musicians in the world. By this point in his career his reputation had spread well beyond his homeland, and the decade found him performing to large, enthusiastic audiences all across the States, Great Britain, Europe and Scandinavia. An additional boost to his career was given in 1935, when he started what would turn out to be a life-long business relationship with manager Joe Glaser: with Glaser’s help, he would secure a place on the Decca roster alongside popular acts such as The Mills Brothers and Tommy Dorsey, and steadily break through many of the obstacles faced by black performers due to the severely racist climate still existing in the United States at the time. Numerous film appearances throughout the second half of the 30s — including Pennies from Heaven (1936) (opposite Bing Crosby, an outspoken supporter of Armstrong’s music), Artists and Models (1937), Every Day’s a Holiday (1937) (opposite Mae West), and Going Places – subsequently broadened his popularity beyond jazz circles and into the mainstream.

During the war years, Armstrong continued to develop his various creative avenues, steadily adding to his list of film credits – Cabin in the Sky (1943), Atlantic City (1944, alongside singer Billie Holiday), and Pillow to Post (1945) — and maintaining an extremely active live schedule; a musician’s union strike prompted by the outbreak of the war, however, prevented much recording from being possible until 1946. After a well-received Carnegie Hall appearance with a small jazz ensemble in 1947, the bandleader made a permanent break with the (now somewhat unfashionable) big band format and assembled The All Stars – a compact, seven-piece configuration that he would utilize for the remainder of his career. The demand for his talents remained undiminished in the 1950s, and despite changing popular tastes he repeatedly placed himself high in the charts with singles like (When We Are Dancing) I Get Ideas (1951), its flip-side A Kiss to Build a Dream On, and Mack The Knife (1956), and the albums Satchmo at Symphony Hall (1951), Satch Plays Fats (1955, a collection of Fats Wallerinterpretations), and Ella and Louis (1956, a collaboration with vocalist Ella Fitzgerald).

Despite health problems (the most significant result of which was a heart attack suffered in 1959), the energetic bandleader kept to his busy performance itinerary throughout the 50s and 60s, extending his range beyond North America and Europe into South America, Africa and the Middle East. Armstrong even managed to earn himself one last US #1 in the midst of Beatlemania, shouldering past the British band’s huge hit Can’t Buy Me Love with his recording of Hello Dolly! (1964). This lively pace would remain almost undiminished until his death in July of 1971, his final performance having taken place at the Empire Room in New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel. Appreciation of his music remained strong in the following decades, however, and the use of his recordings in films soundtracks such as Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) (which placed the 1968 hit What a Wonderful World back in the charts),Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and Something’s Gotta Give (2003) maintained his presence in the public consciousness.

— original source: http://www.nndb.com/ —

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