The Great New Orleans Trumpeter Was Born 4 August 1901
The Mark He Left on American Music is Inestimable
Dear Music Lovers: This is by no means a complete list of Armstrong’s best, most historic, or favorite moments. Here are six musical rosettes to enjoy with a slice of birthday cake.
Don’t You Think I Love You?
King Oliver & His Orchestra
Without Joe “King” Oliver … perish the thought. Louis Armstrong said he would never have left New Orleans for anyone but Oliver and thank goodness Oliver called. What makes King Oliver stand out is not just his musicianship, but the fact that he would talk to young musicians and show them what he knew about playing the cornet. In his autobiography, Armstrong says this was a rare quality among the best of the best players in New Orleans. Most established musicians kept their secrets to themselves. But Oliver, Armstrong said, would stop on the street and blow his horn to teach youngsters what they should be doing. As music lovers, we are still benefitting from Oliver’s remarkable generosity. We are also benefitting from Oliver’s remarkable foolishiness. He once turned down a gig at the Cotton Club in New York that ultimately went to a young’un called Duke Ellington.
It was my ambition to play as he did. I still think if it had not been for Joe Oliver jazz would not be what it is today. He was a creator in his own right. (Louis Armstrong)
Said to be the first song on which Armstrong scatted. As the story goes, Armstrong was in the recording studio when his lyric sheet fell to the floor. Presto-change-o and a new art form was born. Opera singers have drawn a link between coloratura singing and scatting, which makes a lot of sense. Armstrong was a great fan of opera and played an aria from Cavalleria Rusticana every day on the trumpet. Armstrong and his All-Stars later played with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.
Cornet Chop Suey
Virtually all of Louis Armstrong’s fans know that he took up the cornet while serving time at the Colored Waif’s Home in New Orleans, following a scrape with the law. Thank goodness. One stupid move really can change the world for the better. Cornet Chop Suey is a nice moment demonstrating what this instrument, which is rarely used today, can do. The filigree of sound is lovely and the rhythm is so nice and sassy.
A Kiss to Build a Dream On
Bing Crosby & Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby were born on different sides of the color line and more than a thousand miles apart. They didn’t agree on social issues in the post-war era. And they probably didn’t vote the same way politically. But within the realm of music, they were magically simpatico. For much of the twentieth century, Crosby was the biggest pop star in the United States. He had his own radio show, major corporate sponsors, a string of hit movies and — eventually — a President of the United States as a houseguest. Armstrong had none of this. Though extraordinarily successful as a world-reknowned jazz artist, Armstrong was a black man, which meant that corporate sponsorships and national radio shows eluded him. But Armstrong’s much-anticipated appearances on Crosby’s programs were terrific. These seasoned pros had real chemistry. And together (whether or not Crosby realized) they raised a then-subversive point. If Armstrong is as entertaining as Crosby, why doesn’t he have what Crosby has? Even when Crosby sings Armstrong’s latest release, “A Kiss To Build a Dream On,” Armstrong wins the day by out-performing Crosby and re-claiming the song as his own. To his credit, Crosby is a gracious accomplice.
I’m proud to acknowledge my debt to the ‘Reverend Satchelmouth’ … He is the beginning and the end of music in America. (Bing Crosby)
Baby It’s Cold Outside
Louis Armstrong & Velma Middleton
CD: What A Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong in Concert
Velma Middleton was a comedic delight with excellent chops. She toured with Armstrong for years as a member of his ensemble. Despite remarkable girth, Middleton was known to do splits on stage with Armstrong, who loved silliness as much as the next guy. They appeared to be great friends. Armstrong married his fourth wife, Lucille, at Middleton’s house in St. Louis. And the rapport between Armstrong and Middleton sparkled. For all of the platinum-quality dueting between Armstrong and the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald just couldn’t make ’em laugh like Middleton. This version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” is wonderful all the way to the end.
Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me
Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington
The Great Summit, as it was called, was a historic pairing between Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. These two giants had been circling each other’s orbits since the 1930s but didn’t record together in earnest until the early 1960s. Here was the deal: Ellington’s music and Armstrong’s band. Sounds great, right? But, of course, Armstrong told his piano player to stay home. Ellington plays with palpable glee on each of the selections. There’s something particularly delicious about these two known rascals performing the national anthem of all rascals, “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.” “True I’ve been seen, with someone new. But does that mean that I’m untrue …” Duh. Yeah! But who can stay mad at these guys? Together, they’re perfection.
He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone along the way. (Duke Ellington)