ARMSTRONG, Louis: I've Got The World On A String

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LOUIS ARMSTRONG Vol.2: 1930—1933

"I’ve Got The World On A String"

Louis developed a whole school of jazz singing, based on a literal interpretation of the folk and blues singers’ approach to the voice as an instrument. Louis showed that the emotional meaning of a lyric can be expressed through vocal inflections and improvisations of a purely instrumental quality just as effectively … as through words. This line of development paralleled the growth of his instrumental influence. It still embraces every jazz and popular singer today

— George Avakian

No orchestra, no instrumentalist, and no singers of popular songs can go through 32 bars without acknowledging an immense debt to the creative genius of Louis Armstrong — Gene Krupa

Not only one of Jazz’s creators, a master of the small group and a colossal persona in a far broader sense, ‘Pops’ Armstrong ranks among its greatest individualists, one who already, by 1930 (when the earliest of the selections on this CD were recorded), had grown conscious of a dualism in his standing as a musician. World-famous through his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, he had drawn adoring crowds black and white alike to Chicago’s Sunset Café and, even more recently, had emerged a popular vocalist and gregarious showman after stealing the show in Hot Chocolates at New York’s Hudson Theater, in 1929. Yet the direction the trumpeter par excellence and unparalleled scat singer might take seemed so far undecided. For on one side stood his reputation as an artist and as a musician - conserving what he himself termed his "hustle" ; and, on the other, loomed Satchmo the entertainer under increasing pressure to make his mark in a commercial sense.

It has been well said that Louis made no real distinction between artistic merit and entertainment : he just got on with the business and let Nature take its course. Thus, as the commercial aspect gained momentum, so did first the marijuana then the hokum and, for better or for worse, Louis was swept along by the tidal wave of his own success. Some purists — notably A & R man John Hammond, an avid admirer — felt his re-direction from ensemble player to cult soloist marked the start of his decline, but both the trumpet virtuoso and the personable vocalist are now time-honoured components of our received image of Louis Armstrong.

Louis was born Daniel Louis Armstrong in a slum in Perdido, New Orleans on 4th August, 1901. While his upbringing was harsh (physically and emotionally deprived, he was one of several siblings of a broken home, raised by his mother and a host of "stepfathers") he found solace in music. He sang in a barbershop quartet and his youthful imagination, like that of his contemporary Sidney Bechet, was fired by the street-band tradition of his native city. As a child , as it were "religiously," he would follow the processions, often as not blowing his own tin whistle in sympathy, thus absorbing the florid New Orleans style until, as Rudi Blesh reminds us, he inherited "the honours relinquished in turn by Bolden and Keppard."

Fortuitously, on New Year’s Eve, 1912 (as he later recounted the story in Satchmo - My Life In New Orleans) the over-exuberant Louis fired the pistol "within the city limits" which brought him to the Colored Waifs’ Home where, with encouragement from the band-master, he mastered the cornet. Leaving home at 14 he became, in company with Bechet and others, probably the finest exponent of that instrument in the Storyville district. In 1918 he replaced his mentor Joe ‘King’ Oliver in Kid Ory’s Brown Skinned Babes and within a year was working on Mississippi riverboats and making a name for himself around New Orleans. By 1922 he was second cornet in Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band at the newly-opened Lincoln Gardens and in 1923 made his first records and met Lil Hardin, at whose instigation in 1924 he quit Oliver to join Fletcher Henderson at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, fast becoming of jazz’s most prestigious high society venues.

In 1925, now billed "The World’s Greatest Jazz Cornettist," Louis joined Lil’s Dreamland Syncopators in Chicago, a group from which, by 1926, had evolved the revolutionary Hot Five (succeeded by the gramophonically more commercial Hot Seven), studio ensembles whose 60-odd recorded sides would soon alter the course of jazz history. By the close of 1928 eight of these sides had featured in the US popular charts and that same year, after leaving Henderson, he went to Chicago where, with ranks augmented by Hines, Redman and others and various popular titles distributed on Parlophone’s ‘New Rhythm Style Series’, he began to steer a relentless course away from small group work towards sweet-swing and larger ensembles.

From around 1929 Louis the jazzman’s characteristic scatting became a prized feature of most of his recordings. His new style of jazz singing had already become a commodity in its own right, much in demand and in all the right places. During 1930 alone he guested with Luis Russell at the Howard Theatre (Washington, D.C.), transferred from Connie’s Inn to New York’s Coconut Grove, appeared in Baltimore with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and worked theatres in New York, Chicago, California and Culver City. On records, a wider public was captivated by the new recipe on offer. Through global distribution, he was an international star of jazz before he ever left the states and, although some condemned this dilution and sanitising of jazz for more wholesale commercial consumption, during the decade the acquiescent Louis’ trumpet virtuosity was often upstaged by his deft approach to the latest songs.

These ranged from jazz-orientated Andy Razaf - Fats Waller and Harold Arlen numbers tailored for Cotton Club revues through the latest pop compositions by Hoagy Carmichael and film-songs by Moisés Simons, Nat Shilkret and others which, albeit ballad-like in conception, Louis turned into jazz cameos. His many US pop chart hits included: (in 1930) St. Louis Blues; (in 1931) Stardust (No.16), The Peanut Vendor (No.15) and I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You (No.13); (in 1932) I Got Rhythm (No.17) and his first No.1, "All Of Me" and, in 1933, I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues (No.18) and That’s My Home (No.17).

Peter Dempsey, 2002



1st February, 1930: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Otis Johnson, Henry Allen, trumpets; J.C.Higginbotham, trombone; William Blue, Charlie Holmes, clarinet, alto sax; Teddy Hill, tenor sax; Luis Russell, piano; Will Johnson, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin, drums

19th August, 1930: LOUIS ARMSTRONG & HIS SEBASTIAN NEW COTTON COTTON CLUB ORCHESTRA: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Leon Elkins, tenor sax; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Leon Herriford, Willie Stark, alto sax; William Franz, tenor, sax; L. Z Cooper or Harvey Brooks, piano; Ceele Burke, banjo, steel guitar; Reggie Jones, tuba; Lionel Hampton, drums, vibraphone

23rd December, 1930: LOUIS ARMSTRONG & HIS SEBASTIAN NEW COTTON CLUB ORCHESTRA: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; George Orendorff, Harold Scott, trumpets; Luther Graven, trombone; Les Hite, alto & baritone sax; Marvin Johnson, alto sax; Charlie Jones, clarinet & tenor sax; Henry Prince, piano; Bill Perkins, banjo, guitar; Joe Bailey, tuba, bass; Lionel Hampton, drums, vibraphone

20th & 28th April, 1931: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Zilmer Randolph, t
Disc: 1
St. Louis Blues
1 I've Got The World On A String
2 Blue, Turning Grey Over You
3 I Got Rhythm
4 Star Dust
5 Confessin' (That I Love You)
6 When It's Sleepy Time Down South
7 (I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You
8 The Lonesome Road
9 The Peanut Vendor
10 Hobo, You Can't Ride This Train
11 That's My Home
12 I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues
13 Snowball
14 Sweet Sue, Just You
15 Basin Street Blues
16 Dusky Stevedore
17 There's A Cabin In The Pines
18 St. Louis Blues
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