ARMSTRONG, Louis: Stop Playing Those Blues

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Louis Armstrong, Vol.7

'Stop Playing Those Blues' -- Original Recordings 1946-1947


During 1946-47, Louis Armstrong was at the turning point of his career. He had been leading big bands since 1929 but there was increasing pressure on him to break up the orchestra and form a smaller all-star band. Satch was reluctant to put his sidemen out of work, but a series of events made it obvious to him that this change would make sense.

Louis Armstrong had already been a major jazz star for nearly 25 years and a household name for over fifteen by 1946. He was born on 4 August 1901 in New Orleans. Raised in poverty by a single mother, he grew up loving watching the New Orleans brass bands. Little Louis sang in a vocal group on the streets and began to play cornet in hopes of playing with the bands he admired. On New Year's Eve of 1912 his life changed. To celebrate the New Year, he shot off a pistol in the air, and was arrested. Viewed by the courts as an unsupervised delinquent, Armstrong was sent to live in a waif's home. But instead of treating this as a tragedy, he thrived in the disciplined setting. He worked at studying cornet and it was a highlight of his early life when he was given the chance to play with the school's band.

Released from the home after two years, Louis Armstrong worked odd jobs, befriended his idol cornetist Joe 'King' Oliver, and worked his way up in the New Orleans music world. By 1919 when Oliver moved up North, Armstrong was considered such a promising player that he was recommended for the King's spot in Kid Ory's important band.

In 1922, King Oliver sent for Armstrong to join his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago as second cornetist. Louis Armstrong was more than ready and it was soon obvious that he was surpassing his idol. He made his recording debut with Oliver in 1923 and married pianist Lil Hardin, his second of four wives. In 1924 Lil urged Armstrong to accept an offer to join Fletcher Henderson's big band in New York, feeling that he would never make it big if he was content to be someone else's second cornetist. She was right for Armstrong became a sensation in the jazz world, changing the way that most New York jazz musicians played. Armstrong knew how to use space dramatically, he 'told a story' in his solos, his phrasing was smooth and legato, he had very impressive technique and his tone was beautiful.

After a year with Henderson, Armstrong returned to Chicago where in his series of Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings during 1925-28, he recorded one classic after another, permanently changing jazz from an ensemble-oriented folk music into a solo vehicle for brilliant virtuosos. In addition to his trumpet solos (he switched from cornet in 1926), his raspy vocals featured horn-like phrasing, inventive scat-singing and a perfect placement of notes. If Louis Armstrong had passed away in 1929, he would still be remembered as one of jazz's true giants.

But he had many accomplishments ahead of him. Moving back to New York in 1929, he led a series of big bands for the next eighteen years, orchestras that largely acted as a backdrop for his trumpet solos and vocals. He became an international star, helping to make dozens of songs into standards, being a hit in Europe during 1931 and 1933-34, making appearances in a few Hollywood movies and becoming a sort of father figure for the swing era. Although his big band was never one of the pacesetters, he was the main influence on other trumpeters, from Bunny Berigan and Cootie Williams to Harry James.

However by the early 1940s, Louis Armstrong was in danger of being thought of as merely a nostalgic figure, and his big band was sounding stale and uninspired. He kept the orchestra together despite its cost, but there were strong hints that it was time for a change. At a special concert put on by Esquire in 1944, Armstrong played with combos that included trombonist Jack Teagarden and clarinettist Barney Bigard. There were a few special small-group dates recorded as V-Discs and for the 1946 movie New Orleans, Armstrong was heard with a freewheeling group that included Kid Ory. Finally, with the success of his concert at Town Hall in 1947, it was clear that it was time for him to finally give up his orchestra and form the Louis Armstrong All-Stars.

The music on this highly enjoyable collection is from the transitional period of 1946-47. The first eight selections were recorded during the time that Armstrong was filming New Orleans, and many of the players on these numbers appeared in the film. Sugar, I Want A Little Girl, Blues For Yesterday and Blues In The South are all played at moderate tempos and given tasteful and swinging vocals by Armstrong, who is assisted in the septet by trombonist Vic Dickenson and future All-Star clarinettist Barney Bigard. Endie features the Louis Armstrong big band about seven months before their final record date.

The future standard Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans was introduced in the film New Orleans(a very interesting if flawed production) as was Where The Blues Were Born In New Orleans while Mahogany Hall Stomp was revived for the picture. Kid Ory's presence on trombone gives these numbers a welcome vintage New Orleans feel.

The great success of the 17 May 1947 Town Hall Concert led to the final breakup of the Louis Armstrong Big Band. Armstrong and trombonist-singer Jack Teagarden made for a perfect team, having been friends since 1929, and Teagarden would be a major part of the All-Stars for the next four years. Pianist Dick Cary and drummer Sid Catlett would soon join the new group while clarinettist Peanuts Hucko would have to wait until the late 1950s. Cornetist Bobby Hackett and bassist Bob Haggart were long-time lovers of Armstrong's music, making this a perfect band for Satch. Ain't Misbehavin' is given a definitive treatment, Armstrong and Teagarden share the honours on a memorable version of Rockin' Chair, and Louis sings the blues on his witty Back O' Town Blues. Pennies From Heaven is played beautifully, Save It Pretty Mama is a revival of a tune last recorded by Satch in 1928 and St James Infirmary is a showcase for Teagarden. This miniset is quite wonderful and points the way towards Louis Armstrong's future.

Less than a month later the same frontline along with baritonist Ernie Caceres and a different rhythm section waxed a pair of classic titles. Jack-Armstrong Blues, with some fine Basie-style piano from Johnny Guarnieri and banter between Armstrong and Teagarden (both vocally and instrumentally), is climaxed by one of Louis Armstrong's greatest trumpet solos, arguably his finest one of the 1940s. Fifty-Fifty Blues contains plenty of the Armstrong-Teagarden charm as does Please Stop Playing Those Blues from six months later which features the set lineup of the first Louis Armstrong All-Stars.

The final selection on this collection, A Song Was Born, is taken from the soundtrack of the Danny Kaye film A Song Is Born. Louis Armstrong is joined by some notable swing era bandleaders, the Golden Gate Quartet and Jeri Sullavan who ghosts the vocal for
Disc: 1
A Song Was Born
1 Sugar
2 I Want A Little Girl
3 Blues For Yesterday
4 Blues in the South
5 Endie
6 Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?
7 Where The Blues Were Born In New Orleans
8 Mahogany Hall Stomp
9 Ain't Misbehavin'
10 Rockin' Chair
11 Back O’ Town Blues
12 Pennies From Heaven
13 Save It, Pretty Mama
14 St. James Infirmary
15 Jack-Armstrong Blues
16 Fifty-Fifty Blues
17 Please Stop Playing Those Blues
18 A Song Was Born
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