[Dixielandjazz] Dixielandjazz Digest, Vol 94, Issue 16

Daniel Barrett danpbarrett at hotmail.com
Thu Oct 14 21:35:18 PDT 2010

Dear Steve,
I enjoy the DJML for many reasons, not the least of which is all the humor, and the genuinely funny cats I've found at the site. For instance--regarding your own humorous contributions--I especially enjoyed: 
"Stylistically, Armstrong went nowhere after the Hines sessions." That's a good one, Steve!
Also: "They (Armstrong and Ellington) set the stage, but his (Duke's) influence was FAR outshone by others after about 1930." LOL! Where do you get the inspiration? That's really good, funny stuff.
Finally: "Armstrong's style became more of copying and melding with others than anything groundbreaking." This is a stroke of genius; I have to hand it to you. 
I really haven't ever heard an accusation anywhere else of Louis "copying" anyone. I was sipping on a pomegranite punch when I read it, and nearly did a "spit take" on that one. Great stuff!  I've spoken with many good older musicians who heard Louis in the late '40s/early '50s. They went away with their heads spinning. I don't know about "groundbreaking" (just how much ground can one guy be expected to break during his lifetime, anyway?), but whatever they heard was great, in their estimation.
Now you can laugh at my own viewpoint! In the '30s, while Louis was expanding his range (and, hence, the range of the trumpet for ALL trumpeters; jazz to classical), American popular music--overall--was still assimilating things like Louis's closing riffs from Savoy Blues (1927).
Those closing choruses on Savoy Blues--with Dodds and Armstrong riffing in harmony, and Ory's glissandi--became a prototype for hundreds (thousands?) of swing era arrangements that followed. (A permutation of that riff became Larry Clinton's big hit, The Dipsy Doodle). And Louis's closing chorus of St. Louis Blues (recorded with Luis Russell's band in 1929) was harmonized for Count Basie's brass section by arranger Eddie Durham, and became the climactic final choruses of Basie's "modern" Swinging the Blues eight years later. You see, it took that long for American music to "catch up" to what Armstrong was doing in the '20s.  In the meantime, Louis was busy honing his acting skills in various movies; influencing a generation of European players with his 1934 trip to the continent; and actually continuing to practice and grow as an artist and personality. I don't think he ever thought about being "modern," or doing anything "new." Whenever he played, it was "new." Rather, I think he wanted to continue to be the best Louis Armstrong he could be, and he certainly was that! 
Insofar as his continuing influence, a side that comes to mind is Louis's own record of Got  A Bran' New Suit (1935). A swinging, ahead-of-its time lick he plays became the genesis of yet another pop tune recorded by Basie a couple of years later: Do You Wanna Jump, Children?  (That same lick--albeit "hipped up" a little--is also the opening phrase of Horace Silver's Sister Sadie.
Another phrase he played--on his recording of I'm Shooting High, made the same year--sounds very much like something Lester Young would have played, except Lester didn't begin recording until a year later. Louis's whole solo is very "cool," very relaxed; it almost sounds like he's into another "thing" on that session. 
Really, though, it isn't a matter of Louis having to "keep up with the times." It's more, eventually the times finally caught up with Louis! 
Another view: Did audiences go see Enrico Caruso to see "what new stuff" he was into, or just to hear his artistry when he sang?
Regarding Bix, I do think Louis and Bix used a similar harmonic vocabulary. (How technical should I get?) For instance: both "heard" the possibilities of the minor-sixth chord (a.k.a., the "half-diminished" chord; a.k.a., the "minor-seventh, flat-five" chord; a.k.a., the top four notes of a ninth chord).  These four notes and their relationship to various underlying harmony became part and parcel of any "hip" jazz player's toolbox from the late '20s on. (I'd include Frank Trumbauer and Jack Teagarden; later, Hawkins; Red Allen; Lester Young; Charlie Christian; and Benny Goodman).  Louis "assembled" these notes differently than Bix--and vice versa--but it can't be said that one was "better" than the other. They were both artists, and both worthy of our consideration.
Louis couldn't have come up with In a Mist. But it was Louis who quotes Debussy (over the saxes) on his 1932 disc of There's A Cabin In the Pines, when he plays a long, soaring phrase from Clair De Lune. I'm not sure those two--Bix and Louis--were as different as some critics and writers claim. It's on record that they dug each other!
My brother-in-law, Bryan Shaw (no mean trumpet player himself) has a dryly-written text from the late '50s or early '60s titled someting like, Principles of Brass Playing in the Symphonic Orchestra. One day, he opened it to a certain page, and told me to read it. I did. The chapter was about "vibrato." It basically stated that the use of vibrato was the province of string players, and its use expressly forbidden by brass players until the advent of "popular (African-American) trumpeter Louis Armstrong." (I'm paraphrasing here, but I'm close). The author went on to say that Armstrong's popularity (and that of his "style" on trumpet) was such that eventually, symphonic conductors occasionally allowe--and even requested--their orchestral brass sections to use vibrato, so as to give more expression to certain phrases! 
So, you see, Louis's influence went far beyond jazz, and didn't simply cease after the '20s.  Hey! He influenced me, and I was born in 1955!  I am not striving to play "old-fashioned" or anything like it. I want to be thought of as a "contemporary" (by definition) trombonist! I simply want to be as swinging and musical as I can be, and Louis was (is) about the most swinging, musical musician (those two words look funny together) I know. (Although Horowitz, Caruso, Heifitz, Kreisler, and Alma Gluck had their moments, I suppose...)
Sidebar: Bryan and I memorized several of Louis's solos while we were in high school. We still turn a few heads when we play Louis's fantastic chorus on Snafu in unison, trumpet and trombone. The number was recorded in 1946 by Esquire magazine's jazz poll winners under the name of the Esquire All-Stars. The "strange-bedfellows" band included Johnny Hodges; Don Byas; Billy Strayhorn on piano; Neal Hefti; bassist Chubby Jackson; Sonny Greer; a guitarist whose name escapes me (Remo Palmieri, maybe?) and Louis!  Louis got a whole chorus on the twelve-inch 78, and plays a solo for all time. It's a classic, and as great as Hodges, Byas, and Strayhorn are in their own respective solo spots, it's Louis's solo that keeps coming back to me (like a song. Ahem).
I submit all Louis had to do was play (and sing) like Louis Armstrong, whether as a young man, an old man, or anywhere in between. The genuinely hip folk out there got the message. throughout the years.  Whether one thinks of it as "old" or "modern," "groundbreaking" or "out-of-date," it was a message as solid and true as the Rock of Gibraltar. No one else has played like he did--ever.  I wish I could have heard him in person. I'm sure thankful the recordings exist.
It's time for more pomegranite punch.
Dan Barrett
Costa Mesa, CA

From: eupher61 at hotmail.com
To: danpbarrett at hotmail.com
Subject: RE: [Dixielandjazz] Dixielandjazz Digest, Vol 94, Issue 16
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2010 19:41:07 -0500

all due respect to you, certainly.

My beef is with the Burns series' use of Wynton as the ultimate expert.  I challenge, anecdotally more than with specific examples, Wynton's notion that Armstrong and Ellington were the most influential single people in jazz THEIR ENTIRE CAREERS.

That, to me, is utter hogwash.  Stylistically, Armstrong went nowhere after the Hines sessions.  Your examples are well-taken, but they are pre-Bix, at least in Bix's most creative and influential era.  Ellington, after WWII, did almost nothing that really got notice.  The suites were nice, but they were regarded as stuff of which no one really understood the purpose.

Bix changed the vocabulary, and provided impetus for many further changes.  His colorations by use of extended chords set the path for Diz and Bird.  Can you really say Armstrong did that much, aside from setting the example of soloist? 

And, your Ellington examples are 20s-30s also.  That's my beef.  Yes, they set the stage, but his influence was FAR outshone by others after about 1930.  Ellington did evolve, yes, and progress even, but his progress wasn't really taken on by others.

Armstrong's style became more of copying and melding with others than anything groundbreaking.  

On the other hand, Mary Lou took the KC style to New York and was on the ground floor in the swing and bop scenes.  Her influence wasn't really known by anyone outside of the main circles she was in, but it was strong nonetheless.

I'm not diminishing Oliver, or Django, or Henderson or Redman or Hines or anyone.  I'm not saying they weren't of importance stylistically. I won't go so far as to say Williams was of greater importance than Ellington and Armstrong, but I will say she was influential for a longer period of time than either.  
My whole statement really centers on my opinion that Armstrong and Ellington were not THE major influences on the development of jazz throughout their performing careers, as Wynton so frequently stated in Burns' series.  And, sarcastically, I hope Mary Lou does get the recognition for her major influence and continued progression through much more of her performing career--let's call it that Armstrong had a 6 year period (Hot 5s/7s through Hines, and a bit on each end) and Ellington had maybe 8 years (Jungle Band through mid 30s) where each was on the cutting edge.  Mary Lou probably had 20-25 years, from the Clouds of Joy in roughly /29-'30 into the 50s, when she almost single handedly made the jazz scene come back in style in New York.   There were a few years out of circulation, sure, but she had a huge impact on Monk, Diz, and Bird.  Yes, it's legend that Pops discovered her, but later she was writing for Ellington and Dizzy and Goodman.

steve hoog

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