A Century of Pops -- A Critical Celebration of Louis Armstrong

A Century of Pops
A Critical Celebration of Louis Armstrong

February 2 from 8-11 pm, EST, a live InterActiview discussion moderated by James Hale & Howard Mandel (hman). Panelists include Matt Glaser of Berklee College of Music, Leslie Johnson, editor of Mississippi Rag, JJAer Floyd Levin, Dr. Alan Stanbridge, University of Toronto jazz professor, and others.
copyright © 2001 Jazz Journalists Association

Q. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 07:57 pm]
good evening everybody--This is Matt Glaser signing in
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 07:59 pm]
   Matt: Great you could join us. I know this is a hectic time for you.
Q. from Leslie Johnson in Minneapolis, MN [Feb 02 - 08:13 pm]
I'll open things up by asking the two of you where Louis Armstrong figured into your own jazz lives prior to this renewed interest in his music. He's always been a part of my jazz life, but, of course,I'm traditional jazz person so interest in Louis is a given.
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 08:16 pm]
   Well, I'm a child of the '60s and grew up listening to my dad's records (Duke, Basie, Pops, Benny Goodman). Of course, in my youthful foolishness, I thought Louis was an old man past his time. It wasn't until his death, by which time I had discovered Miles, Bird, Coltrane, et.al., that I saw how much reverence other, younger players had for him and came to my senses... checked out the important works.
  A. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 08:19 pm]
   My father had a number of Louis records so it was a sound that I grew up around to a certain extent. Louis kind of became an obsession for me when I was in high school and has remained so ever since. I've specifically tried to learn to play a lot of his solos and have been astonished at the subtleties of rhythm and articulation they present.
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 08:19 pm]
   Matt Glaser.... you have such an interesting take on Pops; I'd be interested in hearing your answer to Leslie's question.
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 08:21 pm]
   One of the wonders of interactive discussions... Matt, you anticipated my question before I hit "send".
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 08:24 pm]
   Okay, Matt; you and I are probably around the same age. What did you hear immediately in Louis' playing that made him an obsession, while others like me ignored him until we circled back around to him through more contemporary players?
  A. from Leslie Johnson in Minneapolis, MN [Feb 02 - 08:30 pm]
   I'm one of many who first became aware of Louis through the Ed Sullivan Show, and I wasn't too impressed. It was strictly big smile, white handkerchief, funny voice, and a trumpet. I was a kid and I thought he was likeable but no big deal. As I became interested in jazz, however, I started listening to his early recordings and was hooked right away.
  A. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 08:31 pm]
   I think what I heard first or more realistically, felt, first was this tremendous existential power and joy. You know that communicative power that any great art has. Plus of course it just made me feel good, and you know when you're in high school you want to keep doing things that feel good!
Q. from m cagney in new york city [Feb 02 - 08:24 pm]
Matt, Your wonderful analysis of Armstrong's music was moving and thoughtful and I also agree with Joshua Redmond quoting your words in the NYTimes,"Music expresses things that cannot be expressed any other way. When you attempt to find language to describe that, the words fall short."
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 08:42 pm]
   As a writer, I take exception to that statement, if it means the effort to express these things in language is NOT worth trying. Music is beautiful, and moves me uniquely. I hope to move people through language. I can move people through language in ways that music can't. Can music not try to? It's all about expression, and subject, not the media. That's one of the lessons Louis provides, by the way. That's what changed the way people looked at music by black Americans, and at the composition-improvisation, reading-ear divides.
Q. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 08:26 pm]
I wonder if any of you folks have seen the text of the lecture that Peter Ecklund gave to the American Musicological Society in Toronto this past November? It's entitled "Louis Armstrong and the European Tradition of Popular Music: Opera, Cornet Solo, and Marches" ?
  A. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 08:36 pm]
   Thank you Matt for your insightful question! Yes I did see it. Ecklund makes the point the melodic component of Louis' vocabulary very likely came at least in part from the light classical, opera and march traditions that he was exposed to, and the rhythmic antecedents were from the Caribbean elements that the slaves in New Orleans had brought. Ecklund does an interesting experiment by playing the famous Louis solo on "Potato Head Blues" first as a waltz devoid of jazz feeling, in which you can see the European component of the melody, and then without any notes at all, just the rhythms which make a pretty hip hand-drum solo.
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 08:38 pm]
   I haven't seen this Matt -- do tell. Is that a correspondence to what Bob Belden is doing by having Wallace Roney play Turandot, or what Graham Haynes is up to on his things with Laswell? Did Louis exploit European Opera as a vehicle to impose his revolutionary swing?
  A. from Stanbridge in Toronto [Feb 02 - 08:50 pm]
   Okay, I was at the conference, but missed it (I was off listening to one of the Metallica papers). But couldn't a similar point be made about many musicians in the same period?
  A. from Leslie Johnson in Minneapolis [Feb 02 - 08:59 pm]
   This reminds me of Jelly Roll Morton's description of how "Tiger Rag" evolved from the French quadrille
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 09:22 pm]
   What was made of the source material is the object -- of course we can trace themes back, but it's what Louis did that was so impressive, and impertinent, refreshing, engaging. I think his greatest staying power is the honesty of his personality; he was from the first times I saw him (as a kid in the '50s, on tv) he was obviously huge, a person, real. He laughed, sweated, blew his cheeks out when he had the trumpet. I didn't know a thing about music, but here was a real person on TV, black person, doing something significant. Like, realer than Jackie Gleason or Jack Benny. Having more fun than Ed Sullivan, for sure. What all that gave me didn't come from popular European opera, good though those tunes are. Jazz has always improved using good material, and Louis understood that in the '30s, it seems, creating a vast chapter of the American songbook. What about his crossover sessions (the Mills Brothers, etc.) Was that "selling out" or a genre-crossing trait to be admired and emulated?
  A. from Leslie Johnson in Minneapolis [Feb 02 - 09:56 pm]
   I like your comment about Louis' honesty coming across, Howard. One of my favorite Louis albums is the one he made with Ella for Verve. It's a totally refreshing, honest album. For the most part, I find Louis' recordings of pop material delightful and admirable, not selling out at all. He could make any tune swing.
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 10:04 pm]
   Louis and Ella singing "Love Is Here To Stay" with Oscar Peterson is pure joy.

Not only that, but Louis' playing behind Ella -- the smeared notes in particular -- sounds as "contemporary" as anything he played after 1940.

Q. from Scott Yanow in Picturesque Burbank [Feb 02 - 08:29 pm]
Since there was more footage of Wynton singing in Ken Burns' Jazz than there was of Ella, tell me, what do you really think of Wynton's singing voice and technique? LOL
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 08:31 pm]
   I think that as a singer he's a hell of a trumpeter. Welcome aboard, Scott.
Q. from mcagney@ix.netcom.com in nyc [Feb 02 - 08:33 pm]
Matt: What do the folks at Berklee think about the Burns film?
  A. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 08:39 pm]
   I would love nothing more than to not have to talk about the Burns film, but I guess that's hoping for too much!
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 09:00 pm]
Q. from Alan Stanbridge in Sunny Toronto [Feb 02 - 08:35 pm]
As someone who arrived at jazz via rock and fusion, Armstrong never meant that much to me. But having watched the Burns/Marsalis Show, and realizing how important he was was in every decade of the century, now I understand...
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 08:39 pm]
   Obviously, we're not going to avoid allusion to the Burns doc tonight here -- though we're here to examine Louis, not Ken.

Alan raises an interesting question, though: Is the Ken Burns et.al. view of jazz history overstating Louis' influence and importance? Can it be overstated? Just how essential is Louis to how jazz evolved?

  A. from Alan Stanbridge in Sunny Toronto [Feb 02 - 08:43 pm]
   Okay, so I was kind of kidding, but James - the insightful devil - has anticipated my more serious question. I'm not particularly predisposed to discussing Burns either, but the issue is the *extent* of Armstrong's significance.
  A. from Leslie Johnson in Minneapolis [Feb 02 - 08:50 pm]
   Speaking as an editor who will be running major features on Louis in the next couple of months (an extensive review of--gasp--the Burns epic, an overview of Louis career, and an article adapted from material from an upcoming book on Post War Jazz), I will jump in front of the train and say, yes, the documentary was overkill regarding Louis. His influence was tremendous--no doubt about it--but deification evident in the series was really much too much. Those of us in the trad world see him as a monumental figure but he does not sit at the right hand of God. There was so much on Louis that it excluded other worthies. It would have been helpful, I think, if other musicians talked specifically about how they played as a result of listening to Louis. This would have involved much more input from Doc Cheatham and input from younger trumpeters like Peter Ecklund, Jim Cullum, Bob Barnard. Also would have been helpful to hear from other instrumentalists or vocalists about the effect his music had on their repertoires and approach.
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 09:15 pm]
   I've listened off and on to Henry Red Allen -- a remarkable New Orleans musician, who seems to me to pose an alternative to Louis' early on, and a very viable, attractive way of playing. His background is also fascinating: his dad was a bandleader who both King Oliver and Louis played with. Red going to NYC to play with Fletcher Henderson -- was he not also a contributor to jazz? Why was he less influential, if he was. Because he didn't sing (but he did). 'Cause he didn't age so well? Was it he didn't have a Joe Glaser?
  A. from Leslie Johnson in Minneapolis [Feb 02 - 09:38 pm]
   Bless you, Howard, for bringing up Red Allen, one of my all-time favorites. He was an incredibly hot player and a fabulous singer. Although Ruby Braff claims Louis Armstrong as his hero, I hear much of Red Allen in his playing (I've played Allen's "I Cover the Waterfront" for people and asked them, "So where do you think Braff got his distinctive sound?)Luis Russell's band, fronted by Allen, was one of the hottest, most swinging bands of all time--so good that Louis hired the band, sans Allen. I think Allen never made it really big because he was in the same time frame as Louis and he simply was overshadowed by Louis spectacular success. Ditto for Jabbo Smith, also an impressive talent, though not nearly as high on my list as Allen. It would be interesting to see how successful Louis would have been without the canny management of Lil Hardin--she was one smart cookie in figuring out his potential and pushing him toward success.
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 09:59 pm]
   Since Red Allen lived and recorded -- really contributed (I think of his Coleman Hawkins sessions w/Wayman Carver '32?) and influenced musicians to follow (I'd trace Don Cherry back to him, waddya thing?), we have the leisure for the rest of eternity to include his ideas into the world of jazz possibilities. . .as we do Clifford Brown's, or Freddie Hubbard's or Woody Shaw's, all significant modern trumpeters if not as codified, authenticated "significant" as Miles (or Pops). What's with this great man theory? Not that Louis' success -- musical, financial, personal -- should be denied him. Am I rambling? I'm listening to late '40s small band sides -- they're launching into Rockin' Chair (never one of my favorites, way too sentimental for tough old me -- but that intro is quite rousing . . .
Q. from Floyd in Los Angeles [Feb 02 - 08:42 pm]
To what extent is Louis Armstrong's influence still an element in today's music?
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 08:44 pm]
   Well, in Burns' Jazz Lester Bowie speaks of being influenced by Louis -- and I think that's pretty easy to hear in the music he did with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and in Brass Fantasy. Long tones -- lyrical lines -- not a lot of fancy running of changes. . .suspense, hoping to please
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 08:49 pm]
   I have no kick against tracing Louis' trumpet playing up to the present; I have more problem with extending his influence as a singer through Sinatra and others more recent.

Dr. Stanbridge, you're a huge Sinatra fan. Do you hear Louis in Frank, or in Tony, or Joe Williams?

  A. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 08:53 pm]
   If you listen to Louis' famous vocal solo on "Hotter Than That" where he essentially goes into 3/4 time against the 4/4 rhythm section for a full 8 bars, you hear him introducing polyrhythm into a jazz solo line. I would surmise that it's taken over a half a century for that level of comfort with polyrhythm to work it's way down to a jazz rhythm section. Obviously it's a bit of a stretch to say this, and it's not a direct line, but I still think it's true.
  A. from stanbridge in Toronto [Feb 02 - 08:56 pm]
   Not in Frank, who always claims Tommy Dorsey as his musical mentor. And Frank was never a 'jazz' singer in any case - not in any kind of scatting or improvisational sense. And not wanting to underestimate the influence of Armstrong's singing style, did anyone else find some of the statements in Burns (sorry...) - GG, for example - a little on the strong side?
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 09:30 pm]
   GG's book on Bing credits Louis bigtime - so of course, Louis must be the greatest for the story of Bing he's trying to tell. Now, Bing was Sinatra's influence (oh yes, I'd heard he liked Holiday too -- and *she* credits Pops). So the train goes. . .I think as a singer, Armstrong took a lot of chances, introduced an unusual direct address and good humored, get-up-next-to intimacy into his singing (including choruses of Dinah so cunningly dear, and also the Walt Disney songs album, which you could really trust any child with. If there are no current rappers who make use of Pops' sense of humor and ridicule-ness, it's hip-hop's loss.
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 09:41 pm]
   The point is well taken, and highlights, I suppose, the complexity of this thing we call 'influence'. But there's still part of me not buying the 'most influential singer in American popular music' line.
Q. from arnold jay smith in brooklyn [Feb 02 - 08:59 pm]
hi: in my grad class at new jersey city u a couple of students, musicians all, thought that the Armstrong emphasis was overdone in that they felt he stopped growing after the '30s, or at best, the '40s. What's your take on that? Question directed at all but Matt; I already know his answer.
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 09:02 pm]
   Welcome AJ. Leslie talked about jumping in front of the train, so I'll get out on the track with her. I think you can make a case that the '50/'51 All-Stars -- Hines, Cole, Shaw, Bigard, Teagarden -- was a match for the Parker/Gillespie band... pound for pound, as Howard Cosell used to say.
  A. from Leslie Johnson in Minneapolis [Feb 02 - 09:21 pm]
   Not being a musician, I can't speak with any sort of technical expertise about Louis' growth (or non-growth) as a musician after the '40s. My feeling is that in his later years--maybe 10-15 years before his death--he wasn't breaking any new ground but he wasn't phoning it in either. I think his role in American music had expanded in a different direction, however. He had such a strong, exuberant personality that he became a world figure as Louis Armstrong, the man, not just the jazz musician. He was a superb ambassador for America as well as for the music because he was, to apply the words of the esteemed Robert Palmer, "Simply Irresistible." So there was growth of a different sort.
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 09:44 pm]
   I think he was a man who kept up with the times, as per his ambitions. Evidently esthetic challenge was not a huge part of his makeup, or was principally in the Hot 7s and 5s period? -- when he was at top of his game, according to you know who sudden big city wunderkind, having scored a classy, ambitious wife. . .Armstrong was secure in what he did. The trumpet duet he plays with Dizzy (on a Jackie Gleason tv show) is for real, serious, and a sweet rapproachment is how I see it (Diz pays his tribute, for sure). His sheer output on the Verve side with Oscar Peterson -- scary that a singer would give so much there, and its "modern," more thoroughly realized to my ears as jazzy than Ella's conservative piano trio albums, isn't there one with Ellis Larkins pre the Songbooks? Armstrong survived from N'awlins turn of Century past the Beatles coming and going. Change in American culture accelerated significantly post War, in his middle age. For a man who lived hard enough prior to that, and then slowed down (buying his Queens house, final wife), it seems to me his intent was to maintain the level of art he'd achieved, less than hone in on new breakthroughs. Didn't he just give more and more *pleasure* 'til he died? By the looks of the Geo Wein 70th b=day tribute at Newport Jazz Festival, featured on a recent video documentary
Q. from arnold jay smith in brooklyn [Feb 02 - 09:09 pm]
James: Interesting you should mention the Hines-led rhythm section All-Stars. As a teen-aged piano player, I was introduced to Louis' Band via the Billy Kyle-Arvell Shaw-Barrett Deems section w/Trummy & Edmond Hall up front. Then I went back. But my question remains unanswered. Did he stop growing? If so, when? -AJay
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 09:13 pm]
   The notion of 'growing' is an interesting one, and much is made of the crowd-pleasing, tomming, handkerchief-waving later Armstrong. But wasn't Armstrong always a showman and a ham? And I don't mean that there's anything wrong with that - just that the 'later' stereotype seems to misrepresent the 'earlier' reality, n'est pas?
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 09:16 pm]
   I think the last period of growth was that transformation from the big band to the septet in '47. As a "performer" I think he continued to adapt to the times to some degree, but his musicality was set in stone by 1950. I don't hear any advancement, at any rate.
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 10:13 pm]
   What if we consider that his growth is in his mastery of the growing visual mediums -- movies and television, especially, that arrived fullblown after 1950? His embodiments of himself as visual imagery, and his acting, came to a climax in the '60s -- with Hello Dolly appearance, also with A Man Called Adam, I gather (still haven't seen this -- his serious role, *not* playing himself, opposite Sammy Davis Jr., the dog who had just a few years earlier accused him of disrespect and tomming, yes tomming or something close to it, after Pops called Ike on protecting school desegregating schoolkids). And the tv appearances range from Sullivan to Ed Murrow, quite a nice rapport those interviews.
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 10:28 pm]
   Another nice point from the h-man! It does seem a bit ridiculous to restrict notions of 'growth' to strictly musical innovation, doesn't it? Again, the parallels with Miles are striking, not so much the 'early' fusion years, but especially the 'late' fusion years, when even the 'early' fusion enthusiasts were apparently losing interest. Which is not to say that the broader audience was losing interest - let's hear it for the masses! And who are the masses anyway?
Q. from arnold jay smith in brooklyn [Feb 02 - 09:21 pm]
Louis as showman is what he was about. And he certainly attained superstar status in that arena, what being the most-presented artist on the Sullivan Show. He honed that craft to a fine edge. That's not the growth to which my students refer. They are still learning from Miles, Bird, Benny Carter, Nat Cole, Prez. But as for Louis, "old stuff," is what they call it. I have designed a 14-wk course to dispell that attitude. Tks in no small regard to Burns, it's been accepted. By the way, Louis "Tomming" is an ugly, and subjective term I'd rather not see bandied abt.
  A. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 09:26 pm]
   I always think of that quote on p. 316 of Miles' "Autobiography" "You can't play nothing on trumpet that doesn't come from him, not even modern shit."
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 09:37 pm]
   Re: 'tomming" - hey, I didn't coin the word. I was simply citing a criticism which has been made - often, and in those terms. Ugly, it sure is. Subjective, it ain't. It's impossible to discuss Armstrong's later career without bringing up these issues (and in the terms in which the criticisms were initially made). I'd be grateful if you were able to separate my genuine interest in social and cultural history from your claims regarding my supposedly 'subjective' 'bandying'. If a good PC mentality means that we can't discuss these issues freely (and without implicating others in the negative usage of the terms), then I'm out of here.
Q. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 09:25 pm]
Okay, new question. The point is often made (and made it was in Burns) that Armstrong could be as much of a 'low-brow' entertainer as he wanted because every time he put the horn to his lips he transformed the moment. How do you folks feel about this as an argument? Given that Miles is accused of selling out as soon as he flicks the 'on' switch on his amp, is there a bit of a double standard at work here? As someone who has never bought the selling out argument, I have no problem with Armstrong the 'entertainer'. But why do we have to revert to rather outmoded aesthetic arguments to justify his 'greatness'?
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 09:52 pm]
   Good question, Alan, but I think more people are more comfortable with an esthetic (allow me stripped down spelling) that's outmoded than one that's immediate. This idea about the "horn-to-lips-sublimity" is revisionist, too. For years mid 50s on crits complained about how tired his vocabulary was (they said the same of Monk in the '60s). The earthiness of the 5s and 7s can be dismissed, the immediacy of his oh-so-physical voice can be turned into something cute -- it's a handle to get on the actual variety of expression his music encompasses, as Miles was characterized and vilified as "evil." I think those who accused Louis of selling out are the same as those who contend that Miles sold out. They are people who live in bubbles, removed from many practical considerations, and the imperatives of the art-life balance.
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 10:08 pm]
   Couldn't agree more, and it highlights (shamefully, in my opinion) the extent to which much jazz (and much jazz criticism) has succumbed to the 'old ways' - a point which various academics such as Gary Tomlinson and Krin Gabbard have already made at length, but one which tends to stay (like so much academic work) within the academy. So the notion of the separation of 'art' from 'life' continues to be peddled in the 'mainstream' media, which - irony of ironies - claims to be able to distinguish between 'art' and 'commerce'. And sorry to come back to Burns again, but here was another - extremely high profile - mainstream example which simply further entrenched that view. As some old Russian guy said, "What is to be done?".
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 10:19 pm]
   That old Russian did it, didn't he -- presented a bigger view, clearer (we're talking Tolstoy, right, not Lenin), as true and all-encompassing as he could create; he did it again several times. I don't want to make a "better" vid doc than one that takes so much money and time to create (and genius too) -- but I want to present many articles of art and life, jazz and New York (for instance) now --leave traces of something that was more real than the mainstream media usually delivers (maybe I can sneak some reality in them, too?) Funny -- I just remembered I've written an article for Bravo!, a very handsome Brazilian arts magazine, about Louis as he's understood in the U.S. today. I say we don't know quite how to really take him. I haven't sold this article in English, and it's going to be published in Portuguese. Maybe I'll post it in the Library.
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 10:26 pm]
   Although it's difficult to lift Louis or Duke out of the spotlight of centennial celebrations (box sets, TV docs and all) it would be interesting to get a true perception of just how they *are* perceived, thought of, in America today. Is Louis so ingrained in culture that he has transcended himself? Outside of jazz fans, how much do Americans know of Louis? And if little, does that mean that Louis remains known by less than three percent of the population?
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 10:33 pm]
   Armstrong is an American icon, an indelible face, I think A la Geo Washington on the dollar bill. Everybody in America recognizes this man, knows he played the trumpet, probably, and knows that he sang. Everybody -- all ages, all races, all genders, recent immigrants or Native Americans. You've seen commercials where they pull him out of context and plant him digitally in a bar? What some of the attention *has* done is give light to his recordings. Right now probably more copies of the Hot 5s and Hot 7s are being sold (listened to? that's another question) than in any earlier edition. As with Rob't Johnson's recordings on Columbia.
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 10:42 pm]
   Fascinating piece of timing with that answer, Howard. My oldest daughter is home from university this weekend and on the couch in the next room watching one of the Swing episodes of JAZZ on tape (she was caught up in the Retro movement for awhile). She just asked me, "Was Louis Armstrong nice? Isn't he the mean guy (she meant Miles, of course)?" So, while she -- 19 and Canadian, I'll grant you -- is vaguely aware of Armstrong... even after 100 minutes plus of JAZZ tonight... I wouldn't say he's ingrained on her consciousness. So, I hope you're right about Louis being indelible. Our culture seems to have an increasingly short memory.
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 10:49 pm]
   Good thing she's at home, James, if she's not getting the education she deserves elsewhere! Of course, I'm in the middle of NYC, and if we don't know Louis here, then where? But I was thinking -- if I showed his photo to a cop in Wisconsin? To an old Italian lady in Scranton? To a barber in Nashville? A bigot in some hideaway? I can't imagine. Is Sinatra's face known everywhere (though maybe not whether he was naughty or nice).
Q. from arnold jay smith in brooklyn [Feb 02 - 09:46 pm]
Re: "Tomming". My comment was not meant as a personal attack. Didn't Uncle Tom give his life for "the cause?" What Louis did, how he behaved, was what he was. He certainly stood up to do-nothing Ike in the face of the Arkansas Nat'l Guard. Hey. His, along with Ralph Bunch, among others, was one of those paths my folks told me to follow. Bear in mind this was a middle class, Jewish, Brooklyn household in the McCarthy era.
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 09:58 pm]
   Sounds like good advice! (And no offense taken, by the way). But your comments home in on the paradox that I see in the criticism which is so often cited - how is it that such a right-on dude could be accused (often by the black community) of playing up to Whitey? What does this tell us about how we want our 'artists' to behave? What really interests me here (as a boring academic and cultural theorist) is the gap between the expectations on the 'entertainer' and on the 'artist'.
  A. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 10:05 pm]
   I'm sitting here listening to "Highlights from His Decca Years." In the notes, Loren Schoenberg quotes Ralph Ellison as follows: "Human anguish is human anguish, love love; the difference between Shakespeare and lesser artists is eloquence. And when Beethoven writes it is still the same anguish, only expressed in a different medium by an artist of comparable eloquence. Which reminds me that here, way late, I've discovered Louis singing 'Mack the Knife.' Shakespeare invented Caliban or changed himself into him. Who the hell dreamed up Louis? Some of the bop boys consider him Caliban, but if he is, he is a mask for a lyric poet who is much greater than most now writing. Man and mask, sophistication and taste hiding behind clowning and crude manners--the American joke, man."
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 10:14 pm]
   Right on Ralph/Matt! In that sense, Armstrong can be seen as way ahead of his time, using irony in a manner which is considerably more sophisticated than his detractors suggest. Am I on a flight of fancy here, or does that make any sense?
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 10:27 pm]
   You are totally right. Armstrong has the ability to make us see things through his eyes -- we identify very strongly with him. In some of the film appearances he is the framing device (High Society), as in Dolly he comes at the ultimate climax, giving us the thrill we haven't had yet (icing on Barbra's cake). In Adam, from what I'm told, he's the character of experience, looked up to by the protagonist. In Paris Blues, too, he's the guy who makes things right (for Duke's band!) when he arrives at the cellar. This is a role that is seen elsewhere in black American-identified humor, including Amos and Andy (the modest cabdriver, he's the viewer's touchstone). The difference between what's expect of the entertainer and the artist must reside in their respective audiences. At different times in his career (and posthumously) he's been appraised by the entertainer's audience one way, the artist's another, since he was both. And those audiences' needs of their heroes change. Their understanding of their heroes change as their understanding of themselves vis a vis their parents change, over generations. Armstrong, large a figure as he projects across international arts in the '20th Century, has a reputation that's fallen prey to all that.
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 10:41 pm]
   I'm intrigued by the way in which some of these threads are going, and they tie in very nicely with some of my own interests in this curious thing called 'popular culture'. To take Armstrong - *all* of Armstrong - seriously (i.e. not just the virtuoso 'Max Harrison likes him, so it must be okay' Armstrong) means leaving behind a whole bunch of prejudices which is often hard to do - well, at least, I still often find it hard to do. It's the kind of perspective that allows you to take Les Baxter seriously, and John Barry seriously, and The Simpsons seriously. And 'seriously' here doesn't mean 'great art': it means 'significant', in a social, cultural, and historical sense. This is where Burns and Marsalis have it all wrong - a cultural and historical bigotry (this has little to do with race), which allows them to dismiss both the 'popular' and the 'avant-garde' (whatever they are) in favour of 'real' art. Blah, blah, blah...
Q. from arnold jay smith in brooklyn [Feb 02 - 10:22 pm]
Q: Who created Louis? Another question asked by students. A: This thing called "inner genius." Then there is that gnawing question that if not for Louis, would there be jazz? Or, for that matter, "JAZZ"? Might there have been someone else? Yes. But that someone didn't come along for about 40 years and he only CHANGED jazz. The Matt-quoted Milesian quote that everything came from Louis is only a slight exaggeration, and a rare moment of Davis humility.

  A. from Leslie Johnson in Minneapolis [Feb 02 - 10:41 pm]
   Louis didn't create jazz. He just changed it because his virtuosity couldn't be confined within the original concept of jazz, based on ensemble playing. What Louis created was the extended solo--the star system which has unfortunately been misused by far less talented musicians. The ensemble concept still exists in the trad jazz world where some of the best bands de-emphasize solos, believing the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This concept certainly applies beyond jazz. I'm an opera buff as well as a jazz person. Last night, I attended a Bellini opera starring Sumi Jo and and Vivica Geneaux. In individual arias, each achieved glorious sound and feeling, but in their duets, the music was sublime--so gorgeous it literally took one's breath away.
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 10:44 pm]
   No Louis. Go down that road, though such a fate shouldn't be wished on any country, much less America in the 20th century (what would we have done without him?). But no Louis: Sidney Bechet is called to Chicago by King Oliver and creates an amazing new music called. .with Earl Hines on piano, they rip up the town, swing into New York, on to Paris...meanwhile, Don Redman and Fletcher Henderson toil along in NYC with their dance band, maybe not swinging hard enough, focused enough, until Coleman Hawkins awakes to his desire to master the tenor saxophone, then the big band coalesces around his huge, manly sound. There are *some* other trumpeters around -- aforementioned on this chat, and among them they're able to rise to the challenge, attempt to fill the vacuum of the dreaded No Louis parallel reality. Then Duke Ellington arrives in NY and still wows 'em as the Cotton Club. By the way, did Pops influence all trumpeters in his wake in the '30s, the way Bird and Trance cast their huge shadows over saxophonists? Or did his unattainable mastery intimidate others from trying to approach him, as I believe Cecil Taylor's pianism did to pianists post mid '60s, through almost the '80s (pace Muhal and Don Pullen)
  A. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 10:56 pm]
   With regard to the 'whole is greater than the sum of the parts' argument, I've always enjoyed Archie Shepp's comments in the liner notes of Cotrane's Ascension, where he makes a direct link back to New Orleans collectivism. This is an idea which often goes missing, it seems, in the reverence of 'great men'. There's such a tendency to talk about the history of jazz in the manner that Kenneth Clark talked about Western art - as "a succession of isolated men of genius". And too often revisionist approaches gets bogged down in specific issues which ignore broader social and cultural factors. It's extremely simple to talk about isolated geniuses; its much harder to attempt a genuinely contextualised account which positions people - not 'geniuses' - in a rich, intertextual, and historical context. Okay, I'm rambling...
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 11:00 pm]
   Rambling? I don't think so. In these past few weeks we're over-concerned with Great Man approach, obviously. Let's not lose sight that this music cannot be contained by a documentary film... no matter how long. I go back to a quote of Jackie McLean's that I remembered for Alan a few days ago: "People (Jackie was talking about the music business) think they can control this music. Hell, if as a musician I can't control this music with my horn, how can you think you're going to control it from outside?"
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 11:24 pm]
   it's so cool about jazz that every ensemble performance refutes the notion of isolated men of genius, operating without contact to life-as-it-is. NO jazz musician speaks of creating music, realizing their music, without the aid of other jazz musicians. Very few of them in this day and age can advance without regard for reality and practicality's constraints. Jazz is a lab where musicians test what happens when people conspire.
Q. from Matt Glaser [Feb 02 - 10:51 pm]
Folks I gotta' run. I want to thank you very much for the opportunity to listen to some Louis and read your thoughts about him. Thank you for asking me, James. I enjoyed it. Given the tenor of recent events, it's refreshing to have an in-depth conversation together about the man, his music, and his impact.
  A. from James [Feb 02 - 10:56 pm]
   Thank you, Matt. And thanks to various others who dropped in tonight. Howard and I are around for awhile (it's just before 11) so feel free to keep posting if you'd like. The whole thing will be up in the archive in a couple of days.
Q. from arnold jay smith in brooklyn [Feb 02 - 10:58 pm]
I don't know, Howard. I hear Louis in all of Duke's '30 & '40s trumpeters and others, altho slightly personalized via valve and mute techniques: Rex, Cootie. And what abt "Tiger Rag"? Did Louis' version instigate Duke's many? I don't this it was that ODJB recording? Weren't Fletcher & Louis together prior to the former's real breakout? Would Henderson ever have broken out, such as it was, if not so inspired? There's a cause-and-effect here. What abt all those who were Louis wannabee's who themselves went on to create "new" attacks; the obvious come to mind: Eldridge, Gillespie. Even Bean & Prez had to start somewhere. Inner genius come to very few; Louis & Bird conclude my list.
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 11:15 pm]
   Not to argue for my speculation -- rather to say I think there are a lot of ways history develops, and the "great man" theory doesn't hold much water for me, though indeed great men from Moses to Jesus to Napoleon to Bird have institute great things happening in life. I think if they weren't there, there *would* be others. Other forces would prevail, instead. But we wouldn't have been "without" what we recognize as jazz. Louis embodied many of its attributes, and promoted many of the essentials, throughout his life and career, seems to me. But the essentials of jazz and most of the attributes he excelled with were already established, certainly *present* in the society by the time he broke through. My query about the possibility of Louis intimidating or inspiring emulation was meant as a follow-up to, like, the Red Allen mention Leslie made - that he was simply overshadowed by Louis. Of course there were trumpeters in the '30s, Harry James comes to mind. What does Peter Levinson' book say Harry thought about Pops? What does Floyd Levin say about this in Classic Jazz (which he told me U of Cal press has just told *him* will go into a second printing!) What would Jack Bradley say (Jack's a great friend of Louis, photographer -- and actually featured in a brilliant photo of Pops performing used in KB's vid-doc -- the shot of the man and woman enthralled by Pop's performance, in the front row of a packed theater, having a roaring good time. Jack's a JJA member, has recently contributed some photos to that Bravo! spread I was bragging about, and is recuperating comfortable, I trust, in his home in Harwich, Cape Cod.
Q. from Hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 11:03 pm]
A few things to mention: there was a memorial tonight for Mark Tucker, jazz scholar, and donations are being accepted in his name by the Center for Research on Black Culture, in Chicago. In the Library of Jazzhouse, there's an extraordinary episode of fiction from the great American writer Donald Newlove about his jazz-playing alcoholic Siamese twins Teddy and Leo (Dostoyevski and Tolstoy) attending the funeral of Louis, their hero, in NYC. There are several lectures on Louis being presented by the Institute of Jazz Studies at Columbia U this spring. Dan Morgenstern and Jon Faddis did a great one, analyzing Pop's West End blues.
Q. from stanbridge in toronto [Feb 02 - 11:23 pm]
Hey guys, time to go. Thanks for an interesting (and very successful) evening. Howard: it would be fun to meet up sometime - I detect a certain wavelength compatibility. And James: rock on, man.
  A. from hman in nyc [Feb 02 - 11:28 pm]
   thanks -- me to getting ready to roll (long long day). See ya in cyberspace, at very least -- Good night James, thanks to Matt from me, too -- AJ, who's gone, and Leslie, -- I'll just listen to a couple more songs (that's gotta be Johnny Dodds now, zipping along, and pops singing "My momma momma momma, why do you treat me so?" A low down Gully blues.)

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March 26, 07



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