Jazz week: trumpet. Day 1, Pops (and Bix)

The greatest American contribution to popular music—perhaps to all music, or even art in general—is jazz.  And from its beginnings the music was produced and sustained almost entirely by African Americans.  This week I want to play some of my favorite jazz songs:  those that feature the trumpet.  (Sax, vocals, and others will come in future weeks.)  I’ll put up the artists in chronological order.

Others will disagree, but I date the beginning of popular jazz to this song, Potato Head Blues, recorded in Chicago by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven on May 10, 1927. (Armstrong wrote the song, too.)  For in this song is what I consider the first great jazz solo, and the solo—often improvised—is a hallmark of jazz.  Armstrong’s remarkable solo, played over stop-time, begins at 1:50.  You can hear the echoes of jazz’s ancestor Dixieland throughout the song and in the rousing chorus (there’s a tuba instead of a bass, for example), but what an advance!  I never get tired of listening to it; it puts extra spring in my step when I’m jogging with my iPod.

(When you click below, it will say “content restricted.” Just click on the “Watch on YouTube” line, on both this song and the one below, to get to the YouTube version.)

(The photo above shows Armstrong’s original group, the “Hot Five,” to which he added two members for this song and some others.)

Potato Head Blues was one of the things on the list of “what makes life worth living” recited by Woody Allen in Manhattan (it shows up at 1:06):



(I must admit: it’s a pretty damn good list.)

The Hot Five and Hot Seven produced many early jazz standards, including my other two favorites, Struttin’ with Some Barbecue and West End Blues (I’ve given YouTube links, but if you have RealPlayer, you can download these songs, and many others, for free at the “Hot Five” and “Hot Seven” links above.)

If you know Armstrong (nicknamed “Pops”) only as the gravel-voiced, clownish musician of his latter years, do realize that he was perhaps the most important founder of jazz, and one of its greatest artists.  And even in his “clown” years, his voice was mesmerizing and he still played a fantastic trumpet.  Listen to “Hello Dolly” again and you’ll see (and note his scat singing; he was one of the first musicians to do this).

I know that some people are going to carp if I forget Bix Beiderbecke, a white guy from Iowa who also produced great early jazz solos, and I should mention here his best: “Singing the Blues,” recorded a few months earlier: February 4, 1927.  I was just going to refer to it, but having just listened to it again, I realized that I had to post it as well.  This song had tremendous influence on later jazz musicians; Lester Young is said to have carried the music for it in his saxophone case:

52 Comments

  1. Posted January 10, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Well, something tells me I’m really gonna enjoy this week. Thanks, Jerry!

    b&

  2. JoeBuddha
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    If there IS a god, he’s Louis. Louis and Ella defined Jazz (IMNSHO); the rest is footnotes. (Let the flaming begin!)

    • gnome
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      now, now. Each generation had it’s greats. To say Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane are footnotes is ignorant. Bird expanded the melodic vocabulary in new ways that are still being explored thank you very much. I love Louis, but c’mon.
      Bird Lives!

  3. Dominic
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I appreciate the musicality of jazz & jazz musicians, but it is not a musical form that I enjoy really. I am sure that a lot of music I do like has been influenced by jazz at least at second hand. I wonder what it is that turns people on to particular sounds or styles – might it be related to formative influences & exposure when we are children?

    Cannot listen to the music alas – I get a message from Sony saying that the content playback is restricted on certain sites. (Not that I should be playing music in a library anyway!)

  4. Helen Wise
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I’m completely embarrassed to admit that I know nothing about jazz, and I didn’t think I liked it, but, as in all things this website, I will appreciate the education.

    It’s frequently very humbling to visit here.

    • Vern
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      I highly recommend Ken Burns’ Jazz if you want to know about the music and the culture that surrounded it. I still like listening to rock and classical and almost any other kind of music, but jazz, especially the stuff before bebop, is my favorite. Whenever I find out that somebody listens to jazz with a critical ear my estimation of him/her/it goes up quite a bit.

      • Helen Wise
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        Well, of course one wants to be admired.

        My thoughts about jazz are that it is best appreciated by those who principally value musicianship. This does not exclude a pleasure aspect. But it may come close 🙂

        • Posted January 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          Helen, if you want to hear jazz as entertainment and have the great musicianship just sort of sneak up on you, you might want to start with Fats Waller. A little more obscure, but also good for the same reason would be Clifford Hayes with various jug bands, particularly The Dixieland Jug Blowers or The Louisville Stompers.

          I’ve listened to jazz as entertainment for years before my ears became attuned to the musicianship and allowed me to appreciate Coltrain, Thelonious Monk and the like.

          When it comes to music, I say screw the highbrow/lowbrow distinctions–it’s unibrow all the way!

  5. TrineBM
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    *SWOON* Jazzweek!!!
    Looking forward to this – (John Coltrane – please … please????)

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      You’re gonna have to wait till SAX WEEK for Coltrane! And those are gonna be tough choices. . . .

      • daveau
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        Are you just going to lump alto & tenor in together?

        • Andrew B.
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          What about Soprano, Baritone and Bass saxs? Are you going to cut those out too?

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

            HEY! As my father used to tell me, “Don’t holler before you’re hurt!”

      • TrineBM
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        Ok ok – I’ll wait. Patiently, and will be partial to tenor (I’ve played tenor) and baritone, because baritone is the coolest instrument on the planet! Looking forward to the rest of jazzweek!

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

          because baritone is the coolest instrument on the planet!

          …and I thought it was the kazoo. 😉

      • daveau
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Maybe just woodwind week. Dolphy performed one of the greatest solos I’ve ever heard on a bass clarinet (eludes me right now), and what Anthony Braxton can do with a contrabass sax is mind bending.

        Yes, Dad, I’ll shut up now…

  6. kardinal
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    As a former Iowan, I appreciate the nod for Bix. I always liked the quote from Louis Armstrong, as it sounds like its out of a movie: “Lots of cats tried to play like Bix; ain’t none of them play like him yet”

    Go to Bix Fest in Iowa for a great jazz festival.

  7. stvs
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Anyone who shares Woody Allen’s jazz preferences will love anything from Reference Recordings Jazz series which features a lot of great Dick Hyman (composer/arranger/conductor/pianist for many Allen films), and for this post, Dick Hyman’s “Thinking about BIX” specifically. I prefer “Dick Hyman Plays Duke Ellington”.

    Tangentially and OT, Allen ends his Manhattan musings with “Tracy’s face”. I once was a neighbor of Stacey Nelkin, the real-life 17-year-old student with whom Allen had an affair. Knowing this history and Allen’s well-publicized liking for very young girls, I listened very closely when in Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview with Allen, she asked him if these characters have anything with his real life. Allen flat out lied: “Though audiences may see parallels between the character’s relationship with a younger woman and Allen’s own marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, Allen tells Terry Gross that the film is purely fictional.” I love Allen’s films and his use of jazz, but my contempt for him reached new heights.

    Back on topic, I hope that jazz week includes a special worship devotional at the Church of Coltrane.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      This is jazz TRUMPET week. The sax, as I said, comes in some future week,and of course Trane will be included.

      • Dominic
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        Sax & drugs &… jazz!

  8. Sven DiMilo
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    So far so good.
    You only get 5 trumpet players? Or 7?
    hmmm

    Louis Armstrong
    Roy Eldridge (&/or Sweets Edison)
    Dizzy Gillespie
    Miles Davis
    Clifford Brown
    +
    Freddie Hubbard
    Lester Bowie

    (Fats Navarro, Clark Terry, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Blue Mitchell, Woody Shaw, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Walace Roney, Dave Douglas, &c. &c. Some tough calls to make here.)

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Yes, it’s a tough choice, and on your list you’ve got three of the four that are yet to appear.

      • Sven DiMilo
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        hmm, who’d I miss?
        An Ellingtonian? (maybe Stewart or Williams)
        Chet Baker?

        Harry James?

        • bric
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          Don Ellis

        • Antonio Manetti
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          I admired Harry James’s mastery of technique but thought his playing lacked emotional depth.

  9. Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Bix knew booze. Here’s my favorite of his brilliant compositions (for piano):

    Thanks for the wonderful post!

    • Aqua Buddha
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Pops had a much less debilitating habit than Bix: daily dose of Swiss Kriss laxative and marijuana. Satch knew how to party.

  10. yesmyliege
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    “The greatest American contribution to popular music—perhaps to all music, or even art in general—is jazz.”

    Love jazz, glad you are highlighting it…

    but the greatest American contribution to music has got to be blues, not jazz. Without the blues, we would not even have jazz, not to mention a little thing called rock and roll.

    Blues was not just a new genre, it was a new musical scale, combining notes in a pattern with a certain sweet dissonance that has proven to be almost universally addictive and adaptable to combination with many other scales and genres.

    Jazz is an enormously important genre in its own right, of course. It is in one sense a new language with new vocabulary being invented all the time, all in homage to previous ‘wordsmiths’. It pays constant honor to its blues roots in almost all of its iterations.

    • Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      Agree–and as much as I love Ella, ain’t nobody sing the blues like the Lady ;-))

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Blues is African.
      Jazz is American.

      • yesmyliege
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        wiki:

        “Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the Deep South of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads.”

        • yesmyliege
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          The same wiki article, however, does say that “blue notes” are supposed to have an African origin, citing “Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “A Negro Love Song”, from his The African Suite for Piano composed in 1898, which contains blue third and seventh notes”.

          Just to muddy the waters, the article also says: “the blues form itself bears no resemblance to the melodic styles of the West African griots, and the influences are faint and tenuous.[48][49] In particular, no specific African musical form can be identified as the single direct ancestor of the blues.[50] However many blues elements, such as the call-and-response format and the use of blue notes, can be traced back to the music of Africa”

          I come away with the blues is an American invention with African roots, but since “blue notes” came from Africa, I think my contention is greatly undermined.

          • Posted January 10, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

            I’m no musicologist, but I don’t think the categories were so clearly defined in the early days. Just look at all the stuff Louis recorded with blues singers. Look at the great jazz players who played with Bessie Smith. Lonnie Johnson is a great example of someone who moved easily between both worlds.

  11. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Oh Yeahhhhhhh!

    If Potato Head Blues was recorded in Chicago by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven on May 10, 1927 then why does Sony Entertainment still own it? Shouldn’t the copyright be expired?

    Also, for the last year, I have been listening to the fusion jazz station on Pandora. Great for relaxation or during gym exercise.

    • Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      It’s in the public domain in England, but here in the States we keep extending the time a copyright is valid. I think it’s something like 100 years in the States and 50 in England.

  12. Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Professor Coyne; you’ve made
    my week, and it’s only Monday! Louie and the Hot Five are proof that heaven exists here on earth and not in some “hereafter”. I’m liking your blog more all the time and am looking forward to the rest of your Jazz postings.

  13. Andrew B.
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I recommend Paolo Fresu. I’ve only heard his recordings with Carla Bley (And the Lost Chords) and Ralph Towner, but he’s pretty great. But please, no Maynard Ferguson!

  14. Antonio Manetti
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Then there are the guitarists like Django Reinhardt, with his incredible technique and driving rhythym and Charlie Christian, who made the electric guitar into a solo instrument that could hold its own in the big bands.

    • Andrew B.
      Posted January 10, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I’m looking forward to guitar week (assuming there is one) so I can actually contribute to this site instead of cliched noise I usually post.

      • Posted January 10, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        How ’bout making that “string week” so that we can also hear jazz violinists such as Stuff Smith, Stephane Grapelli, and Joe Venuti?

        • Antonio Manetti
          Posted January 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          I’ll vote for that.

  15. Petu W.
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    A biologist who likes both classic films and jazz? What could be more sympathetic? According to Clint Eastwood there are two genuine american art forms: jazz and westerns. I would add blues to these. (And the best westerns often have Ben Johnson in their cast…)

    As regards Pops, it is sometimes forgotten that he was as important as a singer as an instrumentalist. His style of phrasing is evident in most jazz and rock singers even when they themselves don’t know it. This becomes clear if one compares Armstrong’s singing to most white singers of the 20s and 30s.

  16. Peter R
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Singin’ The Blues immediately reminded me of the 80s UK TV comedy/drama series ‘The Beiderbecke Affair’ and its sequels ( Beiderbecke Tapes & Beiderbecke Connection ).

    The refrain in the youtube link starting at 7 seconds is a recurs throughout the 3 series.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beiderbecke_Affair

    I’ve not watched it for a few years. Something else on the to-do list!

  17. bric
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Potato Head Blues was the first jazz record that really registered with me – the second was the Gillespie big band ‘I Can’t Get Started’ both still in my top faves. But then I heard Miles . . .

  18. Aqua Buddha
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    The greatest ten seconds in all of music is the first ten seconds of West End Blues. Sublime.

  19. nick bobick
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Louie didn’t only sing in his later years… which I’m pretty sure you are not saying. His definite trumpet/vocal for me is the 1931 “Stardust”. Then if you want to have a mental orgasm at your computer, checkout Coleman Hawkins’ 1935 tenor sax recording of “Body & Soul”. Sorry if I’m jumping the gun.

  20. Posted January 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Among America’s great contributions to music are: Stephen Foster, John Phillip Sousa, ragtime, popular song, blues, rock and Broadway. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something…

  21. Posted January 11, 2011 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    Great selections! “Struttin’ ” is one of my all-time favourites. Can I hold out faint hope that before you move on to sax and rhythm instruments that there might be a trombone week? Hard to pass up the sweet tones of Jack Teagarden.

    • Antonio Manetti
      Posted January 11, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Along with J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding and the great albums they made together.

      • Posted January 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. Both great players-I simply wanted to avoid the chastening some of the sax fans got for mentioning too many non-trumpeters.

        So, will there be a trombone week?

  22. See Nick Overlook
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    If I wanted to quibble, I would suggest that the place to start would have been with Joe “King” Oliver, who was a great influence on Louis. But that’s okay, this is good.

  23. Tom
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    In the Dark is such a beautiful piece by the immortal Bix. I am proud he is from Davenport!


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