I always say, “good jazz is the best medicine¹.” Whenever I have an ache or pain, it always helps take the edge off, and when I’m feeling blue, a hot tune will really pep me up! Few records can do it better than this one, one of the great masterpieces from Louis Armstrong’s period with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. With Armstrong in the mix, the band, also consisting of greats like Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, and Don Redman, was just about unbeatable.
Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra in 1925. Pictured left to right: Howard Scott, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Dixon, Fletcher Henderson, Kaiser Marshall, Buster Bailey, Elmer Chambers, Charlie Green, Ralph Escudero, and Don Redman. From Jazzmen, 1938, courtesy of Fletcher Henderson.
Vocalion 14926 was recorded October 30, 1924 in New York and pressed in that red shellac. The always outstanding lineup of Henderson’s orchestra consists of Louis Armstrong, Elmer Chambers, and Howard Scott in the trumpet section, Charlie Green on trombone, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Don Redman on clarinet and alto sax, Coleman Hawkins on clarinet and tenor sax, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Charlie Dixon on banjo, Ralph Escudero on tuba, and Kaiser Marshall on drums. All band members pictured above play on this record.
“Words” is a fine tune—I have no complaints—but it cannot begin to approach the masterpiece on the other side of the disc. (I still would recommend listening to this one too, though!)
Words, recorded October 30, 1924 by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra.
Named not for the city in Denmark, but the tobacco in the States, “Copenhagen” is nothing if not a masterpiece. Probably my all-time favorite Fletcher Henderson recording. This is a take “B” of two existing takes, and they really get in the groove. Is this the greatest jazz record of all time? Maybe, maybe not, but it is up there. (In fact, I may be crucified by some for it, but I like this one better than the Wolverines recording with Bix Beiderbecke.)
Copenhagen, recorded October 30, 1924 by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra.
¹ I am not a medical doctor and therefore not qualified to dispense medical advice.
That special time of year has come again that we celebrate the birth of the great Louis Armstrong, on the event of his 115th birthday. Last year, we commemorated the occasion with his theme song, “Sleepy Time Down South”. This time around, we have even more excellence from Armstrong’s original Hot Five.
Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five (autographed to Muggsy Spanier). Left to right: Armstrong, Johnny St. Cyr, Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory, Lil Armstrong. From Jazzmen, 1939.
Louis Armstrong was born in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 4, 1901. He grew up in a poor family in Storyville, and played witness to jazz in its infancy. As a child, he made money working for a Jewish family by the name of Karnofsky, who came to treat him as one of their own. Armstrong played as a youngster with the band of the New Orleans Colored Waif’s Home, and was instructed in cornet by Professor Peter Davis. After leaving the home, Louis hauled coal by day and played by night, with all the jazz greats of New Orleans. “King of Cornet”, Joe Oliver, “Papa Joe” as Louis called him, came to be Armstrong’s mentor before heading north to play in Chicago in 1919. He soon began playing in the famous brass bands of New Orleans, and on riverboats on the Mississippi.
In 1922, Armstrong received a request from Oliver to join him in Chicago. Nervously, he obliged, and in that April, Armstrong made his first recordings with King Olivier’s Creole Jazz Band for Gennett Records. With the Creole Jazz Band, Louis met piano player Lil Hardin, and before long the two were married. It was Lil’s idea that Louis should leave King Oliver’s band; she believed his potential was wasted as a sideman to Oliver, and so he did. In 1924, Armstrong left to work briefly with Ollie Powers’ band, before spending a year with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, and then with Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra (not to mention a number of other ventures on the side). His biggest break came in 1925, when he formed his first Hot Five, and thus the first time he appeared on records as leader. Through the rest of the 1920s, Armstrong kept busy playing and recording prolifically. After some work with Carroll Dickerson’s orchestra in ’29, Louis left for California in 1930 to play a gig at Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in Los Angeles, California, fronting Les Hite’s orchestra.
Following that engagement, he traveled from place-to-place for a period, from back to Chicago, to home in New Orleans, to California again, before embarked on a much celebrated tour of Europe in 1933. When he returned to the states in 1935, his fame was only on the rise. After playing swing and jazz into the post-war era, and in 1947, he assembled his All-Stars, as a revival in “dixieland” came about. Armstrong remained steadily popular until his death in 1971. From the 1920s into the 1960s, Armstrong his inimitable mark on music, and cemented his place as one of the greatest jazz musicians, and most beloved American icons, of all time.
Okeh 8535 was recorded December 13, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois. The Hot Five consists of Louis Armstrong on cornet, Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Armstrong on piano, and Lonnie Johnson on guitar. This was the last session by the “original” Hot Five, in 1928 Armstrong organized a new group made up from members of Carroll Dickerson’s orchestra, including Earl Hines and Zutty Singleton.
Now, no matter what the question may be, the answer is right here for you, “Hotter than That”.
Hotter than That, recorded December 13, 1927 by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.
On the flip-side, they play Kid Ory’s composition, “Savoy Blues”.
Savoy Blues, recorded December 13, 1927 by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.
It seems wrong that this place called “Old Time Blues” has featured staggeringly few blues records thus far, and after that previous incursion of popular music, I think it’s high time to work some actual old time blues into the schedule. Here’s a classic record by Bertha “Chippie” Hill featuring the work of a very familiar trumpeter.
Bertha Hill was born in 1905 in Charleston, South Carolina, she entered vaudeville in the 1910s, working with “Ma” Rainey and Ethel Waters in the TOBA circuit and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Hill was given the nickname “Chippie” at age 14, referring to her young age at the time. She entered the recording industry in 1925 and only recorded until 1929, making 23 sides total. After retiring from music in the 1930s to raise her children, Hill made a comeback in the late 1940s. Tragically, she was struck and killed by a hit and run driver in New York City in 1950.
On Okeh 8312, a laminated “TrueTone” recorded February 23, 1926 in Chicago, Bertha “Chippie” Hill sings “Trouble In Mind” and “Georgia Man”, accompanied by Richard M. Jones on piano and the incomparable Louis Armstrong on trumpet.
Richard M. Jones’ “Trouble In Mind” is an excellent (albeit melancholy) song, delivered wonderfully by Hill. The label on this side looks pretty darn bad, but fortunately what actually matters, the playing surface that is, is not too bad at all.
Trouble In Mind, recorded February 23, 1926 by Bertha “Chippie” Hill.
“Georgia Man” is a much lighter-hearted piece, trading the dreary theme of laying one’s head on a railroad line for a more raunchy one involving “jelly roll”. The label’s a lot prettier on this side, and it might play just a little bit better, too.
Georgia Man, recorded February 23, 1926 by Bertha “Chippie” Hill.
Normally, I wouldn’t make two consecutive posts of records by the same artist, but today, August 4, marks the great Louis Armstrong’s 114th birthday, so I’m making an exception. To celebrate the momentous occasion, I present to you Armstrong’s theme song, and one of his most popular early records.
Okeh 41504, recorded April 20 and 28, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois, features Louis Armstrong on trumpet and vocals, backed by Zilner Randolph on second trumpet, Preston Jackson on trombone, Lester Boone (on clarinet and alto sax), Albert Washington (on clarinet and tenor sax), and George James in the reed section, Charlie Alexander on piano, Mike McKendrick on banjo and guitar, John Lindsay on bass, and Tubby Hall on drums.
First up is “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”, recorded April 20, a composition by brothers Otis and Leon René and Clarence Muse which would become his theme song. Louis starts by striking up a conversation with pianist Charlie Alexander (who actually hailed from Ohio) about their home back in New Orleans before segueing into the song.
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, recorded April 20, 1931 by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra.
On the flip, recorded April 28, Louis and the band play “I’ll Be Glad When Your Dead, You Rascal You”, written by “Lovin’ Sam” Theard (though Cow Cow Davenport claimed to have written it), one of his most popular songs of the day, which he would replay twice over the following year for Paramount Pictures and Fleischer Studios.
I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You, recorded April 28, 1931 by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra
In 1933, Louis Armstrong embarked to great fanfare on a tour of Europe, something which many of his contemporaries, including Duke Ellington, the Boswell Sisters, and the Mills Brothers were doing around the same time. Things were not all fine and dandy for Armstrong in Europe however, as he was plagued a lip ailment that caused him pain, and a manager who took his money back to the States after being fired. Nonetheless, Louis doesn’t let his troubles show in his work. After finishing his tour, Louis remained in Europe until 1935.
On this Polydor record, recorded November 7, 1934 in Paris, France, not too long before his return to the States, Louis is joined by the distinguished pianist Herman Chittison, as well as Jack Hamilton and Leslie Thompson on second and third trumpets, Lionel Guimaraes on trombone, Peter duCongé on clarinet and alto sax, Henry Tyree on alto sax, Alfred Pratt on tenor sax, Maceo Jefferson on guitar, German Arago on the bass, and Oliver Tines drumming. Maceo Jefferson was one of a very few American jazz musicians to be interned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
On “Tiger Rag” (billed some places as “Super Tiger Rag”), the band plays hot, and Chittison delivers an Art Tatum-esque piano solo. Towards the end, the band recreates Louis’ performance from his filmed performance in Copenhagen the previous year.
Tiger Rag, recorded November 7, 1934 by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra.
On “St. Louis Blues” (billed here as “Saint-Louis Blues”), Louis gives a classic performance, and introduces some fine solos on piano by Herman Chittison and tenor sax by Alfred Pratt.
Saint-Louis Blues, recorded November 7, 1934 by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra.