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Review

A rare collection from a jazz great


This is jazz: Louis Armstrong
Sony Music
Rs. 100

Jazz's first decade saw Louis Armstrong starting out under the tutelage of ``King'' Oliver, a founding-father, around 1920. After working with Oliver in New Orleans and Chicago, Armstrong was urged by Lil Hardin, the orchestra's pianist and now his wife, to start his own orchestra. Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven, the two groups in whose name most of the early recordings appeared, became a byword for the front-line of the evolving musical genre. These recordings helped to shape the future of the genre for a decade and beyond.

Thus, the trumpet solo forming the introduction to West End blues, on this cassette, is still remembered as the first true example of an improvised solo, a feature later regarded as a defining hallmark of jazz. Around this time, Armstrong also began to phrase his trumpet-playing (and singing) to soar over the beat rather than tie the notes to it. This was the invention of swing, which gave jazz a lighter feel than the original Dixieland jazz of New Orleans had.

No recording dates are mentioned on the sleeve notes, but the musicians performing (the ``personnel'') each number are, making it evident that these recordings are all from the late '20s and early '30s. They have a raw energy often missing from the more polished performances of the '50s that several of the numbers are more famous for. Examples are Basin Street blues, Ain't misbehavin and When it's sleepy time down south. Others such as Memories of you and Stardust are gems of which any Armstrong recording is rare. The latter is a particularly beautiful example of swing phrasing.

The Armstrong vocals scattered through the album show him to have been an early inventor of scat, the technique of improvisation using nonsense syllables instead of words. Lil Hardin Armstrong plays piano on the first three numbers of this rare collection.

Jazzebel


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