Header Quote

"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
— Louis Armstrong

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Permanance of Pops: Louis Armstrong and American Music

It has become gospel in the jazz world that Everything Comes from Louis. And like so many truisms, the brilliance of Louis Armstrong is so plain that it is easy to miss.

Louis “Pops” Armstrong was the first great jazz player and singer, and his first batch of recordings from the 1925 to 1933—collected here in a definitive ten-disc set—is one of the essential artistic fountains of the 20th century. This music, recorded in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Camden, NJ, did much more than define and lay the blueprint for jazz. It is, almost completely, the source material for all popular music in the follow century, worldwide. Listening to hip-hop or pop or creative improvised art music in 2013 is to be inside Armstrong’s world still: a place where an insistent rhythmic complexity and a defiant expression of the individuality of a singer or soloist combine to make the heart and the body each move without limit.

The Reason to Call Him “Pops” Rather Than “Satchmo”

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Of course, placing all this on one man goes a bit far. Armstrong did not come out of a vacuum. Born in New Orleans near the start of his century, Louis inherited a set of traditions that would push him to make great art. He was a brass player coming from a city where compelling street music already existed for brass bands. Great players like Buddy Bolden and Joe “King” Oliver were already improvising solos (on trumpet or cornet, no less) in the context of a band. Jelly Roll Morton was devising ways for band arrangements to reflect a new sensibility of rhythmic pliancy and to set up ingeniously orchestrated call-and-response patterns.

But no one had put the music together like Louis Armstrong would, starting with these recordings in the 1920s. Armstrong was, quite simply, the best brass player anyone had ever heard. He not only played high and fast, but he could create spontaneous melodies that were unsurpassed in imagination, spirit, and cohesive intelligence. Above all else, Pops played with innovative rhythmic feeling—the slippery push-pull syncopation that would come to define the idea of “swing” but that really deserves to be described with a word that is less time-locked. Louis Armstrong didn’t just invent or perfect “jazz” or “swing”—he established the gold standard for groove in modern music. His feeling for the individual expression of time didn’t just set up Basie and Bird, Miles and Marsalis. Without Armstrong there’s no James Brown or Johnny Cash, there’s no Sinatra and no Kanye. The feeling at the root of all that music is in the groove, the way the great American artists address rhythm. And that feeling starts with these records, with the incomparable Louis Armstrong.

Read the entire article here: The Permanance of Pops: Louis Armstrong and American Music

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