LOUIS ARMSTRONG PLAYS THE BLUES
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Accompanying great blues singers in 8 selections, with members of Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra
Louis Armstrong (cnt) Joe Smith (tp) (band #8 only) Charlie Green (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Fletcher Henderson (p) Charlie Dixon (bj) probably Kaiser Marshall (drs) New York; 1924 (bands 3-5), 1925
TRIXIE SMITH (Paramount 12262)
The Railroad Blues (2:57) (Smith)
The World’s Jazz Crazy, Lawdy, So Am I (3:00) (Smith)
MA RAINEY (Paramount 12238)
Jelly Bean Blues (3:19) (Rainey)
Countin’ the Blues (3:22) (Rainey)
MA RAINEY (Paramount 12252)
5. See See Rider Blues (3:18) (Rainey)
GRANT AND WILSON (Paramount 12317)
6. Come on Coot and Play That Thing (2:57) (Grant-Wilson)
Find Me at the Greasy Spoon (3:03) (Paramount 12337) (no information)
When Your Man Is Going to Put You Down (3:00) (no information) (Para 12324)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG is Louis Armstrong – and that says it about as well as it could be said in several pages of small print.
At this late date (after Satchmo has been playing his horn for more than 40 years), it must be assumed that nearly everyone knows who he is, how large he looms in the history of jazz, and what he has accomplished with cornet, trumpet, and voice.
The only problem, then, in describing any given group of Armstrong recordings, is apt to be; exactly which Louis do you mean? In four very full decades there have been many changes in his style, many facets to his career. Rough New Orleans horn, band sideman, vocalist, showman, leader of small groups and virtuoso standing in front of large orchestras – all these (and a few more) are Satchimo, and in each role he has made major contribution.
But – without stopping to worry about which is the “greatest” Armstrong – it is certainly true that some of the warmest, and at the same time some of the most drivingly powerful horn-playing belongs to his mid-1920s period. Fresh from the proving ground of his big-time debut with King Oliver, a rising star with the Henderson band, and with the memorable Hot Five recordings just ahead of him, the young cornetist was nearing full control of his incredible potentialities.
It is equally true that the blues have always called forth something special in Louis. He is incomparably at home with them, and with all of their many varied moods. During the ‘20s he accompanied many blues singers brilliantly, on a great many records. It is from among these that the eight ‘hands’ of this long-playing record have been selected.
All of which should suggest that there is some remarkable jazz to be heard here. Louis in his early prime (his tone still ‘dirty’ and ‘blue’, not yet round and fully, playing with some of the other Henderson greats, backing first-rate singers – the combination is richly promising , and promise is fully realized.
It should be noted that the word “backing” gives a highly inadequate picture of what occurs here, lesser men may be content merely to fill in some breaks behind a blues singer, but Louis does immensely more. He is literally all over the place: inventing, supporting, pushing even the best of them to do better still, adding structure and meaning to even that most casual of songs. He never forgets that, on these records, he is the sideman and someone else the star. Yet he never lets anyone forget that he is Satchmo, that his horn always has a lot to say, and that it’s always very much worth listening to.
It has been said that the musicians who played for her must have loved TRIXIE SMITH: and unmistakable lift and spirit to so many of her recordings bears this out. The Railroad Blues is surely the happiest of the very many about trains taking people away; the rhythmic The World’s Jazz Crazy. . . is perhaps her most celebrated number. Louis, ‘Big’ Green, and Bailey enthusiastically make the very most of things here.
MA RAINEY is one of the immortals. Bessie Smith, and just about ever other blues singer of her time and afterwards, learned at least part of their art from her. Ma’s voice is rough and uninhibited, but it has great dignity; the backing here is in perfect accord with it. Jelly Bean is among the most mournful of all blues, with Dixon’s banjo and Louis’ cornet accentuating its haunting beauty and pathos. There is a thread of cynicism in Countin’ the Blues; it is seized upon and embellished by a “wah-wah” mute style that is a rare departure for Armstrong. See See Rider is a classic blues that Ma made pretty much her own; it’s one that complains of mistreatment, but eventually gets pretty tough and independent about it. Louis’ underlines its spirit unforgettably.
COOT GRANT and “KID” WESLEY WILDON were vaudeville stars. As their raucous and racy material suggests, they were primarily entertainers having themselves a ball. But it should not be overlooked that they had a real feeling for the blues. Very much the big-city kind of blues, with considerable attention paid to the rough-and-ready happy relations between the sexes. Satchmo’s horn indicates that he knows all about this. He blasts along, very much in evidence behind Come on Coot and Find Me At the Greasy Spoon, pacing the ensemble in that inimitable lead style that is the closest thing in the world to taking a solo without actually doing so.
When Your Man Is Going to Put You Down is a ‘new’ addition to the Armstrong discography. Although recorded at the same session as the other Grant and Wilson sides, it has always been assumed not to be a Louis item. The horn heard for most of the record is probably Joe Smith. But, after careful listening, the editors of The Record Changer magazine have recently become convinced that there is a clear touch of Louis here. Midway through the record (Coot is saying: “Now, honey, you can’t tell when these men is going to put you down…”) a cornet takes over, apparently far off, for a moving chorus. It is certainly not the horn preciously heard; it is now believed to be Armstrong – Satchmo, who was surely in the studio, making a perhaps unscheduled appearance.
This material is reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner. For some of these selections, unplayed originals were made available through the courtesy of John Hammond, from his private collection. The slight surface noise audible on the LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and more faithful reproduction of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Album notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Paul Bacon
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N.Y.
NOTE: the label of SIDE1 of RLP1001 noted as
1. The Railroad Blues
2. Jelly Bean Blues
3. The World’s Jazz Crazy
4. Countin’ The Blues