Friday, July 3, 2020

The NRR Project: Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens

Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Hot Sevens
Recorded 1925 - 1928
Louis Armstrong, cornet
Lil Harden Armstrong, piano
Johnny Dodds, clarinet
Johnny St. Cyr, guitar and banjo
Kid Ory, trombone
Pete Briggs, tuba
Baby Dodds, drums
Also: Lonnie Johnson, guitar; Jimmy Noone, clarinet; Earl Hines, piano; et al

Comes the revolution.

It’s difficult to overstate how important these recordings are. They mark a dividing line in the history of jazz. In them, the emphasis moves from ensemble playing to featured soloists, from novelty numbers and dance music to a medium that allows individual artists to carve out landscapes, fill them with color, and create new ways of perceiving and thinking about music.

As usual, the National Recording Registry has an exceptional explanatory essay, found here, in place concerning the entry. I can only add my private observations.

Listen first to the recordings that Louis Armstrong played with his mentor King Oliver. The music is squat, tight, busy. The ensemble puts out clusters of sound. Now put on some of the 89 Hot Fives/Hot Sevens compositions. The difference is like night and day. The solos and fills Armstrong provides are full of life, spontaneity. They spark similar outbursts from the rest of the ensemble, creating a patchwork quilt of vibrant melodic lines.

And Armstrong, if he didn’t invent scat singing, surely made it popular with his recording of “Heebie Jeebies.” 

He makes all these innovations look easy, as if they were there all the time, just waiting to be blown into the microphones. (The recent advance to electronic recording made it easier to balance and shade the group’s contributions.) It’s just as fresh today as it was then. That’s the mark of a classic. Listen and marvel.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: Jelly Roll Morton’s Black Bottom Stomp.

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