Jazz has often been understood through the lens of the conflict between art and commerce. In the 1930s, several artists successfully blurred these distinctions. Louis Armstrong adopted popular song as his vehicle foe a successful career shift into the mainstream. Cab Calloway defined his popular hipster persona while fronting one of the most professional big bands of the era and providing an incubator for numerous future jazz starts including Dizzy Gillespie, Chu Berry and Milt Hinton. Lionel Hampton, a key member of Benny Goodman’s courageous color-blind quartet and the leading vibraphone player of his generation, created a series of high-energy recordings that were foundational in the development of Rhythm and Blues.
In the 1930’s, Louis Armstrong, already the leading instrumental soloist in jazz, reinvented himself as an interpreter and singer of popular song. “His second modern formulation was the result of efforts to succeed in the mainstream market of white audiences. The key here was radical paraphrase of familiar popular tunes. The basic idea was nothing new: when, during the late nineteenth century and probably long before, African American musicians spoke of ‘ragging the tune,’ they meant creating their own stylized version of a known melody by adding all kinds of embellishments and extensions… In the early 1930s, with the assistance of the microphone, he invented a fresh approach to this old tradition, creating a song style that was part blues, part crooning … plastic and mellow, the most modern thing around.” – Thomas Brothers
Ain’t Misbehavin’. Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Homer Hobson-tp, Fred Robinson-tb, Jimmy Strong-cl/ts, Bert Curry-as, Crawford Washington-as, Carroll Dickerson-vln, Gene Anderson-p/celeste, Mancy Carr-bj, Pete Briggs-tu, Zutty Singleton-d). 7/19/1929.
(What Did I Do To Be So) Black And Blue. Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Homer Hobson-tp, Fred Robinson-tb, Jimmy Strong-cl/ts, Bert Curry-as, Crawford Washington-as, Carroll Dickerson-vln, Gene Anderson-p/celeste, Mancy Carr-bj, Pete Briggs-tu, Zutty Singleton-d). 7/22/1929.
The earliest of many Fats Waller compositions to be explored by Louis Armstrong.
Sweethearts On Parade. Louis Armstrong And His New Sebastian Cotton Club Orchestra
(Les Hite-as/bsx, George Orendorff-tp, Harold Scott-tp, Luther Graven-tb, Marvin Johnson-as, Charlie Jones-ts/cl, Henry Prince-p, Bill Perkins-bj/steelg, Joe Bailey-tu/b, Lionel Hampton-vib/d). 12/23/1930. (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Composed by Carmen Lombardo for his brother Guy Lombardo, one of Armstrong’s favorite bandleaders.
I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues. Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
(Elmer Whitlock, Zilner Randolph-tp, Keg Johnson-tb, Scoville Browne, George Oldham-c/as, Albert “Budd” Johnson-cl/ts, Charlie Beal-p, Mike McKendrick-ban/dobro, Bill Oldham-tu, Harry Dial-d). 1/26/1933. (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Music by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ted Koehler.
Sweet Sue (Just You). Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
(Elmer Whitlock, Zilner Randolph-tp, Keg Johnson-tb, Scoville Browne, George Oldham-c/as, Albert “Budd” Johnson-cl/ts, Charlie Beal-p, Mike McKendrick-ban/dobro, Bill Oldham-tu, Harry Dial-d). 4/26/1933. (The Jazz Singers)
“After a mock radio-announcer into by Armstrong and a fanfare by the band, Pops riffs and mumbles the lyrics above the swinging reeds and the train-wheel-steady rhythm… Then the tempo downshifts to half speed, making way for [singer/tenor player Budd] Johnson, who (with Louis sometimes translating, but not really) delivers two choruses in “viper’s language,” the secret scat-tongue of the hip jazz world and its hazy “viper’s” (marijuana smoker’s) private parties.” – Robert O’Meally in the notes for The Jazz Singers
2:19 Blues. Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
(Claude Jones-tb, Sidney Bechet-cl/ss, Luis Russell-p, Bernard Addison-g, Wellman Braud-b, Zutty Singleton-d). 5/27/1940. (The Jazz Singers)
Hobo, You Can’t Ride This Train. Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra
(Louis Bacon, Louis Hunt, Billy Hicks-tp, Charlie Green-tb, Pete Clark-cl/as, Edgar Sampson-as/vio, Elmer Williams-ts, Don Kirkpatrick-p, John Truehart-g, Elmer James-tu/b, Chick Webb-d). 12/8/1932. (The Jazz Singers)
“Over the chugging rhythm section and chorus of horns [provided by Chick Webb and his band] … Armstrong laughs, scat-calls, and talk-sings his gravelly song of mock-warning and revelry. Topping the performance is his strutting blues trumpet, clarion clear as it ascends to a high C to match the high spirits of the overall performance.” – Robert O’Meally in the notes for The Jazz Singers
“It has been said (most eloquently in Gary Giddens’s Satchmo) but bears repeating: Armstrong was a modern character, a mixture of a true artist and entertainer, of individualist and crowd pleaser. If you don’t appreciate both sides you miss his essence.” – Ben Ratliff
Calloway learned to scat at the feet of Louis Armstrong in Chicago in the late 1920’s when he was ostensibly attending law school. He dropped out, moved to New York, took over an established band and established a long-term residency at the Cotton Club in 1930, replacing Duke Ellington. Ellington’s response to the premise of the Cotton Club (blacks playing for whites amid plantation decorations) only went as far as his amusement at the label “jungle music”. In contrast, Calloway applied his unequalled charisma, elastic vocals and swing to exotically topical lyrics, often of drug culture, nonsense syllables, and cynical nostalgia for the Deep South. Ironically, many of these songs were the work of white writers like Harold Arlen (Over the Rainbow) and Ted Koehler (Stormy Weather).
Minnie The Moocher. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra
(RO Dickenson-tp, Lammar Wright-tp, Reuben Reeves-tp, Harry White-tb, Arville Harris-cl/as, Andrew Brown-bcl/ts, Earres Prince-p, Morris White-ban, Jimmy Smith-b, Leroy Maxey-d). 3/3/1931.
Kickin’ The Gong Around. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra
(Edwin Swayzee-tp, Lammar Wright-tp, Reuben Reeves-tp, DePreist Wheeler-tb, Harry White-tb, Arville Harris-cl/as, Andrew Brown-bcl/ts, Walter Thomas-as/ts/bs/fl, Bennie Payne-p, Morris White-ban, Jimmy Smith-b, Leroy Maxey-d). 10/21/1931.
By Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler.
Minnie The Moocher’s Wedding Day. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra
(Edwin Swayzee-tp, Lammar Wright-tp, Reuben Reeves-tp, DePreist Wheeler-tb, Harry White-tb, Arville Harris-cl/as, Andrew Brown-bcl/ts, Walter Thomas-as/ts/bs/fl, Bennie Payne-p, Morris White-ban, Jimmy Smith-b, Leroy Maxey-d). 4/20/1932.
By Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (Stormy Weather, I’ve Got the World on a String, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea)
The Man From Harlem. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra
(Edwin Swayzee-tp, Lammar Wright-tp, Doc Cheatam-tp, DePreist Wheeler-tb, Harry White-tb, Barefield-cl/as/bs, Arville Harris-cl/as, Andrew Brown-bcl/ts, Walter Thomas-as/ts/bs/fl, Payne-p, White-ban, Al Morgan-b, Maxey-d). 11/30/1932. (The Jazz Singers)
“Because he was such a great song-and-dance man, comedian, sex symbol, and all-around entertainer, it is not usually noted that Cab was one of the band’s most gifted musicians, perhaps its greatest soloist [in the company of Ben Webster, Chu Berry, Dizzy Gillespie, Cozy Cole, Milt Hinton and others]. His voice has an astonishing elasticity and range; from the deep bass to the ringing soprano notes – the clear falsetto tones – it could swoop and soar, commanding a tremendous variety of colors and textures.” – Robert O’Meally in the notes for The Jazz Singers
“Hampton was the first player to use vibes as a jazz instrument as opposed to a novelty … His Victor sessions of the ‘30s offer a glimpse of many of the big band players of the day away from usual chores: Hampton cherrypicked whichever band was in town at the time of the session, and although most of the tracks were hastily organized, the music is consistently entertaining.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook
When Lights Are Low. Lionel Hampton And His Orchestra
(Dizzy Gillespie-tp, Benny Carter-as, Coleman Hawkins-ts, Ben Webster-ts, Chu Berry-ts, Clyde Hart-p, Lionel Hampton-vib, Charlie Christian-g, Milt Hinton-b, Cozy Cole-d). 9/11/1939. (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
What a pick-up band! The rhythm section is Clyde Hart-piano, Charlie Christian-guitar, Milt Hinton-bass and Cozy Cole-drums; the front line is Dizzy Gillespie-trumpet, Benny Carter-alto, Coleman Hawkins + Ben Webster + Chu Berry-tenor. By Benny Carter.
Jivin’ The Vibes. Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra
(Ziggy Elman-tp, Hymie Schertzer, George Koenig-as, Vido Musso, Arthur Rollini-ts, Jess Stacy-p, Lionel Hampton-vib/voc/d, Allan Reuss-g, Harry Goodman-b, Gene Krupa-d). 2/8/1937.
“His was a style built on abundance: long loping lines, blistering runs of sixteenth notes, baroque ornamentations, all accompanied by an undercurrent of grunting and humming from above.” – Ted Gioia
Ring Dem Bells. Hampton & His Orchestra
(Cootie Williams-tp, Johnny Hodges-as, Edgar Sampson-bs, Lionel Hampton-vib/voc, Jess Stacy-p, Allen Reuss-g, Billy Taylor-b, Sonny Greer-d). 1/18/1938.
Rhythm, Rhythm (I Got Rhythm). Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra
(Buster Bailey-cl, Johnny Hodges-as, Jess Stacy-p, Lionel Hampton-vib/p/d/voc, Allan Reuss-g, John Kirby-b, Cozy Cole-d). 4/26/1937.
In the next hour we’ll return to the music of Fats Waller – one of the most important composers and instrumentalists in jazz history, who would also have to be on anyone’s short-list of most entertaining jazz artists.
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891.
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113
Classic Jazz: Vol. 096, Louis Armstrong (1929). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Cab Calloway – The Early Years 1930-1934. JSP CD 908 4CD
Lionel Hampton 1937 – 1938. Classics 524
Brothers, Thomas. 2014. Louis Armstrong – Master of Modernism. New York. W. W. Norton & Company.
Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press
Chapter 5. The Swing Era
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
“Louis Armstrong” by Dan Morgenstern
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Cab Calloway – The Early Years 1930-1934.
Lionel Hampton 1937 – 1938
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 9. Louis Armstrong, The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1930-1956)
Simon, George T. 1981. The Big Bands. New York. Schirmer Books.