Jazz at 100 Hour 7: Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Hot Sevens

In the past two hours, we’ve heard the music of the newly conceived jazz orchestras of New York and the Harlem-style or “Stride” pianists. We touched on Louis Armstrong’s contributions to the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and the invention of the big band soloist. In this hour, we return with Louis Armstrong to Chicago and listen to his seminal small group recordings.

We are joined in this hour by John D’earth – trumpet player, composer, educator, member of the music performance faculty at the University of Virginia and the jazz faculty quintet, the Free Bridge Quintet.

“You can’t play anything on a horn that Louis hasn’t played” – Miles Davis

Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens.
Louis Armstrong spent 1924 and 1925 in New York, playing in the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and recording dozens of dates as an accompanist to singers. After returning to Chicago, he assembled a group of New Orleans musicians, plus his wife – Lil Armstrong, to record a set of the most important recordings in jazz history known as the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. This was not a working group, Armstrong had other larger ensembles, such as pit orchestras, with whom he played nightly. This was a hand-picked group that he created exclusively for recording his music as it rapidly evolved. With these recordings, small-group jazz moves from a music dominated by polyphony and collective improvisation to one that features virtuoso soloists and daring flights of creativity. With these recordings, jazz becomes a soloist’s music leaving the collectivist aesthetic behind.

In his History of Jazz, Ted Gioia writes, “Surely no other body of work in the jazz idiom has been so loved and admired as the results of these celebrated sessions, the Immortal Hot Fives and Sevens. In historical importance and sheer visionary grandeur, only a handful of other recordings – the Ellington Band work of the early 1940’s, the Charlie Parker Savoy and Dial sessions, the Miles Davis recordings of the late 1950’s come to mind – can compare with them.”

Heebie Jeebies. Louis Armstrong Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Kid Ory-tb, Johnny Dodds-cl, Lil Armstrong-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj). 2/26/1926.
Armstrong shows himself to have a highly personal manner of interpreting a song. He certainly wasn’t the first person to scat or even to record scatting, it’s just that his vocal style was so influential it seems that way.
Cornet Chop Suey. Louis Armstrong Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Kid Ory-tb, Johnny Dodds-cl, Lil Armstrong-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj). 2/26/1926.
King of the Zulus. Louis Armstrong Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp/voc, Kid Ory-tb, Johnny Dodds-cl, Lil Armstrong-p/voc, Johnny St. Cyr-bj, Clarence Babcock-voc). 6/23/1926.
Big Butter and Egg Man. Louis Armstrong Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp/voc, Kid Ory-tb, Johnny Dodds-cl, Lil Armstrong-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj, May Alix-voc). 11/16/1926. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)

The Hot Seven.
With the addition of tuba and drums, the Hot Seven, as Ted Gioia writes, ”…boasted a more prominent, more driving rhythm section, one better able to provide a hard-swinging foundation to Armstrong’s horn lines and vocals. Armstrong’s new conception of jazz, with its emphasis on the soloist, demanded just such a change. His choice of instrumentation reinforces this shift, and reflected his need for a more streamlined accompaniment, one that anticipated the future evolution of the rhythm section – in which piano, bass,… and drums … worked together in providing a looser and more fluid under-pinning to improvisation.”

Wild Man Blues. Louis Armstrong Hot Seven
(Louis Armstrong-tp, John Thomas-tb, Johnny Dodds-cl, Lil Armstrong-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj, Peter Briggs-tu, Warren “Baby” Dodds-d). 5/7/1927.
Potato Head Blues. Louis Armstrong Hot Seven
(Louis Armstrong-tp, John Thomas-tb, Johnny Dodds-cl, Lil Armstrong-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj, Peter Briggs-tu, Warren “Baby” Dodds-d). 5/10/1927. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
In an extended series of stop-time breaks, Armstrong moves fluidly around the underlying time, perfecting what must have been a startling virtuoso approach to soloing.

The Hot Five.

Hotter Than That. Louis Armstrong Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Kid Ory-tb, Johnny Dodds-cl, Lil Armstrong-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj/g, Lonnie Johnson-g). 12/13/1927. (The Norton Jazz Recordings / Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz / The Jazz Singers)
In a perceptive description by DeVeaux and Giddings, “The third chorus features one of the most memorable scat-singing vocals, especially the episode that follows the mid-chorus break, where Armstrong sings counter-rhythms of insistent complexity. Try counting four beats to a measure here, and you may find yourself losing your moorings, because his phrases are in opposition to the ground beat – a technique that later became standard in jazz.”
Struttin’ With Some Barbecue. Louis Armstrong Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Kid Ory-tb, Johnny Dodds-cl, Lil Armstrong-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj). 12/9/1927. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
In Jazz Masters of the 20’s, Richard Hadlock says that Armstrong’s solo is “a radiant experiment in the construction of long lines without the sacrifice of melodic simplicity and rhythmic momentum.”

West End Blues. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp/voc, Fred Robinson-tb, Jimmy Strong-cl, Earl Hines-p, Mancy Carr-bj, Zutty Singleton-d). 6/28/1928. (The Norton Jazz Recordings / The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Kicked off by the famous trumpet cadenza, West End Blues was recorded in the June 1928 sessions that signaled a powerful new partnership between Armstrong and pianist Earl Hines. Of hearing the legendary cadenza for the first time, trumpeter Max Kaminsky says, “I felt as if I had stared into the sun’s eye. All I could think of doing was run away and hide until the blindness left me.”
Squeeze Me. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp/voc, Fred Robinson-tb, Jimmy Strong-cl, Earl Hines-p, Mancy Carr-bj, Zutty Singleton-d). 6/28/1928.
An early example of Armstrong recording the work of Fats Waller, for whom he showed an affinity throughout his career, releasing an LP “Satch Plays Fats” with yet another version of “Squeeze Me” in 1955.
Basin Street Blues. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp/voc, Fred Robinson-tb, Jimmy Strong-cl, Earl Hines-p/celeste, Mancy Carr-bj, Zutty Singleton-d). 12/4/1928.

Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines.
“I was amazed to find a trumpeter like Louis who was playing everything that I was trying to do on the piano. So there were the two of us expressing the same spirit.” – Earl Hines

Weather Bird. Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Earl Hines-p). 12/5/1928. (The Norton Jazz Recordings / Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
This duet deserves comparison to the King Oliver/Jelly Roll Morton pairing of four years previous and to the original version of this song recorded with Oliver in 1923 to gage just how far Armstrong’s musical progress had come.
Beau Koo Jack. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Fred Robinson-tb, Don Redman-cl, Earl Hines-p, Dave Wilborn-bj, Zutty Singleton-d). 12/5/1928.
Muggles. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Fred Robinson-tb, Jimmy Strong-cl, Earl Hines-p, Mancy Carr-bj, Zutty Singleton-d). 12/7/1928.

I Can’t Give You Anything But Love. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
(Louis Armstrong-tp, JC Higgenbotham-tb, Albert Nichols-reeds, Charlie Holmes-reeds, Teddy Hill-reeds, Luis Russell-p, Pops Foster-b, Eddie Condon-bj, Lonnie Johnson-g, Paul Barbarin-d). 3/5/1929. Expanded to far beyond five players, this version of the Hot Five announces a move to larger ensembles that would characterize Armstrong’s playing through the thirties and most of the forties. By choice of material – by Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh (I’m in the Mood For Love, Don’t Blame Me), this also points to the next phase of Armstrong’s career as a major interpreter of the American Songbook. He is already departing significantly from the melody and bringing his own interpretation to the rhythm, characteristics, not surprisingly, of his trumpet work as well.

In The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz, Ben Ratliff writes that the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens “certainly don’t settle passively into a clichéd conception of music from the late twenties. They represent the New Orleans sound, yes, but even in 1927 Armstrong was out front and center, a bold fact, playing entire phrases before or ahead of the beat, making a fool of time. An idea like ‘New Orleans’ couldn’t contain him.”

In the next hour, we’ll introduce Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer the influential cornetist and C-melody saxophonist. As great early soloists, Bix and Tram were to influence the cool aspects of jazz as Louis Armstrong guided the hot.

Recordings.
The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113
Louis Armstrong – The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings. Columbia C4K 63527

Resources.
Brothers, Thomas. 2014. Louis Armstrong – Master of Modernism. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 6. Louis Armstrong and the First Great Soloists
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
“Louis Armstrong” by Dan Morganstern
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Louis Armstrong – The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 5. Louis Armstrong, The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (1925-1929)

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