The remarkable ability of New Orleans to produce trumpet (and cornet) players — which began with Buddy Bolden and reached its zenith with Louis Armstrong — shows no sign of abating. One of the latest entrants is Nicholas Payton. Here is part of Payton’s Wikipedia profile:
The son of bassist and sousaphonist Walter Payton, he took up the trumpet at the age of four and by the time he was nine he was playing in the Young Tuxedo Brass Band alongside his father. Upon leaving school, he enrolled first at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and then at the University of New Orleans, where he studied with Ellis Marsalis.
After touring with Marcus Roberts and Elvin Jones in the early 90s, Payton signed a recording contract with Verve; his first album, From This Moment, appeared in 1994. In 1996 he performed on the soundtrack of the movie Kansas City, and in 1997 received a Grammy Award (Best Instrumental Solo) for his playing on the album Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton. After seven albums on Verve, Payton signed with Warner Bros. Records, releasing Sonic Trance, his first album on the new label, in 2003. Besides his recordings under his own name, Payton has also played and recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Dr. Michael White, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Doc Cheatham and Joe Henderson. (Continue Reading…)
Louis Armstrong is my favorite musician — not only for how he played, but for who he was. And, perhaps more than anyone who ever lived, Armstrong is the American story, both the good and the bad. What made him great — triumphant — wasn’t that he revolutionized American music (though that isn’t bad). It was that he came through it all smiling and happily settled down in Corona, New York.
I always am interested in what other musicians say about Armstrong. It is particularly interesting in Payton’s case, because he is one of Armstrong’s artistic grandchildren. This is what he posted on his blog four years ago in a poem entitled “On Louis Armstrong:”
Louis Armstrong’s trumpet is like the voice of God.
He’s not asking; he’s telling you.
Miles is more malleable; compassionate like Christ.
Pops is so Old Testament.
His voice dry.
His articulation crisp.
His phrasing so sharp and spot on.
He favors melodies with repetitive notes as if to drive his point home to you.
Armstrong’s is the trumpet of tough love.
I have three reactions to this. First, it is interesting that Payton mixes the emotional/subjective (“Old Testament”) with the professional’s comparison of the styles of Armstrong and Miles Davis. Secondly, Louis Armstrong and his smile certainly don’t pop into my mind when I read the Old Testament, which isn’t a lot of laughs. Finally, I don’t think Payton would mind that half of a post that is supposed to be about him ended up being a discussion of Louis Armstrong. (On a side note, Payton seems to enjoy blogging as much as playing the trumpet. He doesn’t lack strong opinions.)
Above is “Bag’s Groove” and below is “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” which was performed with The Barcelona Jazz Orchestra.
Bessie Smith’s death was the result of a car accident outside of Memphis, according to This Day in Music.
Here is more on Smith from The Red Hot Jazz Archieve:
Bessie Smith was a rough, crude, violent woman. She was also the greatest of the classic Blues singers of the 1920s. Bessie started out as a street musician in Chattanooga. In 1912 Bessie joined a traveling show as a dancer and singer. The show featured Pa and Ma Rainey, and Smith developed a friendship with Ma. Ma Rainey was Bessie’s mentor and she stayed with her show until 1915. Bessie then joined the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit and gradually built up her own following in the south and along the eastern seaboard. By the early 1920s she was one of the most popular Blues singers in vaudeville. In 1923 she made her recording debut on Columbia, accompanied by pianist Clarence Williams. They recorded “Gulf Coast Blues” and “Down Hearted Blues.” The record sold more than 750,000 copies that same year, rivaling the success of Blues singer Mamie Smith (no relation). Throughout the 1920s Smith recorded with many of the great Jazz musicians of that era, including Fletcher Henderson, James P. Johnson, Coleman Hawkins, Don Redman and Louis Armstrong. Her rendition of “St. Louis Blues” with Armstrong is considered by most critics to be one of finest recordings of the 1920s. (Continue Reading…)
Smith was 44 years old when she died. Above is a version of St. Louis Blues song without Armstrong.
The list of legendary trumpet players from the New Orleans area doesn’t begin or end with Louis Armstrong. Indeed, the list essentially is endless.
Red Allen is a relatively early — and truly great — member of that group. Here is the beginning of his profile at Red Hot Jazz Archives:
Trumpet player, Henry “Red” Allen Jr. was the son of Henry Allen who was the leader of the Allen Brass Band of Algiers, Louisiana. Algiers is directly across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. As a teenager he played in his father’s band, with George Lewis, the Excelsior Band and with the Sam Morgan Band. In 1926 he left New Orleans to play with Sidney Desvigne’s Southern Syncopaters on the riverboat Island Queen which ran between St. Louis and Cincinnati. In 1927 he joined King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators while they were on tour in St. Louis. The tour didn’t go well for Oliver, and the band kind of fell to pieces in New York, but Red made his first recordings while there with Clarence Williams. Allen returned to New Orleans and played with Fats Pichon and then joined Fate Marable on the Strekfus riverboat Capitol where he would remain until 1928. After being offered a Victor recording contract and jobs by both Duke Ellington and Luis Russell, he returned to New York. (Continue Reading…)
Wikipedia points out that Allen is said to be the first to incorporate Armstrong’s revolutionary influences. The sense I get is that he was a bit unfairly obscured by Pops’ long shadow.
Above is a fabulous version of a Wild Man Blues, which seems to owe a lot to St. James Infirmary. It is interesting because of the early television treatment and host John Crosby’s comments. The show, called The Sound of Jazz, aired on CBS in 1957. It was part of a series called The Seven Lively Arts. An LP was released of the performances in the jazz segment.
Folks just interested in the music should skip to the 3:00 mark of the video.
The list of musicians, courtesy of Crosby: Allen, Rex Stewart (coronet); Pee Wee Herman (clarinet); Vic Dickenson (trombone); Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax); Nat Piece (piano); Danny Barker (guitar); Milt Hinton (bass) and Jo Jones (drums).
Below is Rosetta.
For years, Gaetano Alberto “Guy” Lombardo was synonymous with playing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve. He also was considered a stodgy conservative dance band leader, perhaps just to the cool side of Lawrence Welk.
Our access to YouTube and its documentation of much of the last fifty or sixty years may lead us to forget just how remarkable these videos are. The video above shows Lombardo playing New Year’s Eve 1957/1958 at the Roosevelt Grill in the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. I was about 10 months old and presumably asleep in Queens at the time. About halfway through, the scene shifts to Times Square and correspondent Robert Trout.
I am having a little trouble finding it spelled out explicitly, but apparently these conservative bands that focused on dancing rather than innovative music were call “sweet orchestras.” Muzak, I suppose would be the closest equivalent today, though that’s doesn’t really capture it. Lombardo, however, had fan who wasn’t dismissive, according to the Jazz Research Journal:
Though Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians were always considered the sweetest of American dance bands and the antithesis of what is usually called jazz, Louis Armstrong regularly named them as his favorite orchestra. This judgment is usually dismissed as an odd quirk, but by exploring it we can learn something about what made Armstrong unique. Likewise, it is worth examining Armstrong’s admiration for classical virtuosos like Herbert Clarke of the Sousa band. In broader terms, we cannot understand the evolution of jazz if we do not explore the deep African-American classical tradition and the extent to which artists like Armstrong and Lombardo shared a single world, and appealed to a broadly overlapping audience. Sweet orchestras and classical concert music, rather than being the opposite of jazz, were among the many inspirations for Armstrong and his peers, and our understanding and appreciation of these musicians is increased when we realize the breadth of their interests.
That’s sort of like nobody thinking you’re a good basketball player except Michael Jordan. In fact, Lombardo was a pall-bearer at Armstrong’s funeral.
In addition to Auld Lang Syne, the band plays Irving Berlin’s Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.
Visitors to New York should keep in mind that lots of great sites are outside of Manhattan. One of those is the Louis Armstrong House, which is in Corona, Queens. It’s a museum that is housed in the only home that Armstrong owned, and it is kept as it was when he passed away. It is not far from Citi Field.
Check out this nice feature from a while back at Retro Renovation.
New Orleans has a genius for producing great food and great trumpet and cornet players. Indeed, Louis Armstrong — who Wynton Marsalis pays homage to above — wasn’t the first. There was Buddy Bolden. And Joe “King” Oliver, a mentor to Armstrong, was raised in New Orleans even if he wasn’t born there. More recently, the city produced Al Hirt and Nicolas Payton. There are many others.
But Marsalis is special, as a musician and as an ambassador of jazz. This is from the bio at his site:
Wynton was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18, 1961, to Ellis and Dolores Marsalis, the second of six sons. At an early age he exhibited a superior aptitude for music and a desire to participate in American culture. At age eight Wynton performed traditional New Orleans music in the Fairview Baptist Church band led by legendary banjoist Danny Barker, and at 14 he performed with the New Orleans Philharmonic. During high school Wynton performed with the New Orleans Symphony Brass Quintet, New Orleans Community Concert Band, New Orleans Youth Orchestra, New Orleans Symphony, various jazz bands and the popular local funk band, the Creators. (Continue Reading…)
Here is the beginning of a review of a 1999 work, All Rise, which was presented at Avery Fisher Hall:
Wynton Marsalis’s tap didn’t turn off in 1999. Eight new discs bear his name, ranging from new extended jazz works to rearranged Jelly Roll Morton and Thelonious Monk; he has a seven-CD boxed set of live material; six months of the year were spent touring worldwide and playing the music of Duke Ellington. And finally, in its premiere performance on Wednesday night at Avery Fisher Hall, there was ”All Rise,” a symphonic piece commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in a collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center. (Continue Reading…)
West End Blues by Louis Armstrong is one of the most important songs in jazz. A YouTube poster named pandasthumb describes the piece. It’s definitely worth checking out. Here is one paragraph from the post:
From the very first note of “West End Blues,” a tune composed by Joe “King” Oliver, one can immediately sense the shift that was occurring in jazz through Armstrong’s influence. From his introductory, fanfare-like opening to his solo later in the recording, Armstrong displays his power, range, and unique personality on the trumpet. Pianist Earl Hines is also featured.
Pandasthumb annotates the video with a description of what is going on and why it is special.