Louis Armstrong’s Impact on Jazz

Louis Armstrong’s Impact on Jazz

Final Blog Post Rough Draft

Mike Garvis

Louis Armstrong transformed jazz in the 1920’s and gave it a direction and purpose. He remains one of its most important figures, changing the nature of soloist and ensemble…” Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans where he learned how to play the cornet and evolved as a musician. Starting off with a rough childhood, he was able to pull through and was mentored by his hero, King Oliver. Famous for his virtuosic abilities, he quickly climbed to the top and started a new era of jazz, known as the swing era. When mixing his New Orleans style with Fletcher Henderson’s Broadway style, he created a type of music that had more rhythm to it. By establishing his performances and recordings in the 1920’s served as a basis for improvisation and virtuosic solo playing; he was able to set the standard. As famous jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie said, “No him, no me.”

Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Armstrong was left under the care of his grandmother until he was able to start school, at that point he lived with his mother. This only lasted until he was about the age of 7 when he was taken in by an immigrant Jewish family. Whilst living with his new family, Armstrong began to develop a musical ear by singing in a street barbershop quartet. His step parents enabled him to buy his first cornet. Around the age of 12, Armstrong committed a crime which put him in the Home for Colored Waifs for general delinquency. This may seem to have been a setback for young Louis; however, it ended up being the place where his interest in music blossomed. He continued to play the cornet and was given lessons by a professor. After his release a year later, he joined a band. While playing in this band, Armstrong progressed through practice and musical education.

Armstrong rose to fame in the early 20’s. His mentor had been Joe King Oliver, a famous cornettist of the time, who left Armstrong in 1918 to play in Chicago. After moving on and playing in other bands, Armstrong’s musical skills began to grow immensely and he started to become very famous. When word hit Oliver, he immediately offered Armstrong a position as the second trumpet in his band. Oliver might have been his mentor, but he could not keep up with Armstrong’s talent as a soloist. His virtuosic abilities awed jazz enthusiasts and word quickly spread. Performing with Oliver was short lived when Armstrong married Lil Hardin, who persuaded him to play with Fletcher Henderson in New York. Not only was joining this band a step up for Armstrong, it was the start of a new era of jazz. Louis Armstrong: “The beginning and the end of music in America.”-Bing Crosby. In other words, as I see it, Armstrong ended one jazz era and started a new one.

Fletcher Henderson, the leader of one of the most esteemed dance halls in New York, taught Armstrong composition and music terminology. By playing in the band with Henderson, he was able to directly manipulate the sophisticated sound of dance hall jazz to give it a something more rhythmical and upbeat. On Broadway, at the Rosewood Ballroom, Armstrong incorporated the classic New Orleans sound to popular jazz. After hearing his talent and unique rhythmical improvisation, it was evident that Armstrong was undoubtedly the best jazz soloist Broadway had to offer. He steered jazz toward the more fluid rhythms of swing

Directly below is the link to a song (the sound of sophisticated popular jazz) you might have heard on Broadway in the early 20’s, before the reign of Louis Armstrong. (This song is merely an example of that music and does not depict all music of this type). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kBuKM04nEQ

Next is an example of Louis Armstrong’s use of rhythmic freedom via improvisation and shifting of accents and subdivisions. Notice how his virtuosic style of playing is more complex sounding yet upbeat and fun at the same time.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjEiyhESlh4

In this song, Hebbie Jeebies, Armstrong uses many different techniques that influence and introduce a new popular way to play jazz. Armstrong expresses his musical freedom through rhythmic improvisation. What separates this from the previous song is not only was he in a small band but he incorporated scat-singing as well as call and response. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksmGt2U-xTE

Louis Armstrong had a very long and successful career. He influenced the direction of jazz music and improvisation. Armstrong was the first ever “Super Star” of jazz music. His reputation as the best jazz player of his time was secured as Armstrong’s formation of swing and melodic innovation opened out and transformed Henderson’s band as well as jazz as a whole. He incorporated the jazz style of his hometown with popular jazz of Broadway to integrate a new and improved type of jazz. “I wouldn’t say I know what jazz is, because I don’t look at it from that angle. I look at it from music—we never did worry about what it was in New Orleans, we just always tried to play good.” –Louis Armstrong (Wald)


Works Cited:

1) History Timelines Copyright. “Louis Armstrong Timeline.” History Timelines. History Timelines Copyright, 20 Aug. 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://www.history-timelines.org.uk/people-timelines/27-louis%20armstrong-timeline.htm>.

2) Krupa, Gene. “Louis Armstrong: “The Beginning and End of Music in America”” Jazz Books. JAZZSCRIPT, 4 Feb. 2002. Web. 27 Apr. 2012. <http://www.jazzscript.co.uk/extra/art.armstrong.htm>.

3) Wald, Elijah. “Chapter 4 Alexander’s Got a Jazz Band Now.” How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. 49. Print.


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