During the mid 1920s Armstrong began recording the
sessions that would become legendary with his Hot
Five and Hot
Seven groups. His first record under
his own name was My Heart
cut November 12th 1925. For better than three years Armstrong remained in
Chicago churning out a number of famous recordings that earned him worldwide
acclaim. Many were with a pianist he had worked with in the Dickerson band
named Earl "Fatha" Hines. By the time he returned to New York in 1929 both
black and white audiences knew Armstrong the world over.
While in New York, this time around, Armstrong
reached a pivotal point in his career; he led the Dickerson band and doubled
in a roll on Broadway in the revue called Hot
Chocolates. His first popular song
hit came from this show; a song written by Fats Waller called Ain't
From then until the mid 1940s Louis played with a
big band, his material now becoming "pop" songs of the day, rather than
blues or original instrumental compositions. His singing took on a more
dominant role in his performances and recordings and some of the groups his
record label Decca paired him with were at best questionable. Jazz critics
find much of his output from the mid 1930s forward to be of a lesser regard
than his pioneering efforts in the 1920s even though Armstrong continued to
spread the appeal of jazz, as popular music, around the globe as no one else
could. While some of his "swing" recordings from the 1930s and 1940s
provided many with the opportunity to enjoy him in a more "easy to relate
to" and popular manner, others see them as evidence of Armstrong selling out
to pop music.
One bright spot for improvisation's sake took place
at the 1944 Esquire All American Jazz
Concert. Louis took his rightful place
that evening at the top of a list of jazz all-stars selected by Esquire
magazine. He later humbly expressed his enthusiasm and appreciation of being
there and playing with all the "greats" that evening but to a man, they had
Satchmo to thank for making their careers more fruitful.
His new manager Joe Glaser had no trouble in booking
and overbooking Armstrong during this period. The schedule he had Louis on
was unbelievable, if not downright ludicrous. Many times Armstrong's lips
were so overused they bled from his performances. Because Glaser had him
moving about so much doing live performances, Armstrong was not recorded as
much in the studio with quality backing as he should have been even into the
In 1947 Armstrong led a sextet that was to become
known as simply Louis Armstrong And His
All-Stars. This small group, playing
mainly Dixieland based jazz, proved an immediate success and became
Armstrong's permanent touring setting.
In the 1950s and 1960s, following his Decca
affiliation, Armstrong was recorded in a variety of settings; from small
groups with Oscar Peterson on piano, to two albums with Ella Fitzgerald, to
big band and orchestral accompaniment. The bulk of these recordings can be
found on the Verve record label. He can also be heard on a live Verve LP
called Jazz At The Hollywood Bowl
as recorded in the mid 1950s. Although his Blueberry
Hill and Hello
Dolly were big pop hits at the end of
his career they offer little for jazz and swing music fans. A more
interesting and representative pop recording from his latter career would be
A Kiss To Build A Dream On
arranged by Sy Oliver and another hit.
Armstrong was given a bad rap by some as being an
"Uncle Tom," a judgment laid on him by detractors that viewed his "clowning"
akin to that of a minstrel act. However his love for Harlem, where he made
his home, never ceased. Armstrong was outspoken and took an active role in
Civil Rights issues starting as early as the Eisenhower era in the 1950s.
Louis Armstrong was the first great trumpet soloist
in jazz. His unmistakable trumpet and vocals, while not as "hot" or
improvisational in latter years, continued doing what he loved most, making people happy.