Tag Archives: Louis Armstrong

45: “Gloomy Sunday,” “Am I Blue” b/w “Body and Soul,” “Long Gone Blues” by Billie Holiday and her Orchestra. Columbia B-2534. Recorded 08/07/41, 05/09/41, 02/29/40, and 03/21/39 in New York City.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

When I find a 45 from an obscure Dutch progressive rock band, it isn’t that difficult to pick five or six songs that give a good sense of that band’s career arc. For other artists, that simply can’t be done—their influence is too strong, their lives too compelling, or their catalog simply runs too deep to attempt such an abbreviated presentation of their work. All of those conditions are met by Billie Holiday. So I’m going to include the songs on this 45 EP, and a couple of others of note, but as any fan of Billie’s will tell you, I’ll only be scratching the surface.

A little background. Billie was born Eleanora Fagan, in 1915, and raised by distant relatives in Philadelphia while her mother worked as a server on passenger trains. Her absent father was most likely Clarence Holiday, a musician who played with Fletcher Henderson’s band—Billie and Clarence would reconnect later in her life. She was in reform school for truancy at the age of 10, raped by a neighbor at the age of 11, and, after moving with her mother to Harlem, forced to join her as a prostitute at the age of 14. A childhood spent listening to Louis Armstrong and King Oliver gave her the confidence to develop a singing style that allowed for non-traditional phrasing and intonation, as if her voice was a cornet. She recorded songs for 26 years and sold out Carnegie Hall multiple times, but was hampered by addiction, racism and bad management. Her rendition of “Strange Fruit” is a stark cry against lynching and was one of the very first popular protest songs. She died in New York City in 1959 of cirrhosis of the liver, with police guarding her room in hopes of trying her for narcotics possession if she got better. She was an early example of the romantic doomed-addict-musician-whose-light-burned-too-bright-to-last notion, an idea which, ultimately, gets in the way of appreciating exactly how good she was as a singer and how painful her life must have actually been.

Here’s her very first single, “Your Mother’s Son-in-Law.” It was recorded with Benny Goodman and his orchestra for Columbia on November 27, 1933. Note how she had yet to settle into the higher register that would later become her trademark.

Fun, jaunty stuff. Continue reading

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78: “At the Jazz Band Ball” b/w “The Jazz Me Blues” by Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang. Okeh 40923. Recorded in New York City, October 5, 1927.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

 

Born in 1903 to a well-off German American couple in Davenport, Iowa, Leon Bismark Biederbecke was the youngest of three children. He was playing the piano by ear at the age of three; according to his sister, he would play it standing up with his arms up over his head to reach the keys. His ability to mimic almost any melody he heard was noted in the local paper when he was just seven years old, and he would often go to the cinema as a child not to enjoy the films, but rather to dash home afterwards to see if he could accurately play what he had just heard from the silent films’ piano accompaniment. His older brother had returned home from military service in 1918 with a Victrola in tow, thus giving Leon—now known by all by his nickname “Bix”—the opportunity to hear his first jazz records. Supposedly, he taught himself to play Cornet by copying The Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s recordings of “Tiger Rag” and “Skeleton Jangle.”

Bix was not the best student, and his parents sent him off to the Lake Forest Academy in hopes that he would be taught discipline and direction. They didn’t account for the fact that the Academy was a short train ride away from Chicago, where Bix would escape to listen to bands like the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. For reasons both academic and alcoholic, Bix was expelled from the academy. He returned to Davenport to work for his father in 1923, but soon enough jumped at the opportunity to join The Wolverine Orchestra. Here he is with his recording debut, playing cornet on a beautifully restored recording of “Fidgety Feet.”

  Continue reading

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78: “Black Woman Swing” b/w “Cabbage Greens No. 1” by Champion Jack Dupree. Okeh 05713. Recorded in Chicago, June 13, 1940.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

William Thomas Dupree’s date of birth is debatable—sometime in July of either 1909 or 1910. And the cause of the fire that left him an orphan at the age of two is also sketchy—sometimes he said it had been an accident, and sometimes he said that it had been set by the Ku Klux Klan. What is known is that from then on, Dupree grew up in the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, where Louis Armstrong had also spent his childhood. He taught himself to play piano and was later apprenticed by Tuts Washington and Willie Hall. As if that wasn’t enough New Orleans childhood cred, Dupree was also Spy Boy for the Yellow Pocahantas tribe of Mardi Gras Indians.

The 1930’s were spent traveling around the midwest, living in Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit, where he met Joe Louis. Joe encouraged him to pursue professional boxing, which Dupree did, with gusto—he fought in 107 bouts and won the Golden Gloves. He earned the nickname “Champion Jack” and kept it for the rest of his life.

Dupree moved back to Chicago in 1940, where he was introduced to Okeh record producer Lester Melrose. He liked Dupree’s boogie-woogie take on the blues, and set him up to record eight songs in one day. The disc I found in the archive was the second release from that session. With able, at times percussive, accompaniment from Wilson Swain on bass, here’s “Black Woman Swing,” a story of being down on your luck, being taken in by a good woman, and then finding out maybe she isn’t so good after all.

Continue reading

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78: “Makin’ Frien’s” b/w “I’m Sorry I Made You Cry” by Eddie Condon and his Footwarmers. Okeh 41142. Recorded in New York City, October 30, 1928.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in 1905 in Indiana but raised in the Chicagoland area, Eddie Condon cut his musical teeth on the ukulele. He soon switched to banjo and had turned pro by the age of sixteen. Guitar, piano and singing were soon added to his repertoire, and it wasn’t long until Condon found himself playing alongside such greats as Jack Teagarden and Bix Beiderbecke.

We hear Jack Teagarden singing and playing trombone on “Makin’ Frien’s,” with Condon providing able support on banjo.

Teagarden was black and Condon was white, and in 1928 it was still pretty unusual to have a “mixed” band. Continue reading

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78: “Basin Street Blues” b/w “No” by Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra. Okeh 41241. Recorded in Chicago, December 4, 1928.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

The casual fan of jazz could be forgiven for thinking that Louis Armstrong invented the musical form. His early recordings were so influential and his later recordings so popular that it just seems a given. While it’s difficult to be absolutely certain who invented jazz—though most historians give credit to Buddy Bolden, a fellow son of New Orleans whose band started playing the music in 1895—it is certain that Louis Armstrong’s combination of musical innovation and likability made him an ambassador for the music.

Armstrong’s earliest recordings were made with King Oliver’s band in Chicago, in the early 1920’s. This song was recorded in 1928, just before the now-divorced Armstrong had moved to New York City. Continue reading

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