Sunday, August 04, 2013

Happy birthday, Louis Armstrong!


"(Armstrong was) the key creator of the mature working language of jazz. Three decades after his death and more than three-quarters of a century since his influence first began to spread, not a single musician who has mastered that language fails to make daily use, knowingly or unknowingly, of something that was invented by Louis Armstrong."  -- Dan Morgenstern, Oxford Companion to Jazz

"Armstrong is to music what Einstein is to physics and the Wright Brothers are to travel." - Ken Burns

"He was born poor, died rich and never hurt anyone along the way." - Duke Ellington

Louis Armstrong wasn't just a smiling magic Negro with a handkerchief and a horn and a growl in his voice.  He was a citizen of the world, a consummate performer, an ambassador of jazz and an innovator in his own right.  He was an unrepentant pot smoker.  He was elegant. He was New Orleans personified.  He was more than gifted -- and he was nothing short of brilliant.

His image and sound have so permeated the popular vernacular that it's an astonishing thing, to look into his beautiful African face and listen to him explain his life in his own words.  As a jazz vocalist, I can't veer too far away from his work.  I have two box sets that have been in heavy rotation lately and I'm looking for another one.

Strangely, it augments my forays into harmelodics with James "Blood" Ulmer quite nicely. I have no idea why.

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