A LOUIS ARMSTRONG CONTEST (with a real prize!)

louis-heebie-jeebies-jpegLast night (Wednesday, March 18), the Beloved and I went to Birdland to be part of the joyous celebration of George Avakian’s ninetieth birthday, with stellar music from the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band to elevate us all.

I had my video camera and hope to post some live clips from this very happy evening.

Midway through the evening, David Ostwald announced a “Louis Armstrong trivia contest,” with the prize — courtesy of Michael Cogswell — a two-for-the-price-of-one ticket to the Louis Armstrong House / Museum in Corona, Queens.  I knew the answer to the question — who was Louis’s third wife? (Alpha!) and I won the prize.

But I’ve been to the House before, and I’d rather give this wonderful experience to someone who hasn’t ever had the chance.

Here it is — the First Official Jazz Lives Louis Armstrong Contest.

To win this ticket (good until January 1, 2010) write me no more than 500 words on what your favorite Louis Armstrong recordings are.  I will post the comments.  Entries will be judged on their originality and perceptiveness, as always.  The contest will end on Friday, March 27, at midnight.  And, of course, all entries become the property of the Management, whatever that means.

Seriously, I would like to hear from people who have never been to the House but love Louis.  And if you live in Colorado or Oaxaca, you might have to convince me that you actually are going to visit New York City before next January.

Let the fun begin!

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7 responses to “A LOUIS ARMSTRONG CONTEST (with a real prize!)

  1. charliethechulo

    “Swing That Music” (the version with Luis Russell’s band from April 1936 – not the slightly later version with Jimmy Dorsey’s band) is the record I want played at my funeral. The reason: Louis’s solo sounds as though he could happily keep blowing *forever*, and it’s only the three minute limitation of 78 rpm records that stops him. A kind of musical immortality that gives me great comfort, and I hope will do the same for friends and family when they dispatch my eartly remains.

    It’s not Louis’ greatest recording of couse: West End Blues, Muggles, Cornet Chop Suey, Sweethearts on Parade (the often overlooked 1931 version with Les Hite), and Jubilee and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue from what must have been a wonderful day for the big band, January 12 1938, are all musically superior. And some of the more commercial stuff with the Mills Brothers , Bing and )later Ella) are great as well. In fact Louis could do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.

    But still, my favourite’s Swing That Music.

  2. Danny Tobias

    I love the 1937 “My Darling Nellie Gray” that Louis recorded with the Mills Brothers. Louis adapts perfectly to the setting by playing with straight mute in the middle register. It’s hard to believe that the record was made with four guys. one guitar, and Louis. A gem!

  3. Danny Tobias knows cornet and trumpet, as those of us who treasure his playing will attest. And the Mills Brothers sessions with Louis are delights, every one. Did you know, Danny, that there’s an alternate take for “Darling Nelly Gray”? (The Hawaiian sessions are almost as wonderful, especially “On A Cocoanut Island.” Cheers! Michael

  4. Stompy Jones

    Impossible assignment. (Thanks, prof.) Passing over many Armstrong favorites, worthy nominees all, I’ll focus on something a little different just to make a point, which is this:

    In jazz there’s an infinite number of ways to be great; that’s one of the things I love about it. Tone and phrasing can be as individualized and varied as human voices and different modes of conversing. You can be complex or simple. You can play high notes or low, use lots of notes or very few. You can even play great jazz without improvising — which brings me to my selection.

    First the song, so familiar that its uniqueness and greatness can easily be overlooked. Many songs slip from minor to major and back again, usually 4 bars minor, 4 major, 4 minor, 4 major, bridge, 4 minor, 4 major. You know the drill: I’ve Found A New Baby, Everybody Loves My Baby, It Don’t Mean A Thing, Blue Skies, Lullaby of Birdland, countless others. If Shelton Brooks had done nothing else but compose Some Of These Days, his immortality in American music would be assured. “SOTD” is unique in that it begins in the minor for 8 bars, and then goes major, never to return to the minor again (save for brief passing visitations with minor chords along the way). Sounds as dry as dust when you discuss it this way, but in the playing “SOTD” is, to me, as stirring as anything in pop music. The words are nothing special, one thought expressed in several pedestrian ways. It’s the music that carries all the emotional freight. Although the song’s overall shape is perfect, it’s not even a continuous melody; more a series of 4- and 5-note phrases strung together. What makes “SOTD” so powerful is the harmonic progression that moves inexorably and dramatically to its triumphant conclusion. No wonder Sophie Tucker flipped when Brooks presented it to her in 1909; she knew a can’t-miss show-stopper when she heard one. Tucker was still getting standing ovations belting out “SOTD” on TV in the late 40s and early 50s. Those standing O’s were, I’m convinced, not merely tributes to a gallant old vaudevillian; they were heartfelt responses to the song itself.

    Louis made a two-sided recording of “SOTD” in 1929, one side with vocal, one without. Of course Armstrong’s imagination often turned dross into gold, as in Sweethearts On Parade, but this is a matching of peerless tune and peerless musician. It’s the instrumental side of “SOTD” that fascinates and moves me greatly, particularly Louis’ out-chorus which is virtually improvisation-free. His penultimate chorus is a typically brilliant improvisation, but, with great good sense and musicality, he chooses to conclude the side by playing straight melody (for the most part), allowing the glorious tune speak for itself. Straight melody, yes, but there’s something about his clipped, urgent phrasing, and the passion behind it, that makes this passage as richly imbued with the spirit and feeling of jazz as anything I’ve ever heard.

  5. A-plus, Mr. Jones! But can you make it to the museum?

  6. Stompy Jones

    No, but some New York kid could. It could change someone’s life.

  7. That was and is the point of this cyber-exercise! So far, the replies have been hugely edifying and moving — but I hope to be able to give the ticket to someone who would be awestruck and transformed, as I was, by a visit to this shrine. It will happen, I am sure!

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