Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five Record 'West End Blues', 1928
More has been written about this 3 minute 21 second piece of music than any other in jazz history. There's little I can add. But I will offer a cheat-sheet summary for those unfamiliar with the song.
'West End Blues' was written by Armstrong's musical mentor, King Oliver. Oliver recorded his own version only 17 days before Armstrong and his Hot Five entered the recording studio on June 28th, 1928. By the time they left, Armstrong had set the course for modern jazz.
From its earliest origins, improvization was at the core of the jazz performance, but it was the band that improvized together as a unit. Armstrong opens West End Blues with a fifteen-second trumpet solo which signalled to musicians the future of individual improvizational creativity using the band as backdrop.
As a young clarinet player, Artie Shaw drove to Chicago in 1928 to hear Armstrong at the Savoy. Armstrong opened the evening's performance with West End Blues and, as with all other jazz musicians, changed Shaw's perspective on jazz.
I heard this cascade of notes come out of the trumpet. No one had ever done this before. So I was obsessed with the idea that this is what you had to do: something that was your own. I was influenced by him not in terms of the notes but in the idea of doing what you are.
For more on West End Blues, follow this link to an article from NPR. You can hear the song for yourself on YouTube.
And for a few photos of Armstrong and The Hot Five, please visit KultureKat's board on Pinterest.
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