One of my constant joys that come from my weekly presentation of the Galaxy is the opportunity to present historical music – that is, music of great historical significance. I’ve got quite a bit of that sort of thing lined up for tonight, and the pleasure that I get from it has no end. Of course, I get the most pleasure when the music is of the highest quality, and the early recordings of Louis Armstrong provide just that. He is credited as being one of the early innovators in jazz, and that reputation is justly deserved. Some of the innovations that he is credited with occurred during the course of these recordings.
The recordings that we are hearing tonight come from the sessions that he recorded with his Hot Fives combo, which was put together in part by his wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong. She was the second of his four marriages, but her role in the shaping of his career was crucial. She convinced him to come to Chicago, and then when he was playing second trumpet to King Oliver, she convinced him that he could do more, and that he should front his own band. Of course, no great jazz achievement is made without ample instrumental assistance, and the Armstrongs put together a top-notch team – Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet and occasional alto sax, Johnny St. Cyr on banjo, with Lil herself on piano. Tonight we heard My Heart (a composition of Lil’s), Come Back, Sweet Papa, Heebie Jeebies (probably the first recorded sampling of Armstrong skatting, and one of the earliest examples of recorded scat singing, period), Cornet Chop Suey, Georgia Grind (featuring Lil singing), Oriental Strut, Muskrat Ramble, I’m Gonna Gitcha (with a rather striking Armstrong vocal), and finally Don’t Forget to Mess Around.
(I think it is important not to miss one of the most interesting side-notes that one never hears – in the midst of a male-dominated musical genre – even today, one doesn’t often see female jazz instrumentalists, although they are more common than they once were – not only do you have a female performing on one of the notable historic recordings in jazz history, but without her intervention, we might not have heard of Louis Armstrong. Indeed, had not Lil Hardin Armstrong pushed Louis to first move to Chicago, and then to form the Hot Five, jazz may have been totally different from what we now have.)
Next up on the list is the great Billie Holiday, in some of her earliest recording dates, and matched up with some of the greatest instrumentalists in jazz. We started with What A Little Moonlight Can Do (with Roy Eldridge, Benny Goodman, and Ben Webster, among others), These Foolish Things, Summertime (with Artie Shaw and Bunny Berigan swapping lead lines), Easy To Love, I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm (with a lovely Ben Webster solo), I Must Have That Man (an early match-up between her and Lester Young, with Buck Clayton also in there on trumpet and Benny Goodman on clarinet), Me, Myself and I (note Buck Clayton’s riffing under Billie’s singing), I Can’t Get Started (a great Gershwin tune that features a fine Lester Young solo break), The Man I Love (this time with a larger band). Small group recordings, before small group jazz became popular.
We then heard two pieces by Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen was enamored by the musicality of bird songs, so much that he worked for years to turn what he was hearing into works of music. At first, he put out what he called a “manifesto”, his Réveil des oiseaux for piano and orchestra, published in 1953. Later he published a Catalogue d’oiseaux in 1958, and then La fauvette des jardins in 1971. From Catalogue d’oiseaux, we heard La Bouscarle, and L’Alouette Lulu, as performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, in a recording celebrating the 100th anniversary of Messian’s birth.
We then heard some Faron Young – Hello Walls, Apartment 9, Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young, Wine Me Up, and Face to the Wall.
We closed the set with some Charlie Parker, an interesting set from the sessions he did with strings – but this one also has a full big band in addition to the string session, something that is unusual among Parker’s catalog of recordings. We hard Temptation, Lover, Autumn in New York, Stella by Starlight, and finally Repetition.