I have thinking for a while now that I really need to check out some of the older players in the jazz lineage, and where better to start than with Louis Armstrong, the father of jazz trumpet and probably the key innovator from the early days of jazz. In particular I have been listening to the recordings he made with his Hot Five and Hot Seven bands between 1925 and 1928 – these were the first Armstong made as leader, and are recognised as being the first recordings where individual improvisation and virtuosity are brought to the fore. I have transcribed two of Armstrong’s solos on Hot 5 recordings – ‘Big Butter and Egg Man from the West’ (recorded November 16 1926) and ‘Struttin’ With Some Barbeque’ (recorded December 9 1927).
‘Big Butter and Egg Man from the West’ was Louis’s first vocal recording, and was also his first chart hit in April 1927. The recording features the other members of the original Hot 5 line up – Johnny Dodds (clt), Kid Ory (tbn), Lil Armstrong (pno), and Johnny St Cyr (gtr/bjo) – and also the wailing guest vocals of May Alex. Louis’s solo still shows similarity to the melody in some places, but over a simple accompaniment of piano and banjo chords pounding on every beat his solo is extremely melodic and masterful in its simplicity.
In ‘Struttin’ With Some Barbeque’, Louis solos over a stop time feel where the rhythm section play chords only on beats 2 and 4. However, the intensity and forward drive he generates is amazing – I know from personal experience how difficult it is to keep rhythmic momentum going in stripped down situations like this. This is a more virtuosic solo – Louis plays with a wider range than his solo in ‘Big Butter and Egg Man’, and in bar 15 he nails a highly tricky triplet break. The band on this recording are the same Hot 5 members mentioned above (minus May Alex).
There is much more to be said about these solos – however, I am going to wait until I have transcribed a few more of Louis’s solos until I try to comment on things such as his style and development.