If You Have To Ask What Jazz Is, You’ll Never Know.

I wish I would have said that.

To have a mind that flowed so confidently with the understanding of a talent or skill that I could challenge everyone with the magic that was within; now that would be a gift.

Those words were from Louis Armstrong.

The truth is that jazz would have been born if he, Armstrong, hadn’t been; but I believe it would have been a different child.

Louis Armstrong picked up the trumpet and from an early age grabbed the hand of ragtime, He danced, courted, wooed and bedded her. He presented jazz with a litheness that showed the way, and the world, what was available was endless –  if you closed your eyes, mopped your brow, and reached for the galaxy.

It’s fitting that my first piece for the Might As Well Swing Blog be about Armstrong.

When many think of him, they think of the beautiful smile and joy that he brought to the stage. His ability to charm and entertain audiences is what those of us who were raised in the 60’s recall. I remember the twinkle in his eye during Hello Dolly, or the reverence in his voice with It’s a Wonderful World.  I watched him on variety shows with the  Magnavox turned up to an appropriate volume. I pretended he wasn’t cool because he didn’t have time on his side or a ticket to ride, but his presence secretly touched me.

It’s different for me now. I’m still sentimental when I hear him sing, but his mastery of the horn and how it empowered a different generation to listen and play music is what captivates me.

One of the deciding moments in jazz music history, even a game changer, came on June 28th, 1928 when Armstrong was still with King Oliver. Oliver had written a tune called West End Blues, and had even been in the studio with it before this June date. It was when he gave his star trumpet player (Armstrong) the opening eleven seconds of this recording that musicians and the man on the street started to hear how ragtime was starting to evolve.

Here’s eleven seconds that may have helped catapult a musical genre into orbit.

I will contend that there were other artists, and musical moments that pushed the genre of jazz into swing and beyond, but this eleven seconds certainly helped the cage door to open so the bird could fly free.

 


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