Luis Armstrong

 

Foundational Influence on Jazz
Louis[1] Daniel Armstrong (August 4, 1901[2] – July 6, 1971), nicknamed Satchmo[3] or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer.Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an innovative cornet and trumpet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence on jazz, shifting the music’s focus from collective improvisation to solo performers. With his distinctive gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also greatly skilled at scat singing, or wordless vocalizing.Renowned for his charismatic stage presence and deep, instantly recognizable voice almost as much as for his trumpet-playing, Armstrong’s influence extended well beyond jazz, and by the end of his career in the ’60s, he was widely regarded as a profound influence on popular music in general: critic Steve Leggett describes Armstrong as “perhaps the most important American musician of the 20th century.”[4]

He often essentially re-composed pop-tunes he played, making them more interesting. Armstrong’s playing is filled with joyous, inspired original melodies, creative leaps, and subtle relaxed or driving rhythms. The genius of these creative passages is matched by Armstrong’s playing technique, honed by constant practice, which extended the range, tone and capabilities of the trumpet. In these records, Armstrong almost single-handedly created the role of the jazz soloist, taking what was essentially a collective folk music and turning it into an art form with tremendous possibilities for individual expression.

As his music progressed and popularity grew, his singing also became important. Armstrong was not the first to record scat singing, but he was masterful at it and helped popularize it. He had a hit with his playing and scat singing on “Heebie Jeebies” when, according to some legends, the sheet music fell on the floor and he simply started singing nonsense syllables. Armstrong stated in his memoirs that this actually occurred.

Armstrong had many hit records including “Stardust“, “What a Wonderful World“, “When The Saints Go Marching In“, “Dream a Little Dream of Me“, “Ain’t Misbehavin’“, and “Stompin’ at the Savoy”. “We Have All the Time in the World” featured on the soundtrack of the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and enjoyed renewed popularity in the UK in 1994 when it featured on a Guinnessadvert. It reached number 3 in the charts on being re-released.His 1964 song, “Bout Time” later featured in the film “Bewitched” (2005).In 1968, Armstrong scored one last popular hit in the United Kingdom with the highly sentimental pop song “What a Wonderful World“, which topped the British charts for a month; however, the single did not chart at all in America. The song gained greater currency in the popular consciousness when it was used in the 1987 movie Good Morning, Vietnam, its subsequent rerelease topping many charts around the world. Armstrong even appeared on the October 28, 1970 Johnny Cash Show, where he sang Nat “King” Cole‘s hit “Rambling Rose” and joined Cash to re-create his performance backing Jimmie Rodgers on “Blue Yodel # 9“.

The influence of Armstrong on the development of jazz is virtually immeasurable. Yet, his irrepressible personality both as a performer, and as a public figure was so strong that to some it sometimes overshadowed his contributions as a musician and singer.

Through his playing, the trumpet emerged as a solo instrument in jazz and is used widely today. He was a masterful accompanist and ensemble player in addition to his extraordinary skills as a soloist. With his innovations, he raised the bar musically for all who came after him.

Armstrong died just after a heart attack on July 6, 1971, at age 69,[1]11 months after playing a famous show at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Empire Room. Shortly before his death he stated, “I think I had a beautiful life. I didn’t wish for anything that I couldn’t get and I got pretty near everything I wanted because I worked for it.”

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