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Jazz in 3D Presentation 3/1/11

The direct link to this original post (on the class page) is here.

Louis Armstrong:

After Louis Armstrong’s arrival in Chicago, then New York (Chicago again) eventually putting down roots in NYC continued on he encountered more and more success. He changed the musical, professional and social development of jazz over a long career that lasted for about 50 years. His ability to select his co-performers for smaller ensembles helped lead to the growth of the importance of soloists.

Musically, Armstrong introduced several changes in the development of jazz:

1. Scat

Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives, “Heebie Jeebies” (1926):

Around 1:21 Armstrong begins singing and transitions into ‘scat’. This could be referenced as one of the first popular uses of this device and it would soon take off as a result.

2. Growing importance (and dominance) of soloists.

3. Vocal/instrumental skill set.

As part of the social justice platform of today’s readings we should analyze elements of Armstrong’s personality and demeanor as a performer. Even when Armstrong toured Europe he was in demand and his nickname, “Satchmo” actually came from a European announcer mispronouncing an existing nickname, “Satchelmouth”.

On the subject of social justice Armstrong was very quiet until later in his career. He maintained a very calm and confident character on-stage and this professionalism led him to become what many label as the first ‘cross-over’ artist. He was able to develop from being raised in poverty in New Orleans into a successful artist who transcended international opinion.


Bing Crosby:

Bing Crosby was one of the most successful record selling, radio broadcast and box office grossing stars from 1934 to 1954.

In part, the universality of Crosby’s influence led to a wider market for jazz and, as a result, for all genres of music. In the evolution of the music industry, partly through jazz and cinema, Crosby was a leader, and cause, of the growth in wider delivery of sound recordings and films. A side-note of his influence is his part in the development of multi-track recording through collaboration with Les Paul.*


His voice was that of a warm baritone and his delivery was refined. The music he sang over often complemented his smoother sound and in his collaborations with Louis Armstrong’s rougher, scratchy vocal sound the basis for star definition via individual vocal timbre continued to grow.

Crosby was also part of the reason that Louis Armstrong was introduced to larger audiences. In Pennies from Heaven (1936) Armstrong makes an appearance, not to be his last, in a film with Bing Crosby and would further spring-board into the national view as a result.


Bing Crosby/Louis Armstrong duet-performances:

Armstrong takes a solo break and joins singing around 2:45 and from there on it is more collaborative.

This one is in color, from the (1956) film High Society.


As Louis Armstrong’s influence grew, so did his connections among other musicians. Thus, you can also enjoy Sinatra with Armstrong in this video:


Racism in the cartoons of the 1930’s and 1940’s through jazz representation:

The Looney Tunes ‘Tin Pan Alley Cats” (1943):

Who could this cat singing at the beginning be said to resemble? Note the overlap of the hymn-style singing of the cats outside of the mission and the singing going on inside. There are similar solo breaks and stride piano present in this example, eventually followed with scat and basically a complete impersonation of everything developed in the past decade and a half of jazz. How many direct references can you note?

The Merrie Melodies “Junge Jitters” (1938):

This might be even more overtly offensive than the “Tin Pan Alley Cats”, but it doesn’t appear to comment directly on musical development as much as the first cartoon. Clark Gable’s entrance at 5:45 is fantastic, followed by Ed Sullivan (?) before the ‘finale’.

Both of these videos come from the “Censored Eleven”, which were withheld from syndication in 1968 by United Artists. This was due to their depictions of black people being deemed too offensive for contemporary audiences. Yes, these these films were actually commercially avaialble from 1938 until 1968: 30 years of racism.


Jazzman USSR (1983):

Since most of the class was not able to view the video this week (it is on the discs handed out on 3/1/11) we will take a moment to discuss a real-life ‘Soviet’ Jazzman after the movie. A brief synopsis, however, is necessary to give you an idea of why we are watching it:

Jazzman synopsis:

A Russian conservatory student is put on an academic trial before his faculty where he states that jazz is the music of the oppressed Negro in America, thus it is revolutionary. His rejection comes with a punishment where he is forbidden from playing jazz. He decides instead to recruit a banjo player and drummer (and eventually a sax player when imprisoned).

The movie covers their process of failure after failure to find success from the 1920’s-ish to about 1960 when they ultimately succeeded. In some of the band’s auditions their drummer plays in blackface and and many of the judgements placed on them (and jazz, in general) througout the movie echo those made here in the USA as well.

Do you believe Communism or Capitalism may serve jazz better? Which type of political system is better served by jazz and its tenets?

As a side-story…

The cultural significance of jazz as an American export began to show in Russia. In 1939 Eddie (Adolph) Rosner was already known as “The White Louis Armstrong” or “The Polish Louis Armstrong”, although he was born in Germany. He travelled between New York and Hamburg entertaining on a ship (was in contact with Gene Kruppa), but eventually moved to Poland and then Russian (Belarus) to escape Nazi perscution. After World War II his success in Russia (he was even complemented by Stalin) turned into a detention in the Soviet Gulag where he entertained prisoners and guards. After Stalin’s death he was released and achieved much acclaim again before returning to West Berlin at the end of his life, where he died in poverty in 1976, seven years before this movie was made.


Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man (1952), Introduction

In his introduction he demonstrates a unique writing style:

  1. At this time, is Ellison mirroring jazz (experimentation) through imitation, or are the social forces at work here more independent of the musical linkage?
  2. What is the significance of light to the protagonist? To the author? How can this be linked to jazz?
  3. Are stereotypes here the result of invisibility? If so, who in the musical time period (1930-1950) can you cite as someone who suffered, or benefitted from, invisibility and the assignation of the underdog label?
  4. Ellison is from Oklahoma City, OK and eventually moved to New York, NY. Does this bear any importance in his perspective on performers being drawn to, and living in a larger metropolitan area?
  5. Ellison later stated he did not want to write another ‘protest novel’ and believed the experimental attitude to be of chief significance in this work. Would you agree in saying that the experimental attitude of his writing (time shifts, ‘anonymous’ narrator) eclipsed the social justice portion?

Josef Skvorecky, Bass Saxophone (1967) – Translated from the Czech

In a very Czech perspective Skvorecky shows how jazz serves as music to inspire and promote human interaction. Under a totalitarian regime he was not allowed to listen to the music he liked and was limited in his choices of recordings in the first place.

The actual bass saxophone itself is humungous and quite rare in jazz, or anywhere really. It sticks out, and in this story one gets the feeling that the only thing sticking out is the protagonist due to his artistic interests and individualistic approach to music.

Why would Skvorecky choose this instrument in his story – instead of soprano, alto, tenor or baritone saxophone?

How does the importance of the individual hold importance both here and in America’s concurrent histroy of jazz?


Further discussion questions:

1. With this integration of jazz and racism do you initially see these productions as a setback or an advancement towards ‘jazz as a liberating force’?

2. What was the American effect of internationalism and success from Armstrong’s incredibly powerful travels to Europe and Africa? Did jazz’s international success help or hinder social progress?

3. In this great period of growth and influence for jazz, do you feel the people (musicians), the social issues, the international acclaim or other influences caused the most blossoming?

One Response to “Jazz in 3D Presentation 3/1/11”

  1. Fuessen says:

    This is a great article! I’d love more information.

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