Synopses & Reviews
For jazz historians, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings mark the first revolution in the history of a music riven by upheaval. Yet few traces of this revolution can be found in the historical record of the late 1920s, when the records were made. Even black newspapers covered Armstrong as just one name among many, and descriptions of his playing, while laudatory, bear little resemblance to those of today. For this reason, the perspective of Armstrong's first listeners is usually regarded as inadequate, as if they had missed the true significance of his music. This attitude overlooks the possibility that those early listeners might have heard something valuable on its own terms, something we ourselves have lost. If we could somehow recapture their perspective-without abandoning our own-how might it change our understanding of these seminal recordings?
In Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings, Brian Harker selects seven exceptional records to study at length: "Cornet Chop Suey," "Big Butter and Egg Man," "Potato Head Blues," "S.O.L. Blues"/"Gully Low Blues," "Savoy Blues," and "West End Blues." The world of vaudeville and show business provide crucial context, revealing how the demands of making a living in a competitive environment could catalyze Armstrong's unique artistic gifts. Technical achievements such as virtuosity, structural coherence, harmonic improvisation, and high-register playing are all shown to have a basis in the workaday requirements of Armstrong's profession. Invoking a breadth of influences ranging from New Orleans clarinet style to Guy Lombardo, and from tap dancing to classical music, this book offers bold insights, fresh anecdotes, and, ultimately, a new interpretation of Louis Armstrong and his most influential body of recordings.
"Harker has spent more than a decade immersed in Armstrong's work and it shows. He has absorbed the music, the period, and commentary about it to do something for scholarship that he claims Armstrong did for the music: consolidate what is known and weave it into something that sounds new and fresh." --Jeffrey Magee, author of The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz
"For anyone who wants to learn more about Louis Armstrong's great solos from the 1920s, this book is the place to begin. And for those who already know and are weary of reading the same tired cliches repeated year after year, this book will be a joy to read, fresh and stimulating. Harker brings first-rate historical research to music that truly deserves it." --
Thomas Brothers, Professor of Music, Duke University
"Brian Harker's book will provide Armstrong aficionados with a deeper appreciation of Armstrong's genius, but also will provide Armstrong neophytes with an engaging introduction to these jazz masterworks." --Michael Cogswell, Director, Louis Armstrong House Museum
"Harker bravely and capably combines musicology (attentive readings of Louis's playing on six famous sides recorded between 1926 and 1928) and cultural history (how were these performances influenced, shaped, and perceived)...Since the book costs what a CD would--and it is more rewarding than many--I commend it to you. Brian Harker is clearly a Big Butter and Egg Man of music." --Michael Steinman, Jazz Lives
"Provides a deeper appreciation and understanding of Armstrong's genius...This book makes a significant contribution to the Armstrong literature...Essential. All readers." --Choice
"Armstrong's journey through the Hot Fives turns out to be a great adventure story, a narrative buoyed by Harker's love for his subject matter...The book's unique blend of biography, scholarship, oral history and musical analysis allows the author to come at the recordings from several interesting angles, and altogether Harker provides an enjoyable and thought-provoking entry into the music." --AllAboutJazz.com
"The combination of judicious selection of musical examples to analyze in depth and historical and social insight makes for a readable, concise volume of fresh insights into one the most studied figures in jazz." --ARSC Journal
"An artful jambalaya of rigorous musical analysis, thoughtful cultural contexts, and some provocative informed speculation as to how Armstrong absorbed, innovated, and consolidated the music we call jazz." --New Books in Jazz
"Harker's book represents a superb achievement, evidence of his stature as one of the truly outstanding younger scholars now working in the area of Armstrong research." --American Music
For jazz historians, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings mark the first revolution in the history of a music riven by upheaval. Yet few traces of this revolution can be found in the historical record of the late 1920s, when the discs were made. Even black newspapers covered Armstrong as just one name among many, and descriptions of his playing, while laudatory, bear little resemblance to those of today. Through a careful analysis of seven seminal recordings in this compact and engaging book, author Brian Harker recaptures the perspective of Armstrong's original audience without abandoning that of today's listeners. The world of vaudeville and show business provide crucial context to his readings, revealing how the demands of making a living in a competitive environment catalyzed Armstrong's unique artistic gifts. Invoking a breadth of influences ranging from New Orleans clarinet style to Guy Lombardo, and from tap dancing to classical music, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings offers bold insights, fresh anecdotes, and, ultimately, a new interpretation of Louis Armstrong and his most influential body of work.
About the Author
is Professor of Music at Brigham Young University. The author of Jazz: An American Journey
, Harker is a two-time winner of the Irving Lowens Award for his articles on Louis Armstrong. He lives in Orem, Utah, with his wife and two children.
Table of Contents
1 Novelty: "Cornet Chop Suey" (26 February 1926)
2 Telling a Story: "Big Butter and Egg Man" (16 November 1926)
3 Playing the Changes: "Potato Head Blues" (10 May 1927)
4 Top Notes: "S.O.L. Blues"/"Gully Low Blues" (13-14 May 1927)
5 Pretty Things: "Savoy Blues" (13 December 1927)
6 Versatility: "West End Blues" (28 June 1928)