Monthly Archives: July 2009

Doin’ the Chameleon

Dick Hyman has a lot to answer for. Had it not been for him, who knows if I would have turned out to be a jazz fan. It all happened in 1986. My brothers and I had watched – and recorded – a movie over the Easter holidays, and become absolutely obsessed with the music, in a way that only teenagers can. We played the same scene over and over till we knew it off by heart and were able to sing it even without the video playing.
The film was a TV movie biopic of the pioneering ragtime composer and pianist Scott Joplin, and the scene which caught our imagination was one where the unknown Joplin and his accomplice wipe the floor with the established “professors” in a piano battle that culminates in Joplin’s rafters-raising rendition of his Maple Leaf Rag.
Three months into the obsession with this scene, my jazz-daft dad – who had already used such devious methods as midnight feasts for Louis Armstrong’s birthday to kickstart the brainwashing process – casually mentioned that the guy who had played the piano in the Scott Joplin was coming to the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. His name was Dick Hyman – would I like to come?
So it was that, at the age of 14, I accompanied my dad around the Edinburgh Jazz Festival’s erstwhile Pub Trail for a day. The Dick Hyman gig took place in one of the rooms in the labyrinthine Royal Overseas League, on Princes Street. The bespectacled American made an immediate impression. To play the rickety old upright piano at a comfortable height, he was perched on two stacked chairs, but what struck me most of all were how thin and fast his fingers were as they flew about the keyboard – not least on the showstopping Maple Leaf Rag.
I heard more than just ragtime that night. Hyman has the unique ability to mimic the styles of all the great jazz pianists – and he morphs seamlessly from one into another, on a sort of whirlwind tour of the jazz piano hall of fame. A solo set from him is an education in jazz history, as he elegantly conjures up the spirits of the likes of Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson (who gave the teenage Hyman lessons) and his personal favourites, Art Tatum and Bix Beiderbecke.
He is truly a chameleon of the keyboard, and it’s therefore highly appropriate that he should have been the man responsible for the music for Woody Allen’s 1983 mockumentary Zelig, about a man who takes on a similar appearance to whomever he’s standing beside. For Zelig, Hyman drew on his talent for recreating period music, in this case the novelty tunes of the 1920s. The soundtrack was an integral part of the success of the film because it added another layer of authenticity and humour.
When I embarked on my own Woody Allen phase, I was thrilled to discover that Hyman was my then favourite filmmaker’s regular musical director: indeed, when I heard him in Edinburgh, he was undoubtedly in the midst of composing the brilliant jingles and themes for the nostalgic, 1940s-set comedy Radio Days. He arranged music or wrote for all the period Allen films – plus his bold musical Everyone Says I Love You – and is heard on several more.
Over the years, I have seen Hyman performing in all sorts of concerts – in spine-tinglingly moving duets with the trumpeter Doc Cheatham, in trio sets of Disney and Wizard of Oz music, in showcases for his compositions for an orchestra, in organ recitals, in two-piano extravaganzas with such formidable fellow ivory-ticklers as Jay McShann, and in the all-star extravaganzas which he co-ordinated with flair and characteristic unflappability (and zilch time to prepare) at several Edinburgh Jazz Festivals in the early 1990s.
Hyman is such a class act that he elevates any event into a different league, and his gift for rounding up a rag-tag bunch of soloists and arranging them, on the spot, into a slick band is legendary. At one Blackpool Jazz Party, it fell to Hyman to conduct 30-odd world-class solo stars through a grand finale. As the cast of what seemed like thousands swung a Basie-style riff, the beady-eyed Hyman – whose nickname should really be The Headmaster – walked up and down in front of the stage picking out soloists, sectioning off bands within the band, and bringing it all together with his usual aplomb.
He may seem a rather cool character but his enthusiasm and passion for jazz (and classical music) is apparent not just in his playing but in his voracious appetite for new and often off-the-wall projects. Shakespeare sonnets set to jazz? He’s done it. An album which imagines how Bix Beiderbecke’s bands might have sounded playing Gershwin? Yup. An hour-long blues tune? Uh-huh.
But all the above-mentioned events and achievements only skim the surface: during a six-decade career, Hyman has played with legends ranging from Benny Goodman to Charlie Parker (that’s him on piano in the one existing bit of footage of Bird), he’s written pop hits (Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time; kd lang’s Shadowland), pioneered the Moog synthesizer, penned innumerable classical compositions, scored ballets, served as musical director of two major festivals plus a string of classic TV shows, and recorded a CD-rom (A Century of Jazz Piano) which is now a library reference tool.
Now in his 83rd year, Hyman shows no sign of slowing down. Coasting is not an option – certainly if his forthcoming week in Scotland, which includes a harpsichord gig, a four-piano spectacular and a History of Jazz Piano concert is anything to go by. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of converting the next generation: my children are primed and ready for brainwashing…
* Dick Hyman is at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival (0131 467 5200; www.edinburghjazzfestival.co.uk) from August 2-5, then at the Nairn International Jazz Festival (01309 674221; www.nairnjazz.com) from August 6-8.
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The News From Nairn

Quality, not quantity, is clearly the ethos of the Nairn International Jazz Festival, if this year’s line-up is anything to go by. The festival may not be quite as long as usual, and there may be fewer concerts, but organiser Ken Ramage has nevertheless put together a programme which will make many jazz-lovers salivate – and which could well lure festival-goers up north rather than to the Edinburgh event which, this year, runs concurrently with Nairn’s.
Although the festival is shorter than usual and there is only ever one concert on at any given time, there is still a packed, focused, programme, and it’s one which offers something for everyone. Ramage is undoubtedly proudest of securing the Scottish debut of the glamorous thirtysomething Italian singer Roberta Gambarini, who has been making a name for herself in the last few years thanks to her amazing scatting. She is giving two concerts – on Monday 3rd and Wednesday 5th.
Another coup for the festival is finally managing to welcome American piano wizard Dick Hyman to Nairn. Like guitar ace Martin Taylor, who makes his festival debut on Tuesday 4th, he has been invited many times but until relatively recently, the Nairn Jazz Festival clashed with a festival of American music of which Hyman was the musical director. He relinquished that job a couple of years ago, and so was able to take up the invitation to Nairn, a festival which, he says, he has heard all his friends enthusiastically talking about.

The digitally dextrous Hyman – who was Woody Allen’s musical director on numerous films including Radio Days, Everyone Says I Love You and Zelig – is a chameleon of the keyboard, able to play in the style of all the jazz greats and one of his Nairn concerts (on Friday 7th) will offer a unique chance to hear his own take on jazz history. He will also be sharing the stage – and the Steinway – with three other virtuoso pianists (Bernd Lhotsky, Rossano Sportiello and Chris Hopkins) at the International Piano Summit on Thursday evening, and with his old Soprano Summit band-mate Bob Wilber, on Saturday 8th.

Wilber, the veteran soprano saxophonist and clarinettist who was mentored by none other than jazz legend Sidney Bechet, is, along with Brian Kellock and Cyrus Chestnut (piano), John Allred (trombone) and Joe Ascione (drums), one of many return visitors to this year’s festival. In addition to his closing concert with Dick Hyman, he guest-stars with festival favourite Scott Hamilton, the great tenor saxophonist, for a reunion on Friday 7th. Hamilton’s two festival gigs – the other is on Thursday 6th – feature him in the supremely classy company of his one-time regular pianist John Bunch.

It’s 20 years since Hamilton’s quintet (with Bunch) released the album, Scott Hamilton Plays Ballads, which cemented the tenor man’s reputation as a great romantic player, and there will be many aficionados keeping their fingers crossed for a reprise of such sublime numbers as Dream Dancing and In a Sentimental Mood..

With cornettist Warren Vache unable to come to Nairn this summer, the festival turned to Wendell Brunious, a trumpeter who made an impression – and not just because he was by far the most nattily attired musician in attendance – when he made his debut here, as part of the Frank Wess band, in 2007. New Orleans-born Brunious is in residence for most of the week, playing with Rossano Sportiello and Andy Cleyndert (bass) on Friday 7th and John Bunch, Andy Cleyndert and Joe Ascione (drums) on Saturday 8th. His duties during the festival also extend to introducing a film: even the youngest jazz fans – or potential jazz fans – are catered for with a special screening of The Aristocats, the 1970s Disney movie which is most memorable for its terrific Everybody Wants to Be a Cat number.

Brunious starts his week with a couple of concerts with a trio led by the Russian pianist David Gazarov, who makes his Nairn debut with a solo set on Tuesday 4th – one of a series of intimate morning gigs in The Classroom bistro. Expect a mix of classical music and jazz, as Gazarov – like Dick Hyman – is expert at both.

* The Nairn International Jazz Festival runs from August 3rd-8th. For tickets, call 01309 674221 or buy in person at Nairn Community Centre, Kings Street, Nairn. For full details, visit http://www.nairnjazz.com or email info@nairnjazz.com

 

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The Happier Holiday

Dope addict, punchbag for her partners, target of racial prejudice – Billie Holiday, who died 50 years ago at the age of 44, has long been universally known not just as jazz’s greatest singer but also one of its saddest casualties. The phenomenally gifted vocalist, whom Frank Sinatra credited as his “greatest single influence”, is associated in many people’s minds with tragedy, oppression, abuse and the blues. But the truth is that the iconic Lady Day was not – for much of her existence – a downtrodden, pathetic creature at all.
Just because the key events in Holiday’s life – a possible rape when she was ten years old, an enforced separation from her mother, working as a prostitute in her teens, getting hooked on heroin, spending time in jail and suffering terrifying racial abuse – could have made her a victim, it doesn’t automatically follow that she was. Holiday’s final years were undoubtedly tragic but one shouldn’t assume that everything that went before was too.
Her death has come to overshadow her life; the ebullience and life-affirming qualities inherent in many of her recordings and in her personality, as described by friends and colleagues, until her last decade are often overlooked, swept aside by society’s need to slot everyone into a category.
But Billie Holiday was far too complex a character to be pigeon-holed simply as one of life’s victims. For one thing, she was not the type of person to allow herself to be pushed around – at least by anyone other than her lovers. And if anyone tried, the chances are they would get a thick lip. On numerous occasions, especially in her flaming youth, Holiday squared up to bigots – walking away was not an option.
There are various tales of how Holiday reacted to instances of racial prejudice – and they all involve her taking decisive, often reckless, action. On the road with Artie Shaw’s all-white band in 1938, she knew that things would be tough below the so-called Mason-Dixon Line: rednecks in the South would tolerate black people as entertainment, but this being the land of lynchings and the Klan, they wouldn’t acknowledge them as human beings.
During one show, Holiday was going down a storm but when a voice from the audience yelled: “Have the nigger wench sing another song!”, her simmering rage exploded and, in front of a packed auditorium, she clearly mouthed an obscenity which, as Shaw later recalled, caused “all hell to break loose”.
Other stories involve barroom brawls and Lady Day – for all her fisticuffs and foul language, she was the most elegant of singers – inviting ignoramuses who slurred her to step outside for a fight. Her pianist Bobby Tucker later said: “She beat the crap out of a guy at the bar who called her ‘nigger bitch’.”
Despite having no fear about standing up to the thugs and bullies she came across when she was out in public, Holiday allowed herself to be beaten up by a string of violent male partners – and there’s never been much evidence of her defending herself against them in the way that she did with strangers. Dan Morgenstern, the leading jazz expert who knew Holiday in the 1950s, is one of a number of her acquaintances who believes that: “She had a strong masochistic streak. She wanted guys who would hurt her both physically and emotionally.”
The two sides of Holiday’s personality are clear from one of the songs that became inexorably linked with her: My Man. It’s very much a song of two halves – the first, in a minor key, is all about the singer’s troubles with her lover (“Two or three girls has he/That he likes as well as me/But I love him”); the second is in a major key, slightly faster and much more hopeful (“All my life is just despair/ But I don’t care/When he takes me in his arms/ The world is bright, alright”).
Holiday recorded it three times – once in each decade of her recording career – and by the second recording, in 1949, she had added the lines “He beats me too/What can I do?”. That this song, though written by someone else, summed up her own point of view is clear from the fact that she ended her autobiography with a quote from it: “Tired? You bet/ But all of that I’ll soon forget with my man .. “
Of course, Holiday’s wilfully self-destructive habit of choosing brutes as her romantic partners was mirrored by her self-destructive drug addiction which has become the main theme of the Billie Holiday story over the years. Aside from the physical toll that heroin took on her, it also sapped her battling spirit and her lust for life. It turned her, when she was in thrall to the drug, into a different person and it cost her many friends.
Holiday’s tragic image was partly her own creation. In 1955, desperate for money to finance her habit, and aware of the fact that there was a demand for confessional memoirs, she dictated her autobiography to journalist William Dufty. It’s a compelling read, with Holiday’s characteristically “salty” language suggesting its authenticity but the reality was that it was full of exaggerations and deliberate distortions on her part. She hoped that the sensational aspects – which, before the publishers got cold feet, were to include details of her sexual adventures with everyone from Tallulah Bankhead to Orson Welles – would attract Hollywood’s attention.
Indeed, it’s from the autobiography that much of the Holiday myth originates, as she allowed herself to come across as a victim. Even the title, Lady Sings the Blues, which was imposed by the publisher, is inaccurate: Holiday was not a blues singer; she rarely sang the blues.
Holiday’s tragic image was further consolidated in the public consciousness by the 1972 biopic, also entitled Lady Sings the Blues, which featured a harrowing performance by Diana Ross but had even less to do with the facts of Holiday’s life than her memoirs. Several key figures in her career, including Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, refused to allow their names to be used.
Perhaps Goodman and Shaw, who both met Holiday in her earliest years on the jazz scene, simply didn’t recognise in the Lady Sings the Blues character the insouciant, fun-loving girl they had known. Her friends from the 1930s and 1940s remember a bawdy young woman with a lust for life, and an appetite for sensation. Even in her final decade, the 1950s, there were still glimpses of her wild ways. Singer Annie Ross, who was one of the friends who stuck by her till the very end, recalls an afternoon in Paris where they drank their way down the Champs-Elysees, cafe by cafe, supposedly on a shopping expedition. After visiting a fancy boutique where they viewed tray after tray of jewellery, Lady Day tipped out her pockets to reveal to her young friend a stash of necklaces and other baubles.
But for proof positive that the happy-go-lucky, “don’t careish”, Billie Holiday existed before – and then alongside – the rather more troubled Lady Day, just listen to her legacy of recordings. Yes, you’ll feel pity for the later Holiday with the voice that has paid the price for her lifestyle, but you’ll also feel uplifted by the sheer joie-de-vivre she exuded throughout the 1930s and then on occasion until she died, on July 17 1959.

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The Mouse That Roared: An Introduction to Nairn Jazz

It’s a balmy Sunday evening and over 300 jazz fans are taking their seats in the conference room of an elegant seaside hotel. The place is buzzing. Many of the audience members haven’t seen each other since the last jazz concert, a few months ago, and there’s a great deal of anticipation about the return visit of the favourite American jazz musician about to appear onstage.
You might think that I’m about to tell you all about some Mediterranean jazz festival or an American jazz party, but this is actually the build-up to a concert at the Newton Hotel in Nairn, the picturesque Scottish seaside town which, over the last decade, has put itself firmly on the jazz map. Like something out of an Ealing comedy, the highly personal and often eccentric Nairn International Jazz Festival is now a player on the world-stage of jazz.
The festival was founded by Ken Ramage, a local greengrocer with a passion for the music. In the early 1990s, he decided to stage a series of jazz concerts featuring such big names as the American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and the Scottish singer Carol Kidd. These proved so popular that Ramage, inspired by the classic documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, which was filmed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, boldly went on to develop the Nairn International Jazz Festival.
Like Newport – which was also, famously, the setting for the well-loved Hollywood musical High Society – Nairn, with its big old houses, stunning views across the Moray Firth and beautiful surrounding countryside – is a splendid location for a festival. It only took a few years for it to emerge as a mecca for the creme de la creme of the jazz world who routinely descend on the wee town every August for the annual festival, and at various times in between, for one-off concerts and weekend events.

As Ken Peplowski, the clarinet and saxophone star, tells an audience which has just been blown away by his dynamic, exciting performance: “We love coming here. There’s such an amazing scene here. Sometimes I tell people, and they don’t believe me. Then they come, and they realise it too.”

The day after his sell-out concert at the Newton, Peplowski is waiting at reception for a lift to his next gig: a late morning concert at a restaurant where, in true Nairn style, the audience’s tickets include their elevenses. There’s just one problem: his bass player, London-based Andrew Cleyndert, isn’t around. A couple of inquiries later and Peplowski learns that Cleyndert was whisked off earlier to do an extra gig: at, of all places, the local nursery.

Only in Nairn would this very typical sort of last-minute addition to the itinerary be cooked up. Many a time, during the festival, word has spread through audiences that there’s to be an extra concert or that somebody has started a little jam session somewhere. It’s all part of the event’s charm.

As is the fact that Nairn is very much the jazz festival with the personal touch. You only need to watch the crowds filing out of the concerts to see this: people line up to thank Ken Ramage and to request that certain bands or musicians be invited back. As often as not, the musicians are the first to request a return visit – and Peplowski’s requests start on Sunday evening and continue through to the workshop he gives pupils at the local secondary school on the Monday afternoon.

The late cornet star Ruby Braff came to Nairn several times – and, in fact, played his last-ever gig there. Like many of his fellow musicians, he was treated to trips to Loch Ness and Cawdor Castle during his stay, but it was the dolphins in the Moray Firth which particularly appealed to him. Legendary bass player Ray Brown found the golfing opportunities (the Newton Hotel looks out on to the splendid West Golf Course) as much of an incentive as the musical ones. Other jazz musicians have managed to cram in visits to nearby Brodie Castle – which has been a venue in past festivals – to their schedule, as well as visits to distilleries.

Ruby Braff was also one of a number of musicians who head for Nairn before anywhere else in Scotland, and who have effectively been adopted by festival-goers as one of their own. Since the festival has always been a reflection of Ramage’s personal taste, there has long been a degree of favouritism towards pianists – the late Ralph Sutton and Gene Harris loved coming to Nairn – and singers who, as often as not, Ramage first heard on Michael Parkinson’s radio show.

The characteristic which, more than any other, puts Nairn jazz in a class of it own is its laid-back, friendly atmosphere. Musicians and audience members mingle before concerts, after concerts and during the intervals: there’s no attempt at the segregation which is now the norm at jazz events. John Bunch, the veteran American pianist, loves the fact that “the musicians get to hobnob with the fans”. Indeed, the musicians usually stay at the same hotels as the punters, and it’s really quite surreal to see great American jazz men emerging from the newsagents on the High Street, or to hear them extolling the virtues of the local chippie’s curry sauce.

For cornettist Warren Vache, “the most rewarding feature of the Nairn Jazz Festival is its intimacy”. Vache, who has been a regular visitor since the early days, says: “The concert venues are generally smaller, allowing more contact with the audience and this sometimes makes for very special music. I remember doing a duo concert with Ralph Sutton several times in Nairn, and it always seemed as though we were performing for friends in a sitting room.”

And in case you think you need jazz aficionado credentials to get a kick out of Nairn, bear in mind that large chunks of the audience are local folk who have discovered jazz as a result of the festival. Prepare to be converted ….

* A preview of this year’s Nairn International Jazz Festival (Aug 3rd-8th) will be posted next week, but if you can’t wait, visit www.nairnjazz.com for information.

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Celebrating Satchmo

It’s entirely my dad’s fault that I turned out the way I am: a jazz fan. The seeds had been carefully sown during my early childhood – and one of the more cynical and calculating (but fun) methods my father used to brainwash me was to organise annual midnight feasts to celebrate the birthday of the great Louis Armstrong.
My brothers and I were aware of Louis from an early age. We couldn’t not be: his photograph (signed, because Dad won a competition to meet him during his 1962 visit to Glasgow) hung in our bathroom for years. Which, given his famous fondness for Swiss-Kriss laxatives, seems entirely appropriate.
Anyway, the midnight feasts (which, it has since transpired, actually took place well before the witching hour) were a family tradition and were always held on July 4, the date Louis claimed to be his birthday. Now, of course, that date is generally believed to be a month out, but it’s the date we remember and so it’s the date for my offspring’s inaugural “midnight feast for Louis”, on July 4.
To mark Louis’s chosen birthday, and to commemorate the anniversary of his death (on July 6, 1971), here’s a piece I wrote for The Herald in 2001, at the time of his centenary.
JAZZ anniversaries come and go, but there is none as significant or as worthy of celebration as that of Louis Armstrong. He was jazz. No other jazz musician has had the impact or the profile that Armstrong had. While the general public remembers him primarily as a much-loved entertainer who came from a jazz background, the jazz world regards him as the singlemost important figure in 20th century American music. Armstrong invented jazz as an art form, and he revolutionised popular singing. His influence was universal and enduring.
Genius springs from unlikely sources – and Louis Armstrong was no exception. He was born on August 4, 1901 in the seedy Storyville section of New Orleans. Just 21 years later, the waif who learned to play trumpet while in a home for wayward boys had musicians queuing up to hear him, and all of Chicago buzzing with talk of his brilliance on the bandstand with his mentor King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.
His impact on jazz was immediate. His dynamic, driving playing revitalised the Fletcher Henderson band in New York in the mid-1920s. What he played one night would be copied by musicians all over town the next day. And when he first got into a studio with his own bands, specially created for recording sessions, the results turned the jazz community upside down.

The 64 “sides” Armstrong recorded between 1925 and 1929, with his Hot Five, Hot Seven and Savoy Ballroom Five line-ups shaped the course of jazz and are now regarded as the singlemost important body of work in jazz history. These were the records on which his genius burst out in all its glory for the first time: his fantastic playing – dazzling lyricism and originality, innate swing and daring stop-time solos – threw down the gauntlet to musicians everywhere, and inspired everyone who heard it. The Hot Five records are the DNA of jazz.

The late guitarist Danny Barker once said: “The Okeh record company released a record by Louis about every six weeks, and everybody waited for the records because each one of them was a lesson in something new; in things to come.” Armstrong had already inspired other musicians who came to hear him, but the Hot Five records had an even greater impact. These recordings taught the world how to swing.

Trumpeter Max Kaminsky later wrote: “Above the electrifying tone, the magnificence of his ideas and the rightness of his harmonic sense, his superb technique, his power and ease, his hotness and intensity, his complete mastery of his horn – above all this he had swing. No-one knew what swing was until Louis came along. It’s more than just the beat; it’s conceiving the phrases in the very feeling of the beat, moulding and building them so that they’re an integral, indivisible part of the tempo. The others had an idea of it, but Louis could do it; he was the heir of all that had gone before, and the father of all that was to come.”

Even if Armstrong had never made another record after 1929, he would still be the most important figure in jazz. Gary Giddens, one of the most eloquent voices in the Ken Burns documentary, Jazz, says: “In those [Hot Five] recordings, Armstrong proves for the first time that an improvisation can be just as coherent, imaginative, emotionally satisfying and durable as a written piece of music.”

As he played, Armstrong unselfconsciously wrote the language of jazz, transforming an ensemble music into a soloist’s art. One of his contemporaries, the trumpeter Mutt Carey, later remembered: “He tried to make a picture out of every number he was playing to show just what it meant. He had ideas, enough technique to bring out what he wanted to say. He made you feel the number and that’s what counts.” Miles Davis, the trumpeter who himself broke plenty of new ground, said: “You can’t play anything on a horn that Louis hasn’t played – I mean, even modern.”

Not only did Armstrong influence his contemporaries, he has continued to influence generations of jazz musicians. Cornettist Warren Vache, says: “He was the 20th century Beethoven as far as I’m concerned. Nobody ever swung before Louis. He taught us all how to play in 4/4 time and swing like mad. He also invented the language of the trumpet and pretty much the language of improvisation too. It just doesn’t get any better than him.”

Marty Grosz, the guitarist and singer, echoes the sentiment. “Let’s put it this way, Louis Armstrong was to jazz, or is still to jazz, what Shakespeare was to English literature. He somehow, innately, just knew what to do and when to do it. He was the bellwether of everything that followed. He pointed the way. That’s not to say that there weren’t many other talented people but somehow Louis rhythmically freed up the whole thing.”

Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton says: “There is no other single person who has had the kind of impact on how we play music than Louis Armstrong had, and his Hot Five records were pioneer examples. He continued the rest of his life to influence people, and he continued to make influential recordings, but those ones from the 1920s were the ones which first showed the way.”

It’s also important to note that Armstrong showed the way not only to trumpeters, but to players of every instrument – a rare legacy, as clarinettist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski points out. “There are a few people who have come through the jazz pantheon who do that: Charlie Parker’s one, but Armstrong was the first.”

Armstrong’s phenomenal achievements as a pioneer don’t end with his trumpet playing. He was also, as Gary Giddens said in Jazz, “the singlemost important singer that American music has produced”. His first big hit, Heebie Jeebies, introduced the world to his gravelly, mumbling style of “scat” singing, and his way of improvising with his voice as freely as if it were an instrument was enormously influential. Danny Barker said: “That’s when the song stylist came in.

“People began to buy records because they liked a certain personality – Louis Armstrong was responsible for that.” Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra are among those who were directly inspired by his looser style of singing, his way of personalising songs.

Ken Peplowski is one of a huge number of musicians – including clarinettist Artie Shaw and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins – who has credited Armstrong with inspiring him to create his own music. Shaw said that Armstrong taught him “that you should do something that is your own”; something that expresses who you are. Peplowski says: “He was a great entertainer and a great artist. He didn’t compromise either of those aspects – and almost refused to. He was one of the first people that presented himself in a very natural state – take it or leave it; this is what I do.”

But the last word goes to the late trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who memorably summed up the feelings of thousands of jazz musicians the world over, when he said of Louis Armstrong: “Without him – no me.”

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