Louis Armstrong: The University of Louis Armstrong, 1927-28


These amazing (even now) improvisations are the seed core of all jazz. We learned most of them off by heart in our schooldays, but it’s still refreshing to come back to such open-hearted and radical music almost a century later. And there’s going to be a lot more of it, for Dave Bennett’s well-titled “University” has a lot more where this comes from as he moves forward with his aim to complete Louis’s studio recordings on his new label.

In the jazz world Louis was the messiah, and so it’s not surprising that he drew in some pretty devoted disciples. Johnny Dodds, Dutrey, Ory and Hines were particularly strong characters, even more remarkable since they appeared at the dawn of the era. Even Ory, the most primitive of the group, played with great originality in solo and ensemble. With today’s perspective we can see that Dutrey was by far the better player despite that, like my grandfather, he had been mortally damaged by gas poisoning in the First World War. Hines was a phenomenon who came nearer to having Louis’s skills than anyone else and Dodds was a determined if not so profound wailer.

But Armstrong is matchless, and his overwhelming success is the more admirable in that he transcended any outside influences. His lyrical inventions covered every mood, from “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”, where his dazzling invention seems to light a bonfire under the band, to the exquisite poetry of “Wild Man Blues” and “Savoy Blues”, the latter with its unique bonus of Lonnie Johnson’s guitar.

Bennett has spent years working on these tracks, and it is only now that he feels that he has reached the ultimate possible clarity and sound quality. The presentation here, as in the subsequent Red Onion Jazz Babies album, really does bring a new dimension to the music and it has certainly never been heard in this superb quality since it was played live by the musicians in the Okeh studio all those years ago.

Available from Dave Bennett directly.

(1) Willie the Weeper; Wild Man Blues; Chicago Breakdown; Alligator Crawl; Potato Head Blues; Melancholy Blues; Weary Blues; Twelfth Street Rag; Keyhole Blues; SOL Blues; Gully Low Blues; That’s When I’ll Come Back to You; (2) Put ‘Em Down Blues; Ory’s Creole Trombone; The Last Time; Struttin’ With Some Barbecue; Got No Blues; Once in a While; I’m Not Rough; (3) Hotter Than That; Savoy Blues; (4) Fireworks; Skip the Gutter; A Monday Date; Don’t Jive Me (75.29)
(1) Louis Armstrong Hot Seven: Armstrong (t); Johnny Dodds (c); Honoré Dutrey (tb); Lil Armstrong (p); Pete Briggs (tu); Baby Dodds (d) plus various sidemen. 1927. Chicago, 1927.
(2) Louis Armstrong Hot Five: Armstrong (t); Johnny Dodds (cl); Kid Ory (tb); Lil Armstrong (p); Johnny St Cyr (g, bj). Chicago, 1927.
(3) as (2) plus Lonnie Johnson (g).
(4) Armstrong (t); Jimmy Strong (cl); Fred Robinson (tb); Earl Hines (p); Mancy Cara (bjo); Zutty Singleton (d). Chicago, June, 1928.
HQ Discs HQ04