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Louis Armstrong and the First Great Soloists

This chapter considers the landmark career of jazz revolutionary and pop icon Louis Armstrong and his role in launching jazz as a solo art. We begin with the arc of Armstrong’s career from New Orleans to Chicago and New York, detailing his interactions with the music of his hometown (King Oliver), the new big-band dance music (Fletcher Henderson), and the classic blues (Bessie Smith). We then move back to Chicago, and Armstrong's landmark Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (1925–28), which bridge older New Orleans–style collective improvisation with the new emphasis on soloing, often aided by pianist Earl Hines. Armstrong influenced two important soloists: Bix Beiderbecke, who represented the pinnacle of young white interest in jazz; and Coleman Hawkins, whose canny understanding of Armstrong’s achievements launched a lengthy career. We conclude with a discussion of Armstrong’s later career as a mainstream entertainer, singing popular songs with his own large dance orchestra (1930s) and his small New Orleans group (1947–71).

  • Louis Armstrong, Hotter Than That
  • Louis Armstrong/Earl Hines, Weather Bird
  • Frank Trumbauer/Bix Beiderbecke, Singin’ the Blues
  • Mound City Blue Blowers (Coleman Hawkins), One Hour

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