“West End Blues”
“West End Blues” was the recording that really cemented Louis Armstrong’s fame, and is considered one of the most important recordings in jazz history. Written by Armstrong’s mentor and former employer Joe “King” Oliver, Armstrong recorded it soon afterward with his Hot Five, featuring the great Earl “Fatha” Hines, a classically-trained pianist from Duquesne, Pennsylvania, and Armstrong’s then-wife Lil. Opening with Armstrong’s legendary cornet cadenza, the recording was one of the first to feature Armstrong’s famous “scatting,” wordless vocal improvisation.
The record was particularly influential to a young Billie Holiday, who recalled, “Sometimes the record would make me so sad I’d cry up a storm. Other times the same damn record would make me so happy.” The Hot Five’s recording was so successful that King Oliver released a second recording, imitating Armstrong’s version. However, Armstrong had so far surpassed Oliver’s abilities that while Oliver’s name appears on the record, he does not actually play the trumpet part on the recording. Armstrong himself would record “West End Blues” at least two more times, but nothing compares to the original recording.
Above - Joe “King” Oliver
Left - Earl “Fatha” Hines
Listen to the 'West End Blues'