Jazz Genres and Greats

Posted Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - 1:06pm

Jazz music has been a highly influential art form since its conception in the early 1900s. Over the years numerous subgenres have evolved, each with its own personality. Here are just a few of the more prominent subgenres of jazz that emerged during Louis Armstrong’s lifetime.

Ragtime – Ragtime was a popular style of dance music in the early 1900s characterized by a syncopated, “ragged” rhythm. Influenced by European classical music, the popular marches of composers such as John Phillip Sousa, and the polyrhythms of traditional African music, it is seen as the American equivalent of Mozart’s minuets or waltzes by Brahms. Noted ragtime composers include Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, and Jelly Roll Morton, who was also influential in the early days of jazz. Listen to Joplin's The Entertainer

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“West End Blues”

Posted Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 5:24pm

“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.

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On Louis Armstrong

Posted Friday, October 19, 2012 - 12:49pm

Louis Armstrong, also Known as Satchmo - short for “satchel-mouth” Ambassador Satch, Satch, Satchmo the great, Dippermouth, Dipper, and Pops was one of the greatest Jazz musicians of the twentieth century. He is still known for his big smile, magnificent trumpet playing and unique voice. Born in New Orleans sometime around July 1, 1900 and died in Queens in 1971, Armstrong lived an extraordinary life. Duke Ellington said of him that “He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone on the way.”

Armstrong began playing the horn at the ‘Colored Waif’s Home’ just outside of New Orleans when he was a young boy.  He was sent to the home for setting off a firecracker in the street. While he was out of the home he had to work to support himself and his mother. He shoveled coal and worked for a local Jewish family that was particularly kind to him. As he grew older, he started playing his horn with local jazz groups and at clubs.  He began to play with Joe “King” Oliver, who became a mentor to Armstrong.

Eventually he moved to Chicago to play at clubs there as a part of Joe Oliver’s band. He played at the Sunset Café, owned by Joe Glaser. Glaser advertised Armstrong as the best trumpet player in the world, despite protests that a black man could not possibly be the best. Armstrong accidentally wound up getting wrapped up in some trouble with the mob because of his management.  Armstrong was stuck and wound up calling up Joe Glaser for help.  From then on Glaser was Armstrong’s manager and friend. He ran the business side of things and Armstrong focused on his music.  Glaser kept Armstrong on the road year round, entertaining around the world. With Glaser’s guidance Armstrong’s fame grew and grew.

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Terry Teachout on writing Satchmo at the Waldorf

Posted Friday, October 19, 2012 - 12:38pm

Mr. Teachout is the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, the critic-at-large of Commentary, and the author of “Sightings,” a biweekly column for the Saturday Journal about the arts in America. He also writes about the arts on his blog, “About Last Night” ( He has written the libretti for two operas by Paul Moravec, The Letter (commissioned and premiered by the Santa Fe Opera) and Danse Russe (commissioned and premiered by Philadelphia's Center City Opera Theater). His most recent books are Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (Harcourt), All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine (Harcourt) and A Terry Teachout Reader (Yale University Press). He is currently at work on Mood Indigo: A Life of Duke Ellington, which will be published by Gotham Books in 2013, and recently received a Guggenheim Fellowship to support the completion of the book. Satchmo at the Waldorf is his first play.


Writing the biography of a performing artist is like standing in the wings to watch a play. You see what the public sees, only from a different perspective. Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, my 2009 biography of the greatest jazz musician of the twentieth century, is about the joyous entertainer who sang “Hello, Dolly!” and “What a Wonderful World” and made millions of people feel warm inside—but it’s also about the private Armstrong, who swore like a trooper and knew how to hold a grudge. The fact that Satchmo (as he loved to call himself) had two sides to his personality doesn’t mean that the public man was somehow less “real” than the private one. Like all geniuses, Armstrong was complicated, and that complexity was part of what made his music so beautiful and profound.

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the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

Posted Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - 1:03pm

Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika concludes at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Atop the fountain is an eight foot bronze statue of a female angel known as the “Angel of the Waters”.  This name refers to the angel who blessed the healing waters in the pool of Bethesda in the Gospel of John. Water in the fountain cascades from an upper basin into a large pool filled with plants such as water lilies, papyrus and lotus. The fountain also features four cherubim representing Temperance, Purity, Health and Peace. While the pool at the base of the fountain was designed by Calvert Vaux, the co-designer of Central Park, the fountain sculpture was designed by Emma Stebbins in 1868. As Louis notes in Perestroika, Stebbins was a lesbian and had a lifelong relationship with the noted actress and native Philadelphian Charlotte Cushman. “The Angels of the Waters” made Stebbins the first woman in New York City to receive a public commission for a major work of art. At 26 feet high, the Bethesda Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the city.

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