The mafia helped change the face of American music by giving jazz artists a place to practice their craft at mob-run nightclubs and restaurants. Many of the brothels of Storyville in New Orleans where Louis Armstrong got his start in music were run by Sicillian mobsters. Henry Matranga, one of the most powerful mobsters at the time, owned the tavern where Armstrong played his first gig in 1917. Mafia connections helped keep these clubs and brothels open and protected from police raids in the early days.
When jazz musicians migrated from the south to cities like Chicago and New York, mafia-run clubs were there to welcome them. These clubs gave jazz musicians the exposure they needed to make jazz music a national phenomenon by giving them a stage to play on and good wages. This caused some trouble for jazz musicians as they became more popular, though.
Armstrong found himself in the middle of a feud between two managers, Tommy Rockwell and Johnny Collins, who fought over control of Armstrong’s career. Rockwell, Armstrong’s former manager decided to use force to get his prized client back, going so far as to send feared gangsters such as Dutch Schultz and Frankie Foster to visit Armstrong and bring him back to New York. The gangsters didn’t stop following Armstrong around until he decided to bring in Joe Glaser, who was notoriously connected to Al Capone, on as his manager. Despite Glaser’s dangerous past, the two remained partners until Glaser’s death in 1969.
As Louis Armstrong became a household name the world over in the decades following World War II, a new generation of jazz musicians started to create their own style of playing. One of the most renowned musicians to come out of this generation was Miles Davis, who would continue to test the limits of the jazz genre throughout his four decade long career.
Born in Alton, Illinois in 1926, Davis started studying the trumpet after a neighbor gave him an old horn when he was ten. He took private lessons and played in his junior high and high school bands and eventually got a job playing in Eddie Randell’s Blue Devils’ band when he was 17. He continued his musical education at Julliard while getting an education in the New York jazz scene from musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. After a year at Julliard he decided that the school was not for him and devoted all of his energy to a career in jazz. He developed his own distinct voice among the other bebop musicians of the time, characterized by a lyrical tone and spaces of silence between notes. In 1948, Davis teamed up with composer Gil Evans to record Birth of the Cool, which ushered in the new era of cool jazz.
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Long Wharf Theatre confirmed this and added that Satchmo at the Waldorf "has officially become the biggest hit in the history of Stage II, outpacing Brian Dennehy in Hughie and Krapp's Last Tape." Due to the production's massive popularity and critical acclaim, the theatre company extended its run for an additional week.
Please join us as we welcome John Douglas Thompson back to The Wilma Theater for this compelling production!
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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
“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.