Monday, 7 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 71. Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five & Hot Seven

Top 102 Albums. No 71. 
Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five & Hot Seven

One of the first records I bought was an album by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five & His Hot Seven. I was aware of Wonderful World and Mack the Knife but what really attracted me to this album was the dates on the cover. 1926 and 1927 sounded impossibly early for recorded music. (I was young and naive - the fifties were ancient history.)

I am including this period of Louis' work in honour of the lesson I learned from these recordings. Music changes, like all art, but change ain't progress and some of the songs here, despite the primitive recordings are as good as anything else in my collection.

I have been reading Julio Cortazar's great Argentinian novel Hopscotch and the following quote summed up some of what this album made me feel. "That business about progress in art is ancient nonsense.." I'll be including more jazz from this era in my post on Hopscotch, coming soon. There are probably better Louis Armstrong albums, some of his recordings of St James Infirmary are beyond sublime, as are Wonderful World and many others. However, these early recordings will always have a particular place in my heart. After all, this is a list of my favourite albums, not an attempt to list the greatest albums.

This record brings us close to the birth of jazz and blues, back to its roots in parlour dances and neighbourhood bands.  There's a kind of stiff dignity to many of these recordings and the melancholy is always tempered with a sense of fun. I particularly love Irish Black Bottom which was a surprise to me, with Louis taking the proverbial out of the sentimental nationalism of the Irish Americans, playing around with the tune of The Wearing of the Green - including the immortal line "Cause Ireland's gone black bottom crazy." I have a picture of my grandparents dancing to this at the crossroads. Whatever would De Valera have said?


  1. Brilliant, brilliant music. My Dad is a huge fan so I was steeped in this wonderful stuff. It's easy to forget how these giants became so iconic. Who dared to call Louise a "white man's nigger"? He had to play the game to survive; never effected the talent. What a player AND what a voice.
    I particularly like his later recordings with Ella. Di will be buried to the sounds of 'Wonderful World'. Who says schmaltz and art cannot be bedfellows?

    1. I remember reading an essay on Wonderful World many years ago which said that you could hear the painful history of african america in the vocals, counterpointing the actual words.

  2. West End Blues would be a highlight for me. Really enjoying this countdown!


    1. Glad you're enjoying it Brendan. West End Blues is pretty fine alright.