Monday, July 6, 2020

A Louis Armstrong Music Break

The extensive and excellent Ken Burns documentary, JAZZ, rightfully positioned and presented Louis Armstrong as a supreme genius in an American music art form. Burns' 2000 documentary is really a mini-series. Trust me on this -- the hours will fly by like minutes. It's educational, enlightening, revealing and relevant. It's ripe for binge-watching. The chapter on Louis Armstrong gives him the significance some folks, especially in Hollywood, may not have realized in his early years. If you look at some of the supporting roles Hollywood gave him in the 1930s and early 40s, roles that were designed to let him do a musical number, you really would not have known that he was a jazz master who'd toured Europe by the early 1930s. In the late 40s, his film roles gradually become more sophisticated. The Martin Ritt movie, PARIS BLUES, was a 1961 romantic drama about two young best friends. They're Americans in Paris and jazz musicians in a city that appreciates jazz. Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier plays the jazzmen. Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll play the best friends on vacation. They too are Americans in Paris. They meet the jazzmen. Romance ensues. And music. Louis Armstrong gets one of the classiest acting roles of his film career as the dapper, acclaimed jazz great overseas for tour dates. Quite an elevation from the horn-playing stablehand in the Warner Bros. musical comedy, GOING PLACES (1938). Dick Powell starred as the sporting goods salesman posing as a jockey.
Louis Armstrong was much more than just a jovial guy with a gravelly voice who could play a horn. Armstrong died on July 6th, 1971 at age 69. He had hit records in the 1960s. That was back in the day when Americans still listened to the radio and vocalists got airplay. "Hello, Dolly," the title tune from the hit Broadway musical, was sung by several popular singers of the day. Armstrong did a cover of it and his recording zoomed up the Billboard charts. It sold so well that he topped The Beatles. Armstrong was not in the Broadway play with Carol Channing. But his record was such a best-seller, it got him a cameo with Barbra Streisand during the big title tune number in the 1969 movie version. Movie audiences applauded his appearance.

Armstrong's 1960s recording of "What a Wonderful World" was used in the soundtrack to GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (1987). His record, covered by clips from the movie, was a music video I presented quite a few times during my VH1 veejay years. Armstrong's record was again popular, discovered by a new audience. It got to be so popular that, when many think of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, that's one of the first recordings mentioned or played.

Which is why I'm giving you a Louis Armstrong Music Break. His artistry started back in the 1920s. In Ken Burns' JAZZ, music historians and experts discuss the brilliance of his 1928 recording, "West End Blues."

In 1929, he recorded "Ain't Misbehavin'."

The 1951 MGM drama called THE STRIP involved a drummer, a dancer, a murder and the nightclub scene on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. A new song made its debut in the movie. Here's one of my favorite Louis Armstrong vocals. From THE STRIP, here's "A Kiss To Build a Dream On." I'm sure his smooth rendition in the movie helped it get an Oscar nomination for Best Song.

I hope you enjoyed my music break featuring Master Louis Armstrong.

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