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Artist or Entertainer? You Decide...

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  • Scott Alexander
    Here is another YouTube clip featuring Louis Armstrong. He seems to be having a lot of fun with this one: http://youtube.com/watch?v=cpsruPRjOYA I broadband
    Message 1 of 8 , Apr 2, 2006
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      Here is another YouTube clip featuring Louis Armstrong. He seems to be
      having a lot of fun with this one:
      http://youtube.com/watch?v=cpsruPRjOYA

      I broadband Internet connection is recommended to view this clip.

      Scott Alexander
      The Red Hot Jazz Archive
      www.redhotjazz.com
    • David Brown
      Thanks as ever Scott. Am I alone in usually being discomforted by the sight of Louis in action ? This is a parody of a darkie entertainer, a mask he wears
      Message 2 of 8 , Apr 6, 2006
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        Thanks as ever Scott. Am I alone in usually being discomforted by the sight
        of Louis in action ?

        This is a parody of a 'darkie' entertainer, a mask he wears along with the
        facial grotesquery. To me he looks very uncomfortable.

        Louis made many films but everywhere being required to portray the eye
        rollin', yes massa-in' , Stepin Fetchit black stereotype.

        Nowhere on film do we see the profound Louis of 'West End Blues', his role
        and his music is demeaned, for Hollywood bought Louis as entertainer not
        artist.

        This is 1964 and I also wonder at the context. Louis with a lot of little
        white girls. How did this run in the South ? Also a link with his first
        movie appearance in a Boop where, caricatured in cartoon form, leopard
        skinned, he pursues the ambiguously childlike and white Betty through the
        jungle.

        Also a link with the 1967 Disney 'Jungle Book' where I believe Louis
        refused to voice over the obviously racially insulting ' King Louie Of The
        Apes' so Prima got the gig. Anybody any information on this ?





        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Scott Alexander
        Q: Am I alone in usually being discomforted by the sight of Louis in action? I m of two minds about Louis Armstrong s stage antics. On the negative side I
        Message 3 of 8 , Apr 6, 2006
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          Q: Am I alone in usually being discomforted by the sight of Louis in action?

          I'm of two minds about Louis Armstrong's stage antics. On the negative side I agree that he often relied on a lot of stereotypical darkie shtick. On the positive side I often find him funny and charming. The same goes for his sidekick Velma Middleton.

          What if Jimmy Durante would have been cast in this commercial instead of Armstrong? I'm guessing that we wouldn't think twice about Durante doing the same type of clowning. I was amazed when I saw the Suzy Cute ad at http://youtube.com/watch?v=cpsruPRjOYA. Who came up with the idea of having a black pot smoking jazz musician advertise baby dolls to little white girls in 1964? I guess Louis had a hit song with "Hello Dolly" and some marketing department thought Dolly = doll = Louis Armstrong. In the back of their minds were probably images of Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple. To me Louis seems to be having some fun in this absurd commercial but it's subjective judgment. Unless some letter turns up at the Louis Armstrong House where he talks about the commercial we will never know what he was thinking. As Milton Berle said, "Sincerity is the key to success in show business. Once you've learned to fake that, you've got it made."

          Despite the profound artistic achievements that Armstrong graced us with during his lifetime he made his living as an entertainer in show business in a segregated, racist society. To make a living and ply his art he had to entertain the people of that society. Perhaps contemporaries of his like Duke Ellington and Sidney Bechet where able to do this with more grace and in a way that seems more dignified to us today or even back in the Sixties. I was born in 1959 and I was very aware of Armstrong as a celebrity, as someone who was on TV and in movies and on the radio during my childhood. I remember him as being quite entertaining when ever I encountered him in the media. At the time I thought of him as someone who was very "street". He reminded me of the type of guys who shined shoes or worked at horse racetracks with that weird jive voice of his. As a child I was also was very aware of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and John Coltrane because my father was a modern jazz fan and their music was constantly playing at our house. These guys didn't seem very "street" at all. When I looked at their album covers and read the liner notes, they seemed very sophisticated. I never saw them on TV or heard them on the radio. I maybe saw their pictures in Dad's copies of Downbeat but they weren't stars like Armstrong. I guess my point in all this is that as the memory or Armstrong's celebrity fades we are left with his records. We judge Armstrong to be a great artist on the basis of the records he made in the 1920s and early 1930s (I would also include his records with Ella Fitzgerald from the 1950s). We see his influence on all the musicians that followed him and say "what an artist!" while forgetting that Armstrong was very much a popular entertainer who wasn't above featuring a 250 pound cartwheeling woman in his act and making commercials for plastic baby dolls.



          Scott Alexander
          The Red Hot Jazz Archive
          www.redhotjazz.com



          David Brown wrote:
          > Thanks as ever Scott. Am I alone in usually being discomforted by the sight
          > of Louis in action ?
          >
          > This is a parody of a 'darkie' entertainer, a mask he wears along with the
          > facial grotesquery. To me he looks very uncomfortable.
          >
          > Louis made many films but everywhere being required to portray the eye
          > rollin', yes massa-in' , Stepin Fetchit black stereotype.
          >
          > Nowhere on film do we see the profound Louis of 'West End Blues', his role
          > and his music is demeaned, for Hollywood bought Louis as entertainer not
          > artist.
          >
          > This is 1964 and I also wonder at the context. Louis with a lot of little
          > white girls. How did this run in the South ? Also a link with his first
          > movie appearance in a Boop where, caricatured in cartoon form, leopard
          > skinned, he pursues the ambiguously childlike and white Betty through the
          > jungle.
          >
          > Also a link with the 1967 Disney 'Jungle Book' where I believe Louis
          > refused to voice over the obviously racially insulting ' King Louie Of The
          > Apes' so Prima got the gig. Anybody any information on this ?
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          >
          >
          >
          >
          > Yahoo! Groups Links
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
        • tommersl
          Louis Armstrong had already decorated the Time Magazine cover, participated in the Holywood industry of films, and was an icon in America at the time, the only
          Message 4 of 8 , Apr 6, 2006
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            Louis Armstrong had already decorated the Time Magazine cover,
            participated in the Holywood industry of films, and was an icon in
            America at the time, the only difference between him and any other
            American cultural icon like Sinatra or Elvis, is that Armstrong even
            today still surface as a black man no matter what circumstances or
            what situation he is mentioned. People want to think that being a
            black he had the weight of all black Americans living and dead on his
            shoulders on anything he did, every breath or move he did, anywhere he
            surfaced. It is not even something that comes to the minds of people
            that maybe he was just a guy who wanted to participate in something in
            his carreer, being a black , he was "acting", of course, unlike Elvis
            or Sinatra, they were born to it, they are netural at that. More than
            it tells anything about Armstrong, I think it tells about the people
            watching it, then and now, and how they accept having some dark
            corners on their TV. It tells a story of blacks who are and will
            surface as blacks in the first place, no matter what they at, and
            thats in the eyes of those who watch.

            tommersl

            I don't think Louis Armstrong would be different
            --- In RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com, Scott Alexander <scott@...> wrote:
            >
            > Q: Am I alone in usually being discomforted by the sight of Louis
            in action?
            >
            > I'm of two minds about Louis Armstrong's stage antics. On the
            negative side I agree that he often relied on a lot of stereotypical
            darkie shtick. On the positive side I often find him funny and
            charming. The same goes for his sidekick Velma Middleton.
            >
            > What if Jimmy Durante would have been cast in this commercial
            instead of Armstrong? I'm guessing that we wouldn't think twice about
            Durante doing the same type of clowning. I was amazed when I saw the
            Suzy Cute ad at http://youtube.com/watch?v=cpsruPRjOYA. Who came up
            with the idea of having a black pot smoking jazz musician advertise
            baby dolls to little white girls in 1964? I guess Louis had a hit song
            with "Hello Dolly" and some marketing department thought Dolly = doll
            = Louis Armstrong. In the back of their minds were probably images of
            Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple. To me Louis seems to be having some
            fun in this absurd commercial but it's subjective judgment. Unless
            some letter turns up at the Louis Armstrong House where he talks about
            the commercial we will never know what he was thinking. As Milton
            Berle said, "Sincerity is the key to success in show business. Once
            you've learned to fake that, you've got it made."
            >
            > Despite the profound artistic achievements that Armstrong graced us
            with during his lifetime he made his living as an entertainer in show
            business in a segregated, racist society. To make a living and ply his
            art he had to entertain the people of that society. Perhaps
            contemporaries of his like Duke Ellington and Sidney Bechet where able
            to do this with more grace and in a way that seems more dignified to
            us today or even back in the Sixties. I was born in 1959 and I was
            very aware of Armstrong as a celebrity, as someone who was on TV and
            in movies and on the radio during my childhood. I remember him as
            being quite entertaining when ever I encountered him in the media. At
            the time I thought of him as someone who was very "street". He
            reminded me of the type of guys who shined shoes or worked at horse
            racetracks with that weird jive voice of his. As a child I was also
            was very aware of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and
            John Coltrane because my father was a modern jazz fan and their music
            was constantly playing at our house. These guys didn't seem very
            "street" at all. When I looked at their album covers and read the
            liner notes, they seemed very sophisticated. I never saw them on TV or
            heard them on the radio. I maybe saw their pictures in Dad's copies of
            Downbeat but they weren't stars like Armstrong. I guess my point in
            all this is that as the memory or Armstrong's celebrity fades we are
            left with his records. We judge Armstrong to be a great artist on the
            basis of the records he made in the 1920s and early 1930s (I would
            also include his records with Ella Fitzgerald from the 1950s). We see
            his influence on all the musicians that followed him and say "what an
            artist!" while forgetting that Armstrong was very much a popular
            entertainer who wasn't above featuring a 250 pound cartwheeling woman
            in his act and making commercials for plastic baby dolls.
            >
            >
            >
            > Scott Alexander
            > The Red Hot Jazz Archive
            > www.redhotjazz.com
            >
            >
            >
            > David Brown wrote:
            > > Thanks as ever Scott. Am I alone in usually being discomforted by
            the sight
            > > of Louis in action ?
            > >
            > > This is a parody of a 'darkie' entertainer, a mask he wears along
            with the
            > > facial grotesquery. To me he looks very uncomfortable.
            > >
            > > Louis made many films but everywhere being required to portray the eye
            > > rollin', yes massa-in' , Stepin Fetchit black stereotype.
            > >
            > > Nowhere on film do we see the profound Louis of 'West End Blues',
            his role
            > > and his music is demeaned, for Hollywood bought Louis as
            entertainer not
            > > artist.
            > >
            > > This is 1964 and I also wonder at the context. Louis with a lot of
            little
            > > white girls. How did this run in the South ? Also a link with his
            first
            > > movie appearance in a Boop where, caricatured in cartoon form, leopard
            > > skinned, he pursues the ambiguously childlike and white Betty
            through the
            > > jungle.
            > >
            > > Also a link with the 1967 Disney 'Jungle Book' where I believe Louis
            > > refused to voice over the obviously racially insulting ' King
            Louie Of The
            > > Apes' so Prima got the gig. Anybody any information on this ?
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > > Yahoo! Groups Links
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            > >
            >
          • David Brown
            I claimed last week that Louis stood as greatest genius of our music -- and my second son is Louis Daniel -- but we are left with an enigma. How do we equate
            Message 5 of 8 , Apr 7, 2006
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              I claimed last week that Louis stood as greatest genius of our music -- and
              my second son is Louis Daniel -- but we are left with an enigma. How do we
              equate the profundity of 'West End Blues' with the mugging 'darkie'
              stereotype stage persona. The problem is with the persona, not the music.
              Louis always took the music seriously even the kitsch of 'Hello Dolly' or
              'Wonderful World' and musically the sincerity you mention Scott is evident
              to all , even the General Public and Larkin says somewhere you 'can warm
              your hands on Louis'. And Billie said ' Pops Toms from the heart'. I think
              Louis was a very funny man and there are instances of real sharp
              sophisticated humour on some early sides but this is very different from the
              grimacing happy darkie he used for the general --white --public.


              Benny Green tells a story of a 50s band bus argument in the UK on jazz
              celebrity which resulted in Benny leaping from the bus and asking
              passers-by at random if they had heard of Louis Armstrong and who he was.
              EVERYBODY had heard of him but one thought he was a boxer. He was by some
              distance the most famous and well known jazz musician and is it then
              coincidence that he was also the greatest ? I suggest it was the mugging
              happy darkie and pop singer who was the star not the great jazz musician.

              Yes, he always craved public acclaim, was insecure. There is also a story of
              a way late engagement also in UK at the Batley Working Man's Club when he
              was weak and unable to play much. He received a slagging review --totally
              unnecessary and craven --- and was visibly close to tears and enquired of
              his agent --not Glaser, dead by then -- whether he was still going to book
              him.

              I agree with Scott's assessment of his finest records but even in those
              humdrum All Star Circus recordings is always a moment of Louis majesty.
              Latterly indeed he was better in non A.S context and I recommend the ex-
              Audio Fidelitys --- even those suffering the lumbering Dukes Of
              ixieland --- as giving the truest idea of the real quality of his
              unstrained sound. Unstrained because here, even late, we still encounter the
              serious artistic blemish in his work, evident from early 30s, of his
              compulsion to extend to a register contextually and, latterly, technically
              inappropriate. I suggest that the reason for this, this desertion and
              negation of his superb architectonic sense, was insecurity --- the need to
              have the general public and fellow musicians acclaim his high note prowess.

              I


              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • Howard Rye
              ... Glad someone finally said this. I well remember being surprised, in view of the then general judgement that Louis had essentially been in decline from 1930
              Message 6 of 8 , Apr 7, 2006
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                on 7/4/06 8:07, David Brown at johnhaleysims@... wrote:

                > I agree with Scott's assessment of his finest records but even in those
                > humdrum All Star Circus recordings is always a moment of Louis majesty.
                > Latterly indeed he was better in non A.S context and I recommend the ex-
                > Audio Fidelitys --- even those suffering the lumbering Dukes Of
                > ixieland --- as giving the truest idea of the real quality of his
                > unstrained sound.

                Glad someone finally said this. I well remember being surprised, in view of
                the then general judgement that Louis had essentially been in decline from
                1930 on, at just how good many of the later recordings were when you
                actually listened to them.

                A major aspect of Louis's genius was in managing somehow to keep the
                entertainment and crowd-pleasing aspects of his music in balance with
                serious musical output. Fats Waller had this skill too, so does B.B. King.
                Ray Charles on the other hand sometimes hit it spectacularly and sometimes
                missed by miles. The ability to make everything sound new-minted however
                often it's been played before seems to go along with this skill.

                I suspect that a major reason for the downgrading of Louis's later music is
                that it was always essentially of the swing era, even when traditional in
                form. I have met swing-era buffs who actually regard the 30s Deccas as the
                pinnacle of his career. While I don't agree with them, I can kind of hear
                their point.

                The 1933 film Kobenhavn Kalundborg ogt, the clip from which is widely
                available, gives an interesting insight into the stage persona away from the
                specifically American pressures of Hollywood et al.

                Howard Rye, 20 Coppermill Lane, London, England, E17 7HB
                howard@...
                Tel/FAX: +44 20 8521 1098
              • Robert Dewar
                As a young lad in the 70`s and a little earlier I loved Hello Dolly and Wonderful World. Pops singing always took me to a deeper place than the trite quality
                Message 7 of 8 , Apr 9, 2006
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                  As a young lad in the 70`s and a little earlier I loved Hello Dolly
                  and Wonderful World. Pops singing always took me to a deeper place
                  than the trite quality of the selections would indicate to anyone with
                  some sense of taste. I never saw any footage of Pops until later on in
                  the decade (long story, TV was not looked on with love by my parents
                  and the movie house was mostly forbidden) I have always loved some
                  music with a high kitsch content, so I may have been more inclined to
                  like them but in this case,, I dont think so. I quickly sought out all
                  of Louis` catalogue and beheld the genius in all his glory.

                  But his singing was what initially drew me in and he still one of my
                  favourite (and I suspect I am not alone in both the jazz and non-jazz
                  listening public) POPULAR singers.

                  I think Louis got along to get along. I'd rather not walk a mile in
                  his shoes for a couple of days in New Orleans or Chicago or wherever.
                  When the price you could pay for being "uppity" was a public lynching,
                  its a wonder he didnt let early experience with racist America destroy
                  him completely. I cut him a lot of slack. I always like Miles'
                  comments about him, that you couldn't play anything on the trumpet
                  that LA hadn't played before you.

                  I have to say I am really enjoying this group. I am not a collector to
                  any large degree. I don't have a burning desire to find out about the
                  history of this music. I just love the shock and awe of hearing
                  something that totally changes the moment you are in at that
                  particular time. I sort of cherry pick a bit through this stuff but
                  the rewards are still wonderful..


                  Robert J Dewar

                  > I claimed last week that Louis stood as greatest genius of our music -- and
                  > my second son is Louis Daniel -- but we are left with an enigma. How do we
                  > equate the profundity of 'West End Blues' with the mugging 'darkie'
                  > stereotype stage persona. The problem is with the persona, not the music.
                  > Louis always took the music seriously even the kitsch of 'Hello Dolly' or
                  > 'Wonderful World' and musically the sincerity you mention Scott is evident
                  > to all , even the General Public and Larkin says somewhere you 'can warm
                  > your hands on Louis'. And Billie said ' Pops Toms from the heart'. I think
                  > Louis was a very funny man and there are instances of real sharp
                  > sophisticated humour on some early sides but this is very different from
                  > the
                  > grimacing happy darkie he used for the general --white --public.
                • David Brown
                  Robert. Nice. Yes. Indeed. Louis was also the greatest Jazz Singer -- alongside Billie, the only other candidate, who did ,of course, cite Louis as main
                  Message 8 of 8 , Apr 10, 2006
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                    Robert. Nice. Yes. Indeed. Louis was also the greatest Jazz Singer --
                    alongside Billie, the only other candidate, who did ,of course, cite Louis
                    as main influence.

                    Also supremely influential as, and great, 'pop singer' --purveyor of popular
                    song.

                    I argue there was little 'interpretation' of popular song before Louis. The
                    crooners were nice but bland.

                    What a revelation and revolution when Louis was finally given a pop song to
                    work on, ' I Can't Give You Anything But Love' ,1929. Oh how the song is
                    transformed and pop singing would never be the same again.

                    From then on Louis could transmute any pop song into gold and it's a tragedy
                    that in the 30s he was given far too many inconsequential novelties to work
                    on.

                    Often, however, the songs fail to make lyric sense. He misread them
                    sometimes and broke the lines and made insertions that make profound musical
                    but no lyric sense. In the words of Philip Larkin ' He tore words up by the
                    roots' but nowhere does the sincerity of Louis fail to deliver on a good
                    song or even a mediocre one.

                    For a supreme achievement of 'pop' Louis as singer and musician listen to
                    the sides with the Mills Brothers.

                    The latter however also offer the spectacle of even Louis balking at the
                    risible 'happy darkie cotton picking plantation' material and gently
                    subverting ---only gently.





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