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RE: [RedHotJazz] Artist or Entertainer? You Decide...

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  • 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 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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 5 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 6 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 7 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.





                  [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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