Re: Artist or Entertainer? You Decide...
- 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.
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
> 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
> David Brown wrote:
> > Thanks as ever Scott. Am I alone in usually being discomforted by
> > of Louis in action ?
> > This is a parody of a 'darkie' entertainer, a mask he wears along
> > 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',
> > and his music is demeaned, for Hollywood bought Louis as
> > artist.
> > This is 1964 and I also wonder at the context. Louis with a lot of
> > white girls. How did this run in the South ? Also a link with his
> > movie appearance in a Boop where, caricatured in cartoon form, leopard
> > skinned, he pursues the ambiguously childlike and white Betty
> > 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
- 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
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.
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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 thoseGlad someone finally said this. I well remember being surprised, in view of
> 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.
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
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
Tel/FAX: +44 20 8521 1098
- 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
> grimacing happy darkie he used for the general --white --public.
- 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
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
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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