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Re: Artist or Entertainer? You Decide...

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  • 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 1 of 8 , Apr 6, 2006
      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 2 of 8 , Apr 7, 2006
        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 3 of 8 , Apr 7, 2006
          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 4 of 8 , Apr 9, 2006
            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 5 of 8 , Apr 10, 2006
              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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