It was during his last year in Chicago while working with another pianist,
Earl (Fatha) Hines (1903-1983), that Louis reached his first artistic peak.
Hines was the first real peer to work withLouis. Inspired by him, he was
in turn able to inspire. Some of the true masterpieces of Jazz, among them
West End Blues and the duet Weatherbird, resulted from the
THE JAZZ AGE
Louis Armstrong dominated the musical landscape of the 20's and, in fact,
shaped the Jazz language of the decade to come as well. But the Jazz of
the Jazz Age was more often than not just peppy dance music made by
young men playing their banjos and saxophones who had little
understanding of (or interest in) what the blues and/or Louis Armstrong
were about. Still, a surprising amount of music produced by this
dance-happy period contained genuine Jazz elements.
PAUL WHITEMAN - King of Jazz?
The most popular bandleader of the decade was Paul Whiteman
(1890-1967), who ironically became known as the King of Jazz, although
his first successful bands played no Jazz at all and his later ones precious
little. These later bands, however, did play superb dance music, expertly
scored and performed by the best white musicians the extravagant
Whiteman paychecks could attract. From 1926 on, Whiteman gave
occasional solo spots to such Jazz-influenced players as cornetist Red
Nichols, violinist Joe Venuti, guitarist Eddie Lang (1904-1933), and the
Dorsey Brothers' trombonist-trumpeter Tommy (1905-1956) and
clarinetist-saxophonist Jimmy (1904-1957), all of whom later became
bandleaders in their own right.
In 1927, Whiteman took over the key personnel of Jean Goldkette's
Jazz-oriented band, which included a young cornetist and sometime pianist
and composer of rare talent, Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931). Bix's very
lyrical, personal music and early death combined to make him the first
(and most durable) jazz legend. His romanticized life story became the
inspiration for a novel and a film, neither of them close to the truth.
Bix's closest personal and musical friend during the most creative period of
his life was saxophonist Frank Trumbauer (1901-1956). Fondly known as
Bix and Tram, the team enhanced many an otherwise dull Whiteman
record with their brilliant interplay or their individual efforts.
THE BEIDERBECKE LEGACY
Bix's bittersweet lyricism influenced many aspiring jazzmen, among them
the so-called Austin High Gang, made up of gifted Chicago youngsters
only a few of whom ever actually attended Austin High School. Among
them were such later sparkplugs of the Swing Era as drummers Gene
Krupa (1909-1973) and Dave Tough (1908-1948); clarinetist Frank
Teschemacher (1905-1932); saxophonist Bud Freeman (1906-1991);
pianists Joe Sullivan (1906-1971) and Jess Stacy (b. 1904); and
guitarist-entrepreneur Eddie Condon (1905-1973). Their contemporaries
and occasional comrades-in-arms included a clarinet prodigy named Benny
Goodman (1905-1986); and somewhat older reedman and character, Mezz
Mezzrow (1899-1972), whose 1946 autobiography, Really the Blues,
remains, despite inaccuracies, one of the best Jazz books.
Trumbauer, though not a legend like Bix, influenced perhaps as many
musicians. Among them were two of the greatest saxophonist in Jazz
history, Benny Carter (b.1907) and Lester (Prez) Young (1909-1959).
BLACK & WHITE
A great influence on young Goodman was the New Orleans clarinetist
Jimmie Noone (1995-1944), an exceptional technician with a beautiful
tone. Chicago was an inspiring environment for a young musician. There
was plenty of music and there were plenty of masters to learn from.
Cornetist Muggsy Spanier (1906-1967) took his early cues from King
Oliver. In New York, there was less contact between black and white
players, though white jazzmen often made the trek to Harlem or worked
opposite Fletcher Henderson at the Roseland. When a young Texas
trombonist, Jack Teagarden (1905-1964), came to town in 1928, he
startled everyone with his blues-based playing (and singing), very close in
concept to that of Henderson's trombone star, Jimmy Harrison
(1900-1931). These two set the pace for all comers.
Teagarden, alongside Benny Goodman, worked in Ben Pollack's band.
Pollack, who'd played drums with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, was
quite a talent spotter and always had good bands. When Henderson
arranger Don Redman took over McKinney's Cotton Pickers in 1929 and
made it one of the bands of the `20s, his replacement was Benny Carter.
Carter could (and still can) write arrangements and play trumpet and
clarinet as well as alto sax. For many years, he was primarily active as a
composer for films and TV; but in the late 1970's, Carter resumed his
playing career with renewed vigor. (Editor's Note-Carter just turned
eighty and is still playing and recording.)
THE UNIQUE DUKE
Another artist whose career spanned more than fifty years is Duke
Ellington (1899-1974). By 1972, he was one of New York's most
successful bandleaders, resident at Harlem's Cotton Club--a nightspot
catering to whites only but featuring the best in black talent.
Ellington's unique gifts as composer-arranger-pianist were coupled with
equally outstanding leadership abilities. From 1927 to 1941, with very few
exceptions and occasional additions, his personnel remained unchanged--a
record no other bandleader (except Guy Lombardo, of all people) ever
Great musicians passed through the Ellington ranks between 1924 and
1974. Among the standouts: great baritone saxist Harry Carney
(1907-1974), who joined in 1927; Johnny Hodges (1906-1970), whose
alto sax sound was one of the glories of jazz; Joe (Tricky Sam) Nanton
(1904-1946), master of the "talking" trombone; Barney Bigard
(1906-1980); whose pure-toned clarinet brought a touch of New Orleans
to the band; Ben Webster (1909-1973), one of Coleman Hawkins' greatest
disciples; drummer Sonny Greer (1903-1982), and Rex Stewart
(1907-1967) and Cootie Williams (1910-1985), an incomparable trumpet
team. Among the later stars were trumpeter Clark Terry (b. 1920) and
tenor saxist Paul Gonsalves (1920-1974).
Ellington's music constitutes a world within the world of Jazz. One of the
century's outstanding composers, he wrote over 1,000 short pieces, plus
many suites, music for films, the theater and television, religious works and
more. He must be ranked one of the century's foremost