The Complete Hot Fives and Hot Sevens

Louis Armstrong

album cover

The Spark That Set the Fire of Jazz

Louis Armstrong was perhaps the most complete human embodiment of American exuberance. A daredevil musician and singer, he channeled all sorts of dazzling emotions into sound. He made the trumpet squeal with delight and roar with mock fury. His solos molded the rapid-fire exchanges of Dixieland and the big-town strut of the blues into the ad hoc, constantly mutating vocabulary that became jazz. The recordings he made in Chicago between 1925 and 1928 amount to the first significant documents of the genre, and a template for virtually everything that came later. They're peppery, chat-tery works of up-tempo fire punctuated by Armstrong's whimsical trumpet playing—improvisational outbursts in which the melodies were ad-libbed and the ad-libs were invariably melodic.

This four-disc set represents the moment when Armstrong (1901–1971) transformed jazz into a soloist's art. The trumpeter had been moving in that direction before these sessions, as early as 1922, when he accompanied the legendary New Orleans trumpeter Joe "King" Oliver to Chicago. Armstrong left Oliver in 1924, and the next year he and his wife—the pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, whose assertive barrelhouse style complemented his own playing—began recording for the Okeh label, with a quintet. The gems from those sessions—"Cornet Chop Suey," "Potato Head Blues," and others—cast the cross-talking exuberance of Dixieland in more sophisticated musical trappings. Subsequent sessions, especially those featuring Lil Hardin's replacement, Earl Hines, are even more inventive, and far more harmonically adventurous.

The Hot recordings reverberated well beyond Armstrong's immediate circle. Instrumentalists everywhere copied his approach to interpretation, and arrangers in bands large and small began incorporating "solo" passages into their charts. Armstrong became a music star, then an entertainer. But the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens endure: the spark that started the fire known as jazz.

Genre: Jazz
Released: 2001, Sony Legacy
Key Tracks: "Weather Bird," "St. James Infirmary," "Potato Head Blues"
Catalog Choice: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings, 1930–1956
Next Stop: Wynton Marsalis: The Marciac Suite
After That: Lester Bowie: The Great Pretender
Book Pages: 26–27

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#1 from Robert Popkoff, Brooklyn, NY - 10/15/2008 3:08

A better and more ecconomical way of hearing these recordings is on the JSP 4 CD Set “Hot Fives And Sevens”.  The sound is more natural and alive.  On the “Complete Hot Fives and Sevens” the digital processing has sucked the life out of these recordings.

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