West End Blues

louis armstrong

It was on this date in 1928 that Louis Armstrong and his band the Hot Five recordedWest End Blues.” Armstrong was 26 years old at the time and living in Chicago, where he’d been for six years. He’d moved there from New Orleans as part of Joe “King” Oliver‘s band; Oliver had been a friend and mentor to the young singer and trumpeter since Armstrong was a teenager. They parted ways in 1925. Oliver composed “West End Blues” and had just recorded his own version a few weeks earlier, but Armstrong’s cover, recorded in Chicago’s OKeh studio, is legendary. It features Earl “Fatha” Hines on piano, and it’s one of the first recorded examples of Armstrong’s trademark “scat” singing.

The recording took the jazz world by storm. An ecstatic audience carried Armstrong off the stage when he performed the song live one night. Composer Gunther Schuller wrote that the record “made it clear jazz could never again revert to being entertainment or folk music. The clarion call of ‘West End Blues’ served notice that jazz could compete with the highest order of musical expression. Like any profoundly creative innovation, [it] summarized the past and predicted the future.”

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