Sample Music Essay Paper on Louis Armstrong: A Jazz Maestro And Legend

Louis Armstrong

            Louis Armstrong is one of the most important figures in the checkered history of jazz. His mastery of the trumpet and cornet was awe-inspiring. His mastery of the instruments and the trademark coarse voice with which he belted out the scat lyrics during performances endeared him to many jazz fans across the racial divide. It was a rare feat for a young African American musician. More impressive was the fact he rose to prominence and acted as a unifying figure at a time when the United States was divided along racial lines. For jazz lovers, he symbolized the face of the genre of music. He improvised jazz and introduced it to international audiences with performances in several continents he toured. His music exploits earned him a celebrity status and a good relationship with government.   

Stylistically Improvising Jazz                            

            Louis Armstrong established himself from an early age as a virtuosic jazz performer. His reputation as a revered cornet player was established from an early age. He fell in love with the instrument as a seven-year old after a Jewish family he was working for as a casual laborer gifted him the wind instrument. Armstrong’s vocal interpretation is accredited with the coarse vocals that jazz lovers became accustomed to during his era. To further distinguish himself from the crowded field of established and aspiring jazz musicians, Armstrong introduced scant vocalization. It marked a significant deviation from the jazz music being performed at the time. His improvisation was characterized by nonsensical and almost playful lyrics. Moreover, his lyrics had a conversational tinge that made his performances more gripping[1].

            Armstrong was a role model for many aspiring jazz musicians due to his ability to stamp his charming personality on stage. His performances were marked by a virtuosic feel that was new to jazz. He was dramatic and expressive and approached his soloist performances with a legato rhythm instead of a staccato that many jazz soloists were accustomed to. He is credited with introducing blues and the swing to jazz performances. These were improvisations that saw his star rise meteorically from an early age. By 24 years, Louis Armstrong had carved out a name for himself as a celebrated jazz musician. Many tried to copy his style while many such as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby drew inspiration from him and later became influential jazz activists. He transformed jazz into a commercial art that artists like him could live off. But most importantly, his dedication to jazz saw him become an internationally recognized artist. He not only toured Europe; he visited other continents such as Africa where he performed alongside established and budding jazz artists including Victor Olaiya from Nigeria[2].          

Recordings and Bands

            Throughout his long career, Louis Armstrong performed alongside some of the best jazz musicians in the United States and abroad. After being released from Colored Waifs’ Home where he had been placed for a year following a gun incident, Armstrong had the privilege of being mentored by the legendary Joe Oliver. The budding jazz musician performed alongside the maestro in New Orleans. Together with other musicians such as Kid Ory, Fate Marable, Buddie Petit and Bunk Johnson, they performed along Mississippi River in boat bands[3]. He performed in Chicago with Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band for two years before moving to New York in 1924[4].

            His move to New York was a career turning point for Louis Armstrong as he mastered the art of playing the trumpet and trombone. He played alongside the great Fletcher Henderson and his Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, which was a top African-American band[5]. Throughout his career, the man fondly nicknamed ‘Satchmo’ and ‘Pops’ by his peers, played in several bands including Louis Armstrong and His All Stars and Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven. His husky and mellow voice and his mastery of the trumpet were also enjoyed by revelers in Australia, Europe and Africa. Additionally, he performed alongside several artists including Jack Teagarden and Suzy Delair during jazz festivals and concerts in several U.S. cities.

            Armstrong released several original and critically acclaimed tracks. In 1979, “West End Blues” was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame induction. The song was composed by Joe Oliver and recorded by Armstrong at Okeh Records in 1928. Despite the changing jazz scene in the U.S. due to the emergence of a young generation of jazz musicians, Armstrong recorded “Hello Dolly!” in 1964. The song became a big hit topped music charts for over seven months. His tracks covered a wide variety of topics including race and trouble with the police.               

Ambassadorial Duties and Race Relations

            Despite criticism from some African Americans for his silence on the heightening race issues in the country, Louis Armstrong talked the topic when he felt it mattered. His popularity across the country among whites and African Americans saw him appointed as the unofficial goodwill ambassador for the U.S. government. His prolonged silence on racial segregation however earned him the black-on-black racial moniker, Uncle Tom. His free mingling the whites, demeanor and polished dress code were perceived by some as bending to whims of the oppressors of his kind[6]. Armstrong was a likeable character but that did not stop him from being targeted racially. He was even a victim of a failed bomb attack in while performing at Chilhowee Park in Knoxville in 1957[7].     

            Louis Armstrong rarely complained publicly by the country’s racial situation. Therefore, when he canceled his planned tour of the Soviet Union to protest the mistreatment of African Americans during the climax of Civil Rights Movement to end racial segregation, his voice was heard. President Eisenhower yielded to the growing call for desegregation of schools. He was briefly watched by federal security agencies for his strong stand against racism especially after he declined to visit America’s fiercest rival at the height of the Cold War[8]. However, he was a true patriot who carefully picked his moments carefully.         

            In conclusion, Louis Armstrong is a classic example of a true art legend. He is a man who followed his passion and ended up influencing a whole generation of Americans and revolutionized a music genre. Armed with a trumpet in his hand and husky voice, Armstrong gallantly stamped his identity throughout jazz. He improvised the genre of music with unique and dramatic approach to soloist performance. He globalized jazz through his tours to several continents. He holds the enviable title of being the first African American entertainer to trample racial lines at a time when the United States was reeling from deep racial divisions. While he remained true to his profession as an entertainer, Louis Armstrong added his voice to the Civil Rights Movement sweeping across the country.   

                                                                   Bibliography                                       

Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Hersch, Charles. “Poisoning Their Coffee: Louis Armstrong and Civil Rights.” JSTOR 34, no.3 (2002): 371-92. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3235397

Schwartz, Ben. What Louis Armstrong Really Thinks. The New Yorker, February 25, 2014. https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/what-louis-armstrong-really-thinks

Yanow, Scott. “Louis Armstrong… and All That Jazz.” Biography, Jul 5, 2016. https://www.biography.com/news/louis-armstrong-biography-facts  

Bibliography

Hersch, Charles. “Poisoning Their Coffee: Louis Armstrong and Civil Rights.” JSTOR 34, no.3 (2002): 371-92. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3235397

Schwartz, Ben. “What Louis Armstrong Really Thinks.” New Yorker. Last Modified February 25, 2014. https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/what-louis-armstrong-really-thinks

Yanow, Scott. “Louis Armstrong and All that Jazz.” Biography  Last Modified  July 6, 2016. https://www.biography.com/news/louis-armstrong-biography-facts


[1]   Scott Yanow, “Louis Armstrong and All that Jazz,” Biography,  July  6, 2016.

[2] Scott Yanow, “Louis Armstrong and All that Jazz,” Biography, July 6, 2016.

[3] Ted Gioia. The History of Jazz (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 47 – 55.[6] Charles Hersch, “Poisoning Their Coffee: Louis Armstrong and Civil Rights,” JSTOR 34, no.3 (2002): 371-92.

[7] Ben Schwartz, “What Louis Armstrong Really Thinks,” New Yorker, February 25

[8] Ben Schwartz, “What Louis Armstrong Really Thinks,” New Yorker, February 25