By using a specially adapted 'double pass' XR approach I've been able to get much closer to the cleaner finished sound I want using equalisation alone, before bringing in digital noise reduction, whilst simultaneously tackling the problems of horn resonances and very uneven tonal response. Where noise is a huge problem, as on acoustic recordings, this is a real step forward - it allows much better preservation of the musical signal and reduces the risk of producing audible digital noise artefacts in the finished recording.
What's been particularly fascinating about the Armstrong tracks is the realisation that, thanks to the sheer energy and harmonic richness of the brass instruments used, there's much, much more on some of these recordings than one might have expected to find. Normally we see acoustic recordings petering out somewhere between 3500 and 4500Hz, yet in occasional instances of particularly high notes I've detected harmonics right up to 19kHz.
The achievement of the new aspects of XR used for this restoration is to preserve these high harmonics much more effectively than before. Sadly they do generally only exist in the really high-energy instruments when they're playing loudly - we're not suddenly going to unearth CD quality from acoustic horn recordings - but the fact that they're not only possible but clearly audible does suggest that a lot of traditional equalisation of acoustic recordings may have been throwing valuable music content away.
However, the treble response of tracks 8-10 is particularly surprising for an acoustic recording and, following restoration with the XR remastering process, the sound has an added clarity more usually associated with microphone recordings. Thus it is possible that these were poor electric recordings rather than good acoustics. Although 1925 is generally regarded as the start of the electric era, some recording companies continued with the old acoustic system into at least 1927, hence the slight uncertainty expressed here.
Louis Armstrong (4 August 1901 – July 6, 1971), nicknamed Satchmo and Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer.
Armstrong was a charismatic, innovative performer whose improvised soloing was the main influence for a fundamental change in jazz, shifting its focus from collective improvisation to the solo player and improvised soloing. One of the most famous jazz musicians of the 20th century, he was first known as a cornet player, then as a trumpet player, and toward the end of his career he was best known as a vocalist and became one of the most influential jazz singers.
Horn playing and early jazz
In his early years, Armstrong was best known for his virtuosity with the cornet and trumpet. The greatest trumpet playing of his early years can be heard on his Hot Five and Hot Seven records. The improvisations which he made on these records of New Orleans jazz standards and popular songs of the day continue to stack up brilliantly alongside those of any other later jazz performer. The older generation of New Orleans jazz musicians often referred to their improvisations as "variating the melody"; Armstrong's improvisations were daring and sophisticated for the time while often subtle and melodic.
He often essentially re-composed pop-tunes he played, making them more interesting. Armstrong's playing is filled with joyous, inspired original melodies, creative leaps, and subtle relaxed or driving rhythms. The genius of these creative passages is matched by Armstrong's playing technique, honed by constant practice, which extended the range, tone and capabilities of the trumpet. In these records, Armstrong almost single-handedly created the role of the jazz soloist, taking what was essentially a collective folk music and turning it into an art form with tremendous possibilities for individual expression.
Armstrong's work in the 1920s shows him playing at the outer limits of his abilities. The Hot Five records, especially, often have minor flubs and missed notes, which do little to detract from listening enjoyment since the energy of the spontaneous performance comes through. By the mid 1930s, Armstrong achieved a smooth assurance, knowing exactly what he could do and carrying out his ideas with perfectionism.
On March 19, 1918, Louis married Daisy Parker from Gretna, Louisiana. They adopted a 3-year-old boy, Clarence Armstrong, whose mother, Louis's cousin Flora, died soon after giving birth. Clarence Armstrong was mentally disabled (result of a head injury at an early age) and Louis would spend the rest of his life taking care of him. Louis's marriage to Parker failed quickly and they separated. She died shortly after the divorce.
Through his riverboat experiences, Armstrong’s musicianship began to mature. At twenty, he could now read music and he started to be featured in extended trumpet solos, one of the first jazzmen to do this, injecting his own personality and style into his solo turns. He had learned how to create a unique sound, and also started using singing and patter in his performances. In 1922, Armstrong joined the exodus to Chicago, where he had been invited by his mentor, Joe "King" Oliver, to join his Creole Jazz Band, and where he could make a sufficient income so that he no longer need to supplement his music with day labor jobs. It was a boom time in Chicago and though race relations were poor, the “Windy City” was teeming with jobs for Blacks, who were making good wages in factories and had plenty to spend on entertainment.
Oliver's band was the best and most influential hot jazz band in Chicago in the early 1920s, at a time when Chicago was the center of the jazz universe. Armstrong lived like a king in Chicago, in his own apartment with his own private bath (his first). Excited as he was to be in Chicago, he began his career-long pastime of writing nostalgic letters to friends in New Orleans. As Armstrong’s reputation grew, he was challenged to “cutting contests” by hornmen trying to displace the new phenom, who could blow two hundred high C’s in a row. Armstrong made his first recordings on the Gennett and Okeh labels (jazz records were starting to boom across the country), including taking some solos and breaks, while playing second cornet in Oliver's band in 1923. At this time, he met Hoagy Carmichael (with whom he would collaborate later) who was introduced by pal Bix Beiderbecke, who now had his own Chicago band.
Armstrong enjoyed working with Oliver, but Louis' second wife, pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, urged him to seek more prominent billing and develop his newer style away from the influence of Oliver. She had her husband play classical music in church concerts to broaden his skill and improve his solo play, and she prodded him into wearing more stylish attire to make him look sharp and to better offset his growing girth. Lil’s influence eventually undermined Armstrong’s relationship with his mentor, especially concerning his salary and additional moneys that Oliver held back from Armstrong and other band members. Armstrong and Oliver parted amicably in 1924 and Armstrong received an invitation to go to New York City to play with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, the top African–American band of the day. Armstrong switched to the trumpet to blend in better with the other musicians in his section. His influence upon Henderson's tenor sax soloist, Coleman Hawkins, can be judged by listening to the records made by the band during this period.
Armstrong quickly adapted to the more tightly controlled style of Henderson, playing trumpet and even experimenting with the trombone, and the other members quickly took up Armstrong’s emotional, expressive pulse. Soon his act included singing and telling tales of New Orleans characters, especially preachers. The Henderson Orchestra was playing in the best venues for white-only patrons, including the famed Roseland Ballroom, featuring the classy arrangements of Don Redman. Duke Ellington’s orchestra would go to Roseland to catch Armstrong’s performances and young hornmen around town tried in vain to outplay him, splitting their lips in their attempts.
During this time, Armstrong also made many recordings on the side, arranged by an old friend from New Orleans, pianist Clarence Williams; these included small jazz band sides with the Williams Blue Five (some of the best pairing Armstrong with one of Armstrong's few rivals in fiery technique and ideas, Sidney Bechet) and a series of accompaniments with Blues singers, including Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Alberta Hunter.
Armstrong returned to Chicago in 1925 due mostly to the urging of his wife, who wanted to pump up Armstrong’s career and income. He was content in New York but later would concede that she was right and that the Henderson Orchestra was limiting his artistic growth. In publicity, much to his chagrin, she billed him as “the World’s Greatest Trumpet Player”. At first he was actually a member of the Lil Hardin Armstrong Band and working for his wife. He began recording under his own name for Okeh with his famous Hot Five and Hot Seven groups, producing hits such as "Potato Head Blues", "Muggles" (a reference to marijuana, for which Armstrong had a lifelong fondness), and "West End Blues", the music of which set the standard and the agenda for jazz for many years to come.
The group included Kid Ory (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo), wife Lil on piano, and usually no drummer. Armstrong’s bandleading style was easygoing, as St. Cyr noted, "One felt so relaxed working with him and he was very broad-minded...always did his best to feature each individual". His recordings with pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines (most famously their 1928 Weatherbird duet) and Armstrong's trumpet introduction to "West End Blues" remain some of the most famous and influential improvisations in jazz history. Armstrong was now free to develop his personal style as he wished, which included a heavy dose of effervescent jive, such as "whip that thing, Miss Lil" and "Mr. Johnny Dodds, Aw, do that clarinet, boy!"
Armstrong also played with ”Erskine Tate’s Little Symphony”, actually a quintet, which played mostly at the Vendome Theatre. They furnished music for silent movies and live shows, including jazz versions of classical music, such as “Madame Butterfly”, which gave Armstrong experience with longer forms of music and with hosting before a large audience. He began to scat sing (improvised vocal jazz using non-sensical words) and was among the first to record it, on Heebie Jeebies in 1926. So popular was the recording the group became the most famous jazz band in America even though they as yet had not performed live to any great degree. Young musicians across the country, black and white, were turned on by Armstrong’s new type of jazz.
After separating from Lil, Armstrong started to play at the Sunset Café for Al Capone associate Joe Glaser in the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra, with Earl Hines on piano, which was soon renamed Louis Armstrong and his Stompers, though Hines was the music director and Glaser managed the orchestra. Hines and Armstrong became fast friends as well as successful collaborators.
Armstrong returned to New York, in 1929, where he played in the pit orchestra of the successful musical Hot Chocolate, an all-black revue written by Andy Razaf and pianist/composer Fats Waller. He also made a cameo appearance as a vocalist, regularly stealing the show with his rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin'", his version of the song becoming his biggest selling record to date.
He started to work at Connie’s Inn in Harlem, the second nightspot in fame to the Cotton Club, and a front for gangster Dutch Schultz. Armstrong also had considerable success with vocal recordings, including versions of famous songs composed by his old friend Hoagy Carmichael. His 1930s recordings took full advantage of the new RCA ribbon microphone, introduced in 1931, which imparted a characteristic warmth to vocals and immediately became an intrinsic part of the 'crooning' sound of artists like Bing Crosby. Armstrong's famous interpretation of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" became one of the most successful versions of this song ever recorded, showcasing Armstrong's unique vocal sound and style, and his innovative approach to singing songs that had already become standards.
Armstrong's radical re-working of Sidney Arodin and Carmichael's "Lazy River" (recorded in 1931) encapsulated many features of his groundbreaking approach to melody and phrasing. The song begins with a brief trumpet solo, then the main melody is stated by sobbing horns, which are memorably punctuated by Armstrong's growling interjections at the end of each bar: "Yeah! ..."Uh-huh" ..."Sure" ... "Way down, way down". In the first verse, he ignores the notated melody entirely, and sings as if playing a trumpet solo, pitching most of the first line on a single note and using strongly syncopated phrasing. In the second stanza he breaks into an almost fully improvised melody, which then evolves into a classic passage of Armstrong "scat singing."
As with his trumpet playing, Armstrong's vocal innovations served as a foundation stone for the art of jazz vocal interpretation. The uniquely gritty coloration of his voice became a musical archetype that was much imitated and endlessly impersonated. His scat singing style was enriched by his matchless experience as a trumpet soloist. His resonant, velvety lower-register tone and bubbling cadences on sides such as "Lazy River" exerted a huge influence on younger white singers such as Bing Crosby.
The Depression of the early Thirties was especially hard on the Jazz scene. The Cotton Club closed in 1936 after a long downward spiral and many musicians stopped playing altogether as club dates evaporated. Bix Beiderbecke died and Fletcher Henderson’s band broke up. King Olivier made a few records but otherwise struggled. Sidney Bechet became a tailor and Kid Ory returned to New Orleans and raised chickens. Armstrong moved to Los Angeles in 1930 seeking new opportunities. He played at the New Cotton Club in LA with Lionel Hampton on drums, and the band drew the Hollywood crowd which could still afford a lavish night life, and radio broadcasts from the club connected with younger audiences at home. Bing Crosby and many other celebrities were regulars at the club. In 1931, Armstrong appeared in his first movie, Ex-Flame. Armstrong was convicted of marijuana possession but received a suspended sentence. He returned to Chicago in late 1931, and played in bands more in the Guy Lombardo vein and he recorded more standards. When the mob insisted that he get out of town, Armstrong visited New Orleans and got a hero’s welcome, and saw old friends. He sponsored a local baseball team known as “Armstrong’s Secret Nine” and got a cigar named after himself. But soon he was on the road again and after a tour across the country shadowed by the mob, Armstrong decided to go to Europe to escape.
After returning to the States, he undertook several exhausting tours. His agent Johnny Collins’ erratic behavior and his own spending ways left Armstrong short of cash. Breach of contract violations plagued him. Finally, he hired Joe Glaser as his new manager, a tough mob-connected wheeler-dealer, who began to straighten out his legal mess, his mob troubles, and his debts. Armstrong also began to experience problems with his fingers and lips, which were aggravated by his unorthodox playing style. As a result he branched out, developing his vocal style and making his first theatrical appearances. He appeared in movies again. In 1937, Armstrong substituted for Rudy Vallee on the CBS radio network and became the first black to host a sponsored, national broadcast. He finally divorced Lil in 1938 and married longtime girlfriend Alpha.
After spending many years on the road, he settled permanently in Queens, New York in 1943 in contentment with his fourth wife, Lucille. Although subject to the vicissitudes of Tin Pan Alley and the gangster-ridden music business, as well as anti-black prejudice, he continued to develop his playing.
During the subsequent thirty years, Armstrong played more than three hundred gigs a year. Bookings for big bands tapered off during the 1940s due to changes in public tastes: ballrooms closed, and there was competition from television and from other types of music becoming more popular than big band music. It became impossible under such circumstances to support and finance a 16-piece touring band.
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Armstrong