Saturday, June 02, 2012

StLJN Saturday Video Showcase:
The genius of Louis Armstrong

This week, in anticipation of Byron Stripling's gig next Saturday, June 9 at Powell Hall in which the trumpeter and singer will join forces with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra to deliver a tribute to Louis Armstrong, we're going back in time to check out some clips of Armstrong himself. (For more about Stripling, check out this Saturday video post from back in February, when he performed at Jazz at the Bistro.)

The headline of this post refers to several things: It was the title of a best-selling but now out-of-print double album reissuing some of Armstrong's key early recordings; the subtitle of a biography of Armstrong by the noted jazz critic Gary Giddins; and, ultimately, it's a simple statement of fact.

Armstrong was the first international jazz superstar, a virtuoso soloist who set the bar for every jazz musician who followed him, an innovative vocal stylist, and one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century. Though he may have lacked formal education, there's no question that Armstrong was a genius, and nearly 40 years after his death, his music remains both worthy of extended study for musicians and composers and genuinely entertaining to just about everyone.

Although the short glimpses of Armstrong seen on film and TV throughout his career could only capture a portion of that genius, it's a portion that's still worth revisiting and appreciating, and so today, we have a half-dozen clips of Armstrong in action.

The first video up above dates from 1934, and shows Armstrong and band performing "I Cover The Waterfront," "Dinah" and "Tiger Rag" in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Down below is a clip of "Stompin at the Savoy" from a 1959 performance in Stuttgart, Germany. Armstrong is backed by Trummy Young (trombone), Peanuts Hucko (clarinet), Billy Kyle (piano), Mort Herbert (bass) and Danny Barcelona (drums).

Below that, it's a rather relaxed version of "When The Saints Go Marching In," taped in March, 1963 in Sydney, Australia and featuring Armstrong, Young, Kyle, Barcelona, clarinetist Joe Darensbourg and bassist Arvell Shaw.

Next up, it's the classic "Basin Street Blues," recorded in February, 1964 for the US TV program The Bell Telephone Hour: The American Song. It's the same band as the 1963 clip, except with trombonist Russell "Big Chief" Moore in place of Young.

The fifth clip features Armstrong and country music great Johnny Cash performing "Blue Yodel No 9" in 1970 on Cash's TV show. Armstrong appeared as an unbilled guest star on the original version recorded in 1930 by Jimmie Rodgers.

And just to close out with a local reference, the final clip is a version of "St. Louis Blues" recorded in 1959 in Belgium by the same band seen in the "Stompin' at the Savoy" clip, plus vocalist Velma Middleton.

For more about Armstrong and his influence on jazz and popular music in general, start with the Louis Armstrong Museum official site. You also may enjoy the video of "The Artistry of 'Pops': Louis Armstrong at 100," a presentation of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University from 2000 that features trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and critic Stanley Crouch. Armstrong's page at and the tribute site also are worth a look.

Tickets for Byron Stripling and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra's tribute to Armstrong are priced from $25 to $55, and are on sale online at or by phone at 314-534-1700.

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