Friday, May 23 4:30pm
Moudy Building room 320 south
Lecture: Michael Mekna
Louis Armstrong Innovations: Let Us Count the Ways
Research for a book about Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) reveals that he deserves recognition for numerous innovations that not even many professional jazz trumpet players know about. He was also a leading civil rights advocate, an international goodwill ambassador, the most prolific musician-writer in the jazz world, the first African American to be featured in mainstream movies, and the first musician--jazz or otherwise, black or white, American or whatever--to have an international airport named after him. This presentation will discuss and illustrate Armstrongs many innovations.
Jeff Helgesen, reporter
Mike Mecknas presentation on the numerous innovations of Louis Armstrong covered many aspects of the trumpet virtuosos achievements not commonly known, even by professional musicians. By reviewing recorded musical examples, videotape, and readings, a fascinating picture emerges.
As trumpet players, we realize that Armstrongs command of the upper register was a key characteristic of his style; it is somewhat of a surprise, however, that Armstrong was the first jazz trumpeter to really begin to explore the upper register above high C. Armstrong was also the first jazz trumpet player to be widely imitated by other musicians.
Armstrong also made significant contributions to both the vocal jazz idiom as well as the trumpet idiom (another first); he was the first to begin to bring music from the popular songbook into the jazz format, both in resurrecting older melodies and featuring ones which were popular at the time he recorded them. He recorded the first successful scat vocal solo, and was the first to introduce the musicians by name on a recording. Medleys, commonplace by the 1930s in dance bands, were an Armstrong innovation in the jazz world.
Though viewed by some as an Uncle Tom, Armstrong made significant contributions toward the promotion of civil rights for blacks. He oversaw the first interracial recording in which whites and blacks held an equal musical footing. He was the first black musician with a sponsored radio show, and was the first black musician to appear in mainstream feature movies.
In addition to being a prolific author, Armstrongs name appears on 80 songs. The first musician to have a cover story in Time dedicated to him, Armstrong recently became the first musician to have an international airport named for him. Armstrongs numerous innovations were illustrated through video (a clip from the 1934 motion picture Atlantic City) and several audio clips (Basin Street Blues for his use of the lower register, Aint Misbehaving as an example of a popular song in the jazz idiom, Swing That Music, and others).