Louis Armstrong – Hot Fives And Sevens

Tom has talked about the difficulty of switching from modern pop to ’50s #1s for his magnificent Popular project, but I just went from Disco Inferno (the interesting and sometimes impressive indie band, not the titanic disco classic) to 1925!

I’m not the world’s biggest jazz fan or expert, but I couldn’t resist a classy JSP box set of all Louis Armstrong’s ultra-canonical Hot Fives and Hot Sevens recordings from the ’20s at a bargain £9.99 in the current HMV sale. I was a little disappointed on studying the credits (surprisingly amateurishly and unevenly designed, incidentally, in comparison to exceptionally crisp remastering) to find out that Lonnie Johnson, a tricksy guitarist I really like, is only on four tracks out of 89, but there is lots of top Kid Ory and Earl Hines, as well as the star of the show.

I guess Armstrong is publicly remembered now more for Hello Dolly and What A Wonderful World and All The Time In The World (and sometimes, wrongly, for I Wanna Be Like You in The Jungle Book – that was the mighty Louis Prima), but it was as a musician that he became one of the unquestionable giants of the 20th Century, probably the most important musical figure of its first half. This is where it all starts, with these exciting recordings, in a style that you can still hear, bowderised and deadened, in many Sunday lunchtime pubs, played by old white guys in horrible waistcoats. You wouldn’t know it from listening to those dullards three quarters of a century later, but this is thrilling and fun stuff, with a sense of adventure and daring that you don’t find in much music, and a combination of wide-ranging artistic experiment and sheer entertainment that hasn’t been duplicated much in the following decades (actually, maybe it’s not so far from the combination of experimental noise and pretty tunes that Disco Inferno aim at). I should make clear that I do not mean that I can spot the experimenting in the context of its time and a sense of history, I mean it still sounds odd and surprising pretty often. Don’t be put off by the ‘every serious jazz fan must have this in their collection’ stuff, buy it because it’s top entertainment. I devoured it straight through, with a smile on my face a lot of the time.