Lachie Thomson’s New Whispering Gold Orchestra recorded live at the 23rd Australian Jazz Convention — Adelaide 1968. I remember being in the audience for this performance. I was very impressed, especially by Mal Jennings playing trumpet in the style of Louis Armstrong in his prime.
Louis Armstrong is widely regarded as the first great jazz soloist; although Sidney Bechet was arguably the first notable musician to play a jazz solo on a recording (Wild Cat Blues in July 1923). Armstrong was born in 1901 in the poorest section of New Orleans. He learned to play the cornet in the Coloured Waif’s Home where he later became leader of the children’s band there. After he left the Waif’s Home, by day he was delivering coal from a mule-drawn cart and later on by night he was playing cornet in honky-tonk bars. In time, he graduated to become a full-time musician, playing in the bands of Kid Ory, Fate Marable and the Tuxedo Brass Band.
Armstrong’s main cornet mentor during his early life had been Joe ‘King’ Oliver, who had left New Orleans for Chicago in 1918 after the closing down of the Storyville red light district. In mid-1922, Oliver invited Armstrong to play second cornet in his Creole Jazz Band at the Lincoln Gardens dance hall on the south side of Chicago.
In September 1924, the successful African-American dance band leader Fletcher Henderson hired Armstrong specifically to be his featured soloist in New York. Henderson had previously heard Armstrong in 1922 whilst on tour in New Orleans and offered him a job in his small touring band, but Armstrong had turned the offer down. As Henderson’s 1924 offer now provided Armstrong an ideal opportunity to develop his own musical identity, he readily accepted it and travelled by train to New York from Chicago. Musician and jazz critic Ted Gioia has described this transition as a major watershed in jazz history: ‘The New Orleans pioneers exit stage left; Armstrong on trumpet enters stage right heralding the new Age of the Soloist’. Similarly, the jazz writer Gary Giddens credits Armstrong with changing jazz from a collective idiom to a soloists art.
Here is the young Louis Armstrong in his prime, aged 31. This is an excerpt from the short film ‘A Rhapsody In Black In Blue’ (1932).