Sunday, June 10, 2007

I'm Not Rough, Louis Armstrong

I'm Not Rough, Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five, December 10, 1925

Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocals
Kid Ory, trombone
Johnny Dodds, clarinet
Lil Hardin Armstrong, piano
Lonnie Johnson, guitar
Johnny St. Cyr, guitar - banjo

The Hot Fives and Hot Sevens are among the greatest recorded music in America. Generally, as you might expect, the Hot Fives refers to recordings made with five players and Hot Sevens to those made with seven performers. Adding Lonnie Johnson [right] on guitar to the mix made for a terrific addition musically, but changed nothing to the name.

Louis Armstrong is credited with, if not inventing the jazz solo, at the very least bringing it to prominence in jazz performance. In this recording, however, he does not solo on his instrument. He takes a one-chorus vocal solo just after the solo chorus by Lonnie Johnson.

I'm Not Rough is a 12-bar blues consisting of six choruses flanked by an intro and coda. The coda, however, is completely lost in a series of riffs which seems to extend the final B verse of the last chorus rather than move into concluding material.

Intro 0 - 7

Lil Armstrong, Louis's second wife, introduces the song with 4 bars on the piano. You can hear her alternate between the right hand on the upper notes and the left hand keeping the beat on the lower notes. This sort of alternation will continue in the first chorus between trumpet and trombone.

First chorus 8 - 33

A blues song consists, generally, of one blues chorus after another. Each 12-bar chorus is will be both the same as and different from the one preceding it and the ones to follow; similarities will include the standard blues progression. The choruses are linked by turnarounds.

Louis keeps his notes in the call crisp and distinct while Ory on trombone slurs his in response, creating one of the many contrasting elements in the song. Listen to Lonnie Johnson's guitar trilling impressively in the background and Dodds on clarinet weaving in and out

The A phrase is from 8 - 16, the second A from 17 - 25 and the B phrase 26 - 33. In each of the phrases you can pick up the fill at the end of each line, a standard feature of any blues verse. Listen to Armstrong's firm but lively turnaround to the second chorus.

Second chorus 34 - 1:01

The second chorus contrasts with the first by its more leisurely approach, and with a more prominent clarinet voice. In fact, the chorus is punctuated by Johnny Dodds's break which he takes at 50 - 52 - nicely set up by Armstrong in the higher register - as the fill for the second A verse.

Third chorus 1:02 - 1:29

Here Louis plays the melody is a far more recognizable way, so that if you've heard the tune before and recognize the lyrics, you can place where they go. This is possible to do in the earlier choruses, but we are less likely to do so. Lonnie Johnson on guitar responds to his call.

Fourth chorus 1:30 - 1:57

This is Lonnie Johnson's chorus, backed up by Johnny St. Cyr on banjo. It is one of those standout performances so common to the Hot Fives and Sevens sides, though it may not be due - as so many of the others are - to the infectious presence of Louis Armstrong. Lonnie Johnson didn't need Louis to inspire him, and in some ways it seems as if the inspiration here is the other way around. In any case, this solo is both subtle and inventive.

Fifth chorus 1:58 - 2:25

The lyrics do not follow the typical AAB format of most blues lyrics; that is, the second verse does not repeat the first. Also, note that while the first verse displays internal rhyme on bite and right the end rhymes in this chorus are all slant or off: right/time/mind.

A Now, I ain't rough, and I don't bite, but the woman that gets me got to treat me right
A 'Cause I'm crazy 'bout my loving, and I must have it all the time!
B It takes a brownskin woman to satisfy my mind, to satisfy my mind

Lonnie Johnson's accompaniment and fills are wonderful here (listen in particular to how he takes the fill at the end of the second A and how he inserts himself after brownskin woman on the B verse) and Armstrong's singing makes even these lyrics sound heartfelt.

Sixth chorus 2:26 - 3:01

The sixth and last chorus is a bit odd because of the numerous shifts it takes with each 4-bar verse. Dodds opens the chorus with four bars on the clarinet in the chalumeau (low) style; his phrases are punctuated (call-and-response) by Kid Ory on the trombone, sounding a little reedy. For the next four bars Louis picks up the tempo considerably in the out-chorus, up-tempo, double-time style that signals the end of a jazz song. However, the ending, starting with the B verse (the last four bars) takes yet another shift. Here a series of riffs initiated by Armstrong's splat-toned notes finish out the chorus and imperceptibly - to my ears - merge into the 2-bar coda.

This odd ending is assertive, even aggressive - perhaps, one might say, rough. If we say that, then we acknowledge an irony that gives the song additional flavor. In any case, its an infectious song I have always been especially fond of.