Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Muggles, Louis Armstrong

From the FBI file on Louis Armstrong

Muggles, Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five, Chicago, December 7, 1928.

Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal

Fred Robinson, trombone

Jimmy Strong, clarinet

Earl Hines, piano

Mancy Carr, banjo

Zutty Singleton, drums.

Muggles means marijuana, which Louis smoked any time he could get his hands on some; or maybe it refers to a reefer high.

First 12-bar blues chorus 0 - 33

Muggles opens with a piano solo by Earl Hines accompanied by Zutty Singleton on the brushes. The solo is stately and elegant, and peppered with gentle flourishes up and down the scales. One can feel here, and elsewhere, the profound influence Hines had on Teddy Wilson, the pianist for many great Billie Holiday recordings. The feeling Hines evokes here is one of gentle mourning or regret.

Second 12-bar blues chorus 33 - 1:06

Fred Robinson takes the second chorus on trombone with the rhythm section comping. Not much feeling evoked in this chorus, or the next.

Third 12-bar blues chorus 1:07 - 1:41

Jimmy Strong takes the third chorus on clarinet with the rhythm section comping. With a solo like this, I really begin to miss Johnny Dodds.

After ten bars Louis takes over with a 2-bar break at 1:36 to the end of the chorus. To me it sounds almost as if Louis had asked Robinson and Strong to play uninspired solos so that he could come in and take over with the greatest possible dramatic contrast. I doubt it, but that is what it sounds like.

Fourth 12-bar blues chorus 1:42 - 2:12

Louis takes this solo in double time. Everything about it seems to leave the past behind to dwell forever in the here and now, looking around for what comes next. The blues feeling here is one of profound awareness.

Fifth 12-bar blues chorus 2:13 - 2:51

This final chorus redeems the entire recording with an expressively anguished feeling. He is reminiscing here about his old mentor, King Oliver, playing the second-to-last chorus from Oliver's Jazzin' Babies' Blues from 1923. In this way, the recording recalls Weather Bird, which is also based on a 1923 King Oliver original.

Gunther Schuller says,

If Weather Bird results in a draw between the two men, Muggles definitely goes to Armstrong, and is, in fact, one of his greatest flights of imagination. His solo, which occupies the entire last third of the performance, is especially striking coming as it does after two dreary solos by Robinson [trombone] and Strong [clarinet]. As Louis enters on the last two bars of Strong’s slow blues chorus, going abruptly into double time, the phrase soars out like a bird suddenly routed from its nest. The impact of Louis’s entrance constitutes one of the great joyful moments of jazz, and even young players who have no particular affinity for Armstrong’s style are impressed by the daring and modernity of this passage. This is undoubtedly due to its strong rhythmic articulation, again bop-like in character. In fact, this solo is almost entirely rhythmic, with virtually no melody.

Towards the end of the solo, Schuller concludes,

Louis delivers himself of one of his most impassioned statements. Earthy, plaintive, expansively declamatory, weighted down with blue notes—it is the epitome of sophisticated, urban instrumental blues.”