Louis Armstrong

By: Greg Rowland
August 4, 2009


Miles Davis once said that the history of jazz could be summed up by two names: Charlie Parker and LOUIS ARMSTRONG (1901-71). I’d go further, and claim that the ABC of 20th century pop culture are: Armstrong, The Beatles, and Chaplin. Though we know him as “Satchmo,” his fellow jazzers called him “Pops” — which suited him well, because Armstrong was Zeus, the All-Father whose innumerable offspring, musicians whose output ranged from banal to sublime, tumbled in his thunderous wake. Want to hear the grammar of jazz redefined for the solo instrument? Listen to any tracks by Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens. Need convincing that Armstrong defined vocal recording, while also introducing the idea of expressive personality into popular singing? Check out his 1930s “Stardust.” The pillars of the written tune were granite… until Armstrong resculpted them, again and again. He made it possible for us to see, listen, and even think in an entirely new playful/serious and improvisatory way.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Iceberg Slim |

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).


HiLo Heroes, Jazz, Music

What do you think?

  1. I’m mostly with you but have to quibble–scratch Chaplin and drop in Keaton. He brought much more of the vaudeville roots into film comedy without the sticky sentimentality of Chaplin. And I feel awfully bad leaving Ellington off the list, but if you have to pick three….

  2. Thanks Joe — but ‘Keaton’ doesn’t begin with a convenient letter!

    However, I still think we have to give Chaplin the prize, as the world’s first super-star in the age of mechanical reproduction, and a great innovator in terms of narrative and film technique. Keaton was the probably the world’s best ever physical gag-man but you unfairly characterize Charlie as merely a purveyor of late Victorian shmaltz. Watch ‘The Circus’ or other pre- ‘The Kid’ four-reelers. (Yet we could argue that the introduction of that kind of sentimentality was a key development in Hollywood’s imaginary USA, whether we like it or not…)

    Chaplin’s influence is broader, Keaton’s is more refined, more focused, ‘cooler’ — this I will give you.

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