I've been listening to a lot of Louis Armstrong the last few weeks. I've had the complete Hot Fives and Sevens for a couple of years on a set from Proper UK called King Louis, but I actually never got past the first disc, which had selections from Louis with King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, and a bunch of blues singers. The sessions with the blues singers, especially, were so awesome it took me a couple of years to want to go any farther. Some things you just want to savor.
Anyway, I've jumped into the Hot Fives and Sevens with both feet now, and holy mother of pearl, they're just as good as everybody's been saying for seventy years.
The one I'm big on tonight is this one from 1926: "Georgia Grind." Not one of the more celebrated sides, I guess (the Terry Teachout bio of Armstrong I'm reading now doesn't call it out for any comment). Undoubtedly that's because Louis doesn't really step out and solo on his horn, just plays over the intro and outro. But there's still a lot to love about it. Starting, I'll point out, with Louis's wife Lil Hardin Armstrong, whose piano and vocals dominate the first half of the record.
Lil gets a bad rap from every single critic I've read. And even I can hear that her piano playing is a bit stiff and hesitant compared to Louis's playing. But it works nicely as a foil for him, and she gets off some nice licks here and there (not on this record, however). Mostly she's there for rhythm - they couldn't use drums on these early records because they were recorded without a mike. And rhythm she provides.
Here we get to hear her sing. I gather her singing isn't adored by critics either, but I'm enthralled. There's something about her delivery - a clarity and innocence that evoke her educated background, together with a gleeful abandon that suggest a good girl gone bad and loving it. Kind of the epitome of the '20s for me. Again, she's a great foil for Louis, whose vocal (technically much better than hers, but not trying to outshine her, just answer her) suggests the opposite, a bad boy pretending to be oh so good. Or something like that.
I guess this falls into the category of hokum...