Wednesday, July 06, 2022

'Pay Back the Audience for Coming'

On July 5, 2013, my oldest son and I visited for the first time the Louis Armstrong House Museum on 107th Street in Corona, Queens. Josh was getting married in nearby Jackson Heights the following day, the forty-second anniversary of Armstrong’s death. Our guide was Harvey Fisher, a retired guy about my age who spoke of Armstrong as he might of a fondly remembered uncle. Fisher shared his enthusiasm for Philip Larkin and for Larkin’s enthusiasm for Armstrong. The music, my son’s company, the imminent wedding, good conversation, a sunny sky, the spirits of Armstrong and Larkin – all fused to form a memorable moment. It’s not a stretch to call it a “spot in time,” in Wordsworth’s phrase. 

Those who think a blues must be mournful are mistaken. Consider Armstrong’s recording of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” from 1929. In a March 1968 review collected in All What Jazz (1985), Larkin calls it “the hottest record ever made,” and continues: “Starting in medias res, with eight bars of the lolloping tangana release, it soon resolves into a genial up-tempo polyphony, with [J.C.] Higginbotham, [Red] Allen and Charlie Holmes observable behind the trumpet lead.” In his History of Jazz in America (1952), Barry Ulanov cites Armstrong’s recording and defines a tangara as “a kind of habanera or tango beat consisting of a dotted quarter, an eighth-note, and two quarter-notes.”

 

Three years later in the Daily Telegraph, after the trumpeter’s death, Larkin devoted a column to him:

 

“Armstrong was an artist of world stature, an American Negro slum child who spoke to the heart of Greenlander and Japanese alike. At the same time he was a humble, hard-working man who night after night set out to do no more than ‘please the people’, to earn his fee, to pay back the audience for coming.”

3 comments:

Unknown said...

It seems almost every daily entry in this blog has a nugget from a storehouse of treasure.

I do hope this space is becoming less a best-kept secret and more a sure source of pleasure.

Tim Guirl said...

Classical Music listeners will be familiar with the famous Habanera, Georges Bizet's Carmen Suite No. 2.

Tony said...

Congratulations. Hopefully you stopped by The Lemon Ice King of Corona. If not, there's always the next time.