Jazz History

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong is considered the “Father of Jazz.” Most Jazz musicians simply refer to him as “Pops.” His real nickname was Satchmo, which is short for Satchel Mouth because of his huge trumpet inflated cheeks. He started playing the cornet in a boys’ home after he was arrested for firing a gun into the air. His first teacher immediately saw the talent in him and started him playing in many of the New Orleans brass marching bands.
His real break happened when he started playing with Joe “King” Oliver, a cornet player who had his own band. They toured the New Orleans area and rode and played on the riverboats all the way up through Kansas City and into Chicago.
As his fame grew, he decided to go out on his own and he recorded many recordings with his own groups called the “Hot Five” and “Hot Seven.” Louis Armstrong was the first great jazz musician and he was world renown for his playing. He was also the first to record “Scat” singing and he was a well-known jazz vocalist as well.
His fame crossed all boundaries. Both black and white musicians imitated him and performed with him and both black and white fans adored him. He played all around the world for many heads of state and royalty and was known as an ambassador of jazz and American music. Pops died on July 6, 1971.

Ella Fitzgerald

Born April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Va., jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald is widely regarded as one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- female jazz singers of all time. Born into a poor family, Fitzgerald was homeless for a time before launching her professional singing career in 1934 with a victory in an Apollo Theater amateur contest.

Hired on by band leader/jazz drummer Chick Webb, Fitzgerald soon became the band's showpiece, bringing Webb's orchestra to prominence with stunning renditions of "A Tisket, A Tasket" and other jazz and pop standards. When Webb died in 1939 Fitzgerald took over leadership of his band, which she fronted for the next two years. In 1941 she began a solo career, becoming one of the most popular vocalists of the 1940s thanks to a string of hit singles on Decca Records.
By the late 1940s Fitzgerald began to shift away from swing and pop back toward her jazz roots, adopting the bop style popular at the time. She began to use scat singing, popularized by Louis Armstrong, which enhanced her credibility in the jazz scene. In the 1950s Fitzgerald began to return to pop, recording a series of albums dedicated to the songs of such artists as George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Duke Ellington, among others.
Now on the Verve label, Fitzgerald entered what is considered her "classic" period, and soon was better known than ever. Toward the end of the decade she adopted more contemporary pop material, then followed Verve CEO Norman Granz to his new label, Pablo, where she returned once again to jazz material. By the 1980s Fitzgerald was suffering from health problems and a declining vocal range; she stopped recording in 1989 and passed away seven years later on June 14, 1996. Her countless recordings have been reissued numerous times, first on LP and later on compact disc, and most of her enormous catalogue remains in print to this day.

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington was one of the first big band leaders. His arrangements for larger bands helped to bring about the Swing Era of Jazz. His tunes were much more arranged and much less improvisationally based than the music that was being played by the smaller, New Orleans based ensembles. Duke’s music was said to have had “Jungle Sounds” because of his use of effects like the growl, different mutes, more African based melodies and rhythms and especially because of the sounds that his players were able to produce.

The sounds that Bubber Miley gets out of his trumpet on “East St. Louis Toddle-Oo” are a great example of these kinds of sounds. These arrangements and different sounds are partially responsible for his success. Duke Ellington is said to be the most prolific American composer. Not just in jazz, but in any style of music.
He is one of three (Basie and Fletcher Henderson) of the bandleaders that are responsible for the modern big band instrumentation and big band style of jazz. His bands were playing this style of music long before the likes of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers. Duke Ellington died on May 24, 1974.

Dizzy Gillespie

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Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie emerged in the middle 1940s as essentially the last in a series of symbolic progressions of virtuosity in jazz that culminated in the consolidation of bebop.

Gillespie was born Oct. 21, 1917, in Cheraw, S.C. Starting as a self-taught player, his natural gifts won him a scholarship at the Laurinburg Institute, where he studied for three years before moving to Philadelphia in 1935. He first recorded with Teddy Hill's band in New York, and his solo on "King Porter Stomp" is full of the fiery energy and youthful braggadocio of Eldridge, who Gillespie replaced in Hill's group. In 1939 he joined the Cab Calloway band and during its travels first encountered Parker in Kansas City.

In Calloway's band the guy getting the attention was to be Calloway, who was not amused at Gillespie's peculiar brand of antics that had a way of winking at the audience behind the leader's back. Fired in 1941, Gillespie moved to Lucky Millinder's orchestra, where, just as Parker's first alto solos were coming out on the Jay McShann Deccas, Gillespie recorded "Little John Special" for the same label. It not only included solo work every bit as provocative as Parker's, but it also had the singular riff that the jazz world would shortly come to know as "Salt Peanuts."

Dizzy made many recordings with Parker including performances such as "Groovin' High," "Dizzy Atmosphere" and "Hot House” and toured extensively throughout his life. He is also credited, along with several others, with bringing latin music and jazz together to form latin jazz. His composition “A Night In Tunisia” is an example of this form of jazz.

Gillespie's rapport with audiences was equally golden, yet never got in the way of the music he offered. He was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1990. He died on Jan. 6, 1993, of cancer.

Count Basie

Count Basie, along with Duke Ellington, is one of the most well known big band leaders. His band, unlike Duke Ellington’s New York based ensemble, was based in Kansas City. The Basie band was influenced by the blues traditions in Kansas City and his music is much less refined.


Basie was also much less of a writer and composer than Duke, so most of his arrangements were done by his sidemen including Frank Foster and Billy Byers.

Many great musicians got their start in his band including Quincy Jones, Lester Young, Buddy Rich, “Philly” Jo Jones and Clark Terry.


His credits include TV and film appearances as well as many records and performances throughout the world. Basie died on April 26, 1984.

2016 Concert Pieces with Listening and Video links

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven – Potato Head Blues by Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong (trumpet), John Thomas (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet),

Lil Armstrong (piano), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo), Pete Briggs (tuba)

and Baby Dodds (drums).


Recorded in Chicago on May 10th, 1927

The Duke Ellington Orchestra – Concerto for Cootie – Written by Duke Ellington

This tune is a great example of the “Jungle Sounds” and instruments that imitate

the human voice that the Ellington Orchestra was known for. His band had

virtuosos on every part and he showcased their talents in his arrangements. In

this case, Ellington showcases the growls, plunger and vocal sounds that can be c

reated by his trumpeter, Cootie Williams.


This was originally recorded on March 15th, 1940

The Duke Ellington Orchestra – Ko-Ko by Duke Ellington

In this selection, Ellington utilizes plunger mutes in order to make the instruments

sound more like the human voice. The “Wa” sounds are produced by placing the

plunger over the bell of a brass instrument and then slowly opening the mute.

Ellington was a writer/arranger, bandleader and pianist for his ensembles.


This was originally recorded on September 21st, 1932


Album below. Start once prior to classes arriving to skip commercials.

Ko Ko - Duke Ellington

Ella Fitzgerald – A Tisket, A Tasket

This recording is Ella’s most popular hit. This recording was her breakthrough into

the popular music of the day. This recording, completed in 1938 brought her wide

acclaim. The rhyme was first noted in the United States in 1879 as a children's

rhyming game. It was sung while children danced in a circle. One of the number ran

on the outside of the circle and dropped a handkerchief. The nearest child would

then pick it up and chase the dropper. If caught the dropper was either kissed,

joined the circle, or had to tell the name of their sweetheart

P7250141

Ella Fitzgerald – Pick Yourself Up

"Pick Yourself Up" is a popular song composed in 1936 by Jerome Kern, with lyrics

by Dorothy Fields. The song was written for the film Swing Time (1936), where it

was introduced by dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This tune was recorded

by Ella in 1962, and the recording was the winner of the 1963 Grammy Award for "

Best Vocal Performance, Female".

The Count Basie Orchestra – Tall Cotton by Sammy Nestico

This was also written for the Count Basie Orchestra by Sammy Nestico. It was originally recorded on the album “The Basie Big Band” in 1975. It is another example

of the swing style of the Count Basie Orchestra.

The Count Basie Orchestra – Four Five Six by Frank Foster

This was written for the Count Basie Orchestra by tenor saxophonist Frank Foster.

Frank was onr of the most famous performers to play with Count Basie and his

Orchestra. This is one of his most famous compositions and one of the Basie Band’s

most requested songs.

Gotta Be Jazz

We would love for all of you to sing along with us on this song!!

Dizzy Gillespie – Salt Peanuts by Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie was one of the most influential jazz trumpeters. This is a fun

song because it utilizes one of the earliest influences on the jazz language, the

street call. Dizzy remembered all of the street vendors in his neighborhood as a

kid and he used this call in his song, “Salt Peanuts.”


Youtube video below (skip the intro - fast foward to the curtain opening)

Dizzy Gillespie – Cool Breeze by Dizzy Gillespie

This tune was written in 1947 by Dizzy and his pianist Tadd Dameron. It is a

well-known piece because it, like “Groovin’ High” helped set the stage for the

modern harmonies and sounds of the Be-bop era of jazz.