[JPL] 'Wynton and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives'

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 2 19:02:44 EDT 2006

September 30, 2006
Music Review | 'Wynton and Louis Armstrong’s Hot
Channeling the Granddaddy of Skid-Dat-De-Dat 
In the recorded literature of jazz — and of American
music, really — there is no greater document than the
stack of three-minute sides made by Louis Armstrong
for the OKeh label in the mid- to late 1920’s. Leading
two successive bands billed as his Hot Five (and,
briefly, a Hot Seven), Armstrong delivered a series of
performances bursting with bravura and invention, in
the process introducing a heroic new language of

That language was scatted, yelped and murmured at the
Rose Theater on Thursday night, in the first of three
Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts called “Wynton and
Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives.” Led by the jazz center’s
artistic director, Wynton Marsalis, the program paid
straightforward homage to the Hot Five recordings
while trying to recreate their magic.

That’s a tall order even for Mr. Marsalis, the most
heralded trumpeter to emerge from New Orleans since
Armstrong did more than 80 years ago. He handled the
task expertly, with a tone less brilliant than
Armstrong’s but with a sense of phrase and line that
was every ounce as assertively nimble. On “Cornet Chop
Suey,” a highlight of the concert, Mr. Marsalis boldly
charged through an unaccompanied solo chorus; on
“Fireworks” he played an impressive series of breaks,
with a leaping syncopation. 

He also did an admirable job as host, balancing
expectations with anecdotal humor and one instructive
creed: “We don’t believe in segregating our music by
eras.” He was arguing, among other things, that the
Hot Five recordings were timeless, even contemporary.
His eight-piece band underscored this assertion on
numbers like a rhythmically reconfigured “Once in a

On several other selections, though, a hint of tedium
crept in. “Potato Head Blues” felt oddly muted, and
“Melancholy” simply wafted by. And despite a
tantalizing interlude by Jonathan Batiste on piano and
Don Vappie on guitar, “Savoy Blues” gave off the musk
of an antique. To a man, the musicians filled their
roles capably, but there was little sense of the
dashing discovery that Armstrong brought to the music.

The closest thing to an exception came from Wycliffe
Gordon, whose contribution equaled that of his
bandleader. Mr. Gordon scatted and sang in the
ebullient Armstrong style, and his tuba playing was a

On “St. James Infirmary,” which featured a suave vocal
by Mr. Marsalis, Mr. Gordon soloed winsomely using
just a brass mouthpiece; on “Skid-Dat-De-Dat” he
interrupted his own vocal chorus with a single
comically inept phrase on trumpet. More than once he
picked up a bass, joining the band’s regular bassist,
Carlos Henriquez, who was then free to solo.

One of the concert’s telling moments occurred on
“Ory’s Creole Trombone,” which featured Mr. Gordon on
his primary instrument alongside another fine
trombonist, Vincent Gardner. Draping a black kerchief
over the bell of his horn, Mr. Gordon delivered a
monster performance in a stubbornly archaic style.
Even if it wasn’t supposed to be anchored to an era,
it came as an exhilarating jolt from out of time. 

“Wynton and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives” repeats
tonight at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln
Center, 60th Street and Broadway; (212) 721-6500 or


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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