“Potato Head Blues” with foundational Louis Armstrong solo

Uploaded on Mar 10, 2010

Potato Head Blues — Louis Armstrong & His Hot Seven

“Potato Head Blues” is a Louis Armstrong composition regarded as one of his finest recordings. It was made by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven for Okeh Records in Chicago, Illinois on May 10, 1927. It was recorded during a remarkably productive week in which Armstrong’s usual Hot Five was temporarily expanded to seven players by the addition of tuba and drums; over five sessions the group recorded twelve sides.

Not strictly speaking a “blues,” the chord structure is a 32-bar form in the same neighborhood as “(Back Home Again in) Indiana.” The recording features notable clarinet work by Johnny Dodds, and the stop-time solo chorus in the last half of the recording is one of Armstrong’s most famous solos. The last, hot “ride out” chorus is an example of this New Orleans jazz custom brought to the level of genius through Armstrong’s inspired melodic playing.

Tallulah Bankhead said that she played it in her dressing room every day during intermission while she appeared on Broadway for the invigorating effect it gave her.

In Woody Allen’s 1979 film, Manhattan, the character Isaac Davis (played by Allen) lists Armstrong’s recording of “Potato Head Blues” as one of the reasons that life is worth living.

The earliest recording of a structured solo that leads harmonically within the regular chord changes of a song, and which uses a melodic method of anticipating them. And so I say the modern jazz solo is invented. It may seem odd to call something from so long ago contemporary, but the manner of extemporized instrumental solos owe greatly to Armstrong’s example demonstrating how it’s done to this today.

The eventual sense of new-found freedom when the changes finally reach their goal instill great joy and release in the listener. And is mighty.

further reading: 85 Years of the Hot Seven: Potato Head Blues


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