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"Savoy Blues": 5 Facts About Louis Armstrong's Recording | GRAMMY Hall Of Fame
From 1925 through 1927, the original ensemble known as Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five made a series of recordings in Chicago that spread a new awareness of jazz as an art form. Like other new musical art forms, many listeners didn't find the sounds appealing, but for others it awoke a curiosity and a hunger for more. One such track, "Savoy Blues," has long been a favorite gem among these.
Inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2018, "Savoy Blues" joined two other Hot Five singles in the Hall, "Heebie Jeebies" (1926), which popularized scat singing, and "West End Blues" (1928). Composed by the band's trombone player Kid Ory, the track was recorded on Dec. 13, 1927, during the only Hot Five session to include Lonnie Johnson on guitar. Come in for a closer look with five facts that only begin to tell the story of what makes this track stand out.
1. Savoy's Chicago Namesake
"Savoy Blues" is indeed named after a Savoy Ballroom, but it's not the famous one in Harlem, New York. Armstrong celebrated Chicago's Savoy Ballroom, which opened in November 1927. It was the hot new place for jazz artists and Kid Ory immortalized it as the song's title, less than three weeks after it opened. The ballroom hosted a who's who of jazz artists of the day, but it also held events such as boxing, skating and basketball exhibitions.
2. Meeting Mrs. Louis Armstrong
Lil Hardin became one of the go-to pianists on the Chicago scene, including regular work with King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. When Armstrong got the invitation from Oliver to come play cornet in Chicago in 1922, he and Hardin met. By 1924 the two were married. Not only did Hardin stay on as the pianist in his band, but Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five ensemble began practicing in 1925 in the house the couple shared on East 41st Street.
3. Who Were The Hot 5?
Armstrong and Hardin were joined by some of the best of all time for the 1927 Hot Five line-up, which included trombonist Kid Ory, clarinet player Johnny Dodds, banjo/guitarist Johnny St. Cyr, and guitarist Lonnie Johnson. The instrumental combination, complete with Hardin on piano and Armstrong on cornet/trumpet, drew from the classic New Orleans sound. In addition to their pioneering work with the Hot Five, these band members earned a pedigree in their own right, lending their sounds to their own bands or joining other notable ensembles, including King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band and Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers.
4. Soloists Take The Stage
In the opening bars of "Savoy Blues," Armstrong's solo performance power is interwoven with the Hot Five's inspired accompaniment. Those first powerful notes showed that instrumentalists could take the performance spotlight typically reserved for vocalists like those he had accompanied in the past such as Bessie Smith. Like the rest of his legendary Hot Five sessions, "Savoy Blues" moved away from the New Orleans style jazz and, as The Guardian wrote, "almost single-handedly transformed the music from a group art into a medium for the pioneering soloist."
5. A Lasting Legacy
"Savoy Blues" and the Hot Five sessions' influence could be felt in fellow jazz artists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby who each commanded the stage throughout their own influential careers. But Armstrong's work is also notable because his new sound and musical approach paved the way for the birth of entire genres that would follow. "You don't need to read around the subject," Jon Wilde writes in The Guardian. "You only need to listen to draw a straight line from Armstrong to Louis Jordan's Tympany Five to Fats Domino, Elvis and everything beyond."