Founder & Scat Singing Legend: Louis Armstrong

There’s no doubt that Louis Armstrong was a musical trailblazer, avid traveler, and a domestic and international superstar. An array of fans, commentators, and generations have followed his musical career beyond its five decade stretch.  Louis’ influence on jazz and pop-culture is undoubtedly prodigious which allows his legacy to speak for itself.

 

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Louis can easily be recognized as the first great jazz soloist, notable for his improvising skills.  Louis’ musical experience began with singing at a very young age. Identified in his autobiography, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, Louis developed his singing tactics from attending church regularly with his grandmother and great grandmother.

Louis birthed a revolutionary form of improvising; scat singing. Scat singing is vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all. In scat singing, the singer improvises melodies and rhythms using the voice as an instrument rather than a speaking medium. Louis initiated this in 1926 while recording the musical selection Heebie Jeebies”  with Columbia Records. Incidentally, Louis dropped his sheet music while performing and felt forced to fill the void; which led him to improvise using monosyllables. Since Louis incidentally founded scat singing, jazz enthusiast, legends, and fans from diverse genres of music have been inspired by this rare form of improvisation. So inspired that it become a huge component of jazz and pop culture. Jazz legends including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Bing Crosby incorporated scat-singing into their artistry.

 

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Music can be interpreted as a universal language, carrying no barrier, exclusion, or segregation; allowing artists to showcase their rendition and contribute to the musical language’s history. Scat-singing was one of Louis contributions to the jazz community– highlighting him for for his unique innovation and improv skills both vocally and instrumentally. 

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Louis’ distinct uniqueness has certainly inspired past and present generations. His innovativeness, humanism, and generosity inspires many. Much like his own musical inspirations and fellow jazz greats, Bunk Johnson, Joe “King” Oliver, Joe Johnson, and Buddy Petit, Louis’ influence on jazz and pop culture has established a legacy that is used widely in the music industry.

Louis’ influence extended far beyond jazz; the energetic, swinging mythic momentum of Louis’ playing, and peculiar voice was a major influence on soloists in every genre of American popular music.

Louis innovative improvisation skills, personality, and idiosyncratic voice made him a magnificent stage performer. Spectators of Louis’ performances would likely agree that Louis’ energy was felt when he performed. While I was never able to see Louis perform live, indulging in the substantial amount of videos and reel-to-reel tapes from our archives, I can confidently speak on the topic of Louis’ stage presence–truly a kind, authentic, and entertaining experience.

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