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Louis Armstrong: Plays W. C .Handy

Louis Armstrong Plays WC HandyLouis Armstrong Plays WC Handy back
Original Liner Notes:
by George Avakian

Up on the top of the Columbia Records building on upper Times Square, in a studio converted to an editing room, a handsome old gentleman sat listening to the tapes of this record, tears streaming from his sightless eyes.

"I never thought I'd hear my blues like this," W.C. Handy said again and again. "Truly wonderful! Nobody could have done it but my boy Louis!"

Louis Armstrong sat at his side, doing quite a job of looking proud and modest at the same time. He kept saying what fun the sessions had been. "Ain't no work, making records like this! Them old time good ones, they play themselves, Mr. Handy. You get to blowing those beautiful changes right, and you have to play good. We was just having a ball, that's all."

If only because of St. Louis Blues, William Christopher Handy would be a jazz composer of major stature, but he is also authore of a least fifteen of twenty equally fine blues. For his part in introducing the blues to a world-wide public, W.C. Handy has rightfully earned hsi soubriquet "The Father of the Blues."

Abbe Niles, in the excellent foreword to Handy's book, "A Treasury of the Blues" (published by Charles Boni), points out that Handy's object in writing a blues was "to speak in the language of the folksingers -meaning not only their words and turns of thought, but the musical language." The Handy innovation which had the most impact on popular music was the introduction of the Negro folk singer's frequent use of the flatted third (and, though less often, the flatted seventh). Identified by jazz fans and commercial songwriters alike as "blue notes," these unexpected clashes with the prevalently major blues were instantly arresting and still deliver a kick, whether used by jazz musicians or to spice a routine pop song.

Unlike most writers who occassionally base there compositions on folk music, Handy credits -whenever possible- the sources of such compositions. Usually this material was unknown at to origin, but was familiar in various local forms to countless Negro singers, banjoists, guitarits, and itinerant entertainers decades before Handy organized these snatches of words and melodies into blues songs. The importance of his pioneering can be appreciated only when one considers what a vast reperitor of popular music has grown out of the richness which Handy's first published compositions brought to wide attention. Countless Tin Pan Alley hits can be traced back to primitve Southern Negro blues; even such sophisticated as Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter frequently write with more than a bow toward the blues. Jerome Kern used the classic blues form for the verse of his hit from "Show Boat," Can't Help Lovin Dat Man; Geroge Gershwin's "Progy and Bess" has been rightly called a blues opera, and Rhapsody In Blue make more sense in the literal terms of its title than in the mainstream of "serious music."


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