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Analysis of West End Blues by Louis Armstrong

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Introduction

West End Blues ? Louis Armstrong ? 1920?s Jazz During the 1920?s jazz was beginning to sweep across America, becoming especially popular in the city of New York. The status of African Americans was elevated at this time due to their distinct music becoming increasingly popular, and jazz music evolved into an integral part of American popular culture. The original music of the Africans that had begun in New Orleans had diversified and now appealed to people from every social group of society. One man who helped the progression of jazz through the 1920s was Louis Armstrong, originally a part of Joe ?King? Oliver?s jazz band; he broke away from his mentor and moved to New York creating a new genre of jazz improvisation. The growing popularity of jazz was helped by the availability of recordings due to new technology, and this helped the 1920s to become known as the Golden Age of jazz in New York. One jazz composition of the 1920s was Louis Armstrong?s performance of West End Blues. This piece begins with an introduction by the trumpet lasting 10 bars, showing the incompleteness which creates the antecedent that will lead on to the consequent of the rest of the song. Beginning with a few descending straight crotchet notes rhythmic deviations begin to appear, such as the multiple triplets used in rising sequence a few beats later. ...read more.

Middle

A1 is the trumpet solo section, where it begins with an anacrusis in order for Armstrong to establish a new tempo amongst the other performers. This then begins with the rising motif found in the first bar; F# quaver to a G semiquaver to Bb semibreve tied to a crotchet. The first note of an F# is the minor 3rd in this key?s blue scale, immediately establishing the music as a blues influenced piece. This then moves chromatically to the G which moves effectively into the Bb chord note that is next played; this semitone step creates a gentle movement to the Bb which is the fifth of the Eb chord that is being played at this point. This is the basis for the piece as each instrument manipulates this pattern and plays with the melody surrounding it as each musician improvises around this original idea, such as the later trumpet solo which plays a this progression but extends the Bb. Underneath each solo instrument the piano underpins the music by playing the 12 bar harmonic chords on a straight crotchet rhythm, contrasting against the interesting and often syncopated rhythms of the melody. Section A2 is given to the trombone soloist and the accompaniment now also includes a percussive instrument which sounds similar to horse hooves, adding a swung rhythm to the music giving interesting rhythmic counterpoint and this also adds to the slightly lethargic feel that the music has to go along with the ?blues? feel. ...read more.

Conclusion

long note creates tension and excitement as this is now the last section of the movement and any musician able to hold a note that long on a trumpet is a truly skilled and experienced performer. This is followed by a descending four note semiquaver motif made up of all of the flats used thus far; Bb, Ab, Gb and Eb. At this point Armstrong experiments with inflection as each playing of this motif varies; the first time it is played straight, the second time the first note is delayed. This pulls the tempo back slightly, yet this is then contrasted against with the third playing which is straight again, then the fourth playing sees the first note delayed again. Differently to previous sections the solo instrument changes, as at bar 9 the piano again takes over for a short period before the trumpet returns at bar 12. This gives a conversation-like effect as if the musicians are discussing through their instruments that the end has come. At bar 12 the trumpet returns and finishes the song creating a full circle. This song is mainly based upon the same 12-bar blues progression that is stated at the beginning in section A1; from there soloists are able to shine in their own sections that are improvised. This music was the beginning of the virtuoso musicians and led the way for improvisational yet scored music. ...read more.

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