The Story Of...Louis Armstrong's West End Blues

Who is the most important musician of the 20th century? From Mahler to McCartney, it's an easy list to populate with names. But there is one who perhaps deserves greater recognition than everybody else - the trumpet player Louis Armstrong. Not only was he a brilliant musician in his own right, but the music he played was instrumental in defining the future course of not just Jazz, but popular music itself.

On June 28, 1928, the 26-year-old Armstrong walked into a Chicago recording studio with five fellow jazz instrumentalists and walked out having changed the course of music history. The record Armstrong and his Hot Five had just made was of a song called “West End Blues,” written and first recorded several months earlier by Armstrong’s mentor, Joe “King” Oliver. 

Armstrong’s “West End Blues” features a brilliant piano solo by the great Earl “Fatha” Hines, one of Armstrong’s greatest lifelong friends and collaborators, and a vocal section by Armstrong that is one of the earliest recorded examples of scat singing. But even without the rest of the landmark recording, Louis Armstrong’s 15-second trumpet intro to “West End Blues” and his eight-bar solo near the end make it one of the most influential pieces of recorded music in history. Armstrong’s playing established a new standard for rhythmic and melodic complexity, for technical mastery and, most important, for sheer beauty and emotional content.