What does this all have to do with Louis Armstrong? Plenty. Armstrong is the Einstein of modern music. There were other Bohrs, Feynmans and Hawkings (Ellington, Monk and Parker is the start of a pretty good list). But only one guy is at the top of the heap. That is Louis Armstrong. Miles Davis, who reportedly didn't like Armstrong because of the way the latter presented himself to white audiences, acknowledged his stature:
"You can't play anything on a horn that Louis hasn't played."
It isn't that he necessarily was a greater talent than other jazz greats. It was the talent plus the luck of being there at the right moment. The world was ready for Einstein to discover the relationship between matter and energy that would lead to quantum physics. And Armstrong was in the right place at the right time when jazz was ready to move from an ensemble to solo art form. Many can describe what he did far better than I.
It's also very interesting to note the similarities between the lives of the two men. Both were amazingly charismatic and led uniquely American lives. Both saw their breakthrough grow to be something with which they were uncomfortable: quantum mechanics and bebop. (The purest manifestation of Armstrong's breakthrough, by the way, can be listened to. It is said to be the first 13 seconds of the beautiful West End Blues.)
Like most geniuses, Armstrong and Einstein had their breakthroughs early in the careers and had to deal with an unrealistic expectations for decades afterwards. This was difficult for both men.
Armstrong, in some critics' eyes, stopped innovating and became a jolly reactionary fighting against the innovations he made possible. Einstein rebelled against the quantum world ("God does not play dice with the universe") and embarked on a quixotic quest for the unified field theory. (During the past year, the controversy over results that initially indicated particles moving faster than light and the discovery of the Higgs Boson -- a possible step toward a unified field theory -- prove that a world of very brilliant people still is dealing with Einstein almost 60 years after he died.) Einstein's research ended -- literally -- on his death bed.
There is one Einstein music story. He played violin in an orchestra at Princeton. He jumped in at the wrong point during one rehearsal. The conductor looked up and asked, "What's the matter, Dr. Einstein? Can't you count?"
Here Armstrong plays Hello Dolly live (probably during the Korea era) and Mack the Knife.
Cross-Posted at THE DAILY MUSIC BREAK, the site that features good music regardless of era or genre. Visit for a free daily or weekly email of links.
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