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Louis Armstrong: Legacy for the Millenium

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LOUIS ARMSTRONG: LEGACY FOR THE MILLENNIUM

Like just about everybody else, people in jazz have spent 1999 looking back over the 20th century--and in jazz, of course, that's about all the looking back you can do. Naturally, this has focused a lot of attention on Louis Armstrong: the first black superstar, he stepped into the spotlight in the early 20s and never left, enduring as an icon even after his death in 1971. In the minds of many Armstrong all but invented improvisation; the first to burst out of the anonymous ensemble settings of early jazz, he communicated the power and potential of the solo--not only to his audience but to his fellow musicians. He did this as a featured sideman with great blues artists in the early 20s; with his most famous small groups, the Hot Five and the Hot Seven, a few years later; and then with a handful of big bands that presaged the swing era. Watching him in the 60s, sweating and grinning through "Hello Dolly," you could almost forget what a giant he was--except that every jazzman who'd followed him, even the modernists and avant-gardists of the time, still labored in his huge shadow. ("You can't play anything on the horn that Louis hasn't played," Miles Davis said.) This grandiosely titled concert, sponsored by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, will pay tribute to some of the bands Armstrong fronted, then premiere a commission by AACM trumpeter Lester Bowie that purports to project Armstrong's influence into the next century. Chicago trumpet doyen Orbert Davis will kick off the evening with a septet starring trombonist Steve Berry and saxist Franz Jackson, an Armstrong contemporary; they'll re-create some of the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, which include such classics as "West End Blues" and "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." Then New York bandleader Jon Faddis, the most virtuosic jazz trumpeter working today, will lead a big band through arrangements Armstrong performed in the 40s--the manuscripts for which were only recently rescued from a basement in Queens. Faddis will also play lead trumpet on the concert's finale, Bowie's 40-minute large-ensemble piece, which features two of the composer's Art Ensemble of Chicago cohorts, bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut and drummer Famoudou Don Moye; Bowie himself will tackle the solo parts. No modernist trumpeter has paid more heed to Armstrong than Bowie: he's never shied from the growls and whinnies early jazz players loved, and his 1974 recording of "Hello Dolly," both a moving homage and a raucous caricature, is a marvelous encapsulation of Satchmo's music. I expect great things from this show, top to bottom. Saturday, 7:30 PM, Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.; 773-684-1414 or 312-427-1676. Neil Tesser

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Abbott.

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