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Louis Armstrong: “I guess singing and playing is the same”

Event information

START DATE 16 October 2014
START TIME 06:00pm

Middlesex University Concert Room, Grove B building, The Burroughs, Hendon, London, NW4 4BT

The second event in our Music Concerts & Colloquia series brings Vic Hobson to Middlesex University to discuss how Louis Armstrong's playing related to his own background in quartet singing.

Hobson recently published Creating Jazz Counterpoint: New Orleans, Barbershop Harmony, and the Blues (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014). This book discusses how the blues tonality of polyphonic New Orleans jazz was a result of the application of the principles of barbershop quartet harmonisation to the instrumentation of a jazz band.

Given that Armstrong often spoke of his formative years singing with a quartet, Hobson's insights in relation to his musical development deserve to be taken seriously. When Armstrong was asked how singing in vocal quartets influenced his trumpet playing he replied: "I figure singing and playing is the same."

He further explained: "I had been singing for a number of years, and my instinct told me that an alto takes a part in a band same as a baritone or tenor in a quartet." The evidence of Armstrong's recordings demonstrates he understood this relationship well and applied barbershop cadences in his playing.

This has profound implications for our understanding about the development of jazz and for jazz pedagogy more generally. The tonality of blues inflected jazz has been generally understood in terms of "blues scales," however, "blue notes" are the result of harmonic rather than scalar principles. An understanding of barbershop principles also sheds light on the development of other jazz practices such as chord substitution, rootless chord voicing, and altered harmony.

Vic Hobson studied for his PhD at the University of East Anglia where he lectured in jazz and the blues. Due to the closure of the UEA School of Music, he is now an independent researcher and outreach coordinator for the National Jazz Archive.

He was awarded a Kluge Scholarship to the Library of Congress in 2007, and a Diana Woest Fellowship to the Historic New Orleans Collection in 2009. 

Our weekly Concerts and Colloquia series brings high-calibre guest speakers and performers from across music to Middlesex.

Hosted by the Music department, all events are free and will be followed by refreshments. Guests can simply turn up, tickets are not required. If you have any questions please contact Nick Nikeforou.

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