Friday, January 12, 2007

Is Louis Armstrong The Most Important Musical Figure Of The 20th Century?

Editor & Publisher digs up another terrific video clip: this time it's a charming animated short built around a duet between Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on "Dream A Little Dream Of Me." Check it out. They off-handedly refer to Louis Armstrong as the most important musical figure of the 20th century. He's certainly a candidate, but is he a lock? What about Duke Ellington and Miles Davis when it comes to jazz? What about Elvis and the Beatles and Bob Dylan when it comes to rock? Hank Williams? Ray Charles? Kurt Weill? Stravinsky? Bartok? Shostakovich? (And who knows, maybe someday we'll think it was Philip Glass.) Robert Johnson? Frank Sinatra? Bing Crosby? (Bing taught everyone how to sing, you know.) The possibilities are endless.

5 comments:

priv8pete said...

You couldn't be more wrong. It's Gunnar Nelson.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunnar_Nelson

Michael in New York said...

I had to look him up, not realizing it was "son of Rocky" and one-half of Nelson. Why not Tiny Tim? Too obvious? You're just being mean because Gunnar Nelson is such a horrible name.

George Robinson said...

Godard once wrote that every article on cinema ought to talk about Griffith. I've always amended that to say that every article about cinema written after 1960 ought to talk about Griffith and Godard. Why? Because they are the two artists who completely redefined the medium in which they work(ed). And I have always added, as a musical corollary to that statement that every article on jazz should talk about Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. Now I bow to no one in my great love of and admiration for Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Ornette, 'Trane, and so on. But Armstrong and Parker redrew all the rules.

Now factor into that equation Armstrong's enormous popularity beyond the jazz world and the ripples from jazz into both popular and art music, and suddenly I don't think Pops is such an odd choice for most important musical figure of the 20th Century.

You could argue for, say, Schoenberg, because of his enormous influence on classical music after the 1920s, but his impact is localized, I think, in the art music world. Armstrong's is universal like, say, Muhammad Ali's.

Michael in New York said...

Well put, George, though I certainly didn't mean to imply Armstrong was an odd choice. He is a very likely candidate, just not the only one I think. Elvis had a few ripples beyond rock into movies and pop culture in general AND he's worshipped like a God. Of course since he's only a singer and not really a songwriter or musician, maybe he seems lesser and too obvious in an uncool way. I foolishly don't share your appreciation for Godard though the racist Griffith is of course seminal. I suppose it's like literature -- Mark Twain ais inevitable on any short list surely.

Anonymous said...

Bing liked to beat n and emotionally cripple his children, leading his sons to kill themselves. :( He just won't ever get accolades. No one wants to glorify a child abuser