Classical Of gravel throats and trumpets

Of gravel throats and trumpets

For some, Louis Armstrong is the lovable gravel-voiced Satchmo singing What a Wonderful World; to others he was an Uncle Tom (yet he was invited to play at the Ghana independence celebrations); and to many he’s a pioneer, probably the greatest jazz trumpeter who ever lived.

He wasn’t a great composer, though – the way he constructed a solo was his form of composition. His first wife, pianist Lil Hardin, composed many of his tunes. It was as an instrumentalist and bandleader (and of course singer) that he shone. His short introductory solo on the original 1920s recording of West End Blues is one of the greatest pieces of early 20th Century music.

By the 1950s as a “Jazz Ambassador” he really switched from innovation to entertainment, playing with lesser musical colleagues.

Last year’s Lloyd-Webber and Friends, also put together and conducted by Richard Cock, obviously was all about the composer. So it was a little misleading then, this year, that we heard no Armstrong compositions at the Louis Armstrong and Friends concert yesterday afternoon. Way less than half the music played was associated with him, and most of that came from his popular repertoire, such as Hello Dolly, Mack the Knife and the inevitable WAWW.

Although Veramarie Meyer and Nicholas Nicolaidis were also featured soloists, all eyes and ears were naturally on well-established jazz trumpeter, Prince Lengoasa, to whom fell the vocals and trumpet parts associated with Louis. It is an impossible task to imitate a great artist but Lengoasa did well, in one or two places carrying off some true Satch trumpet flourishes, especially on Mack the Knife. His vocals captured the gravel (roars from the crowd!) but not really the dynamics.

Richard Cock, as usual, knows his audience and gets them clapping along to Sousa. Most of them were his seniors by a few years! Though he himself had one or two senior moments. I didn’t say “Cock-ups”… The sold-out concert was, in fact, staged by the Theatre Benevolent Fund on which subject actor Peter Terry spoke at some length after interval. Here to raise cash, he movingly described the plight of the late actor Norman Coombes, who was, incidentally, also a violinist. Norman would have provided suitable accompaniment, tongue-in-cheek.

The augmented KZN Philharmonic in full flight makes a glorious sound! However, even loyal Cock popular concert fans must have been puzzled by the inclusion of some odd friends: notably two Lloyd-Webbers, Bette Midler’s The Rose and two Leroy Anderson pieces, one of which, Belle of the Ball, conjured up a Deep South occasion up at the mansion while the slaves were singin’ the blues. Possibly one played by Louis.

Nigel Vermaas

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