The Daily Music Break has been around long enough to have a tradition. This is roughly the third iteration of the site. The style has gone from bad to okay to very good. I can say that without boasting because I really had nothing to do with it. The theme – that’s WordPress-ese for design template — is very nice. My web person, Adriana, did her usual tip top job of implementing it.
Before getting back to the good stuff—talking about music—a word about the site. The new look is a complete redo. For that reason, there likely will be some rough spots, such as pictures that don’t appear and links that go the wrong places. (My favorite so far is a link that was supposed to go to a post about Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington’s brilliant sax player. People clicking on it ended up at a post about Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore that featuring — of course — “Smoke on the Water.” I’m tempted not to change that one.) Another peculiarity is that everything seems like it was posted at once, since it’s a new theme. It’s music, not news, so that isn’t a big deal.
One change is that there will be lots of music and other music-oriented things — such as apparel, books and coffee mugs – available for sale through Amazon and Apple (iTunes and Apple Music). If you are interested in a purchase the management (that would be me) would deeply appreciate it if you would link to those online marketplaces from The Daily Music Break. Simply click on the ad and go. If TDMB is the starting point, the site will get a small percentage of what you spend. If you make an intermediate stop (for instance, going from here to CNN and then to Amazon) we won’t get anything. The price to you is the same either way.
Now, about tradition. The site’s very first post was “Umbrella Man” featuring Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. I believe that the second iteration of the site launched with that clip as well.
Here it is again. It’s a special clip for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is that it features Armstrong. My opinion of him is simple: He is a massively important figure in American history with importance far beyond music.
My argument is threefold: It starts with the music. His genius changed America’s and thus the world’s music. The club of people who did that is very small. But there are other members. Elvis, Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix certainly qualify. Armstrong is different because he did so with a wonderful attitude and smiling spirit that is as inspirational and important as his playing. That isn’t to say the others weren’t nice people with good humor. It’s that Armstrong was defined as much by his warmth and joy as he was by his trumpet. His talent and his attitude can’t be separated. Terry Teachout, who went on to write a great bio of Armstrong called “Pops,” put it well in a New York Times review he wrote of an earlier bio:
He really did perform with everyone from Bessie Smith to Leonard Bernstein; he really did smoke marijuana virtually every day of his adult life; he really did write the finest of all jazz memoirs, unassisted by a ghostwriter; he really did end his concerts (some of them, anyway) by playing 250 or more high C’s, capped with a high F; he really was adored (no lesser word is strong enough) by all who knew him. Is it any wonder so many of his contemporaries longed to play the way he played and sing the way he sang?
The third reasons is that this African-American — the son of a prostitute and great grandson of slaves — ended up hanging out with queens and popes. He is in many ways the story of America. The good one, anyway.
The presence of Diz also is special. He was a bebop pioneer, along with Parker and a very few others. There was an awkwardness between Armstrong and the bebop musicians. Though they acknowledged his genius, the bebop players were embarrassed by what they saw as Armstrong’s plantation attitude and mugging for white audiences. Armstrong saw the new music as a humorless and soulless exercise in technical proficiency. It really is one of the great conflicts in American music history. It is the godfather of America’s music at odds with his children.
It has uncanny similarities to the conflict between Albert Einstein and the brilliant quantum scientists who built on his breakthroughs. In both cases, the charismatic genius recast what those who came before him had established. In both cases, their innovations contained the seed of something they didn’t like and couldn’t control. Both were distressed when subsequent geniuses — Parker, Gillespie and others in one case and Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and others in the other — took their profound achievements in directions they disliked. Einstein commented that God does not play dice with the universe. Armstrong referred to bebop as “Chinese music.”
Bohr and Einstein were friends and, as the clip here shows, Armstrong and Gillespie were as well. Ricky Riccardi wrote a great post on the buildup to the “Umbrella Man” performance — which was part of CBS’s Timex All Star Jazz Show in 1959 — and the relationship between the two giants. Their senses of humor were integral part of their appeal, and the humanity came through very clearly toward the end of the song:
They could have quit right there but the vocal duet is the cherry on top, Dizzy inadvertently spitting in Armstrong’s face for a second, causing Pops to retort, “Your parasol is juicy, boy!” before getting in a plug for Swiss Kriss. There’s more joy in this clip [then can] be humanly calculated.
Many 20th century jazz greats settled in Queens, New York. It’s close to Manhattan but far less expensive. Indeed, Queens College remains a jazz mecca. Gillespie and Armstrong lived near each other in Corona and hung out. I forget where I read this, but my understanding is that Diz rushed to the hospital to donate blood when he heard of Armstrong’s heart attack.
I hope this version of The Daily Music Break is enjoyable. One thing is certain: For any music lover, the first post will be.