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Tom Reney’s writings delve into the history and mystery of jazz, blues, and beyond. The Jazz à la Mode Blog has plenty to stimulate your interest and curiosity in American music.

Louis Armstrong’s acerbic wit: Pops in a fit of pique


[Ed. note: This post was originally published on July 13, 2016]

Brevity is the soul of wit, the Bard observed, and succinctly at that. Louis Armstrong led the way in the brevity department for at least two generations of jazz musicians whose genius was displayed in brief bursts of melodic invention— bar lengths of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and other subdivisions of song forms. In this short clip, in which he takes exception to a CBS reporter’s brusque conjecture about his inability to play trumpet, he invokes heavyweight champ Joe Louis (what a line!); says “ask the public” about why he’s so successful; talks about the commercial value of his voice and the power of his breath; reminds us that a fool and his money are soon parted; and otherwise blows a “solo” of brilliantly incisive proportions, all in the span of 2:35, shorter in fact than most of his Hot Fives. And oh how Pops knew to leave us always wanting a little bit more.

A far more devastating news item jolted the world last night with the terrorist attack in Nice, France. The attack occurred during Bastille Day observances and on the eve of the 68th annual Nice Jazz Festival. The fest was established in 1948 by the legendary jazz historian Hughes Panassie and was headlined by Armstrong, who was on his first European tour with his newly established All-Stars. Alas, this weekend’s fest has been cancelled. Jazz has been hailed for nearly a century as a non-ideological art form that prizes individual expression and knows no national boundaries. Like the return of the Boston Marathon in 2014 one year after the terrorist bombings on Boylston Street, one hopes that the music is back next year on the Cote-d’Azur as a symbol of cultural affirmation, pride, and perseverance.

Tom was honored by the Jazz Journalists Association with the Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Career Excellence in Broadcasting in 2019. In addition to hosting Jazz à la Mode since 1984, Tom writes the jazz blog and produces the Jazz Beat podcast at NEPM. He began working in jazz radio in 1977 at WCUW, a community-licensed radio station in Worcester, Massachusetts. Tom holds a BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he majored in English and African American Studies.
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