Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music

By Gene Santoro | Go to book overview

1
Louis Armstrong

FROM 19Z5 TO 192.8, Louis Armstrong made an astonishing series of recordings, the jazz-creating legacy of his Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, a succession of studio groups that virtually never performed live. In 19Z7, the young cornetist led his band into a meticulously hilarious version of a classic composition Jelly Roll Morton had made famous, “Twelfth Street Rag.”

The track sounds like the opening shot of a revolution—except that the revolution in Armstrong's head and hands had already been in full swing for years. Unlike most revolutions, from the first it displayed an ingratiating, inviting sense of humor and charm. Dippermouth, as his early New Orleans pals dubbed him, used the rag as a trampoline. As his horn fractures the tune's familiar refrains, ragtime's precise, cakewalking rhythmic values suddenly coil and loop and stutter and dive, the aural equivalent of a bravura World War I flying ace dogfighting tradition. Every time Armstrong comes precariously near a tailspin, he pulls back the control stick and confidently, jauntily, heads off toward the horizon, if not straight at another virtuosic loop-de-loop.

The relentless joy brimming in the sound of young Satchemouth's horn, the glorious deep-blue and fiery-red tinged Whitmanesque yawp of it, has an undeniably self-conscious edge. Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray first pointed out a half-century ago that it is also the sound of self-assertion, a musical realization of the double consciousness W. E. B. Du Bois posited for African Americans. Within this almost Hegelian compound of power and pain, a racial revisiting of the Master-Slave encounter in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, Du Bois explained that African Americans were inevitably alienated, stood both inside and outside mainstream American culture and its norms, prescriptions, hopes, dreams. Such alienation, Du Bois pointed out, could cripple black Americans by forcing them to internalize mainstream cultural values that held them to be less than human, but it could also liberate the brightest of them. The “Talented Tenth,” as he called this group, could act on their perceptions of the contradictions between the high ideals grounding basic American cultural

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Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Highway 61 Revisited - The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, Rock, & Country Music iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I: Avatars 5
  • 1: Louis Armstrong 7
  • 2: Woody Guthrie 17
  • Part II: The Postwar Jazz Era 31
  • 3: Mary Lou Williams 33
  • 4: Max Roach 37
  • 5: Sonny Rollins 49
  • 6: Chet Baker 64
  • 7: Miles Davis 68
  • 8: Herbie Hancock 80
  • Part III: Rebirth of the Blues 91
  • 9: The Gospel Highway 93
  • 10: Chess Records 99
  • 11: The Folk Revival 104
  • 12: Willie Nelson 119
  • 13: Lenny Bruce 124
  • 14: Sweet Soul Music 135
  • Part IV: In the Garage 151
  • 15: Bob Dylan 153
  • 16: Electric Blues Revival 171
  • 17: Buffalo Springfield 179
  • 18: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris 185
  • 19: The Grateful Dead 193
  • 20: The Band 204
  • 21: The Firesign Theatre 216
  • 22: Bruce Springsteen 223
  • 23: Tom Waits 235
  • Part V: Possible Futures 241
  • 24: Ken Burns, the Academy, and Jazz 243
  • 25: The Politics of Music Don Byron and Dave Douglas 257
  • 26: Cassandra Wilson 265
  • 27: Marty Ehrlich 278
  • 28: New Jazz Fusions 283
  • 29: Ani Difranco 297
  • Index 302
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