Matinee Jazz Concert Pays Tribute to Louis Armstrong

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

Matinee Jazz Concert Pays Tribute to Louis Armstrong


Byline: Larry Wayte For The Register-Guard

OFAM continued its "Over the Rainbow" program Thursday afternoon with the first of two weekday matinee concerts in Jaqua Hall at The Shedd. Titled "Swing That Music - Mr. Louis Armstrong," the concert was a tribute to one of the undisputed legends of jazz.

It felt strange attending a jazz concert in broad daylight, but it was also a welcome chance to hear the festival musicians in a more intimate setting. Rather than the big-band assembled for the opening gala at the Hult, the lineup for "Swing That Music" consisted of the core septet (Ken Peplowski, clarinet; Byron Stripling, voice and trumpet; Red Holloway, saxophone; Derek Smith, piano; Rod Fleeman, guitar; Doug Miller, bass; Chuck Redd, drums), supplemented by vocalists Clairdee and Ian Whitcomb.

The difficulty in presenting a tribute to Louis Armstrong is that his talents were so unique, so groundbreaking and so enormous in both scope and impact, that any attempt to imitate his sound or presence is bound to reflect poorly on those who make the attempt. Unless, that is, you happen to be Stripling.

There might be another performer as capable as Stripling at portraying Armstrong's unique musical gifts, but I doubt it. On trumpet, Stripling's commanding physical presence, straight posture, bold tone and technical facility combine to create an uncanny resemblance.

However, Stripling has also mastered Armstrong's more subtle and elusive musical talents: His deft pushing and pulling of tempo and rhythmic phrasing combined with a flair for musical drama. Armstrong created tension by slightly delaying the delivery of phrases, then snapping back into rhythm at just the right moment. He crafted solos with a dramatic arc, saving the high notes until just the right moment. Stripling has finely honed these most subtle of musical skills.

Stripling does not have Armstrong's trademark gravelly voice, and he wisely refrains from imitating it. Rather, he uses his own strong vocal tone, employing musical timing and drama to convey Armstrong's humor and character without cloying mimicry.

The intimate environs also enabled the musicians to more effectively convey their message.

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