This past week we played “The Weary Blues” in the style of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in honor of Armstrong’s great mentor.
Even though Pops was architect of our soloing style, he was also a supreme innovator. Still, the fact of Armstrong’s greatness didn’t prevent him from acknowledging the greatness of others who taught and helped him.
Armstrong was a person who was a great respecter of tradition. He always talked about King Oliver. As a much older man, he said, “Every time I pick up my horn, I look up and I see Papa Joe.”
As a musician, Papa Joe Oliver played with a tremendous amount of dignity and intelligence. He brought versatility to the instrument in the way of playing. He taught us all how to make the horn sound like a chicken, cat or even a crying baby with the plunger mute. Oliver could also just take the mute out of his horn and play straight lead with so much feeling, power and pride. Once Oliver put that into the music, it was something Louis Armstrong always had — the ability to play the trumpet with that type of feeling. For real.
He could sing with angels and he could call out the demons too.