The Louis Armstrong Discography: The Early Years (1901 - 1924)

The Louis Armstrong Discography: The Early Years (1901 - 1924)

Louis Daniel Armstrong (8/4/1901 - 6/6/1971) was born into a poor family in New Orleans, LA and spent his youth in a rough uptown neighborhood. His father, William Armstrong (1881-1922), abandoned the family when Louis was an infant and only reentered his son's life at sporadic and brief intervals. Louis and his little sister, Beatrice Armstrong Collins (1903-1987), were cared for by his mother, Mary Albert Armstrong (1886-1942), and his grandmother, Josephine Armstrong.

The New Orleans of Armstrong's youth was alive with music and Armstrong grew up hearing the sounds of seminal jazz trumpeters Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson and Joe "King" Oliver. Armstrong's first instrument was purchased for him by a Lithuanian-Jewish family, the Karnofskys, for whom he worked collecting junk and selling coal. Armstrong received more structured training in the band of the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, where he spent 18 months after firing a pistol into the air on New Year's Eve, 1912. As a teenager, Armstrong played in brass bands in New Orleans, and toured on a Mississippi River steamboat with the band of Fate Marable.

When King Oliver left New Orleans in 1919, Armstrong took Oliver's place in Kid Ory's popular band. In 1922, Armstrong was invited to follow Oliver to Chicago and join Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Oliver's band was the best and most influential hot jazz band in Chicago in the early 1920s, at a time when Chicago was the center of jazz.

Armstrong made his first recordings while playing second cornet in Oliver's band in 1923. He also began recording in small groups supporting a number of blues singers - a side activity he would continue in throughout the 1920s. Notable singers inclue Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter and Bessie Smith. Most of these recordings survive, giving an excellent picture of Armstrong's developing talent (although the surviving pressings of these acoustically-recorded sides are often in poor condition). In June of 1924, Armstrong moved to New York to join the band of Fletcher Henderson and recorded frequently with the Henderson band.

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
April 5, 1923: Richmond, Indiana

Fresh from faraway New Orleans, long before he was known as Pops, Louie or Satchmo, young Louis found himself a nervous sideman in the band of his mentor, King Oliver, performing in Chicago and the surrounding area. Here, he makes his first recordings, surrounded by musicians with whom he would perform for years. Indeed, the pianist would soon become his second wife. From this session comes four records for the Gennett label. Better studios were in existance when King Oliver led his band in for their first recording sessions, but apparently not in Richmond, Indiana. This building was in such close proximity to nearby railroad tracks that the band had to time their performances not to coincide with trains passing through. (de Davrichewy, discographer for Media 7's Complete Edition series) As has often been related, Armstrong stood far from his bandmates huddled around the acoustic recording horn, so as not to overpower their sound with the enormous strength of his delivery.

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
April 6, 1923: Richmond, Indiana

Original release plans left "Snake Rag" the odd track out. It was, not coincidentally, the first number recorded at King Oliver's second set of recordings in Chicago two months later. "Snake Rag" did find eventual release on Gennett, though what number it was paired with is unclear.

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
June 22 - 29, 1923: Chicago, IL

Louis' second recording session with Oliver's combo, this time producing three records for Columbia subsidiary, OKeh. Where Did You Stay Last Night?, Dipper Mouth Blues, and Jazzin' Babies Blues were recorded at a later session. Westerberg dates the two sessions on June 22 and 23, respectively.

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
Early September, 1923?: Chicago, IL

A session for Paramount. This recording date is uncertain. Westerberg gives 12/24/23 for this session. Irakli de Davrichewy, discographer for the Media 7 CD series, defends his dating of this session as early September; he makes a convincing case that the earlier attributed date of December 24 is an arbitrary and unlikely choice. Willems concurs with the September date.

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
October 5, 1923: Richmond, IN

Oliver and company made a 250-mile round trip to the Richmond studio to record these eight numbers and hustle back to Chicago for their regular gig at the Lincoln Gardens. The prolific session, however, bore little fruit. Only one disc ever made the stores -- ALLIGATOR HOP/KROOKED BLUES -- though ZULU'S BALL/WORKINGMAN BLUES survives in a single remaining pressing that was not released. THAT SWEET SOMETHING, DEAR/IF YOU WANT MY HEART was assigned a release number, but went unissued. Johnny St. Cyr has here joined the Oliver combo for an extremely brief three weeks, during which he partakes in three sets of recordings for three different labels! His later association with Louis Armstrong will be a notable one.

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
October 5-15, 1923: Chicago, IL

This is Willems range of possible dates for a pair of sessions responsible for four sides apiece. Westerberg tentatively places this pair of sessions on October 25-26 but deDavrichewy supports the earlier dates, which are now more widely accepted.

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
October 15, 1923: Chicago, IL

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
October 16, 1923: Chicago, IL

Armstrong's final recordings with King Oliver. In June the following year -- under pressure from Lil, whom he married in February -- he broke away from his mentor. By September, he was summoned to New York to join the seminal orchestra of Fletcher Henderson, a move that kicked Armstrong's career into full swing. These two singles conclude a very active six months for the King Oliver crew -- 16 records for four labels. Clearly, not only were recording techniques in their infancy, but so were recording contracts.

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
October 7, 1924: New York, NY

Fresh from Chicago and ready to turn New York on its ear, Armstrong cuts his first tracks with the Henderson ensemble.

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
October 10-13, 1924: New York, NY

Armstrong probably did not perform on DON'T FORGET YOU'LL REGRET DAY BY DAY.

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Ma Rainey accompanied by her Georgia Jazz Band
October 16, 1924 (?): New York, NY

This band assembled from players in Henderson's Orchestra. Louis already finds himself in demand as a session musician, both with Henderson and on his own.

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Clarence Williams' Blue Five
October 17, 1924: New York, NY

Louis sat in with Charlie Williams' recording combo many times over the coming months, often backing up New York's many blues singers.

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Virginia Liston accompanied by Clarence Williams' Blue Five
October 17, 1924: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
October 30, 1924: New York, NY

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Clarence Williams' Blue Five
November 6, 1924: New York, NY

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Josephine Beatty accompanied by the Red Onion Jazz Babies
November 6, 1924 (?): New York, NY

Probably recorded at the Clarence Williams session on November 6.

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
November 7, 1924: New York, NY

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Josephine Beatty accompanied by the Red Onion Jazz Babies
November 8, 1924 (?): New York, NY

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The Red Onion Jazz Babies
November 8, 1924 (?): New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
November 10 or 11, 1924: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
November 14, 1924: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
between November 17 - 22, 1924: New York, NY

There were also two masters of "Araby" recorded at this session (5731-1 and 5731-2) that Armstrong did not perform on (released on Regal 9775 and Oriole 303).

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
between November 22 - 25, 1924: New York, NY

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Margaret Johnson with Clarence Williams Blue Five
November 25, 1924: New York, NY

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The Red Onion Jazz Babies
November 26, 1924: New York, NY

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Sippie Wallace accompanied by Clarence Williams' Blue Five
November 28, 1924: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
early December, 1924: New York, NY

Armstrong's participation on "Prince of Wails" is very doubtful.

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Maggie Jones
December 9, 1924: New York, NY

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Maggie Jones
December 10, 1924: New York, NY

Cabbage is full of the clever double-entendres for which Waller and Razaf were masters. Thunderstorm Blues includes some amusing sound effects that are fairly rare for recordings of this period.

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Maggie Jones
December 17, 1924: New York, NY

Armstrong did not play on matrix numbers 140189 and 140190.

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Eva Taylor with Clarence Williams' Blue Five
December 17, 1924: New York, NY

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Josephine Beatty accompanied by The Red Onion Jazz Babies
December 22, 1924: New York, NY

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The Red Onion Jazz Babies
December 22, 1924: New York, NY

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Clara Smith
January 7, 1925: New York, NY

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Eva Taylor with Clarence Williams' Blue Five
January 8, 1925: New York, NY

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Bessie Smith
January 14, 1925: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
mid January, 1925: New York, NY

Masters 1995 and 1996 have never been released

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Clara Smith
January 17, 1925: New York, NY

These two tracks were rejected by Columbia and have never been heard since. This instrumental lineup is probably correct, and is the same group, along with trombonist Charlie Green, that worked on the remake session in April.

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
January 23, 1925: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
February 2, 1925: New York, NY

There is little aural evidence to suggest that Armstrong plays on the three takes of SWANEE BUTTERFLY. It is left out of most discographies. Discographer Hans Westerberg places the date of this session between February 2 and 6.

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
February 4, 1925: New York, NY

Armstrong likely does not play on master 105831

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Trixie Smith and Her Down Home Syncopators
mid February, 1925: New York, NY

Hans Westerberg dates this between 2/9-14/25.

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
February 20, 1925: New York, NY

This session's efforts were unused and have been lost in the dust of time.

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Eva Taylor with Clarence Williams' Blue Five
March 4, 1925: New York, NY

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Trixie Smith and Her Down Home Syncopators
Between March 16 & 22, 1925: New York, NY

Hans Westerberg dates this 2/25/25.

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Clara Smith
April 2, 1925: New York, NY

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Clara Smith
April 2, 1925: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
April 18, 1925: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
May 19, 1925: New York, NY

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Bessie Smith
May 26, 1925: New York, NY

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Bessie Smith
May 27, 1925: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
May 29, 1925: New York, NY

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
August 6, 1925: New York, NY

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Billy Jones with the Southern Serenaders
August 7, 1925: New York, NY

The label credit on I MISS MY SWISS is "The Southern Serenaders (Incidental Vocal by Billy Jones)". There is a lot of speculation about Billy Jones' backing on this record. Sam Lanin, whose orchestra has been merged with Henderson's in many reports, flatly denied participation, so it is unlikely that Henderson's combo was appended for this occasion.

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Grant and Wilson with Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra
September - October, 1925: New York, NY

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Coot Grant
October, 1925: New York, NY

The jury is out as to whether to award Armstrong or Joe Smith cornet credit on these two sides. The fine "Louis Armstrong and the Blues Singers" omits the two numbers from their set entirely; deDavrichewy, in the "Complete Edition" liner notes, rallies unwaveringly to the side of Armstrong.

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Eva Taylor with Clarence Williams' Blue Five
October 6, 1925: New York, NY

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Perry Bradford's Jazz Phools
October 7, 1925: New York, NY

What happened to this session and why the results were rejected by Vocalion are unknown. What is known, however, is that the band reassembled a month later to re-record the single. The session men listed above are speculative.

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Eva Taylor with Clarence Williams' Blue Five
October 8, 1925: New York, NY

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Eva Taylor with Clarence Williams' Blue Five
October 16, 1925: New York, NY

A very slow reworking of the song recorded a week earlier, also released for the Christmas market.

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Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
October 21, 1925: New York, NY

Armstrong's final recording session with Fletcher Henderson. During his year with one of the top bands in America's largest city, Armstrong built his own reputation as the most exciting horn player in the country. Within weeks, he will launch his own recording combo, and never again "play second fiddle" in anyone's band.

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Eva Taylor with Clarence Williams' Blue Five
October 26, 1925: New York, NY

Of particular interest is the co-author of the first of these two songs, the man better known as "Fats" Waller, here with one of his first compositions. It was paired with the slow version of SANTA CLAUS BLUES for the OKeh release.

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Perry Bradford's Jazz Phools
November 2, 1925: New York, NY

The second effort to record these songs pays off with a Vocalion release. This is Louis Armstrong's final recording session in New York City before heading west to Chicago and his wife Lil, who is already arranging a new combo to record what will become some of the definitive early jazz masters.

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Bertha "Chippie" Hill
November 9, 1925: Chicago, Illinois

Picking up where he left off in New York, Louis finds himself in hot demand as a session player in Chicago. Armstrong joins Richard Jones in backing up two different singers in this Okeh session, all four sides composed by Jones. Jones comping on these tracks is quite pedestrian and his sides with Hill and Calloway are almost indistinguishable from each other, although somewhat redeemed by Armstrong's tasty fills.

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Blanche Calloway
November 9, 1925: Chicago, Illinois

Picking up where he left off in New York, Louis finds himself in hot demand as a session player in Chicago. Armstrong joins Richard Jones in backing up two different singers in this Okeh session, all four sides composed by Jones. Jones comping on these tracks is quite pedestrian and his sides with Hill and Calloway are almost indistinguishable from each other, although somewhat redeemed by Armstrong's tasty fills.

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Hociel Thomas Acc. By Louis Armstrong's Jazz Four
November 11, 1925

Three more discs for OKeh.

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