West End Blues

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"West End Blues"
Instrumental by Joe "King" Oliver
Released1928 (1928)
RecordedJune 11, 1928
Composer(s)Joe "King" Oliver

"West End Blues" is a multi-strain twelve-bar blues composition by Joe "King" Oliver. It is most commonly performed as an instrumental, although it has lyrics added by Clarence Williams.

King Oliver and his Dixie Syncopators made the first recording for Brunswick Records on June 11, 1928.[1] Clarence Williams later added lyrics to the instrumental tune. He recorded the song several times in 1928, first with vocalist Ethel Waters, then with Irene Mims, aka Hazel Smith (with King Oliver playing trumpet),[2] then again with Katherine Henderson.[3]

The "West End" of the title refers to the westernmost point of Lake Pontchartrain within Orleans Parish, Louisiana; it was the last stop on the trolley line in New Orleans to the lake.[4] In its heyday, it was a thriving summer resort with live music, dance pavilions, seafood restaurants, and lake bathing.

Louis Armstrong's recording[edit]

"West End Blues"
Song by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
Released1928 (1928)
RecordedJune 28, 1928
GenreTraditional jazz, blues[5]
Composer(s)Joe "King" Oliver

By far the best known recording of "West End Blues" is the 3-minute-plus, 78 rpm recording made by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five on June 28, 1928. Gunther Schuller devoted page after page to it in his book Early Jazz, writing, “The clarion call of “West End Blues’ served notice that jazz had the potential capacity to compete with the highest order of previously known musical expression.” Gary Giddins wrote that this tune “came to symbolize more than any other the ascendancy of a classic American music.”[6]

Armstrong plays trumpet and sings, backed by a band including pianist Earl Hines, clarinetist Jimmy Strong, trombonist Fred Robinson, banjoist Mancy Carr and drummer Zutty Singleton on hand cymbals.[7] Armstrong's unaccompanied opening cadenza is considered to be one of the defining moments of early jazz, incorporating a rhythmic freedom that anticipated many later musical developments.[8] In addition, Lil Hardin Armstrong later explained that this introduction stemmed from trumpet exercise books that she and Louis had drilled.[9] Also notable is Armstrong's tender scat vocal chorus in a duet with the clarinet in its low register played by Strong.[10] Hines takes a "beautifully crafted" piano solo, which was praised as a "perfect... example of originality in harmony, phrases, and general style."[11] The final chorus is dominated by a four-bar (12-second) high B played by Armstrong. The number is closed by the metallic click of drummer Zutty Singleton's cymbals.

This recording was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1979.[12] Billie Holiday cited listening to "West End Blues" as her first experience with scat-singing.[13]

Armstrong recorded several later versions of "West End Blues", including for the 1947 film New Orleans and with his All Stars in the 40s.[14]

King Oliver's recordings[edit]

Joe "King" Oliver wrote "West End Blues", and was the first to record it on June 11, 1928, with his band The Dixie Syncopators.[1] This recording established the basic form of the song that Armstrong's later recording followed.[2] On January 16, 1929, Oliver recorded the song again, borrowing from the Hot Five arrangement, though at a quicker tempo. The opening trumpet cadenza (based heavily on Armstrong's 1928 recording) has frequently been incorrectly credited to Oliver, but was in fact played by trumpeter Louis Metcalf.[2] Pianist Luis Russel also takes a solo, in turn basing it on Earl Hines' solo from the Hot Five recording.


  1. ^ a b Laird, Ross. Brunswick Records: A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931, Greenwood Press (2001), p. 592. ISBN 0-313-30208-1
  2. ^ a b c Riccardi, Ricky (June 28, 2012). "84 Years of West End Blues". The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong.
  3. ^ "Blues Influence". Facebook.com. Archived from the original on 2022-02-26. Retrieved 2014-09-13.
  4. ^ Brothers, Thomas (2014). Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 293. ISBN 978-0-393-06582-4.
  5. ^ Feather, Leonard (August 21, 1987). From Satchmo to Miles. Da Capo Press. p. 40. ISBN 030680302X.
  6. ^ "Louis Armstrong:Expert insights and analysis of the artist & albums". Mosaic Records - Home for Jazz fans!. Retrieved 2021-07-22.
  7. ^ Alexander, Scott. "Arthur "Zutty" Singleton (1898-1975)". The Red Hot Jazz Archive. Scott Alexander. Retrieved 16 February 2017.
  8. ^ Schuller, Gunther (1968). Early Jazz: Its Roots And Musical Development. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195040432.
  9. ^ Brothers, Thomas (2014). Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. pp. 292–93. ISBN 978-0-393-06582-4.
  10. ^ Brothers, Thomas (2014). Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 295. ISBN 978-0-393-06582-4.
  11. ^ Brothers, Thomas (2014). Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-393-06582-4.
  12. ^ "GRAMMY Hall Of Fame History". GRAMMY.org. 1974-03-02. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  13. ^ Brothers, Thomas (2014). Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 298. ISBN 978-0-393-06582-4.
  14. ^ Riccardi, Ricky (28 June 2013). ""85 Years of "West End Blues""". Retrieved 28 December 2016.