On Exhibit: Hotter Than That - 90 Years of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five

Posted on: Dec 22, 2015 -- Last updated on: Dec 22, 2015

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Louis Armstrong House Museum

Celebrates the 90th Anniversary of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five

On Exhibit: Hotter Than That - 90 Years of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five

The Louis Armstrong House Museum’s new exhibit Hotter Than That: 90 Years of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five celebrates these landmark recordings that were the first records ever to be issued under Armstrong’s own name. This exhibit represents the ground breaking recorded legacy of Louis Armstrong and this immortal group, whose music will continue to influence future generations. As Armstrong himself said of his Hot Five recordings in 1970, “Ain’t nothing like it since, and can’t nobody play nothing like it now. My oldest record, can’t nobody touch it.”

For the past 90 years, critics, musicians, writers and fans have waxed poetic about the music of Armstrong’s Hot Five. As writer Leopold Froehlich once wrote, “What was the greatest band of the 20th century? Forget the Beatles—it was Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five.”

Though the Hot Five had a major impact on the course of jazz, the sessions only made up 17 scattered days over the course of three years of Armstrong’s life. In early November 1925, Louis Armstrong arrived back in Chicago after spending 13 months in New York. He had made his presence felt in person and on records but he was still just a sideman, uncredited on the record labels and unknown to most of the record buying public. 

This rankled Armstrong’s wife, Lil, who told him to come back to Chicago and join her band, where he would be billed as “The World’s Greatest Jazz Cornetist.” Word of Armstrong’s return reached Elmer “E. A.” Fearn of OKeh, who offered Armstrong to make his very first records under his own name. To make up the Hot Five, Armstrong placed calls to clarinetist Johnny Dodds, trombonist Kid Ory (then living in California) and banjoist Johnny St. Cyr, all musicians Louis performed with in his formative days in New Orleans. He never forgot where he came from.  

On November 12, 1925, this aggregation entered OKeh’s Chicago studio and waxed three numbers, each released as performed by “Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five.” American popular music would never be the same. Though Armstrong had already made his mark on recordings as a sideman, his genius really blossomed on the Hot Five recordings, both as an instrumentalist and a vocalist. By the end of the Hot Five series in 1928, Armstrong had greatly impacted how musicians both played and sang. 

Ricky Riccardi director of research collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum noted, "Louis Armstrong's Hot Five recordings are the most important recordings in jazz history, bar none. Everything stems from them and from Louis specifically. We hope this exhibit pays proper tribute to this landmark group but most of all, we hope it will make visitors further explore their music."

Hotter Than That - 90 Years of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five will be on exhibit at the Louis Armstrong House Museum now through October 16th, 2016. Original Hot Five recordings are on display, including the 78-rpm record of “Gut Bucket Blues,” the very first Hot Five selection issued just before Christmas in 1925. Also on display are various photographs of Armstrong during his budding superstardom in the 1920s, both with and without the Hot Five. Various advertisements, articles and other contemporary coverage of Armstrong and the Hot Five have been reproduced for this exhibit, direct from Louis and Lil’s scrapbooks.

Hotter Than That: 90 Years of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five also features artifacts dealing with the legacy of the Hot Five, including multiple Columbia Records reissues from the 1940s and 1950s, some with cover art by noted artists Alex Steinweiss and Jim Flora. Most excitingly, a limited-edition pencil etching of Armstrong done by famed cartoonist R. Crumb in 2012 will be on display for the first time.

Director of Research Collections Ricky Riccardi and Archives Assistant Brynn White, co-curators of the exhibit, have selected all of these artifacts from the Louis Armstrong House Museum’s monumental research collections, the world’s largest archives for a single jazz musician.

Planning Your Visit

The Louis Armstrong House Museum is located at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York. The museum is open Tuesday – Friday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Saturday/Sunday from 12:00 noon – 5:00 pm. No reservations are necessary for individuals but groups of 8 or more should call 718.478.8274 or go here to make a reservation.

Admission is $10.00, $7.00 for seniors, students and children and free LAHM members and children under 4. Groups with reservations enjoy a discount on admission. The Louis Armstrong House Museum is closed on all Mondays and the following Holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It is always open on the 4th of July, in honor of Louis’s traditional birthday.

Parking is available within the neighborhood and the museum is accessible by subway via the 7 Train.