Armstrong’s Interpretation of “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue” as the Illustration of Jazz Characteristics

In order to start the discussion of Armstrong’s unique interpretation of “Black and Blue”, it is necessary to focus on the musician’s approach to reflecting the characteristic features of jazz in the 1920s in the work. Thus, jazz of the 1920s was a specific phenomenon which developed under the influence of ragtime and blues. During the decade, jazz changed intensively, and more attention was paid to the improvisation and cross-rhythms and timbre which were characteristic for the black music (Teachout, 2009, p. 138-139). Armstrong added significantly to the progress of jazz during the era because of focusing on improvisation and solos. If the beginning of the 1920s was characterized by jazz influenced with black blues and cross-rhythms, the end of the decade was characterized by the focus on much improvisation and vivid solos.

Armstrong was one of the most talented trumpeters of his age, and his approach to solos made a significant change in the whole jazz sound in the 1920s. That is why, now Armstrong’s “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue” began with the impressive trumpet solo which reflected the inner sufferings of the performer. In this case, the trumpet solo and Armstrong’s improvisation worked to add the unique meaning to the performer’s feelings expressed not only in words but also in music.

From this point, Armstrong’s “Black and Blue” illustrates how important was improvisation and solos in jazz of the 1920s (Meckna, 2004, p. 37-38). Furthermore, it is possible to state that these musical expressions were expected by the public because Armstrong was that person who reformed the jazz sound in the late part of the 1920s.

Comparison of the Original Context of the Song with Armstrong’s Performance
“(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue” was composed by Fats Waller for “Hot Chocolates” under the impact of Dutch Schultz who controlled finances and other aspects of the show. Much attention was paid to the lyrics because the text was expected to make the audience laugh at the fate of blacks. Andy Razaf’s lyrics were rather comic and focused on the personal feelings of the dark-skinned woman who suffered because of being alone in the world of blacks (Singer, 1992, p. 217-218). If Razaf concentrated on the comic effects of discussing the intra-racial prejudice, Armstrong chose to remove the verse explaining the woman’s sadness and emphasized the general idea of the racial discrimination in the American society.

Thus, Wilson sang about the personal pain of the black woman who could not find her love. It was stated in the verse, “Browns and yellers, all have fellers, / Gentlemen prefer them light, / Wish I could fade, can’t make the grade, / Nothing but dark days in sight” (Singer, 1992, p. 217). In his turn, Armstrong concentrated on the pain of the whole race because of being discriminated in the American society: “I’m white, inside / But that don’t help my case / Cause I, Can’t hide / What is in my face” (Teachout, 2009, p. 138-139 

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