11 of 1001 Songs: Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five’s St. James Infirmary Blues

Everyone has heard of Louis Armstrong, but you may have heard that one popular song by him where he sings about it being a wonderful world. Armstrong has a lot better work out there than that though, beginning with St. Jame Infirmary, which is a wonderful jazz song that captures all the coolness of the 20’s in New Orleans. It makes me only want to go to that time to hear it.

History: Louis Armstrong had been performing before joining with the Hot Five, but after they got together they would be the first jazz recording band led under his own name. There were two different musician arrangements for the hot fives though, and with the second group s when Armstrong recorded St. James Infirmary Blues. Unlike the previous group he played with they set out to arrange more of their music that play it freestyle.

Vocals: Armstrong has some of the most atmospheric vocals I’ve ever heard. They perfectly fit the tone of the instrumentals. It also gives a very unique life to the song, and makes the song feel more alive with story. The raspy singing voicing also gives light to his personality because he puts emotions into his voice as well. He isn’t as focused as hitting notes or being perfect as he is making the music lively, even though regardless his voice always sounds good. If nothing else, the interesting guy that Armstrong was is all in the lyrics. He was someone who didn’t seem to take many things seriously.

Instrumentals: The music consists of trumpets, trombones, and clarinets. There are some other instrumentals as well like percussion. It makes for a beautiful arrangement though. You can tell the difference that this is more planned instead of just the group getting together and letting the music just take off for itself instead. It’s got a lot of movement at the beginning with the instrumentals, but then by the end the music finds it’s rhythm an tapers off.

Lyrics: The song is actually a traditional folk song, that dates back way before Louis Armstrong performed the song. The lyrics also have varied version to version. I think the lyrics are really great though. They are probably the darkest lyrics I’ve heard in an older song. The movement of the instruments also go a little bit more toned down to make the sway of the funeral like lyrics of the tune.

Considering Armstrong’s personality it’s interesting this is one of those tunes that he made famous. While the song had been around for a while, it did shoot to fame with this version. Other artists would have a crack at doing their own version as well, like The White Stripes, except they just covered Armstrong’s version. It tells a story though and captures it in every element.

Rating 9 of 10.

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